Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Origin of the Dawes Commission

The treaty status of the Five Civilized Tribes and a few other tribal groups exempted them from the requirements of the Dawes Severalty Act of 1887. But the majority of whites in Indian Territory, committed to what they called progress, saw the effect of allotment in other places and wanted the same for I.T. They soon began to insist that their federal government not allow treaties with Indians to slow the march of civilization.

In 1893, Congress responded to this demand by approving what came to be known as the Dawes Commission. On November 1 of that year, President Grover Cleveland appointed Henry L. Dawes of Massachusetts, who by that time had retired from the Senate, to head the commission. The president also appointed Meredith H. Kidd of Indiana, and Archibald S. McKennon of Arkansas to assist Dawes.

From their headquarters in Muskogee, I.T., the commissioners tried in vain to convince Indian leaders to adopt the scheme of allotment. They promised the leaders that as they abolished their governments, tribal members would receive allotments of land. The Indians flatly rejected all such proposals and actively promoted resistance. For example, on March 28, 1894, the Choctaw Council issued the following statement, which points to then standing treaties:
We cannot bring ourselves to believe that such a great, grand, and Christian Nation as the United States would so stultify itself in the eyes of the civilized world by disregarding treaties heretofore solemnly entered into, with a weak and dependent people, regardless of justice and equity, simply because she is numerically able to do so. 
Washington, D.C. did not welcome the news of resistance. By 1896, a frustrated Congress chose to apply more pressure. As historian Kent Carter relates, the federal legislature began to pass "a series of acts that increased the commission's powers and changed its character from a diplomatic mission to a judicial tribunal that decided who was eligible for tribal membership and what land they received."


Caroline Davis, "Education of the Chickasaws, 1856-1907," Chronicles of Oklahoma 15, no. 4 (1937): 435-6; Kent Carter, "Dawes Commission," Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, (accessed April 18, 2018).

Monday, April 16, 2018

The Dawes Severalty Act of 1887

The Dawes Severalty Act of 1887 opened a tragic new chapter in the history of Native America. This federal legislation sought to end tribal land ownership and allot parcels of land to individuals. In the words of historian Wilcomb E. Washburn, the law was nothing short of "an assault on Indian tribalism."[1] It was named for U.S. Senator Henry L. Dawes of Massachusetts, pictured at left, the champion of severalty for Indians. For this reason, the Dawes Act was sometimes called the General Allotment Act. Writers often use the two terms interchangeably.

The law was a central component of the federal government's plan to "detribalize" Indians, to "individualize" them. Ideally, each allotment of land would become a family farm or ranch. In essence, the Dawes Act sought to turn Native Americans into American homesteaders. As historian Robert M. Utley explains, many federal officials believed that "once the individual had broken free of the tribal heritage," he would then be free to "leap into the mainstream of American life." Eventually, "all Indians could be submerged in the body politic of America."[2] But a minority of leaders claimed that all such rhetoric was overly-optimistic at best, and cynical at worst. During congressional debates, Senator Henry M. Teller of Colorado noted that, according to the proposed legislation, all unassigned Indian lands would then be deemed surplus. "The real aim of this bill," he concluded, "is to get at the Indian lands and open them up for settlement."[3]

Meanwhile, Native Americans did not simply resist the allotment scheme. They found it difficult to understand the very concept of private ownership of land, or of land as capital. Much less did they appreciate these novel ideas. This had been the case, for example, in the struggles between English colonists and indigenous peoples of what became New England during the seventeenth century.[4]


[1] Wilcomb E. Washburn, The Assault on Indian Tribalism: The General Allotment Law (Dawes Act) of 1887 (Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1975).

[2] Robert M. Utley, The Indian Frontier 1846-1890, rev. ed. (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2003), 204-05.

[3] Roger L. Nichols, American Indians in U.S. History (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2003), 164-67.

[4] William Cronon, Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England, rev. ed. (New York: Hill and Wang, 2003), ch. 4.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Schools among the Chickasaws in Indian Territory: The Civil War and Its Aftermath (4)

At the insistence of the federal government, the treaty of 1866 provided for railroads through Indian Territory, one running north and south, the other running east and west. With the coming of the railroads, immigration to Indian Territory was easier than ever.

The railroad finally entered the Chickasaw Nation in 1887, and the Chickasaw world was forever changed. By 1890, non-citizens in the nation outnumbered Indians by more than 10-to-1, with approximately 64,000 whites compared to 6,000 Indians. A 1900 census report indicated that while the number of Chickasaws stood at 6,000, as many as 150,000 whites resided in the Chickasaw Nation.[1] Who were these people? Historian Caroline Davis described them as follows:
Farm laborers and mechanics, under permit, made up the greater share of this number; the others, holding some sort of legal status within the Nation, were licensed traders, government employees, railroad employees, coal miners, and claimants to Indian citizenship; but there was yet another group made up of sojourners, prospectors, visitors, intruders, cattlemen, and squatters who had no lawful rights whatever within the Nation.[2]
The arrival of so many new people created a new set of issues related to pubic education. Chickasaw officials had always refused to allow Anglo children to attend government-sponsored schools. They now maintained that position. At the same time, Anglo parents were unwilling or unable to send their children to faraway boarding schools. Euro-Americans and their federal government began agitating for some sort of remedy.

The U.S. government suggested that "certain sections of land be given the non-citizens upon which they could erect schools and hire their own teachers. In some few cases, this last was acceded to by the Indians. Slowly, however, the more progressive people began to work out a system of subscription schools within the towns."[3]


[1] Arrell M. Gibson, The Chickasaws (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1971), 285.

[2] Caroline Davis, "Education of the Chickasaws, 1856-1907," Chronicles of Oklahoma 15, no. 4 (1937): 434.

[3] Ibid., 435.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Schools among the Chickasaws in Indian Territory: The Civil War and Its Aftermath (3)

In the decade following the Civil War, Chickasaw students capable of high-school level work were sent to academies outside their homeland. The leadership of the Chickasaw Nation had long recognized the need to develop students who would be "competent to furnish their people with a full corps of qualified teachers and others able to fill important positions in the Nation." They provided for 60 of their best students to attend schools in the United States, and stipulated that the number was to be "equally divided between the sexes."[1]

In the meantime, the Chickasaws continued to rebuild. By 1876, a handful of schools were operating with some capacity to accommodate boarders. Bloomfield Academy, sometimes called "the Bryn Mawr of the West," housed 45 students. Wapanucka Academy, Chickasaw Male Academy, and the Orphans Home School at Lebanon could each accommodate 60 boarders.[2]

From the end of the Civil War until Oklahoma statehood, for over forty years, the Chickasaw Nation maintained control of its schools. The Chickasaws were devoted to education. By 1892, the nation owned and operated nineteen primary "neighborhood schools" and five secondary schools, including the Orphans Home School. In fact, the emphasis the Chickasaws gave to education outpaced the capacity of their schools to place students. Consequently, beginning in 1884, the C.N. passed legislation that provided for the Methodist Episcopal Church South to operate schools. In 1889, the nation contracted with the Presbyterian Church in the U.S. (South) to operate an academy to be named Reed's Seminary, for 40 to 60 orphan girls. And, by 1891, the Catholic Order of the Sisters of St. Francis was operating a school in the Canadian Valley.[3]


[1] Caroline Davis, "Education of the Chickasaws, 1856-1907," Chronicles of Oklahoma 15, no. 4 (1937): 421.

[2] Ibid., 421-22. Although the government shut down Chickasaw schools at Oklahoma statehood in 1907, Bloomfield Academy, though not under the control of the C.N., remained in operation until 1949. See Amanda J. Cobb, "Chickasaw Schools," Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, (accessed April 13, 2018).

[3] Davis, "Education of the Chickasaws," 430-33. As Davis notes, there is some question whether Reed's Seminary ever opened. It appears to me that it did not.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Schools among the Chickasaws in Indian Territory: The Civil War and Its Aftermath (2)

Chickasaw leaders of the post-Civil War period emphasized the importance of schooling. For example, by 1870, all parents of Chickasaw students who attended school received a stipend that included the approximate cost of boarding as well as tuition. Perhaps officials found it hard to determine if a student lived far enough away from school to justify a separate, additional stipend for room and board. At any rate, the Chickasaw Nation provided every citizen household with school-aged children the same per-child stipend, whether a student lived at school or at home. The household of every student who attended school received money to help offset the cost of room and board as well as tuition.[1]

Again, although the Chickasaws had roughly one quarter the population of the Choctaws, the Chickasaws spent more than twice as much on education. In at least one year, 1891, the Chickasaw government spent all of the interest from its funds held by the federal government for education, which amounted to $95,000, roughly $2.5 million in 2018 values.[2]

Still, the tribe struggled with the task of getting their school system running again after the war. New facilities were built in a rush, and were often small and rickety. Most of the better schools were those that used established facilities, which were nonetheless damaged or dilapidated. As late as 1897, one teacher complained, "The reason that writing has been omitted is that there is no desk or thing that can be used for desks."[3]


[1] Caroline Davis, "Education of the Chickasaws, 1856-1907," Chronicles of Oklahoma 15, no. 4 (1937): 420.

[2] Wendy St. Jean, Remaining Chickasaw in Indian Territory, 1830s--1907 (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2011), 99.

[3] As quoted in Davis, "Education of the Chickasaws," 420.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Schools among the Chickasaws in Indian Territory: The Civil War and Its Aftermath (1)

At the outbreak of war in the spring of 1861, the federal government abandoned Indian Territory. The fate of Fort Washita just north of the Red River epitomizes this moment in Oklahoma history. On May 1, four U.S. Army companies posted at the fort fled north with hundreds of Texas Confederates in close pursuit. The remainder of the federal troops in Indian Territory joined them and the entire group made its way to Kansas. Not only did the Confederate Army commandeer Fort Washita, it was never again occupied by the United States.[1]

In addition, many upper-class Chickasaws owned slaves. Given the prejudices within the tribe, and with Arkansas and Texas as neighbors, it was only natural for the leaders of the Chickasaw Nation to renounce their allegiance to the Union and side with the Confederacy. This meant, of course, that the Chickasaws forfeited their status vis-a-vis the government of the United States.

Meanwhile, the war halted the growth and destroyed the development of the previous three decades. From 1861 to 1865, schools and churches in the Chickasaw Nation were closed. Many homes were lost and destroyed.[2]

By the end of the war, Christian missionaries had long since left Indian Territory. During the years of conflict, schools and academies ceased operation and school buildings served the Confederate cause as barracks and hospitals.[3] What remained of those buildings now served as the physical foundation for the post-war educational system. The first priority was to rehabilitate those facilities. By 1867, federal appropriations of money to the Chickasaw Nation resumed. These funds provided for the new beginnings of the school system.

G. D. James served as the first Chickasaw Superintendent of Public Instruction. In  1869, James reported to George T. Olmstead, U.S. Indian agent stationed at Boggy Depot, that eleven neighborhood schools were operating, with a total of eleven instructors and four assistants. Two thirds of these educators were white and were, in James's opinion, of low caliber. But he expected the quality of instruction would only increase over time.[4]


[1] W. B. Morrison, "Fort Washita," Chronicles of Oklahoma 5, no. 2 (June 1927): 257. See also Caroline Davis, "Education of the Chickasaws, 1856-1907," Chronicles of Oklahoma 15, no. 4 (1937): 416. According to a pamphlet titled "Fort Washita: Walking Tour Guide," which the author acquired, U.S. forces fled on April 16, contrary to the date of May 1, reported by Morrison.

[2] Davis, "Education of the Chickasaws," 416.

[3] Arrell M. Gibson, The Chickasaws (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1971), 271.

[4] Davis, "Education of the Chickasaws," 418-19.

Sunday, April 08, 2018

Schools among the Chickasaws in Indian Territory: Independence and Its Immediate Aftermath

1856 marked a major turning point in Chickasaw history. In that year a new treaty took effect and finally gave the tribe political separation from the Choctaws.

The 1837 Treaty of Doaksville had essentially made the Chickasaws a mere part of the Choctaw Nation. In the years that followed, the Chickasaws determined to distinguish themselves politically. Their argument for independence included four points.

First, against the protests of the Choctaw Nation, the Chickasaws insisted that the $530,000 paid to the Choctaws as part of the 1837 Treaty of Doaksville provided for a separate Chickasaw district. Second, a twenty-mile wide strip starting at the Canadian River in the north and running to the Red River in the south had served as a boundary between the Choctaws and Chickasaws from the time they arrived in Indian Territory. The existence of that boundary supported the first claim; if no real distinction existed between the two, then why was there ever a boundary? Third, the Chickasaws complained that they did not have adequate representation in the Choctaw government. Fourth, propagandists among the Chickasaws threatened that trouble would break out between them and the Choctaws if Chickasaw demands were not finally satisfied. The federal government responded with support for Chickasaw independence.[1]

Upon gaining their new independence, the Chickasaws set out to establish for themselves a solid educational system. Among other provisions, the tribal leadership set aside monies for additional schools and established the elected office of superintendent of public instruction.[2]


[1] Arrell M. Gibson, The Chickasaws (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1971), 250-51.

[2] Ibid., 255; Caroline Davis, "Education of the Chickasaws, 1856-1907," Chronicles of Oklahoma 15, no. 4 (1937): 415.

Friday, April 06, 2018

Indian Removal and the Treaty of Doaksville

The Indian Removal Act was signed into law by President Andrew Jackson on May 28, 1830. The legislation authorized the U.S. president to provide American Indians with lands west of the Mississippi River in exchange for the ancestral homelands the tribes were forced to abandon.[1]

As a result of the new law, in the early 1830s Chickasaw leaders traveled west and began their search for a new homeland. But several expeditions failed to identify a suitable place. The site selection was delayed. As historian Arrell M. Gibson notes, one group of Chickasaw leaders spent most of 1835 searching. Another group continued the task until late 1836.
Finally on January 17, 1837, at Doaksville in the Choctaw Nation, Chickasaw leaders concluded an agreement with Choctaw spokesmen. By the Treaty of Doaksville the Chickasaws agreed to pay the Choctaws $530,000 for the central and western portion of the tribe's vast grant. At last the Chickasaws had a western home.[2]

[1] For a narrative description of this episode, see A. J. Langguth, Driven West: Andrew Jackson and the Trail of Tears to the Civil War (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2010), 138-67. See also N. Bruce Duthu, American Indians and the Law (New York: Viking Penguin, 2008), 8-10.

[2] Gibson, The Chickasaws, 178.

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Education among the Chickasaws in Indian Territory: Early Beginnings to 1855

Before 1850, public education hardly existed among the Chickasaws in Indian Territory. The tribe received appropriations from the federal government, and part of that money was spent to support students who were attending schools in the Choctaw District, where most Chickasaws lived at the time. But students were few. For example, in 1843 the tribal agent noted that there were not more than seven or eight Chickasaws attending Choctaw schools.

At least some of the brightest Chickasaws were sent to the Choctaw Academy, founded by the Baptist Mission Society at Great Crossings, Kentucky, in 1818. In time, the federal subsidy that provided for those students expired. Afterward, a few attended Plainfield Academy in eastern Connecticut, a school established mainly to prepare young men for future study at Yale College.[1]

The scene changed when Christian missionaries arrived in Indian Territory. Baptists, Roman Catholics, Presbyterians, and, above all, Methodists made up this group. Prior to Chickasaw removal from the southeastern United States, by far the most successful Christian missions among the Chickasaws were conducted by Presbyterians.[2] But during the 1840s and '50s, the most productive missionaries among them were Methodists. Part of their success resulted from a willingness to follow the Indians as they left their settlements in the Choctaw District and moved further west into what would become the territory of the Chickasaw Nation. In 1844, Methodist missionary E. B. Duncan planted a church at Pleasant Grove near Fort Washita. The settlement served as a base of operations for Duncan's circuit-riding mission among the Chickasaws. At the same time, Duncan's wife began a day school where she taught as many as forty children.[3]

Mrs. Duncan's school exemplified a strong tendency among Methodist missionaries to bring education as well as religion to Indian Territory. Early on, Methodist officials began negotiating with Chickasaw leaders regarding the educational needs of the tribe. Their collaboration led to the establishment of a system of schools for both elementary and upper-level students in the Chickasaw District. According to the agreement, the Indians contributed over 80 percent of the cost for these schools; the denominations contributed only a small fraction.

The first school in the district was the Chickasaw Manual Labor Academy. An impressive two-story stone building was completed in 1851. The school admitted both girls and boys, with 140 students as early as 1857. Instructors taught a wide variety of subjects, including English, Latin, arithmetic, geometry, music, and religion. They segregated part of the curriculum according to sex: boys learned to perform "agricultural and mechanical arts," while girls learned "house-wifery, needle-work, domestic industry, and child care."[4] 

Presbyterian missionaries established an academy among the Chickasaws in 1851, Wapanucka Female Manual Labor School. In 1854 the Methodists added Bloomfield Academy, a school for girls, and Colbert Institute. In 1857 the Chickasaw council approved legislation for the construction of a fifth school in their district, the Burney Academy near Lebanon.

From the Chickasaw perspective, antebellum missionary schools in Indian Territory focused on literacy mainly for the sake of Bible reading and conversion to Christianity. To the Indians, those educational goals did not serve the best interests of the tribe. Most Chickasaw leaders understood that schooling was vital to the future of their nation, but they wanted their schools to provide a broad academic foundation. That is, they wanted teachers who would teach, not preach.[5]

Cultural differences between missionary teachers and Chickasaw students created another concern. The differences often resulted in harsh judgments and cruel discipline based on stereotypes. For example, in 1855 at Wapanucka Academy, one schoolmaster publicly whipped a group of girls. He offered the justification that,
These little rogues need something more than mere kindness to manage them. They are full of evil from the crown of their head to the sole of their feet."
Children sometimes ran away from school and did everything they could to keep from being sent back.[6]

Trouble between students and teachers is, of course, an age-old problem. Yet, in many instances white teachers in the Chickasaw Nation interpreted the friction as the result of racial differences. One nonnative principal surmised that stubbornness was "a fundamental characteristic" of especially full-blooded Chickasaws. According to his stereotype, there was also a benefit to being a full-blood: "the higher the percentage of Indian blood the better artists they were."[7]


[1] Arrell M. Gibson, The Chickasaws (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1971), 231-32. Regarding the Choctaw Academy, see Clara Sue Kidwell, "Choctaw Academy," in The Kentucky Encyclopedia, ed. John E. Kleber (Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 1992), 184. For more about the Plainfield Academy, see Orwin Bradford Griffin, The Evolution of the Connecticut State School System (New York: Teachers College, Columbia University, 1928), esp. 28, 48, 176-81. See also the following URL:

[2] Gibson, The Chickasaws, 106-09.

[3] Ibid., 233-34. Gibson cites the Annual Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs for 1845, 524-26.

[4] Gibson, The Chickasaws, 235.

[5] Wendy St. Jean, Remaining Chickasaw in Indian Territory, 1830s-1907 (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2011), 92. A very similar tension between Indians and Euro-Americans cropped up at other times and places. See, for example, Linford D. Fisher's discussion of evangelization in eighteenth-century southern New England in The Indian Great Awakening: Religion and the Shaping of Native Cultures of Early America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), ch. 2.

[6] St. Jean, Remaining Chickasaw in Indian Territory, 91.

[7] Ibid., 95.