Graft And Grafters

Soon after the Dawes Commission began the immense task of allotting to each individual Indian his proportionate share of tribal lands, the cry was raised that the Territory was being overrun with an army of land-sharks who would use every effort and device to rob the Indian of his land. For many months “The Grafter” was the favorite theme for the sensational news correspondent, until many good people especially throughout the North and East, were led to believe that the great body of white men who had emigrated to the Territory, were organized for the purpose of defrauding the natives of their lands. Every opening of public lands has had its rush of prospective settlers and adventurers, and the rush to this country when the Dawes Commission began to partition the vast landed estate of Indian Territory, was not unusual nor’ unexpected. There is a peculiar fascination accompanying land openings which’ is specially attractive to speculators and “get rich quick” sharks, and a goodly number of that class of men invaded this country with the expectation of securing land at a nominal price, but they were far outnumbered by honest men who were in favor of protecting the interests of the Indian. Some of these reckless adventurers proceeded to get deeds from simple-minded Indians at a trivial cost and their nefarious acts were heralded abroad as constituting the principal business of white men.

As a matter of fact, however, but few of these grafters profited by their dishonorable practices, for the deeds which they illegally secured were declared void by the courts, and the recollection of their dishonest dealings has left them in disrepute with the business men of the community. Various congressional delegations visited the Territory on what was termed their “junketing” tours for the purpose of investigating conditions, but the only real protection which the Indian has received has come from our local state and Federal Courts and officials.

It is an indisputable fact, however, that from time immemorial, the Indian has been regarded as a favorite subject for graft, due in great measure, to the fact that he had not been accustomed to attaching any special value to real estate. His nomadic mode of living, his natural love of the woods and streams, his inclination to subsist on fish and game rather than upon the products of the soil, his deep-rooted belief that land titles should be vested in the tribe instead of in the individual, his tendency to cling to old customs and habits, in fact his whole life environment has been of such a nature as to render him an easy prey for his more avaricious white brother.

Four hundred years ago the Indians owned the whole of North America. What right had the kings of England, France, Spain and other foreign nations to grant vast tracts of land in this country to their favored vassals? When Roger Williams rightfully insisted that the early colonists should obtain their grants of land from the Indians who were in possession, rather than from the King of England, he was driven out of the Massachusetts Colony and ostracized by his own people. When Sir Francis Drake visited North America, he robbed the natives of all the gold and silver he could find, and upon his return to England, the King conferred upon him the rank of Knighthood as a reward for his splendid accomplishments. When the early colonists of Connecticut drove the Pequot Indians away from their homes and took possession of their lands, they were complimented by their friends for their deeds of valor.

The early colonies of Massachusetts, New Haven and Plymouth entered into a compact by which they agreed to divide the spoils of conquest which they expected to secure from the Indians.

And when we recall the historical fact that Peter Minuit purchased Manhattan Island, now New York City, from the Indians for $25 payable mostly in trinkets, it seems possible that a bill in equity on behalf of the descendants of those Indians, for the recovery of Manhattan might be sustained on the theory of inadequate consideration.

At a later date, when gold was discovered on the Cherokee reservation in Georgia, white intruders rushed in to secure the valuable metal and the governor of Georgia, in opposition to the very mild protest of the Federal authorities, decided that the whites and Indians could not live together, and therefore the Indians must leave the state.

These historical references to instances of Indian graft on a large scale are not made for the purpose of palliating that offense as practiced here, for it is and has been condemned by a vast majority of the people of Oklahoma ; but is made with the hope that sentimental, absentee friends of the Indian may understand that the practice of grafting Indians did not originate in Oklahoma, nor is it countenanced by but a very small proportion of the population.

It is but fair and just to compare the present social and financial condition of the Indian with that prior to the period of allotment of lands. Has the influx of white population aided or injured the Indian.

Not many years ago the U. S. Indian Agent reported to the Secretary of the Interior that the Osage were on the verge of starvation and that the Government should furnish them with immediate assistance. Today, the Osage are not only the wealthiest tribe of Indians in the world, but are, perhaps, the wealthiest organized clan or body of men of any kind. Every Osage, man, woman and child, has an independent income-all on account of the discovery and development of oil by the white man. A large share of the land of this tribe is rough, rocky and hilly, entirely unfit for cultivation, but almost every hill is dotted with oil wells, developed solely by the enterprise and capital of white men.

Quite a number of Creeks (Indians and Freedmen) who, twenty years ago had to beg local merchants to supply them with the necessaries of life until they could mature their meager crops, are today millionaires, while many others have comfortable incomes-all derived from royalties on oil and gas which the white man has found upon their land.

The Delaware and remnants of other little tribes who were brought down from Kansas years ago and corralled in the Northeastern corner of this state are receiving handsome incomes from the lead and zinc mines which the white men have developed.

The Cherokees have not yet been so fortunate as to find much oil on their lands, but they have their farms and livestock, which are being improved from year to year, and the white man furnishes them a market for their surplus products.

The $25 pony and the rattle-trap buggy of twenty years ago have been displaced by the automobile and many an Indian proudly manipulates his own high-powered machine.

Some of the brightest lawyers, physicians and successful business men are Indians, while many of them hold city and county offices, and a number of them were sent to the legislature and to Congress by the votes of their white neighbors. No social distinctions, whatever, are recognized between the two races, nearly all of the Indian children have access to the public schools of the state and the two races worship the same God in the same churches. During almost the whole of the past century, the official reports of the Federal agents represented that in certain localities the Indians were starving and frequent appeals were made to Congress for their relief. Such appeals are seldom heard of at the present time and cases of poverty or starvation among the white population greatly outnumber those among the Indians.

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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