174 U.S. 445 (2024), Stephens v. Cherokee Nation

Citation:174 U.S. 445, 19 S.Ct. 722, 43 L.Ed. 1041
Party Name:Stephens v. Cherokee Nation
Case Date:May 15, 1899
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 445

174 U.S. 445 (2024)

19 S.Ct. 722, 43 L.Ed. 1041



Cherokee Nation

United States Supreme Court

May 15, 1899




Congress may provide for a review of the action of commissioners and

boards created by it and exercising only quasi-judicial powers, by a transfer of their proceedings and decisions to judicial tribunals for examination and determination de novo.

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The statute conferring jurisdiction upon this Court to consider and act upon this class of cases was intended to operate retrospectively, and is not thereby rendered void.

The validity of remedial legislation of this kind cannot be questioned unless it is in violation of some provision of the Constitution.

The appeals to this Court granted by the act extend only to the constitutionality or validity of the legislation affecting citizenship or the allotment of lands in the Indian Territory, and the limitation applies to both classes of cases mentioned in the opinion of the Court, viz.: (1) citizenship cases; (2) cases between either of the Five Civilized Tribes and the United States.

The distribution of jurisdiction made by the Act of March 3, 1891, c. 517, is to be observed in these cases; but the whole case is not open to adjudication, but the appeal is restricted to the constitutionality and validity of the legislation.

This legislation is not in contravention of the Constitution; on the contrary, the Court holds it all to be constitutional.

[19 S.Ct. 722] By the sixteenth section of the Indian Appropriation Act of March 3, 1893, 27 Stat. 612, 645, c. 209, the president was authorized to appoint, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, three commissioners

to enter into negotiations with the Cherokee Nation, Choctaw Nation, Chickasaw Nation, the Muscogee (or Creek) Nation, the Seminole Nation, for the purpose of the extinguishment of the national or tribal title to any lands within that territory now held by any and all of such nations or tribes, either by cession of the same or some part thereof to the United States, or by the allotment and division of the same in severalty among the Indians of such nations or tribes, respectively, as may be entitled to the same, or by such other method as may be agreed upon between the several nations and tribes aforesaid, or each of them, with the United States, with a view to such an adjustment, upon the basis of justice and equity, as may, with the consent of [19 S.Ct. 723] such nations or tribes of Indians, so far as may be necessary, be requisite and suitable to enable the ultimate creation of a state or states of the Union which shall embrace the lands within said Indian Territory.

The commission was appointed and entered on the discharge of its duties, and under the Sundry Civil Appropriation Act of March 2, 1895, 28 Stat. 939, c. 189, two additional members

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were appointed. It is commonly styled the "Dawes Commission."

The Senate, on March 29, 1894, adopted the following resolution:

Resolved, that the Committee on the Five Civilized Tribes of Indians, or any subcommittee thereof appointed by its chairman, is hereby instructed to inquire into the present condition of the Five Civilized Tribes of Indians, and of the white citizens dwelling among them, and the legislation required and appropriate to meet the needs and welfare of such Indians, and for that purpose to visit Indian Territory, to take testimony, have power to send for persons and papers, to administer oaths, and examine witnesses under oaths, and shall report the result of such inquiry, with recommendations for legislation, the actual expenses of such inquiry to be paid on approval of the chairman out of the contingent fund of the Senate.

The Committee visited the Indian Territory accordingly, and made a report May 7, 1894. Sen.Rep. No. 377, 53d Cong., 2d Sess. In this report, it was stated:

The Indian Territory contains an area of 19,785,781 acres, and is occupied by the Five Civilized Tribes of Indians, consisting of the Cherokees, Creeks, Choctaws, Chickasaws, and Seminoles. Each tribe occupies a separate and distinct part, except that the Choctaws and Chickasaws, though occupying separately, have a common ownership of that part known as the "Choctaw and Chickasaw Territory," with rights and interests as recognized in their treaties as follows: the Choctaws, three-fourths, and the Chickasaws, one-fourth. The character of their title, the area of each tribe, together with the population and an epitome of the legislation concerning these Indians during the last sixty-five years, is shown by the report of the Committee on Indian affairs submitted to the Senate on the 26th day of July, 1892

(Sen.Rep. No. 1079, 52d Cong., 1st Sess.), and so much of that report as touched on those points was set forth.

The Committee then gave the population from the census of 1890 as follows: Indians, 50,055; colored Indians, colored

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claimants to Indian citizenship, freedmen and colored, wholly or in part, 18,636; Chinese, 13; whites, 109,393; whites and colored on military reservation, 804; population of Quapaw Agency, 1,281 -- or a total of 180,182, and said:

Since the taking of the census of 1890, there has been a large accession to the population of whites who make no claim to Indian citizenship, and who are residing in the Indian Territory with the approval of the Indian authorities. It is difficult to say what the number of this class is, but it cannot be less than 250,000, and it is estimated by many well informed men as much larger than that number, and as high as 300,000.

After describing the towns and settlements peopled by whites, and the character of the Indian Territory, its climate, soil, and natural wealth, the report continued:

This section of country was set apart to the Indian with the avowed purpose of maintaining an Indian community beyond and away from the influence of white people. We stipulated that they should have unrestricted self-government, and full jurisdiction over persons and property within their respective limits, and that we would protect them against intrusion of white people, and that we would not incorporate them in a political organization without their consent. Every treaty, from 1828 to and including the treaty of 1866, was based on this idea of exclusion of the Indians from the whites, and nonparticipation by the whites in their political and industrial affairs. We made it possible for the Indians of that section of country to maintain their tribal relations, and their Indian polity, laws, and civilization if they wished so to do. And if now the isolation and exclusiveness sought to be given to them by our solemn treaties is destroyed and they are overrun by a population of strangers five times in number to their own, it is not the fault of the government of the United States, but comes from their own acts in admitting whites to citizenship under their laws, and by inviting white people to come within their jurisdiction, to become traders, farmers, and to follow professional pursuits.

It must be assumed in considering this question that the Indians themselves have determined to abandon the policy of

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exclusiveness and to freely admit white people within the Indian Territory, for it cannot be possible that they can intend to demand the removal of the white people either by the government of the United States or their own. They must have realized that when their policy of maintaining an Indian community isolated from the whites was abandoned for a time, it was abandoned forever.

The Committee next referred to the class of white people denominated by the Indians as intruders, in respect of whom there had been but little complaint in other sections of the Indian Territory than that of the Cherokee Nation, and went on to say:

The Indians of the Indian Territory maintain an Indian government, have legislative bodies, and executive and judicial officers. All controversies between Indian citizens are disposed of in these local courts. Controversies between white people and Indians cannot be settled in these courts, but must be taken into the court of the territory established by the United States. This Court was established in accordance with the provision of the treaties with the Choctaws, Chickasaws, Creeks, and [19 S.Ct. 724] Seminoles, but no such provision seems to have been made in the treaty with the Cherokees. We think it must be admitted that there is just cause of complaint among the Indians as to the character of their own courts, and a good deal of dissatisfaction has been expressed as to the course of procedure and final determination of matters submitted to these courts. The determinations of these courts are final, and so far the government of the United States has not directly interfered with their determinations. Perhaps we should except the recent case where the Secretary of the Interior thought it his duty to intervene to prevent the execution of a number of Choctaw citizens.

The report then recapitulated the legislation conferring certain jurisdiction over parts of the Indian Territory on the district courts of the United States for the Western District of Arkansas, the Eastern District of Texas, and the District of Kansas; the establishment of the United States Court in the Indian Territory; the inclusion of a portion of

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the Indian Territory within the boundaries of the Territory of Oklahoma, and the creation of a new Indian Territory, over parts of which the jurisdiction of the district courts of Arkansas and Texas remained; and, for reasons assigned, recommended the appointment of two additional judges for the United States court in the Indian Territory, and of additional commissioners, and that the jurisdiction of the district courts should be withdrawn.

The matter of schools was considered,...

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