The Allotment Revolution
Forcing Indians onto concentrated reservations was designed to provide the environment for a cultural revolution based on education, agriculture, and a good deal of missionary persuasion. Dating back to the days of Jefferson and Jackson it was argued that once individual Indians had been taught the virtues of hard work and private land ownership, they would move away from tribal affiliation and be ready for United States citizenship. In time, it was "understood" that they would join the mainstream of white American life and reject their traditional culture. On the other hand, the granting of private land would drastically reduce the size of Indian reservations, thus opening millions of acres of land to white settlement.
Pressure for such a settlement mounted during the years of Plains warfare. The passage of the Homestead Bill in 1862, the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad in 1869, the admission of Kansas (1861), Nebraska (1867), and Colorado (1876) to statehood, and the virtual destruction of the buffalo by the early 1880's meant that the new dispensation was at hand.
It came on February 8, 1887, when Congress passed the Dawes (or General Allotment) Act. Although public grants of reservation land to individuals Indians had been made prior to 1887 - to the Kansa-Kaws in 1825, the Poncas in 1858, and the Southern Cheyennes and Arapahoes in 1861, for example - these were generally awarded to mixed-blood factions who had rendered valuable services to the government in the treaty process. The Act of 1887 contemplated no such under-the-cover operations, and, indeed, was designed for widespread application.
Each adult was to receive 160 acres, each minor child 80 acres. The lands were held in trust by the federal government for a period of twenty-five years, after which citizenship and outright ownership were to be granted. What reservation acreage remained was declared surplus, and, for the most part, offered for sale to whites. By the termination of the trusteeship period, which could be lessened at the discretion of the Secretary of the Interior after 1906, it was expected that the allotted Indian would no longer consider himself a tribal member.
While individual supporters could be found in all tribes, the Plains Indians as a cultural entity fought the Dawes Act. At the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, for example, a government commission, after thirty-two days of negotiation, could obtain only twenty-two signatures in support of allotment. The situation at the Pine Ridge, Rosebud, and Cheyenne river reservations was not much better. But in 1889, when Congress passed legislation admitting North and South Dakota as states, victory for the white man was assured. About all the Dakota People could do was to hold out for 320-acre allotments and a higher price for their lands. That same year, on April 22, certain unassigned lands south of Kansas were opened to boomers in the first "Oklahoma Run." More lands were released for white pre-emption in the next decade and a half as federal commissioners, now armed with the less compromising authority of the Curtis Act (1898), secured allotment agreements from the Cheyennes and Arapahoes in 1891, the Pawnees in 1893, the Wichitas in 1895, the Kiowas and Comanches in 1900, the Kansa-Kaws in 1902, the Poncas and Otoes in 1904, and the Osages in 1906. It was "land-grabbing" on the classical model, and what made it particularly tragic for the minority who perceived that economic exploitation and cultural obliteration lay at the very foundation of these agreements, was that the Act of 1898 was sponsored and introduced by Kansas Congressman Charles Curtis - a mixed-blood Kansa-Kaw who eventually became Vice-President of the United States under the Hoover administration.
Kaw delegation: The last delegation in the early 1900's; went to Washington, D.C. to discuss allotment of the Kaw Reservation in northern Oklahoma.