Indian Territory

Indian Territory was the region west of the Mississippi River that the government set aside for the residence of Indians from about 1830 to 1906. These Native Americans had been moved from their homes east of the Mississippi as part of a policy to move all eastern tribes to new homes on the Great Plains, west of the 95th degree of longitude. This was done because of the pressure of white settlers who wanted to take over the lands on which the tribes had lived.

The name Indian Territory was applied to various regions at different times. By the mid-1850's, it included only an area almost identical with the present state of Oklahoma. It was to this region that the government moved the Five Civilized Tribes: Choctaw, Cherokee, Chickasaw, Creek and Seminole. These tribes had previously had no unified political organization. The tribes were permitted to govern themselves as long as they kept the peace.

In 1866, the tribes were required to give up the western part of the territory to the United States for the use of other tribes. This was partly to punish them for helping the south during the Civil War. Reservations in this region were set aside at various times for the Osage, the Arapaho, the Cheyenne, the Wichita, the Kiowa and the Comanche. Some of the lands in this region not assigned as reservations were opened to white settlement in 1889. So many white settlers came in that the Territory of Oklahoma, in the western part of the present state of Oklahoma.

Meanwhile, homes for others whose land had been taken had been located in the eastern half of the original territory. Most of them were in the northeast corner of the Cherokee holdings. Whites also came in and ever-increasing stream and the tribal government became hopelessly inadequate.

The Dawes Act of 1887 broke up tribal land holdings. In 1893, Congress created the Dawes Commission to help settle problems with the Five Civilized Tribes. Under the Curtis Act of 1898, Congress gradually dissolved tribal courts and laws and brought them under law and courts of the United States. An act in 1901 made all the tribes of the Indian Territory citizens of the United States.

By 1900, the population of the Indian Territory had grown to nearly 400,000 with six times as many whites as Native Americans. The demand for state government was strong. The constitution for the proposed state of Sequoyah was approved by the people in 1905, but the Congress had other plans. In 1906, it passed an enabling act by which Oklahoma and Indian Territory could join to become a single state. The state of Oklahoma was admitted into the Union on Nov. 16, 1907 and the Indian Territory ceased to exist.

By Harold W. Bradley



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