Dawes Commission Negotiations

As an illustration of the feeling of antagonism manifested toward the commission, the following letter is quoted, which was addressed to the Committee of Cherokees, appointed to confer with the commission.

Letter To The Committee Of Cherokee

“Tahlequah District, Cherokee Nation, Aug. 10, 1897.

“To the Honorable Cherokee Commission, D. W. Bushyhead, Chairman; C. V. Rogers, DeKinny Waters, Robin Pan, Adam

Lacy, W. A. Duncan, R. B. Ross and S. H. Mayes

“Whereas, It is a fact that there is a commission here which has been sent by the United States, commonly known as the Dawes Commission, who are here for the purpose of entering into new treaties in order to bring us into a new agreement to allot our lands and to change our form of government ;

“Therefore, Be It Resolved by the National Keetoowah convention, that there be a strong protest filed, and which is to be a protest for all time to come, against making any agreement and entering into any new treaties, and with this resolution, adopted by the National convention, the chairman of said convention is hereby instructed to proceed at once and put the petition before the people for them to sign, praying the United States Government to leave them alone to enjoy their present form of government, and that more importance be given and accorded to the faithful observance of our patent to the Cherokee lands and to the provisions of the following treaties : December 31, 1838; May 6, 1828, February 11, 1833, and December 29, 1835.

“We have kept faith with the United States and observed faithfully all the provisions of these treaties, and desire to protest against entering into any new treaties and against any change in our present form of government.

“It is ordered that these resolutions be submitted to the Cherokee Commission without delay for their information. “Approved August 10, 1897.

David Muskrat, “Chairman, Convention”

Wilson Cummings, “Secretary”

Daniel Redbird, Chairman, National Keetoowah Convention (with 335 names attached).”

The Act of Congress giving the Dawes Commission authority to decide upon the citizenship of the various tribes, also contained the following provision, which served as notice to the Indians that Congress was determined to do something, either with or without the consent of the tribal officials, to improve conditions in the Territory.

“It is hereby declared to be the duty of the United States to establish a government in the Indian Territory which will rectify the many inequalities and` discriminations now existing in said Territory, and afford needful protection to the lives and property of all citizens and residents thereof.”

In vain did the Cherokees call attention to that provision in their treaty of 1828, which recited

“That the United States anxiously desires to secure to the Cherokees a permanent home which shall, under the solemn guarantee of the United States, be and remain theirs forever a home that shall never, in all future time, be embarrassed by having extended around it the lines, or placed over it the jurisdiction of a Territory or a State, nor be pressed upon by the extension, in any way, of any of the limits of any existing Territory or State.”

During the year 1897 the Dawes Commission held numerous conferences with the Five Tribes at various places in the Territory for the purpose of trying to induce them to agree to the dissolution of their tribal governments and the allotment of their tribal lands in severalty. At one of these conferences held in Tahlequah during the month of August, 1897, the first day was spent in hearing the opinions of white men and Indians who were almost white. Late in the afternoon the commission announced that they would like to hear from the full-bloods, many of whom were present during the day but had maintained a stolid air of silence, so characteristic of the real Indian. After a brief meeting of the full-bloods present, they announced that they would present their views on the following morning. On the next morning the hall was crowded with full-bloods who had selected three of their number to present their views to the commission. A special reporter for the Dallas (Texas) News was present and made the following report of the day’s proceedings:

Attitude Of Indians Toward Dissolution Of Tribal Governments

“The Dawes Commission had by no means of official declaration given the Cherokee people to understand that the reforms proposed would be. consummated either with or without their consent, and that they should not deceive themselves by trusting to their treaties as matters of sufficient moment to stay the hand of the Government, for it was the intention of Congress to override all these guarantees by means of arbitrary legislation.

“The speaking began, and the three orations occupied the whole forenoon. The language used was the unadorned laconic Indian. It is not within the power of English translation to do full justice to these three speeches; yet thought after thought was regularly snatched up as it came glowing from the furnace of inimitable eloquence, and shaped somewhat to the comprehension of the commissioners by the means of skillful interpretation.

Each oration had its leading idea. That of the first was the effect of the reforms proposed upon the well-being of the full-blood people.

“What,” he exclaimed, in a torrent of language, thought, feeling and argument equal to anything ever seen in the Greek or Roman classics, “What will become of that class of people whom I today have the honor to represent 2 We know the white man. They are a proud and overbearing race. We full-bloods can never live with them. Their laws are too many; they are written in big books, and in a language which we cannot understand. We shall never know when we are violating their laws until we are arrested and dragged away to trial. Your judges will also be white men ; they will not be able to talk to us. When on trial we shall be at the mercy of the white man ; when convicted we shall not know the nature of the offense; and when punished we shall not know whether we have been punished according to the law or against it. We can never live with the white men. If it be the intention of the great government of the United States to annul our treaties and turn the white man in upon us, it would be much the same as if the great father at Washington should take us up and plunge us headlong into hell; death would be preferable.”

The prevailing idea of the second oration was the sanctity of treaty obligations. He said : “You ask us to make a new treaty, but we cannot see the need of any new negotiations. You tell us that our old treaties are not good, but there was a time when you did not think so. When did they lose their force? Who is it that has spoiled them? It is not we. We have violated no treaty; we have broken no law. What is the matter with the great father at Washington? What is the cause of his offense, that he should annul our treaties and destroy us as a nation? Treaties never die except by the consent of both parties. The United States makes treaties with people beyond the great waters and they live forever. The great father never thinks of spoiling them.

“Why should he consider the treaties he has made with us less sacred than those he has made with nations beyond, where first is seen the rising sun, and with other nations where the setting sun is seen when it is night in the land where the great father at Washington lives? It is unjust to spoil our treaties. We are a small people, much smaller than we used to be. I know that we shall have to yield to the wishes of the Government. The great father has many big guns; protection was promised to us, yet we know that unless we obey him, they will not be our protectors, but will turn upon us. Yet if resistance was practicable and it were at all availing, I should willingly pour out my blood in the defense of my people.”

The words of the third speaker were different from those of the other two in tone and elevation of spirit. Said he “I am an old man. I have spent the greater portion of my life in going about trying to do good. My business has been to preach the Gospel. It has been my special care to look after the young men of the country and lead them to the Savior of the world who died on the cross, and in doing this I have also been in the habit of recommending them to the ways of the white man as something worthy of their imitation. But I begin to doubt whether I have been right in doing this. If what we hear from the commissioners be indeed the words of the white people, if they really mean to annul our treaties and break faith with us in that way, then their example will no more be worthy of an Indian’s imitation. I shall not feel like preaching to our young men any more; they will laugh at me and ask me if I would like to have them do like the white men. I am not in favor of a new treaty; our old treaties are all that we need. It is said we have a great deal of crime in our country; there would not have been so much if the United States had complied with her treaties with us. When one of our own people commits a crime we try him, and if he is guilty we punish him. But the Government allows white people to come into our country contrary to our treaties. They commit crimes, but we are not allowed to handle them. They are allowed to stay here, and it makes our country look like a hiding place for criminals when we are not at fault. All we want is peace; we only want to be let alone. I am not in favor of treating.”

At the close of the speaking one of the commissioners arose and for himself and his associates said, in substance:

“We have heard what you have to say. We have felt the force of your words and appreciate your feelings. We sympathize with you from the bottom of our hearts. But what you want is beyond our power to grant. Congress has determined to make a change in the political condition of your country and we cannot help it. We can only advise you to be wise, improve the opportunity offered you and prepare for the inevitable.

“The scene from an oral point of view was indescribable ; it was simply awful. It was a spectacle never to be forgotten. It was the white man’s boasted civilization brought down to lick the dust at the feet of the red man’s so called barbarism; an exhibition at which the moon might well blush and the sun hide its head forever in the caverns of universal night, from motives of intolerable shame.”    

Source: Benedict, John D. Muskogee and northeastern Oklahoma, including the counties of Muskogee, McIntosh, Wagoner, Cherokee, Sequoyah, Adair, Delaware, Mayes, Rogers, Washington, Nowata, Craig, and Ottawa. 3 v. illus., ports., facsims. 28 cm. Chicago, S.J. Clarke Pub. Co., 1922.

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