MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Local News

October 27, 2007

Curtis Act brought changes to towns in Indian Territory

The Curtis Act, adopted by the U.S. Congress in June 1898, brought major changes to Indian Territory. Based on the Atoka Agreement, it abolished the tribal court system and set up a federal judicial system in Indian Territory with three districts.

The northern judicial district was to be headquartered in Muskogee and would serve the Cherokee, Creek and Seminole nations and the smaller tribes of the Quapaw Agency. A U.S. jail and U.S. clerk’s office also were located in Muskogee for the northern judicial district.

For the first time, the Curtis Act made provision for the incorporation of towns in Indian Territory. This is why a large number of towns in eastern Oklahoma count their anniversary date as 1898. Congress now allowed town lots to be laid out, surveyed and platted and provided for fee simple title to those town lots for all individuals (not just tribal members). Once title to a town lot was obtained, there was to be no limitation on the right to sell or mortgage the lot.

Until this time, the lack of ability to clearly own a lot in a town limited the ability of towns to grow and develop and to regulate themselves by laws and taxes. Imagine what it would be like to live in a town that had no authority to levy taxes or provide for any public services. The early towns of Indian Territory had no taxes, but they also had no paved streets or sidewalks, no public water or sewer system, no streetlights and no public education.

With the Curtis Act came paved streets, water works, sidewalks, electric lights and public school systems. Incorporated towns now had the right to regulate town affairs by ordinance, to create public schools and maintain them with taxes. People in Indian Territory still couldn’t vote for President or Congress, but they could vote for mayors and town councilors.

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