By Jonita Mullins
Three Rivers History
Prior to the Civil War, the Indian Territory, which consisted of five sovereign nations, was a vast land with a sparse population. It is thought that there were probably more cattle than people, for the reported loss of livestock during the war was enormous.
The Indians faced a dilemma with such conditions, however. Putting such vast land holdings into productive use would take more manpower than was available among tribal members, even when counting those freedmen who received tribal membership after the war. Thus, when the Reconstruction Treaties of 1866 were negotiated with the Five Tribes, the allowance for admission of non-Indians into the territory was included.
The results were mixed, and even the tribal leaders were in disagreement about how to manage these non-members. The primary occupations held by these “intruders” were as tenant farmers and ranch hands. For a time, tribal members outnumbered the intruders, and control was easily maintained and laws upheld. But the coming of the railroad through the territory in 1871 changed this balance, for it brought thousands of railroad workers and many others seeking opportunity in the nations.
In the 1870s and 1880s, the tribes tried to manage the number of intruders by levying permit fees upon tribal members who hired them. The fees started at about 25 cents per person, but gradually over time rose to $25, $50 or even $100. License fees were also levied against businesses setting up in the territory among the growing towns.
Naturally, the individuals being asked to pay these fees protested to the government authorities; usually the Union agent in Muskogee. Early agents such as G.W. Ingalls and S.W. Marston tended to agree that the fees went beyond what the 1866 Treaties allowed. But later agents such as John Tufts and Robert Owens tended to side with the tribal leaders and enforced the fee structure.
The Chickasaws went so far as to employ their militia to collect the fees and to show intruders to the border if they failed to comply. Chickasaw Governor Frank Overton argued that this action cleansed the nation of several unsavory characters who were hiding out in the territory.
As more and more non-Indians settled into the nations, the tribes tried to enforce the permit fee as a way to stem the tide of intruders. But it was a losing battle. Agent Marston had conducted an informal census of the territory in 1877, which showed that the territory had around 6,200 intruders, including 1,200 railroad workers.
By 1880, the estimate of the number of intruders was 17,000 to 20,000 and growing. By statehood, tribal members were far outnumbered by non-Indians, which only served to hasten the end of tribal sovereignty.
Reach Jonita Mullins at email@example.com.