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by Craig R. Scott, CG
President Grover Cleveland appointed a commission to negotiate land with the Native American tribes in 1893. The Commission to the Five Civilized Tribes is commonly referred to as the Dawes Commission, after Henry L. Dawes, its chairman. Members of the Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Seminole tribes were entitled to an allotment of land in return for abolishing their tribal governments and recognizing Federal law. The commission accepted applications between 1896 and 1914 from these five tribes to establish eligibility. The initial enrollment of 1896 was declared invalid and applicants had to reapply in 1898. Originally, the application process ended in 1907, but an act of Congress in 1914 accepted a few additional names. The lists created by the commission of accepted persons are commonly known as the "Dawes Rolls." Their proper name is the "Final Rolls of the Citizens and Freedmen of the Five Civilized Tribes in Indian Territory."
These records have also been referred to as the "Dawes Rolls," the "Dawes Enrollment Applications," and the "Dawes Enrollment Jackets."
The Dawes Packets are contained within the following record group: Record Group 75: Records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, 1793-1989.
The General Allotment Act, also known as the Dawes Act, was enacted on February 8, 1887. It was named for US Senator Henry L. Dawes of Massachusetts. It was amended in 1891 and 1906, and remained in effect until 1934. The Act authorized the president to survey tribal land and divide the arable land. Individuals could receive 160 acres to farm, 80 acres to raise cattle, or 40 acres for normal living purposes. A section of the law stated that upon completion of the land patent process the allotment holder would become a US citizen. The original act exempted the Five Civilized Tribes and several others from the act.
The Act of March 3, 1893, an Indian Office appropriation bill, contained a rider which created the Dawes Commission. The commission’s purpose was to convince the Five Civilized Tribes (the Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Seminole) to agree to give up their community-held tribe’s title to Indian lands, using an allotment process that would transfer the land titles to individual Indians.
The Indian nations lost much of their land as a result of the Dawes Commission, as it cleared the way for white settlers to purchase the land from the Indians. The Indians had more money, but no longer had the land, an impact of long-lasting consequences relating to tribal power. Some tribes have chosen to exclude from tribal membership those who cannot claim descent from an individual on the "Final Rolls."
Individual packets vary in their contents, but the basic file consists of an affidavit and a decision from the Department of the Interior regarding the eligibility of the individual under the Act. In some cases, there are also affidavits from others. There are, on occasion, licenses, court orders, testimonies and transcripts. Each packet is enclosed in its own jacket.
Some examples of the variety of documents to be found within the packets include:
Affidavit of W.H. Jackson regarding the death of his son, Colbert H. Jackson on 18 November 1899.
Marriage License of C.W. Jackson and Essie Glover, dated 4 May 1901.
Affidavit of Essie Jackson regarding the birth of her son, Jerold Winnoford Jackson, dated 6 May 1902.
More are included in the following case study.
Waldo Emerson "Dode" McIntosh was born in 1893 in Smith County, Tennessee. He was a principal chief of the Creek tribe, the 14th member of his family to be chief, serving from 1961 to 1971. He served two terms as President of the Inter-tribal Council of the Five Civilized Tribes, was recognized as the Indian of the Year, and a member of the Board of Directors of the Oklahoma Historical Society. He was proud of both his Native American and Scottish heritage. As principal chief of the Creek Nation, he successfully sued the US government for almost $4,000,000 in reparations for land taken illegally in 1814. The list of his contributions to his tribe and the United States are numerous. He died on August 28, 1991, at the age of 98.
In 1901, Dode's father, Albert Gallatin "Cheesie" McIntosh moved his family from Tennessee to Checatah, Indian Territory. He was the son of Col. Daniel N. McIntosh and, while in Tennessee, he went by the name James Gentry Brown. He became a lawyer and practiced in Carthage. He served as County Superintendent of Schools in Smith County. When he returned to Indian Territory, he resumed the McIntosh name. He later became Superintendent of Schools for the Creek Nation. He practiced law at Checotah until 1915 when he died.
Albert Gallatin McIntosh had to apply three times in order to obtain a favorable decision from the Department of the Interior.
His first affidavit was taken on June 27, 1899, after he returned to the Indian Territory in May of that year. In this affidavit, he states that he is a member of the Creek Nation, that he received payments from the Creek Nation while in Tennessee, and that the Nation knew that he was in Tennessee at the time of payment.
A second affidavit was taken on April 30, 1901, after he had again returned to the Indian Territory. This examination includes a statement that the 1890 Creek roll and 1895 Authenticated Census roll of Coweta Town were examined. A.G. with his two sons, Frieland and Van Allen, are found on the 1890 roll. Two more sons, Newman and Waldo, along with those on the 1890 roll, are found on the 1895 roll.
The Department of the Interior Commission to the Five Civilized Tribes, Muskogee, Indian Territory, on May 13, 1901, denied the application for enrollment, as the family did not meet the residency requirement under the provisions of Section 21 of the 1898 Act.
A third affidavit was taken on June 10, 1901, under Section 29 of the Creek agreement of May 25, 1901.
The Department of the Interior Commission to the Five Civilized Tribes, Muskogee, Indian Territory, found that under the Creek agreement of 1901, the McIntosh family were clearly entitled to enrollment.
Using the collection
The packets are arranged by tribe, by status, and by account. First is it necessary to know the tribe and then the status of the individual. The Dawes Packets only include information for the Cherokee, Creeks, Choctaws, Chickasaws, and Seminoles (the Five Civilized Tribes). If the person you are looking for does not belong to one of these tribes, you will not find them in the Dawes Packets.
If you do not know the name of the tribe, try the Fold3 search function. Alternatively, you may be able to verify tribe information on the 1900 US Federal Census. In most cases, the Dawes Commission used a matriarchal system (based on the mother’s tribe). For example, if one’s mother was a Chickasaw and the father was a Freedman, the person would be listed as a Chickasaw. If one’s father was a Chickasaw and the mother was a Freedman, the person would be listed as a Chickasaw Freedmen. Since there are other groups, you may have to look in several places.
Within each of the five tribes, you will find the following groups:
Cherokee by Blood
Cherokee Freedmen Minor
Cherokee Intermarried White
Chickasaw by Blood
Chickasaw Freedmen Minor
Choctaw by Blood
Mississippi Choctaw Freedmen
Mississippi Choctaw Identified
Mississippi Choctaw Memo (2 categories need to be looked at)
Mississippi Choctaw Minor
CreekCreek Enrollment Cards
Creek Field Jackets
Creek Freedmen Field Cards
Creek Freedmen Minor
Creek Freedmen Newborn
Creek Not Entitled
Seminole Memorandum 1
Seminole Newborn Freedmen
There are also 347 packets without designation. They are described as "[Blank]" within Tribe and Group categories.
To prove someone was a member of a tribe, the applicant had to declare membership in one, and only one, tribe. Many people were of mixed blood, sharing membership in more than one tribe. So "1/4 Choctaw" does not mean that there are not other tribal connections not described in this material.
Not finding someone in these records does not mean that he or she was not a tribal member prior to the Dawes Commission. Many people did not enroll out of fear of the government. Freedmen or slaves of Indians were also kept off the rolls.
To access the Dawes Packet for a particular person using Fold3's browse menu, perform the following steps:
- Select the Title "Dawes Packets"
- Select the Tribe
- Select the Group, or Record Type (usually By Blood, Freedman, Minor, etc)
- Select the Card-range
- Select the Card (the Packet), which also identifies the person by name
Next, choose a page number so the page image and film strip opens. From there, you can select and browse pages within a packet. These are arranged as they are on the original microfilm reel. You then have options to view, print, or save the images. Fold3 provides researchers, genealogists, and historians with maximum flexibility for extracting relevant data from the Dawes Packet images. Some suggestions for accessing and using the Dawes Packets include:
- View the Dawes Packets online and perform visual searches.
- Print the Dawes Packets for reference offline as a hard copy.
- Save the individual microfilm frame images for reference offline as an electronic copy that can be enlarged, reduced, or otherwise enhanced using image-editing software.
- Perform online searches for specific names.
The most efficient search parameters are first name, middle initial, and last name, as in “Albert G. McIntosh”.
An online tutorial relating to The Dawes Rolls is available at archives.gov, the NARA website.
Dawes How To is a downloadable PDF file of the above tutorial by the National Archives, with tips and instructions relating to The Dawes Rolls.
Use the following link for more information about the Dawes Commission.
Those wishing to learn more regarding the holdings of the National Archives may link to the website for the National Archives facility in Fort Worth, Texas.
To perform basic searches of the holdings at Fort Worth, and at other National Archives locations, link to NARA's Archival Research Catalog (ARC). Search on the word “Dawes”.
Several additional resources are available for researching Native Americans who are members of the Five Civilized Tribes. The Dawes Commission rejected two-thirds of the applications for enrollment. Those who were rejected also have Dawes Packets and census cards.
To see if an individual’s census card is available online through the Archival Research Catalog (ARC), visit www.archives.gov/research/arc and enter the words "enrollment" and the person’s name in the search box. Some digital copies are available, but none for the Choctaw. If a digital image is not found, it can be ordered from Fort Worth.
Some of the 1896 Citizenship Applications that were declared invalid are also available online and can be found using the ARC People Search. Whenever you do a "people search" it is a good idea to do a description search as well.
The Final Rolls are also online. Scroll down the webpage until you find the tribe. Names are alphabetical by first letter of surname within the tribe. Obtain the roll number for further research.
Records of the Eastern Cherokee are not included in the Dawes Packets. An index to these applications are found in the Guion-Miller Rolls on National Archives microfilm M1104, Records Relating to Enrollment of Eastern Cherokee by Guion Miller, 1908-1910. This index includes the names of 45,847 people who applied for compensation following a judgment of the US Court of Claims in 1906. You can view the Guion-Miller Rolls Index online.
Other NARA microfilms dealing with this area of research are:
M1186 – Enrollment Cards of the Five Civilized Tribes, 1898-1914M1650 - Applications from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Muskogee Area Office, Relating to Enrollment in the Five Civilized Tribes Under the Act of 1896
Review Cherokee census and payment rolls from 1867-1896. They are available from NARA's Fort Worth facility on microfilm 7RA25.