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Message to Congress Regarding the Choctaw and Chickasaw Appropriation

February 17, 1892

To the Senate and House of Representatives:

The Indian appropriation bill which was approved March 3, 1891, contains the following provision:

And the sum of $2,991,450 be, and the same is hereby, appropriated, out of any money in the Treasury not otherwise appropriated, to pay the Choctaw and Chickasaw nations of Indians for all the right, title, interest, and claim which said nations of Indians may have in and to certain lands now occupied by the Cheyenne and Arapahoe Indians under Executive order, said lands lying south of the Canadian River, and now occupied by the said Cheyenne and Arapahoe Indians; said lands have been ceded in trust by article 3 of the treaty between the United States and said Choctaw and Chickasaw nations of Indians which was concluded April 28, 1856, and proclaimed on the 10th day of August of the same year, and whereof there remains, after deducting allotments as provided by said agreement, a residue ascertained by survey to contain 2,393,160 acres; three-fourths of this appropriation to be paid to such person or persons as are or shall be duly authorized by the laws of said Choctaw Nation to receive the same, at such time and in such sums as directed and required by the legislative authority of said Choctaw Nation, and one-fourth of this appropriation to be paid to such person or persons as are or shall be duly authorized by the laws of said Chickasaw Nation to receive the same, at such times and in such sums as directed and required by the legislative authority of said Chickasaw Nation; this appropriation to be immediately available and to become operative upon the execution by the duly appointed delegates of said respective nations specially authorized thereto by law of releases and conveyances to the United States of all the right, title, interest, and claim of said respective nations of Indians in and to said land (not including Greer County, which is now in dispute), in manner and form satisfactory to the President of the United States; and said releases and conveyances, when fully executed and delivered, shall operate to extinguish all claim of every kind and character of said Choctaw and Chickasaw nations of Indians in and to the tract of country to which said releases and conveyances shall apply.

If this section had been submitted to me as a separate measure, especially during the closing hours of the session, I should have disapproved it; but as the Congress was then in its last hours a disapproval of the general Indian appropriation bill, of which it was a part, would have resulted in consequences so far-reaching and disastrous that I felt it my duty to approve the bill. But as a duty was devolved upon me by the section quoted, viz, the acceptance and approval of the conveyances provided for, I have felt bound to look into the whole matter, and in view of the facts which I shall presently mention to postpone any Executive action until these facts could be submitted to Congress. Very soon after the passage of the law it came to my knowledge that the Choctaw Legislature had entered into an agreement with three citizens of that tribe to pay to them as compensation for procuring this legislation 25 per cent of any appropriation that might be made by Congress. The amount to be secured by these three agents under this agreement out of the three-fourths interest in the appropriation of the Choctaw Nation is $560,896. I have information that a contract was made by the Chickasaws to pay about 10 per cent of their one-fourth interest to the agents and attorneys who represented them.

Within a month after the passage of the law R. J. Ward, one of the agents, who was to divide with his associates the enormous sum to be paid by the Choctaws, presented to me an affidavit dated April 4, 1891, which is herewith submitted. It appears from his statement that the action of the Choctaw Council in this matter was corruptly influenced by the execution of certain notes signed by Ward for himself and his associates in sums varying from $2,500 to $15,000. His associates deny any knowledge of this, but the giving and existence of these notes is not refuted. The statement of the two associates of Ward denying any knowledge or participation in this fraud is also submitted, together with other papers relating to the matter. Whatever may be the fact as to the use or nonuse of corrupt methods to secure this legislation from the Choctaw Council, I do not think the Congress of the United States should so legislate upon this matter as to give effect to such a contract, which I am sure must have been unnoticed when the measure was pending. If the relations of these Indians to the United States are those of a ward, Congress should protect them from such extortionate exactions. We can not assume that the expenses and services of a committee of three persons to represent this claim before Congress should justly assume such proportions. The making of such a contract seems to convey implications which I am sure are wholly unjust.

After the passage of the appropriation bill legislation was had by the Choctaw Nation looking to the completion of the contract made with their delegates as to the payment of this money; but subsequently, when it was supposed that this extraordinary arrangement might require me to bring the matter to the attention of Congress, an act was passed by the Choctaw General Council, approved October 19, 1891, declaring all contracts made by the Choctaw delegates with any attorneys in connection with this appropriation void and of no effect. A copy of this law will be found with the papers submitted. There has also been submitted to me an unofficial copy of the opinion of the attorney-general of the Choctaw Nation holding that this last legislation is unconstitutional and void. I am of the opinion that if this appropriation is to stand provision should be made for protecting these tribes against extortionate claims for compensation in procuring action by Congress. Copies of the several laws passed by the Choctaw Nation with reference to this matter will be found in the accompanying papers. It will be noticed that the distribution proposed is limited to Choctaws by blood, excluding the freedmen and the white men who have been given full citizenship from any participation. A protest against this method of distribution has been filed by a white citizen of the tribe, and also a representation by Hon. Thomas C. Fletcher, their attorney, on behalf of the freedmen. In view of the fact that the stipulations of the treaty of 1866 in behalf of the freedmen of these tribes have not, especially in the case of the Chickasaws, been complied with, it would seem that the United States should in a distribution of this money have made suitable provision in their behalf. The Chickasaws have steadfastly refused to admit the freedmen to citizenship, as they stipulated to do in the treaty referred to, and their condition in that tribe and in a lesser degree in the other strongly calls for the protective intervention of Congress.

After a somewhat careful examination of the question I do not believe that the lands for which this money is to be paid were, to quote the language of section 15 of the Indian appropriation bill, already set out, "ceded in trust by article 3 of the treaty between the United States and said Choctaw and Chickasaw nations of Indians which was concluded April 28, 1866," etc. It is agreed that that treaty contained no express limitation upon the uses to which the United States might put the territory known as the leased district. The lands were ceded by terms sufficiently comprehensive to have passed the full title of the Indians. The limitation upon the use to which the Government might put them is sought to be found in a provision of the treaty by which the United States undertook to exclude white settlers and in the expressions found in the treaties made at the same time with the Creeks and other tribes of the purpose of the United States to use the lands ceded by those tribes for the settlement of friendly Indians.

The stipulation as to the exclusion of white settlers might well have reference solely to the national lands retained by the Choctaw and Chickasaw tribes, and the reason for the nonincorporation in the treaty with them of a statement of the purpose of the Government in connection with the use of the lands is well accounted for by the fact that as to these lands the Government had already, under the treaty of 1855, secured the fight to use them perpetually for the settlement of friendly Indians. This was not true as to the lands of the other tribes referred to. The United States paid to the Choctaws and Chickasaws $300,000, and the failure to insert the words that are called words of limitation in this treaty points, I think, clearly to the conclusion that the commissioners on the part of the Government and the Indians themselves must have understood that this Government was acquiring something more than a mere right to settle friendly Indians, which it already possessed, and something more than the mere release of the fight which the Choctaws and Chickasaws had under the treaty of 1855 to select locations on these lands if they chose.

Undoubtedly it was the policy of this Government for the time to hold these and the adjacent lands as Indian country, and many of the expressions in the proclamations of my predecessors and in the reports of the Indian Bureau and of the Secretary of the Interior mean this and nothing more. This is quite different from a conditional title, which limits the grant to a particular use and works a reinvestment of full title in the Indian grantors when that use ceases. But those who hold most strictly that a use for Indian purposes, where it is expressed, is a limitation of title seem to agree that the United States might pass a fee absolute to other Indian tribes in the lands ceded for their occupancy. Certainly it was not intended that in settling friendly Indians upon these lands the Government was to be restrained in its policy of allotment and individual ownership. If for an adequate consideration, by treaty, the United States placed upon these lands other Indian tribes, it was competent to give them patents in fee for a certain and agreed reservation. This being so, when the policy of allotment is put into force the compensation for the unused lands should certainly go to the occupying tribe, which in the case supposed had paid a full consideration for the whole reservation.

It will hardly be contended that in such case this Government should pay twice for the lands. In the appropriation under discussion this principle is in part recognized, for no claim is made by the Choctaws and Chickasaws for the lands allotted to the Cheyennes and Arapahoes. The claim is for unallotted or surplus lands. The case of the Cheyennes and Arapahoes is this: In consideration of other lands the Government gave them a treaty reservation in the Cherokee Outlet, but never perfected it by paying the Cherokees the stipulated price and placing these Indians upon it. The Cheyennes and Arapahoes declined to go upon the strip and located themselves farther south, where they now are. The Government subsequently recognized their right to remain there, and set apart the lands now being allotted to members of that tribe and the lands for which payment is now claimed by the Choctaws and Chickasaws as the Cheyenne and Arapahoe Reservation. I think the United States must be held to have assented to the substitution of these lands for the treaty lands in the Cherokee Strip, and that being true, when the reservation is broken up, as now, by allotments, it would seem that the Cheyennes and Arapahoes were entitled to be compensated for these surplus lands. In fact, a commission which has been dealing with the tribes in the Indian Territory has concluded an arrangement with them by which the Government pays $1,500,000 for these surplus lands and for the release of any claim to the Cherokee Strip, so that in fact in this agreement with the Cheyennes and Arapahoes the Government has paid for the lands for which payment is now claimed by the Choctaws and Chickasaws.

It should not be forgotten also that the allotment to the Cheyennes and Arapahoes is still incomplete. The method of calculation which resulted in stating the claim of the Choctaws and Chickasaws at $2,991,450 is explained by a letter of Mr. J. S. Standley, one of the Choctaw delegates, dated April 6, 1891. The agent for the Cheyennes and Arapahoes wrote Mr. Standley that there were 600 Indians residing upon the lands south of the Canadian River, and who it was supposed would take allotments there, and upon this statement the legislation was based. Now it must be borne in mind that the Cheyennes and Arapahoes have the right to locate anywhere within their reservation, and that instead of 600 double that number might have taken their allotments south of the Canadian River upon these lands. This is not probable, but a later report indicates that the number will certainly be in excess of 600. If the sum to be paid to the Choctaws and Chickasaws depended upon a knowledge of the number of acres of unallotted land south of the Canadian River, it would seem to have been reasonable that the appropriation should have been delayed until the exact number of acres taken for allotment had been officially ascertained. This has not yet been done.

It is right also, I think, that Congress in dealing with this matter should have the whole question before it, for the declaration of Indian title contained in this item of appropriation extends to a very large body of land and will involve very large future appropriations. The Choctaw and Chickasaw leased district, embracing the lands in the Indian Territory between the ninety-eighth and one hundredth degrees of west longitude and extending north and south from the main Canadian River to the Red River, including Greet County, contains, according to the public surveys, 7,713,239 acres, or, excluding Greet County, 6,201,663 acres. This leased district is occupied as follows:

Greer County, by white citizens of Texas, 1,511,576 acres. The United States is now prosecuting a case in the courts to obtain a judicial declaration that this county is part of the Indian country. If a decision should be rendered in its favor, the claim of the Choctaws and Chickasaws to be paid for these lands at the rate named in this appropriation would at once be presented.

The Wichita Reservation is also upon the leased lands and is occupied by the Wichitas, Caddoes, Delawares, and remnants of other tribes by Department orders, made to depend upon the treaty with the Delawares in 1866 and some other unratified agreements with tribes or fragments of tribes in 1872. This reservation contains 743,610 acres.

The Kiowa, Comanche, and Apache Reservation is occupied by those Indians under a treaty proclaimed August 25, 1868, which provides that said district of country "shall be, and the same is hereby, set apart for the absolute and undisturbed use and occupation of the tribes herein named, and for such friendly tribes or individual Indians as from time to time they may be willing (with the consent of the United States) to admit among them." This reservation contains 2,968,893 acres.

The Cheyennes and Arapahoes, whose surplus lands are to be paid for by this appropriation, have occupied the country between the Washita and Canadian rivers, extending west to the one hundredth degree of longitude. This reservation contains 2,489,160 acres.

I have stated these facts in order that it may be seen what further appropriations are involved in a settlement for all these lands upon the basis which Congress has adopted. It does not seem to me to be a wise policy to deal with this question piecemeal. It would have been better, if a remnant of title remains in the Choctaws and Chickasaws to the lands in the leased district, to have settled the whole matter at once. Under the treaty of 1855 the Choctaws and Chickasaws quitclaimed any supposed interest of theirs in the lands west of the one hundredth degree. The boundary between the Louisiana purchase and the Spanish possessions by our treaty of 1819 with Spain was as to these lands fixed upon the one hundredth degree of west longitude.

Our treaty with the Choctaws and Chickasaws made in 1820 extended their grant to the limit of our possessions. It followed, of course, that these lands were included within the boundaries of the State of Texas when that State was admitted to the Union, and the release of the Choctaws and Chickasaws, whatever it was worth, operated for the benefit of the State of Texas and not of the United States. The lands became public lands of that State. For the release of this claim and for the lease of the lands west of the ninety-eighth degree the Government of the United States paid the sum of $800,000. In the calculations which have been made to arrive at the basis of the appropriation under discussion no part of this sum is treated as having been paid for the lease. I do not think that is just to the United States. It seems probable that a very considerable part of this consideration must have related to the leased lands, because these were the lands in which the Indian title was recognized. and the treaty gave to the United States a permanent right of occupation by friendly Indians. The sum of $300,000, paid under the treaty of 1866, is deducted, as I understand, in arriving at the sum appropriated. It seems to me that a considerable proportion of the sum of $800,000 previously paid should have been deducted in the same manner.

I have felt it to be my duty to bring these matters to the attention of Congress for such action as may be thought advisable.


Benjamin Harrison, Message to Congress Regarding the Choctaw and Chickasaw Appropriation Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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