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Tribal Rolls 

     As this law in its intent purported to be a final settlement of all Indian claims of the aforesaid tribes, including the Choctaws, the old claims of the Mississippi Choctaws were revived.

     Congress was faced by these facts. The treaty of 1830 had provided for all Choctaws desiring to remain in Mississippi a home without cost to them upon their complying with the requirements of that treaty.  Hundreds of Choctaws had made application for their homes and had done, as best they knew how, all that was required of them to secure their homes, and were defeated in their claims only through the fault of the United States Indian Agent.  In other words, that the Mississippi Choctaws had not secured their homes in Mississippi in 1830 according to treaty stipulations was due to no fault of theirs, and the United States Government was still at least under moral obligation to perform its part of the original contract. But at this late day it was impossible to supply these homes in Mississippi for lack of sufficient public domain.   Furthermore the lands in the Choctaw and Chickasaw reservations in the Indian Territory were held in common by the two tribes.  No Choctaw or Chickasaw owned a foot of land in the Indian Territory exclusive of any other member of these two tribes, but owned only an undivided interest in common with all other members of these two tribes to any and all lands reserved to the Choctaws and Chickasaws. 

     The claims of the Mississippi Choctaws were settled not by giving them the lands promised them in Mississippi, but in lieu thereof lands in either the Choctaw or Chickasaw reservations in the Indian Territory.  Nor was the Mississippi Choctaw given the same number of acres in the Indian Territory that was promised him in Mississippi, but was given an equal right, upon his proving his claim, with the Choctaws who had already moved to the Indian Territory. 

     The first embodiment of the authority for settling the claims of Mississippi Choctaws in the manner just outlined is found in the 21st Section of the Curtis Bill. This section in providing for the making of rolls of citizenship of the several tribes provides for Mississippi Choctaws as follows:

“Said commission shall have authority to determine the identity of Choctaw Indians claiming rights to the Choctaw lands under article fourteen of the treaty between the United States and the Choctaw Nation concluded September twenty-seventh, eighteen hundred and thirty, and to that end they may administer oaths, examine witnesses, and perform all other acts necessary thereto and make report to the Secretary of the Interior.”
     The commission referred to in the above paragraph is the commission known in law as the Commission to the Five Civilized Tribes, but in popular parlance called the Dawes Commission from its first chairman, Henry L. Dawes, of Massachusetts.  This Commission with headquarters at Muskogee, Indian Territory, began at once the onerous task of making the tribal rolls provided for in section twenty-one of the Curtis Bill. 

     The necessity of these new tribal rolls is evident. The old rolls of citizenship as made by each tribe were burdened with fraudulent claimants, many of whom had no rights whatever as Indians.  To make these new rolls it became the duty of the Commission to pass upon every claim for Indian citizenship filed before it.  Plenary powers were vested in the Commission in the performance of its functions. Each claim that passed the approval of the Commission entitled its owner to an allotment in severalty of the lands and annuities of his tribe, and with the Choctaws an allotment in either the Choctaw or Chickasaw lands, these two tribes holding their lands in common. 

     “Full bloods” experienced but little if any difficulty in securing the approval of their claims by the Commission; the greatest difficulty arose over the large number of claims for citizenship made by the mixed breeds and those who had no Indian blood at all, many of whom resorted to the blackest frauds to establish their claims. The Commission rejected many of these fraudulent claims. Some rejected claimants instituted proceedings in the United States District Courts for the Indian Territory under the Act of June 10, 1896, and came to be known as “Court Claimants.” 

     The District Courts permitted actions to establish Indian citizenship to be instituted before them de novo and prosecuted to decision. Some Court Claimants were reinstated by the court, others were again rejected. Additional evidence was sometimes secured and new trials granted. Appeals lay from the Commission to the Secretary of the Interior, and from the United States District Courts to the Court of Appeals of the Indian Territory and probably to Higher Courts, including the Supreme Court of the United States. These appeals were sometimes prosecuted. In this way some court claimants went from court to court with their claims until they had exhausted all their means. A discontented and purse-ridden rejected court claimant once compared the Indian Territory to a cow; the citizens were holding her by the horns and the Court Claimants by the tail, while the officials and lawyers got all the milk.

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Copyright 2001 - All Rights Reserved
Ellen Pack