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).

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