Letter of Tams Bixby
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Department Of The Interior
Commission To The Five Civilized Tribes
Muskogee, Ind. T., January 24, 1903
The Secretary of the Interior.
Receipt Is hereby acknowledged of departmental communication of December 27, 1902 (I. T. D. 4703-1902 and 6496-1902), requesting attention to departmental letter of October 23. 1902, relative to the application of Bettie Lewis for enrollment as a citizen of the Choctaw Nation.
The matter was first brought to the attention of the department in the decision of the commission, under date of July 23, 1902, refusing the application made by Bettie Lewis for enrollment as a citizen by blood of the Choctaw Nation. In her testimony before the commission at Atoka, Ind. T., June 7, 1900, Bettie Lewis stated that her father. Butler McGee, who had then been dead about 15 years, was, during his lifetime a recognized citizen by blood of the Choctaw Nation and a resident of Jacks Fork County.
On August 12, 1902, the department, upon the recommendation of the Acting Commissioner of Indian Affairs of August 2, 1902, requested the commission to report whether the name of Butler McGee, the alleged father of Bettie Lewis, is found on any of the tribal rolls of the Choctaw Nation.
In reply thereto the commission, on August 28, 1902, advised the department “that the enrollment of the citizens of the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations, as now being made by this commission, is upon the Identification of the applicant from the 1893 leased district payment roll of the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations and the 1896 census roll of the citizens of these two tribes,” and further, “no authenticated rolls of the citizens of the Choctaw and Chickasaw Tribes have ever been furnished the commission as a basis of enrollment, nor have any roll or rolls of the citizens of these two tribes ever been adopted or confirmed by the National Council of the Choctaw Nation or the Legislature of the Chickasaw Nation as authenticated rolls of citizenship,” and further, “The commission has not in its possession, nor had it any knowledge of any rolls of the citizens of the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations made during or prior to the year 1885,” and further, ” The request has heretofore on several occasions been made to the tribal authorities of the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations to furnish the commission with any and all rolls and records of citizenship in the possession of the two tribes, but we have never been furnished with any roll or rolls of the citizens made prior to the leased district payment roll of 1893.”
In reporting on the communication of the commission of August 28, 1902, the Acting Commissioner of Indian Affairs, under date of October 21, 1902 (Land, 51962-1902), after referring to acts of the national council of the Choctaw Nation and of the Chickasaw legislature, authorizing the preparation of rolls of citizenship, expresses the opinion that such tribal legislation clearly shows that “there were censuses prepared and regular rolls of citizenship kept, and that the enrollment of citizens was one of the important functions of government in the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations for many years; that this being true, there must be numerous, rolls of the citizens of the two tribes antedating the 1893 leased district payment roll of these two tribes.”
The Acting Commissioner of Indian Affairs further expresses the opinion that the commission should be instructed to again call upon the executives of the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations for such rolls made prior to 1893, and in case of failure upon their part to appeal to the United States court, in accordance with the provision of the act of Congress of June 28, 1898.
In concluding, the Acting Commissioner of Indian Affairs states as follows:
“This office has examined and reported on a large number of cases of applicants for enrollment as citizens by blood of the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations, and recommended that the applicants be rejected for enrollment on the presumption that statements by the commission in those cases, of the general character of the statements in the two cases referred to herein, involved an exhaustive examination of the rolls of those nations, and is now surprised and disappointed to learn that it was misled into believing that the examination had been thorough and complete. In other words, these recommendations and the action of the department thereon were based on false premises, and many of the conclusions reached may have been consequently erroneous.
“This office, in the light of the circumstances presented, recommends that the Bettie Lewis case and all other rejected applications for citizenship in the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations be held for further consideration until the commission is In a position to make a more thorough examination with reference to what the Choctaw and Chickasaw rolls actually do show.”
This report of the Acting Commissioner of Indian Affairs was transmitted by the department for consideration, report, and recommendation on October 23, 1902 (I. T. D. 0496-1902).
The commission has to report that from the inception of the work of the enrollment of the citizens of the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations every possible effort has been made to obtain from the tribal authorities of these two nations any rolls of citizenship that they might have in their possession. The first step taken in this direction was after the approval of the act of Congress on June 10, 1896, when request was made of the principal chief of the Choctaw Nation and the governor of the Chickasaw Nation to furnish the commission the last authenticated roll of citizens of these two tribes made prior to June 10, 1896, and all other rolls made subsequent thereto, with such copies of the acts of legislature and the national council of the two nations, the judgments of citizenship courts or commission as may have been rendered since the date of the last authenticated rolls admitting persons to citizenship in the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations, and such other records and documents as might be in any manner helpful to the commission in making rolls of the citizens of the two nations in accordance with the acts of Congress on June 10, 1896 and June 7, 1897.
This request was made of the chief executives of the two tribes in communications under date of June 28, 1897. In reply thereto the principal chief of the Choctaw Nation, under date of July 10, 1897, advised the commission:
“It is absolutely impracticable for me to furnish your commission a complete roll of the Choctaws, together with all persons admitted after June 10, 1896. I think, however, that I can furnish your commission names of some parties that were fraudulently admitted, provided that you will extend my time for this work, say, about 20 days from the 2d of August.”
The principal chief of the Choctaw Nation, on July 17. 1807, in reference to the rolls, advised this commission as follows:
“It will be impossible for me to furnish your commission with the last authenticated roll made prior to June 10, 1896, as the time to prepare the roll is too brief. But the last revised roll made in accordance with an act of council (October, 1896) contains all the citizens of the Choctaws by blood, intermarriage, and adoption, and is about complete after about four months of labor, and will be furnished you at the time requested. I will add, however, that the law authorizing this last roll provided that the principal chief shall approve of and sign the roll before it becomes the recognized rolls of the citizens of the Choctaw Nation. But as I am satisfied that there are some names on the roll that have been registered through fraud or misrepresentation. I shall not approve of it until these cases are investigated. At the proper time I will furnish you a list of these names and of the witnesses.”
On July 30, 1897, the principal chief advised the commission of the forwarding by express of the revised roll of the Choctaw Nation, containing the names of the citizens by blood, marriage, or adoption, and in this connection states as follows:
“The law requiring the taking of the roll required it to be approved by the principal chief, but as there are names on the roll that I am satisfied ought not to be there, I will not approve of the rolls until these cases are Investigated. I will furnish you, in a few days, all the evidence I can bearing on these cases.”
Under date of August 13, 1897, the commission addressed a communication to the principal chief of the Choctaw Nation, requesting that he “inform us the date of your last authenticated roll, approved by your national council, prior to June 10, 1896, which includes the names of intermarried citizens as well as citizens by blood. It will be necessary for us to have that roll, and every other roll made since that time, to enable us to comply with the law under which we are to make rolls.”
In reply to this communication, on August 17. 1897, the principal chief of the Choctaw Nation advised the commission as follows:
“I wish to inform you that there was no roll of intermarried citizens made prior to June, 1896.
“The revised roll which I recently furnished your commission is the only roll made by this nation that contains the names of intermarried citizens.”
The governor of the Chickasaw Nation, on July 22, 1897, in reply to our request of June 28, 1897, advised the commission as follows: “We have only one authenticated roll of citizens, and that is the one approved by the legislature In 1896,” and on December 27, 1897. the governor of the Chickasaw Nation advised the commission that he had that day forwarded a “true copy of the roll of our peoplethe best we can do under present circumstances. Any information you may wish in regard to same will be gladly given, if within my power to do so.”
The correspondence had with the chief executives of the two tribes above referred to shows clearly that there had never, prior to the approval of the act of Congress of June 10. 1890, been any rolls of the citizens of the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations which had been ratified and confirmed by the legislative bodies of these two nations or had received the approval of the chief executives. It is a matter of general information in said nations that the rolls made prior to that time wore merely census rolls made up separately according to counties and districts by individual census takers in such counties and districts, and which were never brought together or consolidated so as to form a complete roll of tribal members.
The rolls made under the provisions of the act of Congress of June 10, 1896, by the tribal authorities have never received the confirmation of the legislative bodies of the two nations nor the approval of the chief executives, so that at the inception of the work of the enrollment of the citizens of these two nations the commission was only furnished with the two rolls above referred to and made under the provisions of the act of Congress of June 10, 1896, and which, the commission was informed, contained inaccuracies. In 1898. after the approval of the act of Congress of June 28, 1898. authorizing the commission to make correct rolls of the citizens of these two tribes, an earnest effort was made to secure from the tribal authorities of these two nations all rolls of citizenship and other papers, documents, and acts of admission of any description that might in any manner assist the commission In the preparation of correct rolls of the citizens of the two tribes, and to determine whether any such rolls, documents, or acts were in existence, and if so, where located.
In the fall of 1898, when the commission began the work of enrollment in the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations, Commissioners Bixby and McKennon, who were both in the field, conducted an investigation looking to the location and acquirement of tribal rolls and records. As a result of their personal efforts the commission secured the Choctaw leased district payment roll of 1893 and the Chickasaw pay roll of 1893. In addition to these two payment rolls they also obtained what are known as the Ieshatubby and Maytubby rolls of 1898, these rolls being memoranda made by Commissioners Ieshatubby and Maytubby in 1893 of those Chickasaw Indians who were residing in the Choctaw Nation. All of the rolls so obtained by Commissioners Bixby and McKennon were procured from individuals who had said rolls in their possession, and the information which the commissioners obtained at that time lead to the conclusion that It had been the practice of tribal officials charged with any duty in connection with tribal rolls to withdraw them from the executive offices when necessary and to retain them among their personal effects.
The rolls above referred to were the only rolls of which the commission could gain any knowledge. Having been repeatedly informed by representatives of both tribes that no tribal rolls of any description were in the executive offices, and being thoroughly satisfied that the tribal officials were sincerely endeavoring to aid the commission in locating the missing rolls, there appeared to be no foundation upon which to obtain an order of the court.
After the receipt of departmental communication of October 23, 1902. the commission at once addressed communications to the governor of the Chickasaw Nation and the principal chief of the Choctaw Nation, with which, for their information, were enclosed copies of the report of the Acting Commissioner of Indian Affairs of October 21, 1902. In these communications the commission earnestly requested the chief executives of the two tribes that there be transmitted at the earliest practicable date all the rolls of the citizens of the two tribes in the possession of the tribal authorities made prior to the leased district payment roll of 1893 and such other data as would be of benefit to the commission In determining the rights of persons to be enrolled as citizens of these two nations.
No reply has ever been received by the commission to the letter addressed to the governor of the Chickasaw Nation, but under date of November 8, 1902, the principal chief of the Choctaw Nation, in reply to our request, stated as follows:
“In reply I have to say that I have this day written Hon. E. H. Wilson, national secretary of the Choctaw Nation, directing him to be at Tuskahoma on Monday, the 17th Instant, for the purpose of making a thorough search among the records of the national secretary’s office to ascertain if such census or records of citizens of the Choctaw Nation, as suggested in the letter of the honorable Secretary of the Interior, can be found.
“It will require much time to go through the accumulated mass of ill arranged papers in that office, and would suggest that you send a representative there to cooperate with the national secretary in the search.
“I am certainly interested in securing all the data bearing on the citizenship cases that can be obtained and will lend every assistance in that direction.”
In accordance with the suggestion of the principal chief of the Choctaw Nation, the commission directed one of its representatives to proceed to Tuskahoma on the 17th of November, for the purpose, in conjunction with the national secretary of the Choctaw Nation, of making a thorough search of the records of the national secretary’s office for data bearing upon the rolls of citizenship of the Choctaw Nation.
Another representative of the commission was also directed to proceed to Tishomingo. the national capital of the Chickasaw Nation, for the purpose of securing such records as he might find in the national secretary’s office of that nation bearing upon the rights of persons to citizenship in the Chickasaw Nation.
The result of this investigation in the Chickasaw Nation has been the securing of portions of the 1878 annuity roll of said nation, together with several lists, undated, which apparently contain the names of both citizens and non-citizens. So much of the 1878 annuity roll as was obtained is now being arranged and indexed.
The representative of the commission delegated to Tuskahoma secured a large number of incomplete lists of persons, undated and without any caption, and it is impossible, from the condition in which the records were found, to definitely state whether such lists were the rolls of the citizens of the Choctaw Nation.
Both of the representatives of the commission delegated for this purpose spent several days In the office of the national secretaries of the two tribes and used every available means of securing any documents that might In any way materially assist the commission in the determination of the rights of persons to be enrolled as citizens of the two tribes.
After these investigations and the return of our representatives to the general office, the commission was in receipt of a letter under date of December 15, 1902, from Edward H. Wilson, the national secretary of the Choctaw Nation, as follows:
“Very much to my surprise, as well as pleasure. I found a complete set of the Choctaw census rolls compiled in 1885. These rolls were found In a most inaccessible place and were discovered by accident. I forwarded same by to-day’s express and hope you will acknowledge receipt in due time.”
The rolls referred to in the above communication were received by the commission and are found to be in excellent condition, being separate bound rolls of each county in the Choctaw Nation, certified by the duly and lawfully appointed census enumerator to be a true census of the county and bearing the certificate of the national secretary of the Choctaw Nation, showing the date the same were filed for record in his office.
These rolls, containing the names of probably between 12,000 and 14,000 citizens of the Choctaw Nation, are now being indexed by the commission and this work will presumably be completed within a very short time.
The commission believes, as a result of this thorough investigation in this matter, that the only rolls secured which can in any manner be referred to or relied upon as even incomplete rolls of the citizens of these two nations are the 1885 census roll of the Choctaw Nation and the 1878 annuity roll of the citizens of the Chickasaw Nation.
It is impracticable at this time to determine and advise whether or not the name of Butler McGee, the alleged father of applicant, Bettie Lewis, in the case under consideration, is found upon the 1885 census roll of the Choctaw Nation, but as soon as the index now being prepared is completed the commission will report on the inquiry made in departmental letter of August 12, 1902.
In referring to those cases wherein the department has affirmed the decision of the commission refusing the application of persons therein for enrollment as citizens of the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations the commission believes that in none of these cases will it be found that the applicants or their parents ever obtained any tribal recognition as citizens of these two tribes and that the greater number of applications were made by persons in the belief that the possession of Indian blood was the only requisite to their recognition and enrollment as citizens of these two nations. In those cases already affirmed by the department, however, the commission will make an Investigation of such rolls and papers as have recently come into his possession and will make report to the department in all cases in which it is found that the names of the applicants or their ancestors appear thereon.
The commission has further to report that in the cases which are now, and in the future will be. forwarded to the department the statement as to tribal recognition will include in the Choctaw Nation an examination of the 1885 census roll, the 1893 leased district payment roll, and the 1896 census roll, and in the Chickasaw Nation the partial 1878 annuity roll, the 1893 leased district payment roll, and the 1896 census roll, the only rolls which the commission has been able to secure after a thorough and most painstaking investigation of this matter.
Respectfully, Tams Bixby, Acting Chairman.
T. B. Needles, Commissioner.
C. R. Beckinbridge, Commissioner. (Through the Commissioner of Indian Affairs.)