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decided: May 13, 1912.



Author: Lamar

[ 224 U.S. Page 667]

 MR. JUSTICE LAMAR delivered the opinion of the court.

The eight thousand plaintiffs in this case are members of the Choctaw and Chickasaw tribes. Each of them holds a patent to 320 acres of allotted land issued under the terms of the Curtis Act (June 28, 1898, 30 Stat. 495, 507, c. 517), which contained a provision "that the land should be non-taxable" for a limited time. Before the expiration of that period the officers of the State of Oklahoma instituted proceedings with a view of assessing and collecting taxes on these lands lying within that State. The plaintiffs' application for an injunction was denied.

In order to understand the issues presented by the writ of error it is necessary to refer, as briefly as possible, to certain well-known facts, and to material portions of lengthy statutes, under which the tribal property of the Choctaws and Chickasaws was divided in severalty among their members.

The Five Civilized Tribes owned immense tracts of land in territory that is now embraced within the limits of the State of Oklahoma. The legal title was in the Tribes for the common use of their members. But the fact that so extensive an area was held under a system that did not recognize private property in land, presented a serious obstacle to the creation of the State which Congress desired to organize for the government and development of that part of the country. And, with a view of removing these difficulties, it provided (March 3, 1893, 27 Stat. 612, 645, c. 209) for the appointment of the Dawes Commission, authorizing it to enter into negotiations with these Tribes for the extinguishment of their title, either by cession to the United States or by allotment, in severalty, among their members. As might have been anticipated, the Commission found that many of the Indians were greatly opposed to any change. "Some of them held passionately to their institutions from custom

[ 224 U.S. Page 668]

     and patriotism, and others held with equal tenacity because of the advantages and privileges they enjoyed." (20 H.R. Coc., 1903-4, p. 1.) After several years of negotiations their opposition was so far overcome that provisional agreements were made which contemplated most radical changes in the political and property rights of the Indians.

On April 23, 1897, the Dawes Commission and the Choctaw and Chickasaw representatives made what is known as the Atoka Agreement. It was incorporated bodily into the Curtis Act of June 28, 1898 (30 Stat. 505), and was modified by the act of July 1, 1902 (32 Stat. 641, 657, c. 1362).

These two acts, containing what is known as the Atoka Agreement and the Supplemental Agreement, provided that Indian laws and courts should be at once abolished; that there should be an enrollment of all the members of the tribe; and that the members of the two tribes should become citizens of the United States.

It was also provided, as appears from extracts copied in the margin,*fn1 that each member of the tribe should have

[ 224 U.S. Page 669]

     allotted to him his share of the land -- all of which "shall be non-taxable while the title remains in the original allottee;" that a part of the land could be sold after one year and all of it sold after five years; that the patents issued to the allottee "should be framed in conformity with the provisions of the Agreement," and that the acceptance of such patent should be operative as an assent on his part to the allotment of all land of the tribes in accordance with the provisions of the Agreement, and as a relinquishment of all his interest in other parts of the common property.

The complaint does not state when the plaintiffs received their patents, but the report of the Dawes Commission

[ 224 U.S. Page 670]

     for the year ending June 1, 1904 (20 H.R. Doc., 27-42), shows that the enrollment and allotment had so far progressed as to make it fair to assume that most, if not all, of the patents had been issued, and that much of the land was alienable and all of it was non-taxable when, on November 16, 1907, Oklahoma was admitted into the Union. The constitution of that State provided that all existing rights should continue as if no change in government had taken place, and that property exempt ...

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