On November 11, 1896, the International Council, composed of delegates from each of the Five Civilized Tribes, met at South McAlester to consider the matter of treating with the Dawes Commission, looking toward the dissolution of their tribal governments. Captain Standley of the Choctaw Nation was elected president, and Robt. L. Owen of the Cherokee Nation, secretary. After full discussion they adopted resolutions providing:
First: That if compelled to dissolve their tribal governments they would insist upon the prompt payment of all claims due from the United States under treaties or other sources.
Second: That they would insist that the United States pay each Indian $500 for giving up their tribal governments.
Third: That a sufficient portion of their tribal lands be set aside for the maintenance of their educational institutions under the Carlisle system.
Fourth: That they would retain their tribal governments as long as possible, which lease of life should be at least twenty-five years.
Fifth: That they would never consent to a territorial government or to a union with Oklahoma Territory.
Sixth: That when their tribal governments were abolished they would ask that Indian Territory be admitted into the Union as a state, and that the constitution of their proposed new state should contain a provision absolutely prohibiting the liquor traffic.
About the same time that the foregoing resolutions were being considered by the Indian councils, Senator Dawes, the father of the Dawes Commission, delivered an address before the annual conference of Indian Friends at Lake Mohonk, New York, in which he made the following statements : “Why is it that the Indian Territory is left without state or territorial government? There is no answer in the law nor in the constitution, much less in the possibilities of continuance. I respect the sentiment that is solicitous lest we should violate the treaty rights of these people. But I am unable to come to the conclusion that we ever did or ever had the power to abdicate our authority over any foot of the territory governed by the flag and constitution of this country. It was beyond the power of this Government under the constitution to do it. The constitution is the measure of the power of every branch of this Government. Congress sold this land to those people for a purpose, but the rules and regulations concerning it, the government of it, it not only never did sell to them, but never could have sold. The Constitution of the United States has never attempted to do this. Whatever was done was in a sort of treaty not made by Congress, and there is not a jot of authority in the constitution for those people to set up a government over a portion of the people of this country that is independent of the United States. The title was conveyed to these nations for the benefit of the people. It was put in their hands as trustees for each and every one of the citizen Indians. Every one of these treaties contemplates two things. First, they shall hold this land strictly for the use of each and every Indian, share and share alike, and they provide that the old system should pass away. They provide that whenever they choose they may take land in allotment, and the United States shall survey the land for them at its own expense, that when ever they choose to they may establish a territorial government and have a delegate in Congress.
“This is what the commission has been importuning the United States at one end and the Indians at the other to do. And that is what those who hold the power and are gathering the fruits of their iniquitous greed into their pockets have resisted to this day.
This commission has asked for the violation of no treaty obligation. We were charged from the beginning to say to these people Our desire is that you shall do this yourselves. The condition of things is growing worse every day that it continues. No description of the crimes committed will compare with the reality, and it was our duty to impress upon them that a change must come. And I am glad to say that the light is breaking upon them. They begin to see that the end has come, and they are beginning to negotiate with us now. Suppose they have an independent government, who made it Q The United States made it and can unmake it. While the property conveyed to these people is a vested right that can never be taken from them, the political status is not a vested right. There is no political condition that is a vested right. It is constantly being changed by the power that made it; and the power that made whatever independent authority is there, was the nation, and the United States has the power to resume it. These nations held the title in trust –for ‘the people. What have they done? They have misappropriated the trust. What is plainer than that if a trustee violates a trust he may be removed? It is in behalf of the Indian, not of the white man, that we are sent down there and it is in behalf of the Indian that we plead to have his possessions allotted to him by his own act, by the Government of the United States, or by some court of equity.”
In 1897 the personnel of the Dawes Commission was again changed by the appointment of Tams Bixby of Minnesota and Thomas B. Needles of Illinois, in place of Commissioners Cabaniss and Montgomery. On account of his age and enfeebled health, Chairman Dawes was unable to continue actively in the work and Mr. Bixby became acting chairman of the commission. Mr. Bixby’s predominant inclination for getting into the harness and getting up steam soon began to manifest itself in obtaining the results which the commission was appointed to secure.
The first satisfactory agreement which the commission was able to make was with the Choctaws and Chickasaws in what was called the Atoka Agreement, which was incorporated in the Curtis Act and became effective June 28, 1898.
The Atoka Agreement authorized the commission to make a roll of Choctaw and Chickasaw citizens who were legally entitled to share in the lands and moneys of the two tribes, and to appraise and allot their lands in severalty. The Curtis Act also authorized the commission to proceed with the enrollment of citizens and the allotment of lands of the other three tribes which up to this time had not consented to any agreement. The Curtis Act (so called in honor of the Kansas senator, the author of the bill, himself an Indian) was the most comprehensive piece of Indian legislation ever passed by Congress, as it provided, not alone for the enrollment of all Indian citizens and the allotment in severalty of their lands, but it also provided for the final settlement of all tribal affairs and the abolishment of all tribal governments by March 4, 1906.
The Dawes Commission now entered in earnest upon what was, perhaps, the most stupendous task ever assigned to any similar commission, viz: that of surveying, appraising and dividing 20,000,000 acres of land, equally, according to value, among 101,500 rightful heirs.
First, a roll was made, showing the name, age, sex and degree of Indian blood of each applicant. Some of the full-bloods who had the most perfect right to share in the tribal lands and moneys, refused to enroll at all, and had to be sought out in their remote homes in the hills, while hundreds of white people, mostly of the ignorant, shiftless class, tried in vain to prove that they or some of their ancestors, had- Indian blood in their veins.
In order to know that each Indian was receiving his rightful share of land, according to value, it was necessary for the commission to send out appraisers who were required to view every forty-acre tract of land in the Territory and fix its relative value.
When the Cherokees, Creeks and Seminole saw that the United States Government was determined to carry forward this work, regardless of any agreements with them, they were more inclined to treat with the commission, but they objected to putting certain provisions of the Curtis Act into force in their respective nations. The commission finally succeeded in making satisfactory agreements with the Creeks and Cherokees, containing slight modifications of the provisions of the Curtis Act, the Creek agreement becoming a law on March 1, 1901, and the Cherokee agreement on July 1, 1902.
On March 1, 1899, Congress reduced the membership of the Dawes Commission from five to four, and the vacancy caused by the resignation of Frank C. Armstrong, was not filled. On June 157 1900, Clifton R. Breckinridge of Arkansas succeeded Commissioner McKennon. On February 3, 1903, Henry L. Dawes, father of the commission, died and ex-Gov. W. E. Stanley of Kansas was appointed to fill the vacancy. Stanley resigned on March 31, 1904, and as the enormous task of the commission was approaching completion, no appointment was made to fill the vacancy.
Upon the death of Commissioner Dawes, Tams Bixby was appointed permanent -chairman by the Secretary of the Interior, although he had been actually serving as chairman for five years.
By June 30, 1905, the work was so far advanced that the services of four commissioners were. no longer needed and the commission was abolished, Tams Bixby being appointed as commissioner to the Five Civilized Tribes, to complete the task.
The location of the permanent headquarters of the commission at Muskogee aided very materially in the rapid growth and development of this city, as it brought an army of clerks and other employees of the commission from almost every state in the Union, and thousands of Indians and would-be Indians flocked to the city, seeking enrollment as members of the Five Tribes and making their selections of lands. The task of the commission required it to send out to various parts of the Territory enrollment crews, survey crews, appraisement crews, timber-estimating crews and appraisers of improvements., Accompanying them were clerks, stenographers, interpreters, teamsters, cooks, tents, wagons, cooking utensils, office blanks and records. In addition to this army of field workers, hundreds of clerks were kept busy at headquarters in Muskogee, making up the records and attending to the wants of the scores of Indians who daily came to the offices of the commission.
By the close of the fiscal year June 30, 1907, the principal part of the work of the commission was completed, leaving some details as to minors, full-bloods and contested cases to be adjusted, and on that date Mr. Tams Bixby resigned as commissioner and the work of settling up the odds and ends of the Indians’ affairs was assigned to J. George Wright, the United States Indian Inspector for the Territory.
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.