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On The Reservation

In the years following the passage of the Dawes Severalty Act in 1887 the Reservation became the most vital instrument in the endeavor to incorporate the Native American.The Dawes Severalty Act was " an act to provide for the allotment of lands in severalty to Indians on the various reservations, and to extend the protection of the laws of the United States and the territories over the Indians, and for other purposes." Although Native Americans like Sarah Winnemucca and Zitkala Sa originally supported the act, because it made provisions for citizenship and the ownership of Native lands for Native Americans, in the end the act proved successful only for white Americans. Approximately 90 million of the 138 million acres of Native American territory became white-owned in just forty-five years. As the maps below demonstrate Native American lands were diminished to less than a third of their pre-Dawes Act holdings.

In the endeavor to incorporate the Native American the reservation system was a complete failure. In his essay Rev. Lyman Abbott summarized the problem of the reservation in terms of incorporation: "From the reservation all the currents of civilization were excluded by Federal Law. The railroad, the telegraph, the newspaper, the open market, free competition--all halted at its walls."

Furthermore, Native Americans did not and could not easily change their traditional nomadic way of life and become a farmer. Many Native Americans sold their land for peanuts and the increase in alcoholism once Native Americans were restricted to the reservation was astronomical. The reservation was also a means by which Native Americans were further disenfranchised and abused. On the reservation their children could be taken from them without cause or warning and sent to boarding school, they had no right of habeas corpus and could be arrested if any suspicion about their loyalty to the reservation or the US government existed.

The head despot at the reservation was the "Indian Agent" who had complete control over the reservation and its inhabitants. The Indian agent more often than not succumbed to corruption and used his position to exploit Native Americans for their land and their resources. Many Indian agents were "squaw men" who married Native American woman for the purposes of gaining their lands.

The reservation was the ultimate symbol of the Native American status as the unincorporated as it physically, economically, and emotionally cordoned off from the mainstream white America.

The readings in this section range from Rev. Lyman Abbot's writings about the "Indian Problem" and the consequences of the reservation system for the incorporation of the Native American, to Simon Pokagon's essay "An Indian on the Problem of His Race." By presenting both writings from the agents and victims of incorporation this section hopes to provide a holistic account of the allotment of Native Americans following the Dawes Severalty Act of 1887.


Legal Documents

Dawes Severalty or General Allotment Act.
1891 Amendment to the Dawes Severalty Act
1906 Amendment also known as the Burke Act

The Writings of Henry Dawes

Have we Failed with the Indian
The Indian Territory

From the Perspective of the Incorporated

Our Indian ProblemRev. Lyman Abbot
"The Wards of the United States Government." By H.H.
This article exclaims the virtues of white guardianship over Native Americans. George Bird Grinnell, "The Indian on the Reservation."
Rufus Zogbaum,Life at an Indian Agency

From the Perspective of the Unincorporated

Simon Pokagon "An Indian on the Problems of his Race."
Francis La Flesche "An Indian Allotment." John M.Oskison, "Remaining Causes of Indian Discontent"


Allotment Information
A Map of the Reservations

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