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The Dawes Commision

March 3, 1893 to March 4, 1907

The information obtained for this page comes from the works of, Daniel F. Littlefield, Jr’s, The Chickasaw Freedmen, Greenwood Press, Westport, Connecticut *London, England

'When the Chickasaw emancipated their slaves under the Treaty of 1866, they were given the option of adopting their former slaves as citizens of the Nation. If they did not, The United States agreed to remove the blacks from the Chickasaw Country.  The Chickasaws failed to adopt the freedmen, and the United States did not keep the treaty agreement.  Thus the Freedmen lived in the Chickasaw Nation, for over forty years, without civil rights or protection of the law.”

The Dawes Commission was formed March 3, 1893, not for the purpose of enrolling former slaves, as many believe, but as the first step to dissolve the Indian Nations of their land. The original commissioners were Henry L. Dawes, Meredith H. Kidd and Archibald S. McKennon.The Dawes Commission met February 6, 1894 at Tishomingo, with a large number of Chickasaw to explain their mission.

"They submitted for Chickasaw consideration a proposition to dissolve the Chickasaw Nation, allot its land in severalty, and divide the tribal funds per capita.  They also explained that among the official charges were specific instructions regarding the Chickasaw freedmen.  Since they  had no tribal rights, the Commission was instructed by the Indian Office to try to obtain Chickasaw consent to give the freedmen allotments of land. However, the national council met in regular session and took no action on the proposal.”

Because the Freedmen were treated as aliens, without rights, in early 1894 a House bill was introduced into congress to ‘ameliorate’ the condition of the Freedmen. A commission was formed to investigate and make a roll of all Freedmen who were entitled to benefits under the treaty of 1866.

  The Chickasaw Freedmen established the Chickasaw Freedmen Association to protect their status, rights, and interest in Negotiations with the Dawes Commission.  They met in 1894 and chose Joseph P. Mullen of Ardmore and Robert V. Belt of Washington as their attorneys.  The Freedmen Association presented the following claims to the Dawes Commission.

“First, they asked for rights, privileges, and immunities equal to those of the Chickasaw citizens, including suffrage, equal educational privileges, equal protection under the law, and equal shares in the moneys and public domain of the Nation.  Second, they claimed indemnification for damage, loss, and injury sustained since 1866 as a result of being denied their rights as citizens.  Third, they asked that, once their rights were secured, the Chickasaw lands be surveyed and allotted in severalty, at least to the freedmen…..”

Congress authorized a survey of the lands of the Five Civilized Tribes in the spring of 1895.  Also appointed to the commission was Frank C. Armstrong who replaced Kidd and Alexander B. Montgomery.  On June 10, 1896 Congress authorized the Dawes Commission to hear and determine the applications for all persons, including freedmen, who might apply for citizenship in the Indian Nations and to enroll the citizens.

On June 7, 1897 Congress gave the United States courts exclusive jurisdiction over all civil and criminal cases arising in Indian Territory after January 1, 1898.  The laws of Arkansas and the United States were extended to all residents in the territory, irrespective of race. Congress also clarified the “rolls of citizenship” to mean the last authenticated rolls approved by the councils, the courts or the Dawes Commission under the act of 1896.  Any name that had been stricken had the right to appeal to the United States courts.

Congress took final control of affairs in the Indian Territory on June 28, 1898 with the Curtis Act. Passing  the Curtis Act abolished the enforcement of the laws of the Indian tribes.  On July 1, 1898 the tribal courts of the Cherokee and Seminoles were abolished.  The Chickasaw and Choctaw were abolished October 1, 1898.  All pending cases were transferred to the United States courts.  The Atoka Agreement was included.  The Curtis Act applied to the tribes only where they did not conflict with the provisions of the Atoka Agreement.  The Curtis Act provided for allotment to the Chickasaw, but the Atoka Agreement excluded them.

On August 4th and 5th, 1898 Charles Cohee, President of the Chickasaw Freedmen’s Association, called a convention of Chickasaw and Choctaw Freedmen, living in Chickasaw Nation, the meeting was held at the Dawes Academy-near Berwyn. Convention committee for payment of fees to the attorneys working in their behalf were (Note my ancestors are in bold Italic) Joseph Murray, Richmond Prince, William Pickens, Lee Newberry, Robert Anderson, William Alexander, Newton Burney, Nelson Eastman, Henry Clay, George Stevenson, Ben Williams and William Mckinney.  The attorneys (Mullen and Belt) would appear on their behalf before the Dawes Commission and present the Freedmen’s claims for damages at the next session of Congress.

The Dawes Commission  ask the freedmen to select a committee to assist in identifying freedmen eligible for enrollment.  The Freedmen convention elected, Cohee, Mack Stevenson, Henry Gaines, Soloman McGilbrey, and Samuel Jones. In making tribal rolls, the Dawes Commission was directed to make a roll of the Freedmen entitled to rights under the treaty of 1866 and their descendants. On September 19, 1898 an enrollment camp was set up at Ardmore.

As the enrollment progress, the Chickasaws were alarmed at the number of Freedmen the Dawes Commission was enrolling, at this rate there would be more Freedmen than Chickasaws and if each received 40 acres they would be deprived of 338,000.  On October 8, 1898 there was an estimated 4,500 Chickasaws Freedmen and 4,230 Chickasaws’ 

The Dawes Rolls were closed March 4, 1907. The Final Rolls were closed in 1914.


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Copyright© April 1, 2000 Eleanor L. Denson-Wyatt. All Rights Reserved