The Stokes Commission was a three-member delegation appointed by Congress on July l4, 1832, to pacify the indigenous tribes of the newly created Indian Territory in preparation for the removal of eastern tribes to that region. Among eastern Anglo-Americans, pressure mounted to begin the Indian Removal, while the eastern tribes were reluctant to depart, fearing they would be harmed by what they perceived to be the "wild Indians" of the West.
In 1833 the commission members, Montfort Stokes of North Carolina, Henry L. Ellsworth of Connecticut, and John F. Schermerhorn from New York, established their headquarters at Fort Gibson in present Muskogee County, Oklahoma. Three companies of mounted rangers, led by Capts. Jesse Bean, Nathan Boone, and Lemuel Ford, were assigned to the commission for protection and to act as messengers and liaisons between the Americans and the western tribes. The first to arrive, Ellsworth, was accompanied by three distinguished sightseers, including the famous American writer Washington Irving, Charles Joseph Latrobe, a prominent English naturalist, and a Swiss aristocrat, Count Albert Alexandre de Portales.
In February 1833 the commission successfully settled a boundary dispute between the Cherokee and Creek along the Verdigris and Arkansas rivers. In March 1833 the commissioners assigned land in northeastern Oklahoma, in present Ottawa County, to remnants of the Seneca and Shawnee Indians, recently relocated from Ohio. In May 1833 the commission authorized land adjacent to the Seneca and Shawnee to two hundred homeless Quapaw Indians who were living with the Caddo along the Red River.
Turning to their main assignment, pacifying the western tribes (most notably the Comanche, Kiowa, Wichita, and Osage), the commissioners faced a daunting task. Tribal suspicions of the commission's intentions as well as the hostility among the tribes themselves, especially the Osage, created a less than ideal atmosphere for treaty negotiations. Adding to the confusion, the commissioners feuded with one another almost from the beginning. Consequently, their authority expired in July 1834 with little having been accomplished. The western tribes did, however, agree to attend a treaty counsel set to meet in the summer of 1835 at Camp Holmes (Mason) near present Lexington, Oklahoma.
In April 1835 the Stokes Commission was reconstituted to include, in addition to Montfort Stokes, Maj. Francis W. Armstrong, the superintendent of Indian affairs for the Western Territory, and Gen. Matthew Arbuckle, commandant at Fort Gibson. The commissioners, with renewed authority, met with the Comanche, Wichita, and Osage and negotiated the Treaty of Camp Holmes in August 1835. Armstrong died before talks began, but Stokes and Arbuckle spent several weeks in negotiations that led to most of the western tribes finally agreeing to share their hunting grounds and to live in peace with the immigrants from the east. The Kiowa, however, left the conference without signing the agreement. On May 26, 1837, the Kiowa finally signed the treaty in question, and with that, the Stokes Commission had finally accomplished what it was assigned to do when it was created in 1832.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Brad Agnew, Fort Gibson: Terminal on the Trail of Tears (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1980). Grant Foreman, Pioneer Days in the Early Southwest (Cleveland, Ohio: The Arthur H. Clark Company, 1926). John Joseph Mathews, The Osages: Children of the Middle Waters (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1961). Mildred P. Mayhall, The Kiowas (2nd ed.; Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1972). Ernest Wallace and E. Adamson Hoebel, The Comanches: Lords of the South Plains (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1952).
Jerome O. Steffen
© Oklahoma Historical Society