How Titles To Town Lots Were Secured

 

Town Sites
 

     After eight years of negotiation and persuasion, the commission to the Five Civilized Tribes finally succeeded in effecting an agreement with the Creek Nation, providing for the allotment in severalty of Creek lands, which agreement was approved by Act of Congress March 1, 1901, and ratified by the Creek Council at Okmulgee June 25, 1901.
     On the same date (March 1, 1901) Congress approved an agreement of a similar character which the commission had concluded with the authorities of the Cherokee Nation, but at a popular election called by the Cherokee Council this agreement was rejected by a vote of 2,323 for, and 3,346 against its ratification.
     However, on July 1, 1902, Congress passed another act providing for the individual allotment of the lands of the Cherokee Nation which was ratified by the Cherokees at an election held on August 7, 1902. The Kee-Too-Wah society of Cherokees, composed of full-bloods who had unflinchingly opposed any change in tribal customs or modes of living, refused to abide by the result of this election, and for many succeeding years refused to accept the land which the Dawes Commission arbitrarily allotted to them.
     On March 3, 1901, Congress passed an act conferring United States citizenship upon every Indian in Indian Territory.
     The Creek agreement provided that their lands should be appraised at their fair cash value regardless of improvements, and each man, woman and child, including freedmen, was permitted to select 160 acres of any grade of land.
     The lands were appraised at from 25 cents to $6.50 per acre according to quality. Those who selected quarter sections of the best grade, therefore, received $1,040 worth at the appraised value.
     In order to equalize the value of allotments, it was further provided that any citizen whose quarter section was of a lower grade of land, would be entitled to receive the difference between the appraised value of his land and $1,040 in cash from Creek funds, or he might claim additional land to make up this difference. Each citizen was required to select one forty-acre tract out of his allotment to be designated as his homestead, for which he received a separate deed, and which, for several years, he was not permitted to sell.
As soon as the Dawes Commission announced that it was ready to allot lands there was a stampede of Indians and Negroes for the office of the commission from all parts of the nation, each one apparently anxious to secure the land which he had selected as a home, before some other citizen should claim it. Many full-bloods, however, who had been persistently opposed to the breaking up of tribal relations and, especially, to the individual allotment of lands, refused to make any selection of land, and the commission subsequently selected their lands and issued certificates of allotment to them, some of whom returned their certificates to the commission with the information that they preferred to live as they had always lived. A few years later, however, they reluctantly accepted their allotments.
     Previous to this time numerous cattlemen, mostly white, intermarried citizens, had held possession of large tracts of land divided into pastures of perhaps a square mile each, and all substantially enclosed by wire fencing. In order to retain control of their ranches, they hauled wagon-loads of Indians and Negroes to Muskogee, pitched their tents across the street from the commission's headquarters and proceeded to have the Indians and Negroes in their custody to select allotments in their large pastures. The cattlemen had a previous agreement with such allottees by which they were able to retain their pastures intact by paying the allottees 25 cents per acre, annually, as rental.
     Immediately following the issuance of allotment deeds, and before the allottees were authorized to sell any part of the lands, reckless land speculators began to take deeds from ignorant Indians and Negroes, paying only a nominal consideration. Such buyers knew that these deeds were not valid, but by taking possession of the land they felt reasonably sure of holding it until their crops would reimburse them for the nominal price they had paid for the land, and that their possession and fraudulent deeds would give them a shadow of title which they hoped to be able to perfect at some future time, and which they fancied would keep other prospective buyers away.
The Government, however, prosecuted many suits to cancel these fraudulent deeds and restore the allottees to the rightful possession of their lands, and in the end, the "grafters" did not realize much profit from their disreputable practices.
      On April 21, 1904, Congress removed the restrictions upon all adult allottees not of Indian blood, except as to homesteads, which authorized each adult Negro and intermarried citizen to sell all of his land except the homestead. The same act authorized the Secretary of the Interior to remove the restrictions upon the sale of land of any Indian, except as to homesteads, whenever such removal was found to be to the best interest of the Indian.
     The passage of this act was the signal for a lively scramble among land buyers, for the Negroes and Indians had never before been owners of real estate, had no conception of its value, and were totally uninformed as to the value of real estate and as to the import or significance of a warranty deed. In numerous instances Freedmen were known to execute a half dozen or more deeds on the same land to as many different purchasers, which, of course, resulted in numerous lawsuits and complications of titles. Most of the Freedmen sold their land at whatever price the buyer chose to offer, and soon squandered the proceeds, but some of the more intelligent ones refused to sell and are now in good circumstances. It was not unusual in those days, to see a Negro, who had never before been able to own a $40 pony, drive down the streets of Muskogee, with a new buggy, harness and team of horses, and passersby would remark : "Another nigger has sold his land." Some of the ignorant Negroes and. Indians who neglected to select their allotments until after all the good land was taken, were compelled to accept seemingly worthless lands out among the rocky hills, but by an unexpected turn of the wheel of fortune quite a number of these poor tracts have since been found to be underlaid with oil, and several of those ignorant, neglected allottees are today millionaires.
      The most sweeping law which Congress has enacted concerning the removal of restrictions upon the sale of Indian lands, and which threw the greatest amount of land upon the market, was the
     Act of May 27, 1908, which provided that all lands, including homesteads, of intermarried whites, Freedmen, and Indians of less than half-blood, including minors, and all lands, except homesteads, of other allottees of less than three-quarters Indian blood, should be free from all restrictions. This act left all such Indians and Freedmen, who were adults, free to sell such lands, without consulting the officials of the Interior Department.
     The Act of Congress of July 1, 1902, providing for the settlement of the affairs of the Cherokee Nation, gave to each citizen 110 acres of average land. Those who selected the best grade of land received less, and those to whom were allotted the poorer grades received more, in proportion to the appraised value, as determined by the Dawes Commission.
     This act provided that no white person who had intermarried with a Cherokee citizen subsequent to December 16, 1895, should be entitled to enrollment or to share in Cherokee property.
     The final enrollment of Indian citizens shows that in the Cherokee Nation there were 8,703 full-bloods; 1,803 three-fourths-blood or more ; 2,975 from one-half to three-fourths blood; 23,424 less than half-bloods, including intermarried whites and 4,919 Freedmen.
     Of the Creeks there were 6,858 full-bloods; 541 three-fourths blood or more; 1,157 from one-half to three-fourths blood; 3,396 less than half-bloods and 6,809 Freedmen. The restricted Indians (those who could not sell their lands except by consent of the Secretary of the Interior) included all who were of one-half or more Indian blood. Of the 13,481 restricted Cherokees enrolled, the restrictions have been removed of about 6,000, either by death or by the Secretary of the Interior.
     Of the 8,556 restricted Creeks, there are now remaining about 5,500.
     The Cherokees had an estate of about 4,420,000 acres of land to be divided, while the Creeks had about 3,080,000 acres.

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