Chronological Historical Overview


1871 to 1924- Allotment and Assimilation


1870s - Rancherias created in California.

The United States began purchasing or reserving small tracts of land for landless Indians called " rancherias " or " village homes."


1870 - Indian Appropriation Act.

This Congressional Act specified that no tribe thereafter would be recognized as an independent nation with which the federal government could make a treaty. (From 1607 to 1776, at least 175 treaties had been signed with the British and colonial governments, and from 1778 to 1868, 371 treaties were ratified the US government.) All future Indian policies would not negotiated with Indian tribes through treaties, but rather would be determined by passing Congressional statutes or executive orders.


1876 to 1877 - Battle at Little Big Horn.

This battle occurred when General George Armstrong Custer and the Seventh Cavalry were involved in a campaign to forcibly place the Lakota Sioux onto a reservation. Custer attacked a large hunting camp of Sioux, Cheyenne, and Arapahoin the Little Big Horn Valley. The Indians responded by killing Custer and most of his regiment. In response, the federal government spent the next two years tracking down the Lakota, killing some and forcing most onto the reservation. In 1877, Congress passed a law taking the Black Hills and ending Sioux rights outside the Great Sioux Reservation. The Sioux land - 134 million acres guaranteed by treaty in 1868 - was reduced to less than 15 million acres.

1877 - Nez Perce War.

This war occurred when the US army responded to some American deaths along the Salmon River, said to have been committed by the Nez Perce. To avoid a battle that would have resulted in being forced onto a reservation, about 800 Nez Perce fled 1,500 miles. They were caught 30 miles south of the Canadian border. Survivors were sent to Indian Territory in Oklahoma, despite the promise of the US government to allow them to return to their homeland.


1879 - Carlisle Indian School.

This first off-reservation military-style boarding school for Indians was established in Pennsylvania. The school employees created a model curriculum, disciplinary regime, and educational strategy designed to "kill the Indian and save the child."


1880 - Civilization Regulations.

Congress set up a series of offenses that only Indians could commit. Outlawed Indian religions, the practices of "so-called" medicine men, ceremonies like the Sun Dance, the leaving the reservation without permission. These regulations were in place until 1936.


1881 - A Century of Dishonor publication.

Helen Hunt Jackson released her book detailing the plight of American Indians and criticizing the US government's treatment of Indians.


1882 - Congressional Act.

Congress provided funds for the mandatory education of 100 Indian pupils in industrial schools and for the appointment of an Inspector or Superintendent of Indian schools.


1882 - Indian Rights Association.

This organization was created to protect the interests and rights of Indians. The association was composed of white reformers who wanted to help Indians abandon their cultural and spiritual beliefs and assimilate into American society.


1883 - Ex Parte Crow Dog Supreme Court decision.

Crow Dog, a Sioux Indian who shot an killed an Indian on the Rosebud Reservation, was prosecuted in federal court, found guilty, and sentenced to death. On appeal it was argued that the federal government's prosecution had infringed upon tribal sovereignty. The Court ruled that the US did not have jurisdiction and that Crow Dog must be released. The decision was a reaffirmation of tribal sovereignty and led to the passage of the 1885 Major Crimes Act (below) which identified seven major crimes, that if committed by an Indian on Indian land, were placed within federal jurisdiction.


1883 - Courts of Indian Offenses.

The Secretary of the Interior established these courts to uphold the 1880 Civilization Regulations to eliminate "heathenish practices" among the Indians. The rules of the courts forbade the practice of all public and private religious activities by Indians on their reservations, including ceremonial dances, like the Sun Dance, and the practices of "so-called medicine men."


1885 - Major Crimes Act.

This Congressional Act gave federal courts jurisdiction over Indians accused of rape, manslaughter, murder, assault with intent to kill, arson, or larceny against another Indian on a reservation. The list was eventually expanded to include 14 crimes.


1886 - United States v. Kagama Supreme Court decision.

Two Indians on the Hoopa Valley Reservation in northern California killed another Indian on the reservation. They were prosecuted and found guilty by the federal government. The Indians argued that Congress did not have constitutional authority to pass the Major Crimes Act (1885). The Court, however, upheld the full and absolute (plenary) power of the Congress to pass the Major Crimes Act and of the federal government - not state governments - exclusively to deal with Indian tribes. "These Indian tribes are the wards of the nation. They are communities dependent on the United States - dependent largely for their daily food; dependent for their political rights. They owe no allegiance to the states, and receive from them no protection. Because of the local ill feeling, the people of the states where they are found are often their deadliest enemies. From their very weakness and helplessness, so largely due to the course of dealing of the federal government with them, and the treaties in which it has been promised, there arises the duty of protection, and with it the power." Thus, the case challenged the major crime act and its ruling upheld it by implying that because Indian tribes were wards of the US, Congress had the power to regulate tribes, even if it interfered with their sovereign power to deal with criminal offenders on tribal lands.


1887 - General Allotment Act (Dawes Act).

This Congressional Act authorized the President to allot portions of certain reservation land to individual Indians - 160 acres to each head of family and 80 acres to others - to establish private farms, and authorized the Secretary of Interior to negotiate with the tribes for purchasing "excess" lands for non-Indian settlement. Indians were to select their own lands, but if they failed to do so, the Indian agent would select land for them. The federal government was to hold title to the land in trust for 25 years, thus preventing its sale until allottees could learn to treat it as real estate. Allotment primarily sought to destroy Indian communities where property sharing encouraged "tribalism," and to open Indian lands for non-Indian purchase and settlement. The result was that from 1887 to 1934 (when the Act was repealed), Indian land holdings decreased from 138 million acres to 48 million. The Cherokees, Creeks, Choctaws, Chickasaws, and Seminoles were excluded from the provisions of the Allotment Act.


1888 - The Sioux Act.

This Congressional Act divided the Great Sioux Reservation into six separate reservations in an effort to dilute their power and make much of their land available for non-Indian settlement.


1889 - Oklahoma Organic Act.

This Congressional Act divided Indian land into two territories in what is currently the state of Oklahoma: the Territory of Oklahoma in western Oklahoma was opened up to non-Indian settlement; and the Indian Territory in eastern Oklahoma was retained for continued Indian settlement.


1890 - Ghost Dance religion created.

An Indian prophet, Wovoka, created a new religion called the "Ghost Dance." Its followers believed that practicing ritual dance would bring back dead loved ones and restore the land to Native peoples. Ghost dancers also believed that clothing worn in the dance would protect them from bullets or other forms of attack.


1890 - Wounded Knee.

This battle occurred shortly after non-Indians in South Dakota became alarmed by reports of Indians performing the Ghost Dance. Non-Indians feared that Indians believed the dance would result in the defeat of the whites. The Seventh Cavalry reacted by massacring more than 200 men, women, and children of Big Foot's band of Miniconjou Sioux at Wounded Knee.


1891 - Indian Education.

A Congressional Act authorized the Commissioner of Indian Affairs "to make and enforce by proper means" rules and regulations to ensure that Indian children attended schools designed and administered by non-Indians.


1891 - 1891 Amendment to the Dawes Act.

This amendment modified the amount of land to be allotted and set conditions for leasing allotments.


1893 - Indian Education.

This Congressional Act made school attendance for Indian children compulsory and authorized the BIA to withhold rations and government annuities to parents who did not send their children to school.


1898 - Curtis Act.

This Congressional Act ended tribal governments practice of refusing allotments and mandated the allotment of tribal lands in Indian Territory - including the lands of the Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Seminole nations.


1903 - Lone Wolf v. Hickcock Supreme Court decision.

The Kiowas and Comanches sued the Secretary of the Interior to stop the transfer of their lands without consent of tribal members which violated the promises made in the 1867 Treaty of Medicine Lodge. The Court ruled that the trust relationship served as a source of power for Congress to take action on tribal land held under the terms of a treaty. Thus, Congress could, by statute, abrogate the provisions of an Indian treaty. Further, Congress had a plenary - or absolute - power over tribal relations.


1906 - Antiquities Act.

This Congressional Act declared that Indian bones and objects found on federal land were the property of the United States.


1906 - Burke Act.

This act amended the Dawes Act to give the secretary of the interior the power to remove allotments from trust before the time set by the Dawes Act, by declaring that the holders had "adopted the habits of civilized life." This act also changed the point at which the government would award citizenship from the granting of the allotment to the granting of the title.


1907 - State of Oklahoma.

Congress established the State of Oklahoma by merging Oklahoma Territory and Indian Territory. The former Indian Territory was opened to additional non-Indian settlement.


1908 -Winters v. United States Supreme Court decision.

Indians from the Fort Belknap reservation in Montana sued to prevent a white settler from damming the Milk River and diverting water from their reservation. The Court found that when Congress created reservations, it did so with the implicit intention that Indians should have enough water to live. Thus, Indians had federally reserved and protected water rights.


1910 - Act to Provide for Determining the Heirs of Deceased Indians ("and other purposes").

This act altered the Dawes Act by dealing with inheritance and leasing of allotments and with the allotment of land that could be used for irrigated farming, among many other things.


1911 - Society of American Indians.

The Society - the first step in the direction of pan-Indian unity - was established and managed exclusively by American Indians, most of whom were well-known in non-Indian society and well-educated. Although members favored assimilation, they also lobbied for many reform issues, especially improved health care on reservations, citizenship, and a special court of claims for Indians.


1913 - US v. Sandoval. Supreme Court decision.

The Court upheld the application of a federal liquor-control law to the New Mexico Pueblos, even though Pueblo lands had never been designated by the federal government as reservation land. The Court ruled that an unbroken line of federal legislative, executive, and judicial actions had "...attributed to the United States as a superior and civilized nation the power and duty of exercising a fostering care and protection over all dependent Indian communities within its borders..." Thus, once Congress had begun to act in a guardian role toward the tribes, it was up to Congress, not the courts, to determine when the state of wardship should end.


1917 - World War I.

When the US entered the war, about 17,000 Indians served in the armed forces. Some Indians, however, specifically resisted the draft because they were not citizens and could not vote or because they felt it would be an infringement of their tribal sovereignty. In 1919, Indian veterans of the war were granted citizenship.


1918 - Native American Church.

This Indian church was organized in Oklahoma to combine an ancient Indian practice - the use of peyote - with Christian beliefs of morality and self-respect. The Church prohibits alcohol, requires monogamy and family responsibility, and promotes hard work. By 1923, 14 states had outlawed the use of peyote and in 1940, the Navajo tribal council banned it from the reservation. In1944, the Native American Church of the United States was incorporated. Today, the Church continues to play an important role in the lives of many Indian people.


1924 - Indian Citizenship Act.

This Congressional Act extended citizenship and voting rights to all American Indians. Some Indians, however, did not want to become US citizens, preferring to maintain only their tribal membership.


1924 - Indian Health Division.

Congress established the Division to operate under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.