Five Civilized Tribes

A term used both officially and unofficially in modern times to designate collectively the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole tribes in Indian Territory, applied on account of the advance made by these tribes toward civilized life and customs. The term appears in the reports of the Indian Office as early as 1876, when the agent reported that each tribe had a constitutional government, with legislative, judicial, and executive departments, conducted upon the same plan as our State governments, the entire expenses of which are paid out of their own funds.” There was, however, at that date no court with jurisdiction to try cases where an Indian was one party and a citizen of the United States or a corporation was the other, but this lack has since been sup plied. Some of the tribes, notably the Cherokee, have had their laws and the acts of their councils printed.

These five tribes differed from most others in the fact that their lands were held not on the same basis as reservations but by patents or deeds in fee simple, with certain restrictions as to alienation and reversion those conveyed to the Cherokee Nation, Dec. 31, 1838, for ever upon condition that they “shall revert to the United States if the said Cherokee Nation becomes extinct or abandons the same”; those to the Choctaw Nation, Mar. 23, 1842, in fee simple to them and their descendants, “to inure to them while they shall exist as a nation, and live on it, liable to no transfer or alienation, except to the United States or with their consent”; those to the Creek tribe, Aug. 11, 1852, “so long as they shall exist as a nation and continue to occupy the country hereby conveyed to them. Although the lands were held in fee simple, the right to alienate them except to the United States or with its consent does not appear to have passed to the grantees. The title is deemed as a “base, qualified, or determinable fee, with only a possibility of reversion to the United States ((U. S. v. Reese, 5 Dill., 405)). The right of these tribes to cut, sell, and dispose of their timber, and to permit mining and grazing within the limits of their respective tracts was for a time limited to their own citizens, but this right has been somewhat extended, though the exercise of it is still subject to approval by the proper United States authorities. The title of the Chickasaw Nation to their lands in Indian Ter. was obtained from the Choctaw in accordance with treaties with the United States, while that of the Seminole was obtained from the Creeks, these two tribes being granted their lands on the same basis and with the same title and privileges as the United States granted the lands to the Choctaw and the Creeks. The territory thus assigned to these five tribes within the limits of Indian Ter. amounted to 19,475, 614 acres, or about 30,431 sq. m., an area equal to that of South Carolina, and equivalent to 230 acres for each man, woman, and child of the entire population (84,507) of the five tribes.

The treaties of 1866 with the several tribes all provided for the holding of a general council to be composed of delegates from each tribe in Indian Ter., and the Choctaw and Chickasaw treaty also provides that this general council shall elect a delegate to Congress whenever Congress shall authorize the ad mission into its body of an official who shall represent Indian Ter. Although some of the tribes have made an effort to bring about the results contemplated in these treaty stipulations, nothing effectual in this direction has been accomplished. By act of Congress Feb. 8, 1887, every Indian born in the United States who receives land in allotment and takes up his residence separate and apart from any tribes of Indians therein and has adopted the habits of civilized life,” is declared a citizen of the United States; but the Five Civilized Tribes were excepted from the provisions of this act. By act of Mar. 3, 1901, however, this section was amended by inserting after the words “civilized life” the words “and every Indian in Indian Territory,” thus declaring every Indian of that territory to be a citizen of the United States. By act of May 2, 1890, the laws of Arkansas, so far as applicable, were extended over Indian Ter. until Congress should otherwise provide. United States courts and courts of special jurisdiction have also been established in the Territory. By sec. 16 of the act of Mar. 3. 1893, the President was authorized to appoint three commissioners (subsequently changed to five ), to negotiate with the five tribes for the allotment in severalty of their lands, thus extinguishing the tribal title thereto. (See Commission to the Five Civilized Tribes.)

On the abolition of slavery the problem of determining the status and relations of the freedmen in the Five Civilized Tribes became a difficult one, though by treaties of 1866 it was agreed that they should be subject to the same laws as the Indians and be entitled to a portion of the land (the rights in this respect differing in the different tribes); but questions respecting other matters, as school privileges, have proved troublesome factors. In some of the tribes blacks have separate schools, and by the act of Congress of June 28, 1898,” the freedmen were excluded from participating in the royalties on coal and asphalt, or in the school funds arising there from. By the same act and the acts of Mar. 1, 1901, and July 1, 1902, the tribal governments of these tribes were to cease Mar. 4, 1906, but by resolution of Feb. 27, 1906, the time was extended one year. Freedmen are, how ever, citizens in all the tribes. Consult the articles on the tribes composing the Five Civilized Tribes. (C. T. )

See Further:


Hodge, Frederick Webb, Compiler. The Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico. Bureau of American Ethnology, Government Printing Office. 1906.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Discover more from Access Genealogy

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading

Scroll to Top