Reports from the Board of Indian Commissioners

An Unbroken Administration of Indian Affairs Should Mean Marked Progress.

For the last thirty years nothing has interfered with progress in civilizing the Indians more seriously than has the frequent change of men and measures in the administration of Indian Affairs. For the first time in our history a Commissioner of Indian Affairs is now completing his fifth year in office. The time and strength of a Commissioner for the first two years or more of service must be almost wholly engrossed in learning the details of his official duties, in withstanding political and commercial pressure to make unwise appointments or contracts, in mastering the routine of his work and acquiring some personal acquaintance with appointees and some detailed knowledge of needed improvements in the service. As a rule, when a good man in this place, by experience, has become fitted for the greatest usefulness and efficiency, with a change of administration he goes out of office. His successor has the same lessons to begin over again. Not infrequently good pieces of work begun, reforms undertaken, by one Commissioner have been ignored or undone by his successor because the new Commissioner did not comprehend the importance of the measures. Too often what a good Commissioner has sought to accomplish has thus failed under his successor. The true objects for which the Indian Bureau exists have been ignored.

It is with especial gratification, therefore, that we cooperate with the present Commissioner as he goes on with the work, which five years of experience have fitted him to do efficiently. With the general policy of the department as indicated in the reports and the official utterances and actions of the present Commissioner for the most part we heartily concur. We take a less critical view of the Government schools for Indians than does the last report of the Commissioner, and we deprecate what seems to be a growing tendency to approve large leases of Indian lands, notwithstanding the clearly expressed official publications as to the evils which follow the leasing of Indian lands and the making of annual money payments to Indians; but we speak of these exceptions only to emphasize the fact that in general we heartily approve the animus and the acts of the present administration of the Bureau. And we believe that the generally successful administration of Indian Affairs for the last four or five years gives reason to expect that within the next three or four years a continuous administration can and will make marked progress in the work of fitting the Indians for citizenship and introducing them to the duties of American citizens in the States and Territories where they reside.

Especial Object of The Indian Bureau, Its Own Destruction.

That he take a general, comprehensive view of the purpose for which the Bureau of Indian Affairs exists, is the most serious demand upon a Commissioner. One of the good results of longer familiarity with the duties of the office is that it qualifies an administrative and executive officer to take such a view, and to shape the administration of the Bureau in all its details toward its desired end.

There can be no doubt that the object of the Indian Bureau is such an administration of its special trusts and such a discharge of its special duties as shall help forward in all right ways the civilization of the Indians, and as soon as possible shall make all Indians self-supporting self-respecting, and useful citizens of the United States.

This means that, unlike many other divisions of Governmental work, the Indian Bureau should always aim at its own speedy discontinuance! Its success is to be shown not in self perpetuation, but in self-destruction! It was created to meet a temporary need, and not to do a permanent work. It is not essential to our American system. It is a makeshift, although needful for a time. Whatever tends to its indefinite perpetuation is un-American and is to be regarded with suspicion. The worth of the Bureau, and success in its administration, should be measured by the effectiveness with which it carries out measures to make itself needless! It should steadily aim at its own early destruction.

The Whole “Indian System” Should Soon End.

As a temporary provision of machinery necessary for the bringing of the savage aborigines among our inhabitants into a life of self support and civilization, under American laws and institutions, the Indian Bureau, by one method and another, has accomplished much. The tendency of such a branch of the administration is to perpetuate itself to regard itself as in itself an end, and not as a mere means to an end. Against any feeling that Indian agents and special Indian funds and separate Indian schools are to be regarded as a permanent feature of the Government we wish to protest, and we commend to the department and to Congress the careful consideration of measures and means speedily to render a separate Indian Bureau and a peculiar system of administration for Indians superfluous and undesirable. Within the next ten years most of the work of the Bureau can be Annual Report Of Board Of Indian Commissioners accomplished. The administration of what will then remain to be done can safely be placed under the care of the Treasury, the courts of the several States and of the United States, and the school system of our land.

Emphasize the Family and Citizenship, Break Up the Tribe and the Tribal Funds.

Savage tribes left in isolation will perpetuate savagery for generations. Children of savage parents, if early surrounded “by Christian civilization, make such advances toward the standard of civilized life that the second generation has gained more than would be expected from centuries of unaided evolution where savages are left to themselves. If the present system of Government schools were continued and, with such industrial modifications as are now contemplated, were extended only to the 20,000 Navajo, in 1910 there would be hardly any Indians in the United States under 40 years of age who would not have known several years of schooling. Schools alone cannot make over a race, but no one instrument is so powerful in producing desirable changes in a race as are schools for the young. What you would have come out in the life of a people you must put into their schools.”

Regulations Adopted to Check Polygamy, to Secure License Before Marriage, to Keep Registers of Family Relationships, Etc.

In our last annual report we called attention to the great need of regulations to prevent polygamy and to build up a true family feeling among the Indians. It gives us great pleasure to report that, acting upon the suggestions of this board and in consultation with us, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, with the approval of the Secretary of the Interior, has issued regulations requiring each agency and sub-agency to make and to keep up a register of all Indians, giving their family relations so far as possible, and from this time on keeping an accurate record of marriages, births, and deaths. These regulations further prohibit polygamous marriages; require a license before marriage in order to insure the prevention of polygamy and the proper age in the “contracting parties, etc.; and they further require the solemnization of each marriage by missionary, minister, priest, or civil officer of the State or Territory, as the applicants may choose, with return of names of the contracting parties and dates, to be made by the person who officiates at the marriage and to be duly recorded at the agency. Marriage certificates, designed to be framed and hung in Indian homes, are also issued free of expense to all Indians who are duly married. Since the severally act has already made full citizens of more than 60,000 Indians, and since all who thus become citizens are under obligation to observe the laws which govern marriage in the State or Territory in which they reside, it is evident that these regulations were greatly needed and should be carefully carried out at every agency.

These Registers Give A Basis for Division of Funds.

But our board have had another and a hardly less important object in view, in urging the adoption of these regulations and the careful preparation and keeping of a register of marriages, births, and deaths at each agency. We believe that the great undivided tribal funds are a serious hindrance to the civilization of the Indians. The wish to share in the annual interest payments from such funds holds many Indians away from civilized life, and binds them in allegiance to the old tribal system, while they should be learning allegiance to the Constitution and laws of the United States and sharing in the civilized life of the States and Territories. We wish to see these tribal funds broken up as rapidly as is consistent with due regard to what is best for the Indians.

But whenever the Government has undertaken to distribute tribal property to the individuals who make up the tribe, one of the most serious obstacles in the way of the speedy and just performance of this task has been the lack of an authentic list of the persons who are rightly entitled to share in such a distribution. All who have watched the progress of the difficult task imposed upon the Dawes Commission in bringing the Indian Territory under the sway of law and fairly dividing the property which was nominally held in common, know how much the difficulty of the work of the Commission has been increased by the lack of such authentic and accurate lists.

It has been our hope and it is our confident expectation that the registers already opened at substantially all the Indian agencies, except the New York, the Navajo, and Pueblo, will speedily provide authoritative lists, which can be made the basis for the rapidly approaching distribution of property owned by Indians in common. And we believe that the entire administration of the Indian Bureau in all its methods should be conducted with this end in view. When Congress, in 1871, resolved to make no more treaties with Indian tribes as independent nations, for the first time the emphasis of governmental action was put where it should rest, namely, upon the relation of the individual Indian to the Government of the United States and to the State or Territory where he resides.

The severalty act has successfully begun the work of breaking up the great reservations into individual holdings and putting responsibility for the right use of his own bodily powers in labor, and for” the right use of his own land, upon the individual Indian.

The Form of A Desirable Law is Suggested.

We believe that the next great step should now be taken, and that Congress during the present session should enact a law general in its terms, fixing a date after which no Indian can be born into tribal relations, which shall give him a right to an undivided share of tribal funds or tribal property. We believe that within the year registers of every tribe should be prepared, which should fix authoritatively a list of the names of those men, women, and children who, if living, should be entitled (say on the 1st day of January, 1904) to an equal share in the tribal property of each tribe. Let no children born after that date have any right to tribal property, save as by the laws of inheritance in the State or Territory where they reside they may become entitled, as heirs, to a share of the holding of their parents or other relatives.

Then let such a general law declare, that on a given date (say January 1, 1904) the tribal funds which belong to each Indian tribe shall be broken up into a number of equal individual holdings, one to each person entitled on that date to share therein. Let the names of all persons so entitled to share be entered upon the books of the Treasury, and an individual account be kept with each such Indian shareholder in the tribal funds.

Let such a general law further provide that the President of the United States be authorized and directed, whenever it shall appear to his satisfaction that a considerable majority of the shareholders in the funds of any such tribe are capable of managing their own money affairs, by Executive order to fix a date at which the principal and accrued interest, if any, of each such share shall be paid by Treasury check to each such individual shareholder or to his heirs under the laws of the State or Territory in which he resides or did reside at the time of his death.

After the division of tribal funds into individual shares upon the books of the Treasury, and until the date, for the payment of such individual shares shall be fixed by the President, let the interest upon each individual share be paid to each shareholder.

The question how individual shares to orphans and minors could be properly guarded through the laws and the courts, which each State or Territory provides for this purpose, should be carefully considered in framing this law.

The additional expense for clerical work in opening these individual accounts would be slight compared to the cost to the Government of maintaining from year to year needless agencies.

Break Up Tribal Funds, Because they Pauperize Indians.

A strong reason for the breaking up of these tribal funds is to be found in the fact that the expectation of annuities and of a share in undivided tribal funds keeps Indians out of civilized life and prevents them from engaging in self-supporting labor. In general, it tends to pauperize and degrade them. As a board we respectfully and earnestly commend to Congress and to the Secretary of the Interior the enactment of laws and the adoption of measures in administration, which shall build up the individual and strengthen personality by breaking up the huge tribal funds. The payment of individual shares in some cases will doubtless be followed by foolish expenditure of the money thus paid out. But we are convinced that there is no way by which Indian men and women can learn to manage property save by managing it for themselves, as do other citizens of the United States, even if it is sometimes managed unwisely. Let the individual Indian have his own property. Then make him work. Cease to give him rations. And let those who may prove to be incapable of self-support be cared for as we care for other incapables. When the Indians are dispersed from their reservations and live among our other citizens, the proportion of them who will prove incapable of self-support will be much smaller than many have feared.

Let the New Method Be Fearlessly Followed.

For nearly a century the object and end of all treatment of the Indians has been held to be to make them self-supporting and civilized citizens of the United States. Only within the last few years has the Government for the first time been taking active and effectual measures to bring about this result. It is thirty years since Congress voted to make no more treaties with Indian tribes as tribes. This was a long stride forward. After fifteen years more, early in 1887, the Dawes Severally Act was passed. Within the last fifteen years this has resulted in making over 65,000 Indians citizens. A strong impulse toward family life and the cultivation of home virtues has resulted from this act, which is changing the entire outlook for the Native American races. It acts directly upon the family and the individual. It ignores the tribe and breaks up the obstructive influence of the “tribal government,” so called. The vigorous policy followed for the last year or two by the Commissioner of Indian Affairs in cutting off the needless rations which have been issued year after year to able bodied and idle Indians, tends in the same direction. The tribal funds are now the rallying point and the shelter for the spirit of conservatism, which seeks to keep the Indians out of the life giving current of American civilization, American public school life, and citizenship. A practical difficulty in the way of dividing these funds has always been the lack of an authoritative list of the individuals who are entitled to share in each such fund. The regulations for the registration of marriages, births, and deaths to which we have referred as recently adopted by the Department, if systematically carried out by the several Indian agents, will enable the Government at an early day to deal directly with individual Indians in all their relations of property. This measure of reform we regard as deserving of the highest commendation, not only because it furnishes an authentic list of individuals, needed for use in breaking up the tribal organization, but also because it inculcates sound views of the marriage relation and of family life.

Several Indian Agencies Should at Once Be Done Away With.

we renew the recommendation made in our last annual report that it is not a kindness, but rather an injury, to Indians to insist upon appointing and continuing Indian agents at places where the Indians are citizens and are capable of caring for themselves? We believe that the last Indian appropriation bill would have been a wiser measure had eight or ten of the agencies therein named been discontinued. Only by managing their own affairs can the Indians who are able to begin to stand alone learn independence and self reliance.

At Least Break Up, Without Further Delay, Certain Smaller Tribal Funds.

We could name certain tribes of Indians with reference to whose funds a plan for division into individual holdings could wisely be put into execution during this session of Congress:

  1. Certain small tribes whose members are now entirely qualified to take charge of their own funds and to manage them as well as our average white citizens manage their affairs.
  2. Certain other tribes equally well qualified to manage their own affairs, where some appropriation of money by Congress would be necessary in order to pay to the Indians the principal fund upon which interest is now paid by the Government, although the principal is not in the Treasury.
  3. A number of tribal centers where nominal government by Indian councils, and the control of Indian funds and annuities by such councils, is injuriously corrupt and productive of evil in all its tendencies and results.


Nearly 9,000 additional allotments of land to Indians were approved during the year ending July 1, 1901. These allotments covered 1,125,970.81 acres. In all, since the severally act went into operation (aside from grants for individual Indians and mixed bloods mentioned by name in various treaties), the number of allotments on the 1st of July, 1901, was 64,853, covering 7,862,475 acres of land.

The Dawes Commission.

The problems which, were involved in the work, assigned to this Commission, have proved to be more complicated and difficult of solution than was at first supposed. Nevertheless, the work already accomplished seems to us to vindicate the wisdom of the policy of breaking up the tribal government in the Indian Territory; securing a share for all Indians in that land which was reserved for the benefit of all, but had passed into the hands of a few rich members of the tribe; providing for a just administration of law throughout Indian Territory; recognizing the needs and the rights of more than a quarter of a million of whites who were dwelling upon the land of the Five Nations without school privileges and without defined rights, and, in general, of putting an end to that solecism in our American system, the maintenance upon the soil of the United States of petty nationalities and governments not subject to the Constitution and the laws of the United States.

Irrigation and Water Supply the Pima.

In our last annual report we emphasized as strongly as possible the terrible need of the Pima and Papago Indians of Arizona, who are famine struck by reason of the diversion from the Gila River of that water supply to which these Indians, as the first irrigators to use it, were legally entitled. They had made use of this water supply for irrigation purposes for several generations. White settlers on the ver above them have recently diverted the water which belongs to these Indians, and which later settlers would never have been allowed to take away from earlier irrigators without protest and legal protection if these earlier irrigators had been whites and not Indians. We regret that the proposed appropriation to begin work upon the San Carlos Dam was not made at the last session of Congress. We are gratified at the earnest recommendation for the speedy construction of this dam which is made by the Secretary of the Interior in his last annual report, and we trust that the needs of these industrious and peaceful Indians, always friendly to the United States and now suffering from the total destruction of their crops for several successive years by the diversion of this water to which they are entitled, will not be overlooked in the plans for irrigation which are now before Congress.

Irrigation of Reservations Needs Scientific Direction.

We renew our suggestions as to the danger from irrigating systems hastily constructed and not well planned which have in many cases resulted in destroying what were at first the best parts of the agricultural land thus irrigated.

After Indians have been settled in severalty upon bottom lands irrigated by hastily constructed canals, when the remainder of the reservation has been thrown open and the better judgment of men who are scientifically trained in the principles of irrigation has led to the taking out of a larger canal, heading above that which first supplied the Indians, and covering the benches or terraces where the best lands lie, the seepage water from these higher lands works down toward the river bottom, and ultimately the seepage sub irrigates and finally destroys the lower farms by making them marshy or bringing up the alkali.”

In the course of a few years it is seen that the Indians not only have retained the poorest land of their former reservation, but, are in a position to be deprived of their entire water supply. Proper scientific supervision of the work of irrigation on our Indian reservations would have planned the high-level canal in the first place and thus would have secured the best land to the Indians. Upon this subject we ask attention to the Appendix (p. 36) of our last annual report, for the year 1900.

Too Much Leasing of Indian Lands.

At a meeting of this board on January 23, 1902, in view of repeated complaints and objections to the system of Indian leasing recently pursued, and profoundly impressed as a board by the serious and threatening evils of this s} T stem as now loosely managed, the board adopted the following resolutions:

Resolved, That it is the opinion of the United States Board of Indian Commissioners that in any leases of Indian grazing lands all the leased land should be fenced off from the Indian lands at the expense of the lessees; and the fences so to be built at the expense of the lessees should be so built as to secure to the Indians, fenced in for their own use, the hay lands (meadows) now used or desired by the Indians for curing hay, and the sheltered and bottom lands now used or desired by the Indians for their own use in cattle raising.

Further, That a Government official should be required to inspect and see that this is done before the cattle of the lessees are turned upon the land.

And it is further their opinion that the leases should not exceed three years, in order that the Indians may as early as possible graze their own lands.

And further, that with all the tribes whose reservation is so situated as to make cattle raising their main dependence, all the proceeds of such leases should be used to purchase improved cattle to be issued to these Indians for breeding purposes.

It was further
Resolved, that a copy of these resolutions be sent to the Secretary of the Interior and to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, with the respectful request that they be carefully considered before action is taken upon the leases now pending in North and South Dakota.

It was also
Resolved, that we view with serious apprehension the increasing tendency to dispose by lease of large tracts of Indian lands for a term of years. If the area of an Indian reservation is to be reduced by tracts as large as some of the States of the Union, we believe that it would be far better to provide for such reductions by special or general legislation than to make them by the present method of unregulated and varying official action.

For years this board, in its annual reports, has urged considerations against the leasing of Indian land. It is with great regret that the board sees the leasing of vast tracts, in some cases larger than entire Eastern States, made upon very short notice and without what seem to us proper safeguards for the welfare of the Indians. It seems very clear to us as a board that leasing of immense tracts (upon which Indians are now raising cattle) to white men for terms of five years or more is likely to break up among several of our Indian tribes the most promising attempts which have so far been made at self-support by cattle raising and grazing. The recent trouble with proposed leases at Standing Rock is a case in point.

The Recommendations of Our Last Two Reports.

It is with great gratification that we notice, in reviewing the last two years, that of the nine especial points summed up in brief paragraphs at the close of our thirty -first annual report as seeming to us of the most importance for the welfare of the Indians, five seem to have been fully accomplished. Upon a sixth, caution in leasing Indian lands,” passages in the last report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs are quite as emphatic as we could hope to make them. On two of the other three points, “cattle breeding and grazing for Indians,” and the “breaking up of tribal funds into separate holdings,” we think that progress may be safely reported. And as to the remaining one, “compulsory law” for school attendance for Indian children,” we renew our earnest recommendation that such a law be enacted. The appointment of an attorney for the Pueblo Indians, since made, covers the tenth of our recommendations.


Board Of Indian Commissioners. Thirty-Third Annual Report Of The Board Of Indian Commissioners. Government Printing Office. 1901.

Search Military Records - Fold3

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.

Pin It on Pinterest

Scroll to Top