Chronicles of Oklahoma
Volume 17, No. 1
THE CHEROKEE COMMISSION AT KICKAPOO VILLAGE
Berlin. B. Chapman1
The record of the Kickapoos is one of stubborn resistance in the disposition of surplus lands of their reservation, and in
the selection of allotments. Congress on March 1, 1889, ratified an agreement by which the Creek Nation absolutely ceded and
granted to the United States, without reservation or condition, full and complete title to lands lying west of the division
line surveyed and established under the Creek treaty of 1866. By this cession the lands in the Kickapoo reservation became
a part of the public domain, and were held by the United States in fee simple, subject only to the location of the Kickapoos
upon the reservation by the executive order of 1883.2
The Cherokee Commission, organized on June 29, 1889, consisted of General Lucius Fairchild of Wisconsin, chairman, General
John F. Hartranft of Pennsylvania, and Alfred M. Wilson of Arkansas. The Commission by its instructions3 approved by John W. Noble, Secretary of the Interior, was authorized to negotiate for whatever right the Kickapoos might
have in the reservation under the executive order, and the General Allotment Act. In the autumn the Commission, represented
by Fairchild and Wilson, visited the Kickapoo reservation,4 told the Kickapoos of the wishes of the government, and advised them to consider the matter of taking allotments and selling
the surplus lands. The Commission was optimistic enough to hope that their visit
had favorably impressed the Kickapoos "so that they can be arranged with when we next see them."
The Cherokee Commission in 1889 concluded no agreement with Indians for the dissolution of a reservation in Indian Territory.
Hartranft died on October 17, and Fairchild resigned from the Commission on January 1, 1890. When the Commission met at Guthrie
on May 12 to resume its labors, David Howell Jerome, formerly governor of Michigan, had succeeded to the chairmanship. The
other members of the Commission were Wilson, and Warren G. Sayre of Indiana.
Acting Commissioner Belt considered that the "title" of the Kickapoos was simply that of occupancy.5 On June 11, 1890, Noble advised the Commission that no attention need be given to any portion of the tribe not upon the reservation.6 The Kickapoos upon the reservation numbered about 300 persons, about 55 of whom were adult males. They were of nearly pure
Indian stock, some had intermarried with the Pottawatomies, and a very few were said to have a tinge of Mexican blood. They
were poor, ignorant, and superstitious in the eyes of the Commission.
The Commission concluded agreements with the Iowas, Sacs and Foxes, Pottawatomies, and Absentee Shawnees for the dissolution
of reservations occupied by these Indians. On June 27 the Commission arrived at Kickapoo Village. Concerning the events of
their visit and the response of the Kickapoos to a proposed contract which the Commission submitted to them on July 1, one
should read the letter7 the Commission sent to President Harrison. The letter was typewritten, and is as follows:
Camp of Cherokee Commission,
Kickapoo Village, Ind. Ter.,
July 1st, 1890.
We have the honor to report to you that on Friday morning June 27th, ult, we left Shawnee Town, and at three o'clock P. M.
arrived at the Kickapoo Village. During the afternoon and evening, occasionally an Indian would come into camp, but not one
could be induced to talk or say a word. Saturday morning the Commission called upon the Chief. He is nearly blind and speaks
English to a limited extent. He assured us that he would have three men, head men of the Tribe, talk with us that day. He
lives in squalor and dirt, but, in that regard he is not unlike all, or nearly all, of what is known as the blanket Indians.
At different times during the day, we observed one, two or three Indians, at a time, come to his house, remain a little while
and dissapear, but saw no signs of a council being held among themselves, and no promising prospect of a conference with the
The Kickapoos are altogether the most ignorant and degraded Indians that we have met, but are possessed of an animal cunning,
and obstinacy in a rare degree. We were prepared, by what we had heard before our coming for an exhibition of these qualities.
During the afternoon of Saturday, June 28th, Major Patrick, Indian Agent, at the Sac and Fox Agency, and having the Kickapoos
in charge, came to our camp. Upon being informed by us of the apparent determination on the part of the Kickapoos not to meet
us, he, in company with Lieutenant Crawford of the 16th Inft. U. S. A. who has charge of our Military escort, went to the
Indians homes, for a distance of eight miles and back, and told them that they must meet the Commission, and have a talk with
them. So matters went on until Monday afternoon June 30th, when a Kickapoo came to our camp, representing the Chief, and informed
us that they would meet and talk with us Tuesday Morning July 1st.
That time arriving, the Chief, accompanied by what was represented to us as a large majority of the adult males of his tribe,
came to our camp. The Commission, each member in turn, made speeches to them, explained our business with them, told them
of the impending changes in their mode of living, earning a living &c, and submitted to them a proposition in writing, which
is hereto attached and made a part hereof, and placed a copy of it in the hands of the Chief, and asked them to go with their
Interpreter and consider it. The aim of the Commission was to place the Kickapoo and Iowa Indians substantially, on a par,
as will be seen by the proposition made to the former, and the contract with the latter.
The two tribes hold their reservations by Executive Orders only. They were issued on the same day and under similar circumstances.
When the paper, containing the proposition, was placed in the hands of the Chief, the Kickapoos seemed to become somewhat
uneasy—a little Indian jargon was exchanged—when he, the Chief, handed back the paper and refused to keep it. They then took
their leave, and promised to return in the afternoon. At the time appointed they came back, and promptly told us, that they
would not make any contract, because it would offend the Great Spirit.
The Commission endeavored to have further talk with them, but the Chief, when asked if they would hear more, or if they fully
understood the proposition, or if they had any other proposition to make, or whether they thought our proposition was fair
or not, said, they would hear no more, and would talk no more. Whereupon he and all his people unceremoniously left, and scattered
to their various homes.
A number of white men are in and about the reservation, but whether they, or any of them, advised the Indians we do not know,
but persons attending the Commission in various capacities, reported to the Commission that they would frequently hear some
white man say, that, if he was a Kickapoo he would not contract with the Government.
Mr. George Chase, an attorney from Washington, told us at Shawnee Town, about two weeks ago, that a Kickapoo Indian had come
to him there, and asked him to write a letter to Chief Mayes of the Cherokee Nation, for advice as to what course to pursue
with the Commission, which request he complied with. Whether any answer to the letter was received or not we do not know.
In their talk with us the Kickapoos told us, that they had been informed that we did not represent the Government, but were
only speculators trying to cheat them out of their homes. We feel sure that these notions are not original with the Kickapoos.
For the present, at least, the negotiations with this Tribe are ended. Better counsel may yet prevail, and a result reached.
Something must be done to remove from their minds the idea, that they can, by being stubborn, continue in possession of their
reservation, to the exclusion of the white settler. They now affect to believe, that no change can come in their affairs or
conditions, without their consent, and that consent they will withhold.
Under the circumstances, and because of the ill advice we have reason to fear is being given them and other tribes in similar
conditions, together with their defiant attitude, we are satisfied that some new condition must be imposed.
If it could be fairly stated to the Kickapoos that the General Allotment Act could be used to compel them to take their land
in severalty-and probably would be-if they refused the overtures of the Government made through this Commission, it is very
desirable that that law should be made to be immediately effectual. Without an amendment it is not so, and the only sure solution
of the difficulty, in the Judgment of this Commission, is to secure an amendment to the General Allotment Act of 1887, commonly
called the Dawes Bill.
That law provides that the President may order allotments of land in severalty to Indians under the conditions named therein,
but provides that after such an order shall be made, the Indian shall have four years in which to make his or her selection
of land. Four years to an Indian is almost equivalent to eternity. And when it is suggested to them that under the law allotments
can be ordered, that holding lands in severalty by the Indian and educating his children is the policy of the Government;
that "putting the adult Indian upon a farm and the Indian child in school" is the advice of the Great Father, the suggestion
is met with the declaration that that can not be done for four years and they may all be dead before that time elapses.
If that law can be amended so as to provide that when the President orders allotments of land under the law, he may in the
same order fix the time, suited to each case, in which allotments can be taken, it would then become a present thing to the
Indian and he would be entirely willing to make arrangements by which such an order could be rendered unnecessary.
In the presence of an order or power in the President to make such an order negotiations with such tribes as the Kickapoos
would speedily result in success. The allotment of land to the Indian having become the policy of the Government, the details
must be modified to meet the conditions we find.
Having fixed the time at four years in which the Indian shall act, it would seem that leaving the time to be fixed in each
case by the President, in the exercise of a wise discretion, would readily be accepted by the law-making power.
We have the honor to be very respectfully
your obedient servants,
David H. Jerome
A. M. Wilson
Warren G. Sayre
Washington, D. C.
It should be remembered that the proposed contract submitted to the Kickapoos on July 1, 1890, contained the essentials of
the Kickapoo agreement printed in the Statutes at Large three years later. On their second visit to the Kickapoos, the Commission found that the Indians refused to sell the lands,
"a little squabble" resulted, and according to the Commission the Indians would not stay to listen to all they had to say
but "jumped up and ran away."
After the Cherokee Commission left the Kickapoo reservation they received indirectly from the Kickapoos, reports which were
somewhat encouraging. Horace Speed, who never seemed to despair of success in any negotiations of the Commission, gave Noble
reason to believe that if the Commission visited the Kickapoos again, they would have an easy task in coming to an agreement
with them. Noble wrote to Jerome: "He says he has been told by someone, in whom he has confidence. that they have thought
and talked better of your offer since your departure, and if you will allow them the same terms you did the Iowas, they will
accept."8 Dr. Fasslinger, physician to the Kickapoos, advised the Secretary of the Interior that the Kickapoos were ready and desired
to treat with the Commission as early as convenient.9
According to Agent Samuel L. Patrick the prospect of recent negotiations of the Commission with various tribes being approved
by Congress had had the effect of changing the minds of the Kickapoos.10 He said that many of them had expressed a desire to negotiate with the government, and have their future
10Patrick to Com. Ind. Aff., Feb. 2, 1891, OIA, 1354 Ind. Div. 1891. See however, same to same, July 1, 1891, Ind. Aff., 1891, p. 364.
settled. According to Governor George W. Steele,11 a Kickapoo who represented himself as Chief Chee-whan-cago had expressed a desire to have the Commission come to their village
at as early a date as was practicable, saying that his people were then ready to treat. "He was away in Kansas when the Commission
were there last summer," said Steele, "but says he has had the head men together since his return and that they have agreed
to dispose of their lands. His anxiety to have the Commission come soon is because the Tribe is now together and it will be
easier for them to act while this is so." Steele wanted to have "this little body of land" taken in at the same time the rest
of the land east of Indian Territory was settled.
"We go from here immediately to the Kickapoo country," wrote Jerome on June 5, 1891 in transmitting the report of the Cherokee
Commission concerning negotiations with the Wichitas. The Commission arrived at Wellston June 13. This was their third and
final visit to the Kickapoo reservation. There was some difficulty in securing the attendance of the Kickapoos in council,
but on June 16 Chief Wape-mee-shay-waw12 and his four counselors came prepared to hear what the Commission had to say.
During the first three days councils were held, not more than fifteen Indians to be present. Wape-mee-shay-waw received the
Commission courteously but his sentiments ran counter to their desires. The chief speakers for the Kickapoos were Ockqua-noc-a-sey
and Pah-the.13 On the first morning the Commission explained the purpose of their mission and said that the policy of dissolving Indian
reservations in Oklahoma Territory was one phase of a general trend toward the dissolution of such
reservations in the United States. In the afternoon attention was called to the power of the President to order the assignment
of allotments, to the power of the government to regulate the sale and leasing of lands, and it was intimated that the Kickapoo
might have to sell the surplus lands whether they wanted to or not. The Commission presented and explained a proposed contract
bearing the essentials, if not the details, of that later ratified by Congress. In the evening the Indians took the proposed
contract apart to themselves for consideration.
If the Commission had doubts as to the nature of the report, they had assurance that it would be made promptly. They knew
that Ock-qua-noc-a-sey, who had brought only meagre provisions with him, wished to close up the matter the next day and that
in his view the reservation belonged to the Great Spirit. After a few introductory remarks the next morning in council the
Indians said that in consultation they had concluded "to all agree to one point, not to dispose of the land." They said in
"just the plain words: we will not accept the proposition." The Commission were shrewd traders. They succeeded in continuing
councils throughout the day and the following day during which time they made an effort to pry into the closed question. Ockqua-noc-a-sey
was the Bryan of a religious cause. He made a visible effort to retain the good feelings of the Commission and at the same
time to justify the Kickapoos who throughout the councils scarcely budged from the position announced on the morning of June
17. Ock-qua-noc-a-sey believed in a higher law than any made at Philadelphia or Washington. He regarded the General Allotment
Act as the handiwork of "some one under the earth." He explained at length that in the first instance the lands belonged to
God or the Great Spirit, that when He had "kind of divided up the thing." He put the Indians "in this part of the world as
Indians" and intended that they should live "out of doors in the grass." He explained further that "the Great Spirit put the
land here for us" and that the Indians loved it and wished to occupy it. He pointed out that Chief Wape-mee-shay-waw firmly
opposed the disposition of the lands,
that he knew "a good deal" and looked up to the Great Spirit. He said repeatedly and with emphasis that the Kickapoos feared
that that heavenly power would come down and destroy the earth if they disposed of their lands and thus angered Him. Hence
it was considered better to let the white crowds overrun the reservation than to sell it. "Whenever the white people take
all the land from the Indians," said Ock-qua-noc-a-sey, "we believe the land will be destroyed." Like Rousseau, he valued
the virtues of a primitive state, and moreover he was content with the inequality of man. He explained that the Kickapoos
were satisfied with their present condition and did not care for money or fine clothes. "We have a small reservation here,"
he said, "and you have the biggest part of the United States; and you should be satisfied and we are doing well."
The Kickapoos were warned by their neighbors from the north and from the south. While conferences were being held some half
dozen Iowas who had persistently refused to accept, voluntarily, the conditions of the Iowa agreement visited the Kickapoos.
A band or faction of Absentee Shawnees under the leadership of Big Jim, yet hostile to the agreement made with their tribe,
came up from the south. The visitors had had their allotments made and knew that the opening of their reservations to white
settlement was not far off. But between them and the Kickapoos there was no great gulf fixed. They came to testify concerning
the new order of things and to advise the Kickapoos not "to touch the pen" or to make any agreement with the Commission.14 In vain did the Commission urge that such advice be not heard. The Kickapoos inquired diligently of the visitors who had
a familiar spirit and spoke in accordance with their own expressed determination.
The question of God's interest in a land sale and His reaction, if any, was for the Commission an undesirable one.15 To no avail they pointed out that no power had swooped down from heaven in a fiendish way to destroy other reservations under
the supervision of the Sac and Fox agency where lands had been sold and allotments made. They said that in their opinion the
Kickapoos had heard the Great Spirit "from some Indians and some bad white men." They explained that probably the present
visit would be their last, that the great father was "going to do something with these Indians," that white settlement of
the surplus lands was inevitable and that times were going to change just as sure as the sun goes down. In the afternoon of
June 18 the Kickapoos said that they would talk no more and would make no agreement on any terms. A suggestion for further
consideration met the reply: "We will shake hands and go in peace." And the Indians departed for their homes.
After these members of the tribe went away, four others came to the camp of the Commission, signed the agreement and represented
that they believed a majority of the tribe would sign if away from the influence of the Chief and his council. The Commission
sent its messenger, and those who had signed, out to bring in all the adult male members of the tribe. On June 20 all adult
males, except three, were present at a new council. Jerome said it had been brought to his attention that men called head
men and chiefs had threatened the Indians if they signed the paper; he assured them that if any Indian present, after he understood
the contents of the agreement desired to sign it, he would be protected thereafter just as fully as though he were in the
captain's tent. Sayre said that so far as the government was concerned there was no head man or chief but every man was just
as good as any other man and could do just as he pleased and sign the contract without interference from any man. After
the Commission at great length explained all the conditions of the proposed agreement, Jerome said a few had signed it and
that he would be glad to have them stand up and say why they had signed. Just then Chief Wape-mee-shay-wah and Pah-the arrived,
and Jerome immediately adjourned the meeting saying that those who desired to sign might do so. According to the Commission
"one of the chief's council asked all, who were opposed to the agreement, to step over to his side [i. e. behind the Chief],
when somewhat to the surprise of the Commission, and to its present16 discomfiture, every Indian present16 save the four who had signed, stepped over to the chief's side." The vote of confidence showed that Wape-mee-shay-waw was
Caesar of the camp; the appeal from him to his people was an ill wind that blew him good. According to the council proceedings
he merely said: "Well Commissioner we will have to shake hands again. Now we are about done ain't we; you see how it turns
out. Good Bye."
One of the darkest chapters in the history of the Cherokee Commission deals with the procedure by which it secured the so-called
"agreement made and entered into on the Kickapoo Reservation" on June 21, 1891, and completed at Washington on September 9
following. "As a result of their own councils," the Commission said of the Kickapoos, "they did, on the 21st day of August,
1891, request us to meet with their head men and interpreter at Oklahoma City . . . . With the least possible delay we arrived
at Oklahoma City, and at once proceeded with the task of making an agreement with them in the premises."17 On the surface it appears that the matter was engineered by John T. Hill, who was probably no more of a Kickapoo than was
David H. Jerome. At any rate seven Kickapoos were at Oklahoma City, and with the consent of Secretary Noble, the Commission
took Ock-qua-noc-a-sey and Kish-o-com-me to Washington City. There these two Kickapoos and Hill, on behalf of
the tribe, completed the agreement with the Commission, and by a questionable power of attorney signed thereto the names of
fifty-one Indians, the approximate number of male adults among the Kickapoos. A challenging topic in the study of historical
evidence is the determination to what degree Ock-qua-noc-a-sey and Kish-o-corn-me understood the agreement and consented to
The Kickapoos on the reservation were in the main as hostile as ever to the agreement. Congress accepted, ratified and confirmed
the agreement by an act of March 3, 1893.18 Governor William C. Renfrow, for the sake of society and the Democratic party, urged that the surplus lands of the Kickapoo
reservation be opened at the same time the Cherokee Outlet was opened.19 The Kickapoos opposed bitterly the taking of allotments, and it was not until September 12, 1894, that the schedules of allotments
were approved by the Department of the Interior. The surplus lands of the reservation were opened on May 23, 1895. The opposition
of the Kickapoos to the agreement was soothed by a Congressional act of April 30, 1908, appropriating $215,000 as compensation
for all differences arising out of all treaties and agreements made between the Mexican Kickapoos and the United States.20
19The original letter, on official stationery, and addressed to Secretary Hoke Smith on July 15, 1893, is in OIA, 5455 Ind.
Div. 1893. The body of the letter is as follows:
"Your attention is respectfully called to an Act of Congress entitled 'An Act to Ratify and Confirm an Agreement with the
Kickapoo Indians in Oklahoma Territory, etc.', approved March 3, 1893, and more particularly to the third article of said
act, limiting the time within which allotments may be taken under the same.
2035 Statutes, 89; Ind. Aff., 1908, p. 88. There is considerable material, printed and unprinted, concerning the Kickapoo agreement of 1891. The merits
of that agreement was only one of several perplexing questions concerning the Kickapoos. In 1907 a subcommittee of the Senate
Committee on Indian Affairs made an inquiry into "affairs of the Mexican Kickapoo Indians," and the hearings were published
in three volumes.—S. Documents, 60 Cong. 1 sess., xiv-xvi (5247-5249), no. 215.
"You are further reminded that the Kickapoo reservation is but a small tract of land, containing all told only 270 square
miles and is entirely surrounded by thickly settled country; that there are something over 200 Indians that are entitled to
allotments in the same; after deducting these allotments and school sections from said reservation there will remain about
900 quarter sections to be thrown open to settlement. This land is rich and very desirable and will be greatly sought after
whenever it is opened to settlement. It is certainly advisable and of the utmost importance that it should be opened at the
same time as the Cherokee Outlet.
"If this tract should be opened to settlement at a time separate and distinct from the opening of any other lands, owing to
its richness and fertility there would be an indiscriminate rush and scramble that would result in numerous harassing contests
in the courts before the department, if not in actual bloodshed.
"There is still another strong reason why this tract should be opened at the same time as the Cherokee Strip, to-wit: it [if]
opened at that time, owing to its location in the southern part of the territory, it will most readily fill up with our political
friends and become a strong hold upon which we may rely in a day of need.
"I understand there is nothing further to do in order to prepare this tract for opening than to appoint the alloting agent
and direct the allotments to the Indians to be made.
"Your early consideration of this matter is most earnestly solicited."
In conclusion we may note that the close of the Territorial period marked the close of the question of the dissolution of
the Kickapoo reservation. The government had opened the reservation to white settlement and the Kickapoos were at least temporarily
satisfied. The Commission faced the difficult task of dealing with illiterate Kickapoos who did not believe that capitalism
with its private property was the true way leading to a perfect human society. There is no doubt that the Kickapoos as a tribe
were extremely adverse to any disposition of their reservation. The reasons for changing so strong an attitude in the summer
of 1891 are not entirely clear, in spite of the claim of the Cherokee Commission that there was such a change. If the end
attained brought the greatest good to the greatest number, and if Secretary Noble and the Commission accomplished a thing
much to be desired, we should not criticize too severely the paths by which they traveled. After the Cherokee Commission on
the Kickapoo reservation had seen two demonstrations of popular hostility to the agreement which they wanted the Kickapoos
to sign, it should not be surprising if they connived to get the Kickapoo signatures they wanted—not at Kickapoo Village—but
at Oklahoma City and Washington City.
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