Among others, four Congressional acts had a great impact on Indian Territory. First was the Indian Removal Act of 1830 that forced the Five Civilized Tribes to move to Indian Territory. Pushed by President Andrew Jackson, this legislation sent thousands of native people from the southeastern states over their “Trail of Tears” to a new homeland.

Another was the Dawes Act of 1887. It set in motion the first efforts to dissolve tribal sovereignty by allotting lands to individual tribal members. Though the Five Tribes were at first excluded from allotments, eventually they also were forced to accept enrollment of tribal members and allotment of millions of acres of Indian Territory land. A government commission, known as the Dawes Commission, undertook this enormous task, which took several years to complete.

The Curtis Act, adopted by Congress in June 1898, brought more sweeping changes to Indian Territory. It abolished the tribal court system and set up a federal judicial system in Indian Territory with three districts.

The Curtis Act made provision for the incorporation of towns in Indian Territory. It 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 inability to clearly own a lot in a town limited the ability of towns to grow and to regulate themselves by laws and taxes. As hateful as taxes seem to us today, 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 – they also had no paved streets or sidewalks, no public water or sewer system, no streetlights and no public education.

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.

By 1900 most of the larger towns of the Territory had incorporated, formed a municipal government, platted town property and started schools. The population of towns in Indian Territory in 1900 was estimated at 6,500 for Ardmore, 5,000 for Muskogee, 2,800 for Wagoner, 2,500 for Tulsa, 1,500 for Tahlequah and 800 for Eufaula.

The fourth important Congressional action was the Enabling Act of 1906 that combined Indian Territory with Oklahoma Territory for the purpose of forming the State of Oklahoma. Having ended tribal sovereignty, the federal government finally succeeded in the effort that had begun in 1830. Admitting Oklahoma to the Union fully brought its Native Americans residents into U.S. citizenship.

Reach Jonita Mullins at jonita.mullins@gmail.com.

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