An Indian Commission

Commission to Warcharpa

Document with two red wax seals showing Warcharpa's commission

Courtesy Huntington Library, San Marino, California


From the powers vested in us by the above authority: To all who shall see these presents, Greeting:

Know ye, that from the special confidence reposed by us in the sincere and unalterable attachment of War char pa the Sticker a Warrier of the Soues Nation to the UNITED STATES; as also from the abundant proofs given by him of his amicable disposition to cultivate peace, harmony, and good neighbourhood with the said States, and the citizens of the same; we do by the authority vested in us, require and charge, all citizens of the United States, all Indian Nations, in treaty with the same, and all other persons whomsoever, to receive acknowledge, and treat the said War Char Pa the Sticker in the most friendly manner, declaring him to be the friend and ally of the said States: the government of which will at all times be extended to his protection, so long as he dos acknowledge the authority of the same.

Having signed with our hands and affixed our seals     M. Lewis Capt.
this Thirty first day of August 180 four.1st US Regt.
[Infantry]      [wax seal]

Wm Clark Capt on
an Expd[ition] for NW Dis[covery]     [wax seal]


In keeping with the accepted Euro-American policy of putting contracts in writing, signing, and sealing them, each peace medal given out was usually accompanied by a commission, also called a parole, which is the French word for promise. A parole guaranteed universal peace and friendship between the recipient and all other persons, Indian or American, represented by the signators. It also attested, implicitly, that the recipient was an official representative and chief of his band or tribe, a false and unfair assumption that remained at the core of troubled Indian-white relations for most of the nineteenth century.

Meriwether Lewis filled in the blanks, and he and his co-captain signed it on August 31, 1804, presumably with the expectation that Warchapa would be present among the Yankton Sioux they met that day. But not until a month later did they actually meet him. On September 27, Clark wrote that Lewis returned to the keelboat that afternoon with "4 chiefs & a Brave man named War-cha pa" which may be understood to mean that Warchapa was not entitled to a commission after all, and that may be why his was brought back.

Warchapa, whose name was translated as "sticker," "stabber," and "on his guard," belonged to the SichangXu Indian band, whom Clark understood to be a subdivision of the Yanktonais, one of the Seven Fires of the Sioux Nation. SichangXu means "burned thigh," but was translated by early French explorers as Bois Brulé, or "burned wood." Their descendants live today on the Lower Brule (pronounced brool) reservation in South Dakota, a few miles upstream from the town of Yankton.

Further Reading:

Francis Paul Prucha, Indian Peace Medals in American History (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1994).

An interesting history of the people Clark called a "Great Nation who the French has given the nickname of Sciouex," is Royal B. Hassrick's The Sioux: Life and Customs of a Warrior Society (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press), 1964. That nickname represents the sound of the last syllable of their nation's name for themselves.

1. So far as is known, this is the only existing commission filled out and signed by Lewis and Clark. It is at the Huntington Library in San Marino, California, by whose kind permission it is reproduced here. Original dimensions, 12.25 by 7.75 inches.