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Week 12 (redirected from Week 13)

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Allotment, Assimilation, and Boarding Schools


November 19: Dismantling Tribes and Their Homelands



After the period of intense US-Indian warfare in the 1860s and 1870s, US American Indian policy shifted to a focus on assimilation and the allotment of tribal lands to non-Indians. Colin Calloway writes that if the US had previously been intent on establishing reservations, the goal was now to break up reservations. The Dawes Act of 1887 was the major catalyst of this new policy era, and established the practice of "allotment," the process by which the "surplus" lands on reservations would be made available to white homesteaders. This was supposed to stimulate Indian-white intermixing and thereby help incorporate American Indians into US society at large. In this module we will read policy documents and two court cases pertaining to this new era in US Indian policy. In addition, we will trace how what had been previously designated as Indian Territory was folded into the newly entered state of Oklahoma in the early twentieth century.







Study Questions


  1. How does the Dawes Act define allotment policy? What does "severalty" mean in this context?
  2. On what basis are allotments assigned to individuals? Who gets what; how large are the tracts of land allotted; and who makes the decisions? 
  3. What implications does allotment have for tribal sovereignty and US citizenship?


Standing Bear was a Ponca leader who in 1875 (along with other Ponca leaders) signed a document allowing the tribe's removal to Indian Territory. In 1877. Due to various misunderstandings and mishaps on the part of the agent, the Poncas arrived in Indian Territory too late to plant crops, and the US government did not provide the farming equipment it had promised. In 1878 the Poncas moved west to the Salt Fork of the Arkansas River, but by spring, almost a third of the tribe had died of starvation and illnesses. When Standing Bear led 65 to the Omaha Reservation in Nebraska, where they were welcomed by the Omahas, the Secretary of the Interior (also the director of the Bureau of Indian Affairs) sent Brigadier General George Crook to have the Poncas arrested for leaving their reservation in Indian Territory. Standing Bear and others were detained at Fort Omaha. The pro bono attorneys John Webster and Andrew Poppleton helped Standing Bear with his 1879 suit for a writ of habeas corpus in the Omaha, Nebraska US District Court, resulting in the case United States ex rel. Standing Bear v. Crook. 


  1. Explain Judge Dundy's points about the legal status of a "person" as opposed to "citizen." How does this affect the decision in this case?
  2. The case pivots on two separate but related questions: Standing Bear's eligibility to issue a writ of habeas corpus, and Crook's authority for having arrested Standing Bear in the first place. What are the implications of the judge's decision in BOTH these cases?
  3. How does the legal status of Indian nations figure in this decision?  


The US Supreme Court case Lone Wolf. v. Hitchcock was brought against the US government by Lone Wolf, a Kiowa chief. Lone Wolf lived in the Indian Territory that was created by the 1867 Medicine Lodge Treaty. A provision in the treaty required that three quarters of all adult males in the Kiowa, Apache, and Comanche tribes had to agree to subsequent changes to the terms of the treaty. In 1892, Congress tried to change the reservation lands granted to the tribes, opening two million acres of reservation lands to settlement by non-Indians. Lone Wolf charged in lower courts that Congress violated the 1867 treaty, but the case was dismissed, and Lone Wolf appealed to the US Supreme Court.


  1. What were the various complaints that Lone Wolf and his fellow plaintiffs brought forward in this case? 
  2. Explain the ruling of the Supreme Court. What are the explicitly stated reasons for this decision, and what do you think are the implicit legal and ideological motivations behind it?
  3. In your analysis, how does this case reflect the effects of allotment policy on Indian nations? And what seem to be the consequences of US-Indian affairs no longer being dealt with by treaties, but by acts of Congress?


The 1898 Curtis Act amended the Dawes Act of 1887, specifying the process of allotting lands in Indian Territory of the Choctaw, Chickasaw, Muscogee, Seminole, and Cherokee Nations. If these "Five Civilized Tribes" had previously been exempt from the Dawes Act, the Curtis Act changed this. The Curtis Act ended these tribes' authority to determine its own requirements for tribal membership, and the act gave this authority to the Dawes Commission, making it possible to enroll members without the consent of tribal leaders. 


  1. What are the most important changes that these sections of the Curtis Act stipulate?
  2. What do you think the effect of the Curtis Act was in changing the political organization of these tribes, and Indian Territory more general?
  3. How do you think the Curtis Act may have influenced the creation of the State of Oklahoma?



November 21: The American Indian Boarding Schools



A major policy component of the assimilation and allotment era was the establishment of Indian Boarding Schools. In the 1870s the military commander Richard Henry Pratt experimented with Indian education on prisoners at Fort Marion, Florida. Here Pratt developed a method for teaching such topics as English, art, and Christianity as a way to weed out tribal customs. Pratt replicated these ideas at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, which was founded in 1879. The Carlisle School became a model of other off-reservation Native American boarding schools that sprang up around the US, especially in more thinly populated areas in the West. The Haskell Institute in Lawrence, Kansas began as such a boarding school, and is now a tribal university. The before-and-after portrait of Tom Torlino (below) has become a famous icon for the narrative of assimilation that these schools propagated. 






    Tom Torlino Navajo before and after circa 1882

     Wikimedia Commons



Study Questions


  1. Explain how Richard Henry Pratt sees Indian education as a necessary component to allotment and assimilation. What role does the idea of "citizenship" play in this scheme?
  2. In what ways is Pratt's plan different from that of the missionaries, and why?
  3. To what extend does Luther Standing Bear's account of his time at Carlisle a) reflect, b) complicate, and c) contradict the assimilation narrative that Pratt promoted? 
  4. Judging from Luther Standing Bear's text, what do you think were the motivations of Native American students and their parents to make use of the education at the Indian boarding schools?
  5. As far as you can tell from the articles from "The Indian Leader," how did the educational goals of Haskell align with other reformist goals? What role did Christianity play in this? 
  6. Pay close attention to the language in the "Certificate" to the Haskell graduate Everidge Benton. What does this document reveal about the goals of Haskell's educational program?
  7. What do the article on "Commencement Day" and the photographs of Haskell tell you about the gender dimensions of education at Haskell? And how are the words "citizenship" and "development" used in the "Commencement Day" article?
  8. What does the writer of "The Native American in the World War" mean when he argues that Woodrow Wilson is "a second Moses" to Native Americans? What does the involvement of American Indians in the war mean to the author? How might we complicate the points he makes?
  9. What overall ideas about American Indians and about the nature of Indian education speak from these articles? To what extent are these articles merely propaganda, and to what extent do they reveal valuable information about institutes like Haskell?   



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