Dissolving the Five
The dissolution of the Five Civilized Tribes of eastern Oklahoma stands as the most important instance of Indian land loss in the twentieth century. The abrogation of tribal governments and the allotment of tribal land violated long-standing treaties. Clearly, more was at stake—for Indians and whites—than opening reservations in thinly populated and remote parts of the West. The Five Tribes owned approximately half of present Oklahoma, an area enormously rich in agricultural land, timber, coal, asphalt, oil, and natural gas. Moreover, the Indian population was also sizeable. According to the 1890 census, Indians numbered 50,055, Negroes 18,636, and whites 109,393. The tasks of enrollment, land appraisal and allotment, as well as disposing of townsites, timber resources, and other tribal property, overwhelmed federal officials. The process produced incredible corruption at all levels, national publicity about the scandals, and ineffective investigations by both government and private agencies. In the end, the tribal dissolutions, allotment, and new white population forced adjustments on the Five Tribes, especially full bloods, that proved traumatic. 1
The Dawes Commission after 1893 tried to dissolve the Oklahoma tribal governments and implement severalty, but it had not succeeded, except for the Seminoles. The Curtis Act of 1898 then ordered the termination of tribal governments by April 26, 1906, and unilaterally prescribed procedures for enrollment, allotment, and land appraisal. The legislation had also ordered that an inspector, who reported to the secretary of interior, handle the details of liquidating the Five Tribes. J. George Wright held the post until 1907, when his duties were combined with those of the commissioner to the Five Tribes at the union agency in Muskogee. Meantime, a sizeable bureaucracy developed at the agency to carry out the complex tasks.
Although the resulting forced agreements with the Five Tribes differed somewhat, they were basically the same. Wright accepted the Dawes Commission's rolls and rejected those of the tribes. The agreements, however, permitted officials to add or strike names before closing the rolls. Thou-