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Political and Social Conditions which followed Removal to the Indian Territory
Posted By Dennis Partridge On In Native American,Oklahoma | No Comments
Subsequent Effect Of Same Upon Citizenship Matters
The removal of a whole nation from one portion of the country to a remote region difficult of access during the period of 20 year which preceded the Civil War and the reestablishment of that nation after such removal, necessarily had a demoralizing effect upon the institutions and governments of the people affected. This result was accentuated by the fact that the work of removal was accomplished by the Government of the United States, not at any one time, not within the period agreed upon in the treaty. but” throughout a long period of years and in scattering installments. All this is true, not of one nation either, but in all material respects of five. Necessarily a long period of peace and quiet, after such an experience in the history of any nation, would be required to restore conditions of law and order. Furthermore, it is patent that during such a period of turmoil might would make right in the distribution of political and property favors, and that the right of the weak and helpless would be ignored.
Various rolls were made from time to time by the tribal authorities, but such rolls were defective in a number of respects, as will lie pointed out hereinafter in connection with the act of May 31, 1900 which will be discussed later. With reference to that act I will point out the conditions which I found to exist upon personal examination of the, tribal rolls, as well as those set forth by the Commission to the Five Civilized Tribes in its several reports. The conditions set forth above will explain the lack of enrollment in a measure, but in addition thereto, it is to be noted that but meager provision was made for the formal recognition of those Indians who removed west after the migration of the main body of the tribes. Some provision was made through the appointment of citizenship commissions from time to time for the enrollment of persons who arrived in the Indian Territory during later times. A history of the laws and customs of these people also shows that for many years after the treaty the greatest irregularity existed in all matters pertaining to the enrollment of the citizens. The citizenship commissions were not frequently appointed and were not readily accessible to the people, many of whom, particularly in the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations, resided in out-of-the-way places in mountainous regions far from the points where the commissions held their sessions.
The census rolls were prepared by census takers who performed their duties probably with as much but with no greater care than that which usually characterized the loose methods followed by the tribal officials. Owing to the fact that the adopted whites and the mixed-blood Indians appropriated to their own uses the more valuable lands, many of the full bloods were compelled to live in the hill country and,, of course, became as a result more cr less inaccessible to census takers. The custom of the full-blood Indians of changing their names from time to time undoubtedly made it very difficult for the commission, and perhaps in some cases impossible, to identify them as-duly enrolled citizens. This condition respecting the enrollment of citizens is not to be wondered at in view of the chaotic condition of affairs in said tribes and the irregular methods pursued by them in business and legal matters.
The whole fault, however, was not due to carelessness, ignorance, or incompetence: instead, it was greatly augmented by the extreme corruption into which the tribal governments fell following the influx of the whites, and contamination growing out of association with the more unscrupulous classes of white persons. The corrupt condition of the tribes is set forth with considerable detail in various reports of the Commission to the Five Civilized Tribes.
November 20, 1894, said commission reported, in effect, that the tribal governments had proved a failure: that they were powerless to protect life and property, and that corruption of the grossest kind, openly and unblushingly practiced, had found its way into every branch of the service of the tribal governments; that all branches of the governments were reeking with it and that so common had it become that no attempt at concealment was thought necessary. The commission then reported further that the governments had fallen into the hands of a few able and energetic Indian citizens, nearly all mixed bloods and adopted whites, who had so administered affairs and enacted such laws that they were enabled to appropriate to their own exclusive use almost the entire property of the Territory of any kind that could be rendered profitable and available. The commission gave one instance where an unmarried white citizen of one tribe had appropriated to his exclusive use 50,000 acres of valuable land. It also reported that in another tribe, whose territory consisted of 3,040,000 acres of land, laws had been enacted during the last few years under which 61 citizens had appropriated to themselves and were then holding for pasturage and cultivation 1,237,000 acres, which constituted the arable and greater part of the valuable grazing lands belonging to that tribe. Report was also made that in another tribe a favored few were enjoying the products of the coal mines and forests. It further appears from said report that corruption of the tribal governments extended to the making of the various payments which were disbursed under treaty stipulations. It was reported by the commission that the payment of money to the Indians of those tribes within the last few years had been attended by many and well-authenticated complaints of fraud, and that persons making such payments, with others associated in the business, had, by unfair means and improper uses of the advantages afforded them, acquired large fortunes, and that in many instances private persons entitled to payments had received but little benefit there from. As to freedmen, it appeared that they were accorded but little, if any, protection by the law.
With reference to the improper practices followed in connection with the tribal payments, it is considered proper to suggest that the improper withholding, as well as the unjustifiable according, of the right to receive the same, was probably the cause, more than any other one tiling, of the imperfect condition of the rolls. Such improper practices undoubtedly resulted, in some cases, in the placing of names upon the tribal rolls without authority of law; but other cases have been presented to the department where it was claimed that the right to enrollment, or to receive payments, was denied because the citizen refused to assign, for a small percentage of its value, his right to receive the payment to the person making the same.
Further report was rendered by the commission November 18, 1895. It then reported its conviction that a large majority of the citizens were without voice or participation in the policy or laws by which the}’ were governed. The commission also repeated the statements contained in its prior report, concerning the appropriation of everything of value by the few, as well as its remarks concerning the corruption of the tribal governments.
In said report of November 18, 1895, the commission also set forth the condition, of the tribal rolls, particularly of the Cherokee Nation, stating, however, that much of what had been said with respect to the Cherokees was also applicable to the condition of affairs in the other nations. It pointed out that the tribal roll had become a political football, and that names had been stricken from it, added to it, and restored to it. without notice, or rehearing, or power of review, to further political or personal ends, with entire disregard of rights affected thereby: also that many who had long enjoyed all the acknowledged rights of citizenship had. without warning, found themselves decitizenized and deprived of both political and property rights pertaining to citizenship; that this practice of striking names from the rolls had been used in criminal cases to oust courts of jurisdiction depending on that fact, and that the same names had afterwards been restored to the rolls when that fact would oust another court of jurisdiction for the same offense. Glaring instances of the entire miscarriage of justice from this cause had come to the knowledge of the commission, and cases of the greatest hardship, affecting private rights, were found to be of frequent occurrence. Special reference was made by the commission to the so-called “intruders’ roll,” which was a list of persons whose claims to citizenship were denied by the nation, and who, by agreement in the purchase of the Cherokee strip, were to be removed from the Territory. The commission reported that this roll was then being prepared by the Cherokee authorities in a manner most surprising and shocking to every sense of justice and in disregard of the plainest principles of law; that the chief assumed to have authority to designate the persons to be put upon the intruders’ roll, and that names were by his order, without hearing or notice, transferred from the citizens’ roll to that of the intruders’ roll. It was made clear to the minds of the commissioners that the grossest injustice and fraud characterized said roll; that persons whose names had been on the citizens’ roll by the judicial decree of the tribunal established by law for that purpose for many years, some of them for 20 or more, persons who had enjoyed all the rights of citizenship unquestioned by anyone until distribution per capita of the strip money, had been by the mere designation of the chief stricken from the citizens’ roll and put upon that of the intruders’ roll. Because of this condition of affairs the commission felt it a duty to call attention to the facts and to invoke the direct intervention of the Government to prevent the consummation of a great wrong.
Internal causes alone did not operate to bring about the situation described by the Commission to the Five Civilized Tribes. It is a matter of common knowledge that both before the Civil War and for many years afterwards, the Indian Territory was a place of refuge for fugitives from justice. After committing their depredations upon the settlers of the neighboring States, they would retreat for safety to the forests and mountain regions of the Five Tribes. There they would continue their depredations with demoralizing effect, thereby maintaining a reign of terror and adding to the unrest and disorganized condition of the Indians.
In the midst of this unhappy situation came the Civil War. The tribes divided, some joining the Northern Army, others casting their lot with the Confederacy. Even the individual tribes themselves separated into factions, and many members of each temporarily abandoned their homes and joined the forces of the North or South, as their respective opinions dictated. When the war closed an effort was made to bring these warring factions together and to reestablish their governments. New treaties were entered into by the United States with each of the tribes and once more an attempt was made to build up the national organizations. With the establishment of the nations, the men who had in war opposed each other allied themselves in opposing political factions. First one party and then the other would acquire possession of the tribal governments, after elections of exceeding bitterness. It is safe, to say that the political struggles which ensued were off times more fierce and bitter than the political struggles which have been characteristic of the South American Republics.
The claim was made to me in the course of my field investigation, that men were stricken from the tribal rolls by the party in power to prevent the opposing party from carrying elections. This claim is supported by the reports of the Dawes Commission, mentioned above. It is indisputably established by certain laws which will be found in the Indian law books restoring individuals to citizenship whose names had theretofore been stricken from the tribal rolls for political and partisan purposes only.
After making a careful study of the whole situation during the years 1804 and 1895, the Commissioner to the Five Civilized Tribes expressed its final conclusion with respect to citizenship: that if the matter was left without control or supervision, to the absolute determination of the tribal authorities, with power to decitizenize at will, the grossest injustice would be perpetrated in the Indian Territory. At the time of its report, the commissioner recommended to Congress that action be taken for the purpose of bringing the corrupt practices of the tribal governments to a close and of securing to each and every citizen his rights under the laws and treaties of the nation in which he was entitled to membership.
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