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Presentation Immigration and Relocation in U.S. History


Indian territory: compiled under the direction of the Hon. John H. Oberly, Commissioner of Indian Affairs, by C.A. Maxwell.

An account from Noah Armstrong, recalled the precarious relationship between U.S. soldiers and Native American hunters:

[W]e came upon a smouldering [sic] campfire and the remains of a buffalo . . . . [and] a row of Indians going down the path single file. We opened fire as we were accustomed to doing and killed two of the Indians . . . . [and] chased them right on into a white camp and found to our dismay that we had been chasing Government Indians . . . sent out with United State Officers . . . to show them how to hunt buffalo. We . . . [had] to go into court over killing the Indians, but it was settled in our favor.

The killing of buffalo reduced the number of resources available to independent Native Americans. For many Native Americans, the federal government's reservation system became the only means for survival.

President Grover Cleveland noted the national obligation in his first inaugural address in 1885: "The conscience of the people demands that the Indians within our boundaries shall be fairly and honestly treated as wards of the Government and their education and civilization promoted with a view to their ultimate citizenship . . ." Citizenship, however, remained almost sixty years away.

In the meantime, the Dawes Act of 1887 dissolved many Indian reservations. An 1888 report from the Indian Rights Association, The Condition of Affairs in Indian Territory and California, questioned the U.S. government's treatment of Native Americans: "The whole management of Indians has been abnormal . . . Everything is controlled by arbitrary laws and regulations, and not by moral, social, or economic principles." The report concluded that opening Oklahoma up to settlers and moving Native Americans farther west "would be unjust, cruel and disastrous."

Nevertheless, the federal government opened Oklahoma's unsettled lands to non-Native settlers in 1889. Four years later, the government purchased more than 6 million acres from tribes to pave the way for the Oklahoma land rush.