The Dawes Act, also known as the General Allotment Act, became law on February 8, 1887. It gave authorization to the President of the United States to survey Native American lands for allotment to individuals. The Dawes Act’s purpose was to stimulate assimilation of Indians into American society … make them ‘Americanized’ inspite of the Native Indians were here first and Americans. Individual ownership of land was seen as an essential step. The act also provided that the Federal government would purchase Indian land considered extra and not needed for allotment and so opening up additional land for settlement by non-Indians. Prices in 1910 per acre for former Indian Lands ranged from $17 to $36, based on location.
By 1893 a new Indian Office appropriation bill organized the Dawes Commission, named for proponent U.S. Senator Henry L. Dawes, to began to collect applications from members of five southeastern tribes: Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Seminole.
Tribe members were entitled to an allotment of land, in return for abolishing their tribal laws, governments and instead to recognize Federal laws. In order to receive the land, individual tribal members first had to apply and be deemed eligible by the Dawes Commission. Approximately between 1886 and 1914 more than 250,000 Native Americans applied, with more than 100,000 being accepted between the years of 1898 and 1914. What would become known as the ‘Dawes Rolls’ (Dawes Commission Enrollment Records) have proved very vital to family historians because they contain critical information for discovering details about Native American ancestors in a time when such records were very scarce.
The rolls have enrollment cards (also called census cards) which has residence, roll numbers, names of family members, relationships, ages, sex, degree of Indian blood, enrollment date, place and number, parents and their enrollment date or place, spouses, divorces, children or grandchildren. Just about all necessary information for a family researcher.
To go along with the applications for enrollment many additional records (if available) were included, such as affidavits, vital records, letters, questionnaires, and decisions mentioning relatives, dates, and places. Also, correspondence in the form of letters from the Commission and those assisting the Native Indians would have names, address, date of the letter, file number, date received, subject, and action taken.
Even in the 21st century if a person wanted to be a tribal member of any the five named tribes, using the Dawes Rolls is invaluable evidence to lineage.
The Dawes Rolls can be viewed on FamilySearch.org which covers the dates of 1898 to 1914 and has 101,000 names. Also, check out the National Archives for their listings of Native Americans. The Oklahoma Historical Society has on their web site a search using the Dawes Rolls also.
If you thought there was any Native Indian heritage this is the place to start.
Photos: Dawes Roll Poster, the Cherokee list and the selling of Indian land.
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