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Compiled by Kent Carter, September 1994

From 1789 until 1824, the administration of Indian Affairs was under the supervision of the Secretary of War. The Bureau of Indian Affairs was established within the War Department on March 11, 1824, by order of Secretary of War John C. Calhoun where it opeated informally until an act of Congress in 1832 (4 Stat. 564) authorized the appointment of a Commissioner of Indian Affairs. In 1849, the Bureau was transferred by an act of Congress (9 Stat. 395) from the War Department to the newly created Department of Interior where it has remained.(1)

During the first three quarters of the 19th century, the Federal Indian policy which was formulated in Washington was administered through a system of superintendencies and agencies.(2) Superintendents had general responsibility for Indian affairs in a specific geographical area while agents were responsible for the day to day conduct of relations with one or more tribes. Most agents operated under the supervision of a superintendent until the late 1870's when many of the superintendencies were abolished. By 1878, all agents reported directly to the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington, D.C.(3)

When the Federal government was established in 1789, large areas of the Southeastern United States were in the possession of the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, and Seminole tribes which were commonly referred to as the Five Civilized Tribes because they had established schools, churches, and a system of government modeled after the Federal government. By 1792, agents were appointed to deal with the Cherokees, Choctaws, and Creeks. The Chickasaws got an agent in 1800 and the Seminoles in 1824.

In the early 1800's some Cherokees began moving westward to avoid the advance of settlement.(4) An agency was established in 1813 for Cherokees who had settled in the area between the Arkansas and White Rivers in what is now Arkansas. Agencies were established for Choctaws and Chickasaws living in the West in 1825 and for Creeks in 1826.

During the administration of President Andrew Jackson, it became the policy of the Federal government to move all Indians living in the East to an Indian Territory west of the Mississippi River. Treaties which provided for ceding land in the East and moving to land in what is now the eastern half of of Oklahoma were negotiated with the Choctaws in 1830, the Chickasaw, Creeks, and Seminoles in 1832, and the Cherokees in 1835. Some Indians moved voluntarily with the assistance of agents of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the War Department but many opposed relocation and the Army forcibly removed large groups of Creeks in 1836 and Cherokees in 1838-39. The removal of the Seminoles in Florida required an extensive military campaign which was not terminated until 1842. This forced relocation of the Five Civilized Tribes is commonly referred to as the "Trail of Tears" and became the source of bitter factional dispute within each tribe.(5) Some Indians avoided removal and remained in the East and many Choctaws stayed in Mississippi under Article 14 of the treaty of 1830. (7 Stat. 333)

All of the agencies for the Five Civilized Tribes in the East were discontinued by 1839 and the agencies which had been established in the West for the early emigrants (sometimes referred to as "Old Settlers") assumed jurisdiction over the relocated tribes. An agency was established for the Seminoles in 1852 and in 1855 the Chickasaws were assigned to the Choctaw Agency.(6) On June 30, 1874, the Cherokee, Choctaw-Chickasaw, Creek, and Seminole Agencies were consolidated to form the Union Agency with headquarters at Muskogee in the Creek Nation. The staff of the agency generally included only the Superintendent, two clerks? and some Indian policemen and it exercised relatively little control over tribal affairs. Following the removal, each tribe reestablished elected tribal governments, tribal courts, and school systems and managed its own affairs within its boundaries. The Superintendent of the Union Agency devoted much of his time to a futile effort to remove non-Indians from Indian Territory and the occasional distribution of funds to recognized members of the tribe.(7)

The passage of the General Allotment Act of 1887 (24 Stat. 388) marked a major change in Federal Indian policy as the government sought to divide tribal lands among individual Indians. The Five Civilized Tribes were exempted from the General Allotment Act primarily because of legal questions about their land title but Congress passed an act on March 3, 1893 (27 Sat. 645) which authorized the establishment of a commission to negotiate agreements with each tribal government which would provide for individual allotments. Former Senator Henry L. Dawes of Massachusetts was appointed chairman of the commission on November 1, 1893 and it was commonly referred to thereafter as the Dawes Commission.

Many tribal members strongly opposed allotment and the Dawes Commission had little success negotiating agreements. An act of Congress of June 10, 1896 (29 Sat. 321) authorized the Commission to rule on applications for tribal citizenship and to add names to existing tribal rolls as a preliminary step towards allotment. The members of the Commission and staff travelled throughout Indian Territory accepting applications and conducting hearings. Having failed to negotiate any agreements, the Dawes Commission was authorized by the Curtis Act of June 28, 1898 (30 Stat. 495) to proceed with enrollment of tribal members and allotment of land without tribal consent. Each tribe subsequently negotiated and ratified agreements with the Commission which modified the terms of the Curtis Act and became the basis for allotment.(8)

The Dawes Commission maintained its headquarters at Muskogee in the Creek Nation and established land offices in each of the tribal Nations. Enrollment and survey parties were active in each Nation and several groups were sent to Mississippi to enroll Choctaws who had remained behind under Article 14 of the removal treaty. By 1900, the Dawes Commission employed a staff of more than 400.

The employees of the Union Agency worked closely with the Dawes Commission and were forced to take on new responsibilities as a result of allotment. The Curtis Act of 1898 also authorized the appointment of a U.S. Indian Inspector for Indian Territory to supervise the work of the Union Agency, the operation of tribal schools, the collection and disbursement of tribal revenue, and the platting and sale of lots in townsites. After the Dawes Commission allotted land to an Indian, the Union Agency was responsible for placing the allottee in possession of the land and supervising any subsequent sales or leases in accordance with the agreements negotiated with each tribe and numerous regulations issued by the Secretary of Interior. The Union Agency was also responsible for the disposition of any unallotted land and tribal property.(9)

The Dawes Commission was abolished by an act of Congress of March 3, 1905 (33 Sat. 1048) and replaced by a single Commissioner to the Five Civilized Tribes who supervised the large staff working to complete enrollment and allotment. By this time, the staff of the Union Agency had increased to more than 90 and was organized into twelve departments or divisions responsible for processing applications for the sale or lease of land, the collection and distribution of both tribal and individual revenue, receipt of payments for townsite lots and the issuance of deeds to the lots, and the removal of non-Indians ("Intruders") from land allotted to recognized tribal members. On July 1, 1907, the Commissioner to the Five Civilized Tribes assumed all responsibilities of the Indian Inspector for Indian Territory including the supervision of the Union Agency.

Oklahoma was admitted as a state on November 16, 1907, and the Indian Territory was organized into counties. In June, 1908, the forty counties under the jurisdiction of the Union Agency were divided into fifteen districts and a District Agent was assigned to each to work with the officials of county courts to protect the interests of minor children of Indians in accordance with an act of Congress of May 27, 1908. (35 Stat. 312) The District Agents reported to a Supervising District Agent at the Union Agency's headquarters in Muskogee and exercised close supervision over the land and financial affairs of minor children and "restricted Indians" (generally those of more than one-half degree Indian blood). By 1913, the Union Agency was maintaining accounts for the funds of more than 12,000 individual Indians.

The position of Commissioner to the Five Civilized Tribes and Superintendent of the Union Agency were abolished by an act of Congress of August 1, 1914 (38 Sat. 598) and replaced them with a Superintendent of the Five Civilized Tribes Agency. The staff of the Commissioner and the Union Agency were merged by April 4, 1915 and organized into seven divisions and 18 District Field Offices. The Secretary of Interior also appointed Probate Attorneys to most of the districts to work with county courts in probate and guardianship matters. The Probate Attorneys reported to a Supervising Probate Attorney in Muskogee who was under the administrative control of the Superintendent of the Five Civilized Tribes Agency but reported directly to the Secretary of Interior.

From 1915 to 1949, there were numerous changes to the designations of the divisions with the agency and the number of field offices but the agency's basic functions continued to be the supervision of the land and financial affairs of "restricted Indians", the management of tribal property and revenue, and the distribution of payments to recognized tribal members. Government farmers were assigned to most of the districts to train Indians in agricultural methods and a few field matrons worked with Indian families at various times to improve health and living conditions. Some of the tribal boarding and day schools remained in operation under the supervision of the agency which also worked with officials of state and local governments to provide educational and social welfare programs.

In 1949, Muskogee was designated as the site of one of eleven Area Offices and the Superintendent of the Five Civilized Tribes Agency was appointed Area Director with responsibility for the over-all management of activities of the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Eastern Oklahoma. The staff of the agency assumed responsibilities assigned to the Area Office in addition to performing the functions assigned to the Five Civilized Tribes Agency. Six District Field Offices were established under the general supervision of the Area Director to deal with individual Indians. The District Field Office at Miami, Oklahoma was responsible for tribes formerly assigned to the Miami Indian Agency including the Quapaw, Peoria, Wyandotte, and Seneca-Cayuga. In 1951, the Muskogee Area Office was assigned jurisdiction over the Seminole Agency at Dania, Florida and the Choctaw Agency at Philadelphia, Mississippi.

The records described in this inventory are those of the Muskogee Area Office, the Five Civilized Tribes Agency, The Dawes Commission, and the U.S. Indian Inspector for Indian Territory. They include more than 8,000 cubic feet accessioned by the National Archives-Southwest Region and are part Record Group 75, Records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

In general it has been impossible to separate the records of the Area Office from those of the Five Civilized Tribes Agency because most employees performed dual functions. The term agency has been used throughout this inventory to refer to both the Union Agency and its successor the Five Civilized Tribes Agency and the term Commissioner refers to the Commissioner to the Five Civilized Tribes unless otherwise noted. The records of the U.S. Indian Inspector for Indian Territory and the Commissioner to the Five Civilized Tribes became the property of the Five Civilized Tribes Agency under the act of Congress of August 1, 1914, and have been treated as records of the predecessor of that agency in this inventory. Most of the records of the Union Agency were destroyed by a fire at the agency headquarters on February 23, 1899.

Many of the records of the Commissioner to the Five Civilized Tribes and the Five Civilized Tribes Agency have been deposited with the Oklahoma Historical Society (OHS) in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma under an act of Congress of March 27, 1934 (48 Sat. 501). Reference to these records has been made in appropriate sections of this inventory whenever possible. The records in the custody of the OHS amount to approximately five hundred cubic feet and are also a part of Record Group 75.

The records described in this inventory are duplicated in part in records which were maintained by the headquarters of the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington, D.C. Those records have been described in Preliminary Inventory Number 163. Records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs compiled by Edward E. Hill.

Related records in the custody of the National Archives- Southwest Region include records of the U.S. District Courts for the Northern, Western, and Eastern Districts of Oklahoma and the Western District of Arkansas which heard numerous civil and criminal cases relating to the Five Civilized Tribes. These records are part of Record Group 21, Records of District Courts of the United States. See Guide to Records in the National Archives Relating to American Indians compiled by Edward E. Hill (GPO, 1982) for details about related records.

This inventory was compiled by Kent Carter.


1. There is no adequate published history of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The Annual Reports of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs are an excellent source of information about the organizational structure and activities of the Bureau for any given year. See also Robert M. Kvasnicka and Herman S. Viola, The Commissioners of Indian Affairs, 1824-1977 (Lincoln, 1977) and Paul Stuart, The Indian Office: Growth and Development of an American Institution. 1865-1900 (Ann Arbor, 1978). The Office of Indian Affairs by Laurence F. Schmeckebier (Johns Hopkins Press, 1927) is detailed but very dated and dull.

2. There are a number of studies of Indian policy including S. Lyman Tyler, A History of Federal Indian Policy (Washington, 1973). See Francis Paul Prucha's A Bibliographical Guide to the History of Indian-White Relations in the United States (Chicago, 1977) for numerous references.

3. There are virtually no studies of individual agencies althouh there operations are mentioned in histories of individual tribes. See National Archives Microfilm Publication T1105, "Historical Sketches for Jurisdictional and Subject Headings Used for the Letters Received by the Office of Indian Affairs, 1824-1880" for brief histories of the various field units. Until 1906, the Annual Reports of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs include the detailed annual reports submitted by each agent. For later reports, see National Archives Microfilm Publication M10ll, "Superintendents Annual Narrative and Statistical Reports From Field Jurisdictions of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, 1907-1938."

4. See Disinherited by Dale Van Every (New York, 1966) for a very biased account of this migration.

5. See Ronald N. Satz, American Indian Policy in the Jacksonian Era (Lincoln, 1975); Mary Elizabeth Young, Redskins, Ruffleshirts. and Rednecks (Norman, 1961); Grant Foreman, Indian Removal (Norman, 1932); and Arthur H. DeRosier, Jr. The Removal of the Choctaw Indians (Knoxville, 1970). Much of the correspondence of the agents involved with emmigration and removal has been reproduced as part of National Archives Microfilm Publication M234, "Letters Received, 1824-1880." See also pages 74-90 of Preliminary Inventory 163 of RG 75 for descriptions of records relating to removal.

6. See Leroy H. Fischer, "U.S. Indian Agents to the Five Civilized Tribes" in The Chronicles of Oklahoma (Winter, 1972 and Spring, 1973).

7. Books have been published about each of the Five Civilized Tribes. See The Five Civilized Tribes: A Bibliopraphy compiled by Mary Huf fman (Oklahoma Historical Society, 1991). See Theda Perdue, Nations Remembered: An Oral History of the Five Civilized Tribes (Westport, 1980); Morris L. Wardell, A Political History of the Cherokee Nation. 1838-1907 (Norman, 1938); Angie Debo, The Rise and Fall of the Choctaw Republic (Norman, 1934); Arrell M. Gibson, The Chickasaws (Norman, 1971); Edwin C. McReynolds, The Seminoles (Norman, 1957); and Angie Debo, The Road to Disappearance (Norman, 1941) which pertains to the Creeks. Grant Foreman's The Five Civilized Tribes (Norman, 1934) is dull reading but has valuable footnotes. See Cherokee Removal: Before and After edited by William L. Anderson (U. of Georgia, 1991). See Removal Aftershock! The Seminoles struggle to Survive in the West, 1836-1866 by June F. Lancaster, (U. Tenn Press, 1994).

8. See Angie Debo, And Still the Waters Run (Princeton, 1940) which is the best study of the work of the Dawes Commission. See also Loren N. Brown, The Work of the Dawes Commission Among the Choctaw and Chickasaw Indians (unpublished PhD dissertation, University of Oklahoma, Norman, 1937) and Ronnie Williams, "Pictorial Essay on the Dawes Commission" in The Chronicles of Oklahoma (Summer, 1975).

9. See H. Craig Miner, "A Corps of Clerks" in The Chronicles of Oklahoma (Fall, 1975) and Miner, The Corporation and the Indian: Tribal Sovereianty and Industrial Civilization in Indian Territory, 1865-1907 (Columbia, 1976).