Study Guide

The Dawes Act of 1887 Timeline

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1540-1924 (Intermittently)

Indian Wars

Check out the time span on this one. That's right: 384 years of conflict between the Native Americans and the Europeans/Canadians who were trying to settle on their lands. We could honestly go on for days about all the fascinating battles and historical figures who led them (Geronimo, Tecumseh, General Custer), but for our purposes here, you just need to know that most Native Americans didn't take to the land grabs lying down.

May 28, 1830

Indian Removal Act

It's pretty much all in the name, but the Indian Removal Act, signed into law by President Andrew Jackson, granted unsettled lands west of the Mississippi to white settlers in exchange for Native American lands within existing state borders (source). It wasn't exactly voluntary.


Trail of Tears

President Jackson's Indian Removal Act led to what historians call the Trail of Tears, which describes how nearly 125,000 Native Americans were forced to leave their lands in Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, North Carolina, and Florida in order to be relocated on reservations west of the Mississippi. Many, many people died on the long march, and, well, the whole thing was pretty terrible (source).


Grant's Peace Policy

Although President Grant seemed much more sympathetic towards Native Americans than his predecessors, his ideas weren't all that much better. In 1868 he advocated for what he called his "Peace Policy," which aimed to remove corrupt Indian Agents supervising the reservations (good), and replacing them with Christian missionaries in order to educate the tribes on farming, reading, writing, and American values (source).


Indian Appropriations Act

Up until this point, the U.S. government recognized the tribes as more-or-less sovereign entities despite ordering them around and forcing them to sign treaties that weren't exactly favorable. With this Act, the government abandoned all pretense of treating the tribes as sovereign, making it easy to pass legislation regulating the tribes vs. making treaties with them. Self-governance wouldn't be restored for 100 years.

This federal control was challenged by the tribes, of course, but the Supreme Court would later decide, "from their very weakness and helplessness, so largely due to the course of dealing of the Federal Government with them and the treaties in which it has been promised, there arises the duty of protection, and with it the power."

It's for their own protection. Where have we heard that before?

January 31, 1876

Reservation Deadline

Original date issued by the United States government ordering all Native Americans onto a system of reservations throughout the western lands of the United States. Why? Because gold was discovered in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Although the date would be extended by President Grant, this would lead to the Great Sioux War of 1876 (source).

June 25-26, 1876

Battle of Little Bighorn/Custer's Last Stand

You just can't talk about the conflicts between the Native Americans and the white men who wanted their land without mentioning General Custer and the legendary Battle of Little Bighorn. Basically, disputes over the rights to the gold in them thar (Black) hills led to thousands of Native Americans gathering to defend their lands. General Custer dismissed the reports of the massive assembly and ordered merely 200 men into battle against them. They were decimated, with the only American survivor being a horse named Comanche (source). Cue irony.


Manifest Destiny

The term manifest destiny alludes to the 19th Century belief that it was an American's God-given right to conquer the entire continent and civilize it.


Dawes Act

You already know all about it.


Nelson Act

Minnesota, suffering from a serious case of FOMO, wrote their own Dawes Act in order to relocate the Anishinaabe people to the White Earth Reservation in the western part of the state (source).


Curtis Act

This amendment to the Dawes Act made it so that the tribes that were previously exempt (the Five Civilized Tribes of Indian Territory, aka the Choctaw, Chickasaw, Muscogee (Creek), Cherokee, and Seminole) were now totally required to participate in the allotment program. It also effectively abolished the remaining tribal courts, government, and land claims in Oklahoma, allowing it to be admitted as a state. Way to go, Curtis.


Burke Act

Because removing them from their lands that they'd successfully hunted and cultivated for decades wasn't enough, the Burke Act made things even harder. It gave the government the power to assess whether individuals were "competent and capable" before giving them the patents to their allotted lands. Plus, it denied them citizenship until after the Dawes Act's 25-year trust period. It just keeps getting better…

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