The Act of Congress providing for the appointment of a commission to the Five Civilized Tribes was the most important law enacted by Congress, looking toward the abolishment of the tribal governments and the settlement of their vast estates. The law was passed on March 3, 1893, and provided that the President should appoint three commissioners to enter into negotiations with the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Muskogee (Creek) and Seminole nations, for the purpose of extinguishment of the tribal . title to the lands of Indian Territory, either by the cession of the same or some part thereof to the United States, or by the allotment and division of the same among the citizens of the tribes.
The first commission appointed consisted of Henry L. Dawes of Massachusetts, Meredith H. Kidd of Indiana and Archibald S. McKennon of Arkansas.
Upon their arrival in the Indian Territory, the commissioners were not given a very hearty reception by the natives. The Indians had repeatedly expressed themselves as being opposed to any dissolution of their tribal governments or to any division of lands.
On the 26th day of June, 1895, the International Council of the Five Civilized Tribes met at Eufaula to exchange views upon the proposition of the Dawes Commission to allot the lands of the Indians to the individual members of the several tribes.
The Cherokee Nation was represented by L B. Bell, G. W. Benge, W. A. Duncan and C. J. Harris ; the Choctaw delegates were J. C. Fulsom and Jacob Jackson ; the Chickasaw Nation was represented by R. H. McLish ; the Creek delegates were Roley McIntosh, John R. Goat, Esparhechee, Robert Stewart and A. L. Posey; the Seminole representatives were J. F. Brown, Okchan Harjo and J. N. Kinkeekee.
C. J. Harris, chief of the Cherokees, made the principal address and was followed by G. W. Benge, J. R. Goat, Governor J. F. Brown, J. C. Fulsom and R. H. McLish.
At the close of a two-day's session the council adjourned after adopting resolutions reaffirming the position which they had taken the year before at a council held in Checotah, which was not favorable to the proposed agreement of the Dawes Commission.
Gen. G. M. P. Turner, a prominent Creek, in 1897, voiced the feelings of many of the full-blood Creeks toward the efforts of the Dawes Commission in a speech in which he used the following words:
Muskogee Phoenix Editorial
During the month of June, 1897, the Dawes Commission visited Fort Gibson for the purpose of persuading the Cherokees to consent to an agreement providing for the division or allotment of their lands among the members of their tribe, but so much opposition to the proposition was manifested, principally among the full-blood element, that nothing was accomplished at that time.
The Muskogee Phoenix, on June 17, 1897, had this editorial on the situation:
A Vinita paper commented upon the situation as follows:
The title to the lands was vested in the tribe. Each Indian was allowed to take possession of as much land as he could use, so long as he did not trespass upon the rights of his neighbor. He had the right to sell his improvements at any time, to any other member of his tribe, which sale carried with it the right to occupy and use the land upon which the improvements were located. He was not permitted, however, to sell to any person other than a member of his own tribe. Upon his death, his improvements and his possessory right to the land which he occupied, descended to his heirs. When he sold his claim, he had the right to take possession of any tract of land which was not occupied by any other member of the tribe, and improve it as his own.
While this system was commendable in some respects, especially as it was an incentive to every Indian to build a home, yet it proved objectionable, as the white citizens and those who were partly white, soon had possession of the best tracts of land, while the full-blood, who was slow to appreciate the value of good land, was gradually forced back to the rocky, barren hills.
But the majority of the full-bloods were contented because they were permitted to roam about, changing their habitations at will, and not eager to burden themselves with large amounts of cultivable lands.
Indian councils refused to treat with the commission and numerous public meetings were held to protest against any change in their tribal affairs. Certain white tenants and others of slight degree of Indian blood, who were in possession of some of the best land, lent encouragement to this opposition.
By Act of Congress of March 2, 1895, the Dawes Commission (so called in honor of its first chairman, who, as United States Senator from Massachusetts, had manifested an active interest in Indian legislation) was increased to five members, Thomas B. Cabaniss and Alexander B. Montgomery being the new appointees. Frank C. Armstrong was also appointed to take the place of Commissioner Kidd, who resigned in order to enter another branch of governmental service.
In order to give the commission more authority and better standing with the tribes, Congress enacted a law on June 10. 1896, empowering the commission to determine who were lawful members of the respective tribes entitled to share in tribal property. This act gave the commission a responsible task to perform, instead of merely "parleying" with the Indians as it had been doing up to this time, and it served to create in the minds of the Indians a feeling of more profound respect for the commission, as it was now authorized to pass judgment on the legal standing of every Indian. Opposition to entering into any agreement with the commission continued to manifest itself in numerous meetings and resolutions, but as the commission began its task of determining who were entitled to enrollment as Indian citizens, its members were brought into closer contact with the Indians, and feelings of mutual respect and confidence began to develop.
Tribal councils began to give the matter more serious attention by appointing delegates to confer with the commission, but without authority to bind the tribes.
There are three pages to this section, please read each one to get a better understanding of these negotiations!