Henry Dawes

Henry Dawes

Henry Dawes was born in Cummington, Massachusetts, on 30th October, 1816. He graduated from Yale College in 1839 and became a teacher. Later he was appointed editor of the Greenfield Gazette.

Dawes decided to study law and was admitted to the bar in 1842. He worked as a lawyer in North Adams, before being elected to the post of attorney for the western district of Massachusetts in 1853.

A member of the Republican Party, Dawes was elected to Congress and took his seat on 4th March, 1857. He served on the Committee on Elections, Committee on Ways and Means, Committee on Public Buildings and the Committee of Indian Affairs.

Dawes strongly believed that the ownership of land was an important process in persuading people to accept the laws of the government. He therefore suggested that Native Americans should be granted land in exchange for renouncing tribal allegiances.

In February 1887, Dawes persuaded Congress to pass legislation that became known as the Dawes Plan. Under the terms of this legislation family heads received one hundred acres, and each dependent child 40 acres. This land was held in trust for 25 years, at the end of which time the holder was to acquire full title with the right to sell. That Native Americans who received this land were also granted citizenship and full political rights.

In 1893 he became chairman of the commission created to administer the tribal affairs of the Indian Territory. He held the post until his death on 5th February, 1903.

Primary Sources

(1) Nelson Miles, telegram to Senator Henry Dawes (19th December, 1890)

You may be assured of the following facts that can not be gainsaid:

First. The forcing process of attempting to make large bodies of Indians self-sustaining when the government was cutting down their rations and their crops almost a failure, is one cause of the difficulty.

Second. While the Indians were urged and almost forced to sign a treaty presented to them by the commission authorized by Congress, in which they gave up a valuable portion of their reservation which is now occupied by white people, the government has failed to fulfill its part of the compact, and instead of an increase or even a reasonable supply for their support, they have been compelled to live on half and two-thirds rations, and received nothing for the surrender of their lands, neither has the government given any positive assurance that they intend to do any differently with them in the future.

Congress has been in session several weeks and could, if it were disposed, in a few hours confirm the treaties that its commissioners have made with these Indians and appropriate the necessary funds for its fulfillment, and thereby give an earnest of their good faith or intention to fulfill their part of the compact. Such action, in my judgment, is essential to restore confidence with the Indians and give peace and protection to the settlements. If this be done, and the President authorized to place the turbulent and dangerous tribes of Indians under the control of the military, Congress need not enter into details, but can safely trust the military authorities to subjugate and govern, and in the near future make self-sustaining, any or all of the Indian tribes of this country.

(2) The Dawes Plan (8th February, 1887)

An act to provide for the allotment of lands in severalty to Indians on the various reservations, and to extend the protection of the laws of the United States and the Territories over the Indians, and for other purposes.

Be it enacted, that in all cases where any tribe or band of Indians has been, or shall hereafter be, located upon any reservation created for their use, either by treaty stipulation or by virtue of an act of Congress or executive order setting apart the same for their use, the President of the United States be, and he hereby is, authorized, whenever in his opinion any reservation or any part thereof of such Indians is advantageous for agricultural and grazing purposes to cause said reservation, or any part thereof, to be surveyed, or resurveyed if necessary, and to allot the lands in said reservations in severalty to any Indian located thereon in quantities as follows:

To each head of a family, one-quarter of a section;

To each single person over eighteen years of age, one-eighth of a section;

To each orphan child under eighteen years of age, one-eighth of a section; and,

To each other single person under eighteen years now living, or who may be born prior to the date of the order of the President directing an allotment of the lands embraced in any reservation, one-sixteenth of a section.

That upon the approval of the allotments provided for in this act by the Secretary of the Interior, he shall . . . declare that the United States does and will hold the land thus allotted, for the period of twenty-five years, in trust for the sole use and benefit of the Indian to whom such allotment shall have been made, . . . and that at the expiration of said period the United States will convey the same by patent to said Indian, or his heirs as aforesaid, in fee, discharged of such trust and free of all charge or encumbrance whatsoever:..

That upon the completion of said allotments and the patenting of the lands to said allottees, each and every member of the respective bands or tribes of Indians to whom allotments have been made shall have the benefit of and be subject to the laws, both civil and criminal, of the State or Territory in which they may reside. And every Indian born within the territorial limits of the United States to whom allotments shall have been made under the provisions of this act, or under any law or treaty, and every Indian born within the territorial limits of the United States who has voluntarily taken up, within said limits, his residence separate and apart from any tribe of Indians therein, and has adopted the habits of civilized life, is hereby declared to be a citizen of the United States, and is entitled to all the rights, privileges, and immunities of such citizens, whether said Indian has been or not, by birth or otherwise, a member of any tribe of Indians within the territorial limits of the United States without in any manner impairing or otherwise affecting the right of any such Indian to tribal or other property.