Native American Census before 1850

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Prior to 1846 there was no general law for taking a census of the Indians within the United States, Thomas Jefferson in 1782 gave a careful analysis of the location of tribes and their numbers the United States, which then comprised only the country east of the Mississippi and north of the Floridas.

It will be noticed that Mr. Jefferson made two lists: one of Indians beyond the United States of that date, part of whom were in territory which is still outside the United States, based upon the estimates of Croghan, Bouquet, and Hutchins, and a second of Indians within the limits of the, United States as bounded in 1782 based upon the estimates of the authorities above named and Dodge. In his “Notes on Virginia”, he writes of the Indian
Tribes as follows:

I will now proceed to State the nations and numbers of the aborigines which still exist in a respectable and independent form. And as their undefined boundaries would render it difficult to specify those only which may be within any certain limits, and it may not be unacceptable to present a more general view of them, I will reduce within the form of a catalogue of all those within and circumjacent to the United States whose names and numbers have come to my notice, Those are taken from different lists, the first of which was given in the year 1759 to General Stanwix by George Croghan, deputy agent for Indian Affairs under Sir William Johnson; the second was drawn up by a French trader of considerable note, residing among the Indians many years, and annexed to Colonel Bouquet’s printed account of his expedition in 1764; the third was made out by Captain Hutchins, who visited most of the tribes by order, for the purpose of learning their numbers in 1768; and the fourth by John Dodge, an Indian trader, in 1779, except the numbers marked * which are from other information.

Jefferson did not combine his compiled estimates into any total. Other estimates and counts made from time to time are outlined in the following statement:

Estimates and Census of Indians, 1789-1890 [1] [2] [3]

Estimates and Census of Indians, 1789-1890
Estimates and Census of Indians, 1789-1890

The estimate made by the Secretary of War in 1780 applied to the same territory as covered by Mr. Jefferson’s compilation for Indians within the limits of the United States as bounded in 1782.

Gilbert Imlay, in his book “Topographical Description of the Western Territory”, London, 1797, refers to the tables of Indian population given as estimates by Croghan, Bouquet, Hutchins, Dodge, Carver, and other writers, and gives the Indians of the country “from the Gulf of Mexico on both sides of the Mississippi, and from thence to the Missouri and between that river and Santa Fe, at less than 60,000″.

The report of Special Commissioner Jedediah Morse, in 1822-1824, pages 107-113, was the first listing of the Indian population north of Mexico and to the British line, A large part of the territory considered was the present state of Texas, not then in the United States.

Indians In The United States In 1822

The following table, from the report of Rev, Jedediah Morse, special United States Indian commissioner, June 6, 1822, shows all the Indian tribes within the limits of the United. States at that time, including it few tribes not in the United States, but bordering on the northern and southern boundaries related to or intermingling with them, the number of each tribe, the places of their residence, and the pages or the report where the tribes are described. The report gives the names of about 230 tribes, tentative, of course, with a total population of 471,447.


Total 471,417
Indians in New England 2,526
Indians in New York 5,184
Indians in Ohio 2,407
Indians in Michigan and Northwest Territories 28,380
Indians in Illinois and Indiana 17,000
Indians in southern states east of the Mississippi 65,122
Indians west of Mississippi and north of Missouri 33,150
Indians between Missouri and Red River 101,072
Indians west of the Rocky Mountains 171,200
Indians between Red River and Rio del Norte 45,370

Remarks. The average proportion of warriors to the whole number of souls is about 1 to 5. In Some tribes it is more and others less. In the tribes dwelling among white people the proportion is about 1 to 3; The number of men and women in the Cherokee nation is nearly equal; In the Menominee and Winnebago tribes the women are a third more than the men. The number of children is much greater in proportion to the whole number of souls in the 2 tribes last named than in tribes mingled with white people.

In Indian countries where fish constitute an article of food the number in each family is about 6; in other tribes, where this article is wanting, the average number in a family is about 5.

In 8 years the Winnebagoes increased, according to the account given by respectable traders among them, from 3,500 to 5,800.

Estimate of the proportion between men and women (From Respectable Authority)

Indian Men Women
Cherokees Equal Equal
Winnebagoes 900 1,300
Menominees 600 900

Proportion of Warriors to the Whole Number

Indians Warriors Whole Number Proportion
Indians south of Red River 13,220 46,370 About 3.5
Winnebagoes 900 5,800 About 6.5
Monominees 600 3,900 About 6.5
Indians in Ohio 753 2,257 About 3.0
Missouri 7,500 30,000 About 4.0
On the west side of the Rocky Mts. About 6.0

Fishery –About 40 miles from the mouth of the Columbia River is a famous smelt and sturgeon fishery; also abundance of wapatoe, species of potato, and excellent substitute nor the real potato. The smelts are taken from the middle of March to the middle of April, and at no other time. They are fat and of good flavor, The Indians dry and run a stick through a number of them and use them in the place of candles. When lighted at the top they burn to the bottom, giving a clear and bright light,

Captain Winship’s Establishment.- Within a few miles of the spot above mentioned Captain Winship, of Boston, in the spring of 1810 attempted to make a permanent establishment. A difference arose between him and the Indians, and after erecting a building he was obliged to decamp. This building was after wards carried away by a flood.

In 1825 and in 1829 the Secretary of War included an estimate of the Indians in his report, as given on a previous page.

The Alphabetical Enumeration of Indian Tribes, by Samuel J. Drake, has a list of the principal tribes Of Indians in the United States, With their locations, in 1832, with an estimated population of 293,933. This list of about 200 tribes contains many local names.

In 1834 the Secretary of War included an estimate of Indians in his report, and in 1836 and in 1837 a similar statement was published in the report of the Superintendent of Indian Affairs.

In November, 1840, a memorial was presented to Congress asking for more efficient ceases and other features, In consequence of this, Congress provided in the fifth section of the act of March 3, 1847, for “a better organization of the office of Indian Affairs”, and to amend the “trade and intercourse act”.

Section 5. And be it further enacted, That in aid of the means now possessed by the department of Indian Affairs, through its existing organization, there be, and hereby is, appropriated the suns of five thousand dollars to enable the said department, under the direction of the Secretary of War, to collect digest such statistics and materials as may illustrate the history, the present condition, and future prospects of the Indian tribes of the United States.

Under this authority, H. R. Schoolcraft was appointed to collect Indian statistics, On the transfer of the Indian office to the newly created Department of the Interior under the act of March 3, 1840, the work of collecting. Indian statistics was continued. The results of this census will be found in Schoolcraft’s “History of the Indian Tribes of the United States”, published under the direction of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, in 6 volumes. In the first volume, page 523, appears an “ultimate consolidated table” of the Indian population of the United; States, dated July 22, 1850. The statement is as follows:

Indians in the United States in 1850 (H. R. Schoolcraft)

Iroquois group, complete 5,922
Algonkin group, incomplete 17,197
Dakota group, incomplete 5,015
Appalachian group, incomplete 5,015
Total, of which a detailed enumeration has been made
Tribes in the new states and territories south and west, now including Texas and Mexican acquisitions[4] 183,042
East of the Rocky Mountains and the Mississippi, in high northern latitudes 167,390
Fragmentary tribes in the older states 3,153
Total 388,229
Mr. Schoolcraft estimates the California Indians at 32,231

In a note appended to the statement Mr. Schoolcraft says: “There may be, in addition to these number 25,000 to 35,000 Indians within the area of the unexplored territories of the United States”.


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  1. This included Texas, not then in the United States.
  2. Indians of extreme west apparently not included.
  3. The Indian population by this count foots up 366,925, but by an apparent clerical error wan printed as 306,475.
  4. The numbers in these tribes are conjectural, no particular account of them having been received.

MLA Source Citation:

Department of the Interior. Report on Indians Taxed and Indians not Taxed in the United States, Except Alaska at the Eleventh Census: 1890. Washington DC: Government Printing Office. 1894. Web. 14 April 2014. - Last updated on Oct 27th, 2012

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