Broken treaties set the stage in the 1800s for removal of Native Americans from their ancestral lands to land west of the Mississippi River, believed at the time to be the “Great American Desert.”
No mercy was shown as people from the Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw and Seminole tribes were forced to walk by the U.S. military from their homes in the eastern United States into what was then designated as Indian country. The Trail of Tears, as the marches were known, began after the 1830 Indian Removal Act and was more than 5,000 miles long. It covered area now defining nine states: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri, North Carolina, Tennessee and Oklahoma. Thousands of people died of cold, hunger and disease on their way to the western land.
Some plains tribes were already in the designated area. According to the Oklahoma History Center, tribes native to the present-day Oklahoma region included the Caddo, Osage and Wichita. By the early 1800s, tribes including the Pawnee, Kiowa, Comanche, Apache, Cheyenne and Arapaho had also migrated into the region. Some Delaware, Shawnee, Kickapoo and other tribes regularly came to hunt Oklahoma’s abundant bison, beaver, deer and bear.
Immigrant tribes who had settled in Kansas were forced out in 1854 with the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Texas forced out all remaining tribes in 1859. All of the removals were due to the expansion of Anglo-American settlement of the nation. Dating back to the late 1700s, many settlers believed that since the Cherokee and other tribes had supported the British during the Revolutionary War, they had lost any and all title to land with the military defeat. Native tribes also participated in the War of 1812 and many land loss treaties were also enforced.
An article published at indiancountrytoday.com stated that the War of 1812 was a major turning point for Native Americans trying to stop white settlers from encroaching on their land. This war between the U.S. and Britain was fought for several reasons, including trade restrictions, impressing American merchant sailors into the Royal Navy and also because the British were supporting Native Americans in their fight against American expansion, the article said.
More than 200 treaties with Indian nations were negotiated after the War of 1812 and all involved ceding land. Almost 100 of the treaties resulted in the creation of reservations west of the Mississippi River, reported pbs.org. This certainly wasn’t the end of the conflict. Much fighting continued into the Great Plains and in July 1866 a reconstruction treaty after the Civil War referred to all the area of the Five Civilized Tribes as the “territory of Oklahoma” for the first time in an official U.S. document. Each tribe, reported the OHS website, was required to give up a considerable amount of land as a penalty for supporting the Confederacy.
In the Fall of 1867, three treaties were signed near Medicine Lodge, Kansas (known overall as the Medicine Lodge Treaty) between the U.S. government and southern plains Indian tribes. One of the treaties aligned the Apache tribe with the Comanche and Kiowa tribes, forming the Kiowa-Comanche-Apache Reservation. The Senate ratified the treaties in 1868. Cultural clashes continued, however, and the reservation never became a peaceful refuge for Native Americans.
At the sacred site of Medicine Lodge Creek in Kansas, U.S. government representatives were met by more than 5,000 representatives of the Kiowa, Comanche, Arapaho and Kiowa-Apache and Southern Cheyenne nations. Just a few years after the Civil War, the Native American tribes, the settlers and the U.S. government continued to attack each other. It was hoped that the Medicine Lodge Treaty and the assigning of reservations would bring peace. The treaty offered 2.9 million acres to the Kiowa and Comanche and 4.3 million acres to the Cheyenne-Arapaho reservation.
Part of the proposal offered to the tribes would be that they transition to an agricultural way of life instead of their traditional nomadic way. The Native Americans opposed the change. A Kiowa Chief, Satanta, was one representative of the Indian council who spoke and said
that they didn’t want the reservations or housing or way of life the treaty proposed. However, even with opposition, the treaty was signed in October of 1867. A provision of the treaty stipulated that no more land could be ceded without three-fourths of Native American adult males agreeing to it. With continued westward expansion after the Civil War spurred by the growth of the railroad, the land wars continued despite the treaty. Only 20 years later in 1887, the General Allotment Act (also known as the Dawes Act) was passed by Congress. This allowed the larger reservation land assigned to the tribes to be subdivided into allotments for Native American heads of families and individuals.
By 1889, the first of five land runs opened the Unassigned Lands to settlers. By 1890, Oklahoma Territory was organized, and the controversial Jerome Commission began further negotiations with the tribes for land allotment. In 1901, the KCA Reservation was opened for settlement by lottery. Comanche County was formed in 1901 as part of Oklahoma Territory and was opened to non-Indian settlers by lottery in August of that year. Kiowa Chief Lone Wolf, and other tribal members, contended that the Jerome Agreement was never ratified by three-fourths of the Native American adult males in each of the Kiowa, Comanche and Apache tribes and was in violation of the 1867 Medicine Lodge Treaty. The case went to the Supreme Court, Lone Wolf vs. Hitchcock, and was argued in October 1902. Ethan A. Hitchcock was the U.S. Secretary of the Interior. The Supreme Court dismissed the case.
Sources for this article also include: The Oklahoma Historical Society, okhistory.org; britannica.com; digitalhistory.uh.edu; npr.org; crf.usa.org; history.com; pbs.org; ncpedia.com; and smithsonianmag.com.