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Five Civilized Tribes
The Five Civilized Tribes courtesy
"How different would be the sensation of a
philosophic mind to reflect that instead of exterminating a part of the human race by our modes of
population, that we had persevered through all
difficulties and at last had imparted our Knowledge of cultivating and the arts, to the Aboriginals of the
Country by which, the source of future life and
happiness had been preserved and extended. But it has been conceived to be impracticable to civilize the
Indians of North America. This opinion is probably more convenient than just.”
— Henry Knox - Notes to George Washington
from Henry Knox
The Five Civilized Tribes were a group of
American nations that were officially and
unofficially called such to collectively designate the
and Seminole tribes. The term was applied by Anglo-European settlers
during the colonial and early federal period because these tribes had
adopted many of the colonists' customs and generally, had good
relations with the white settlers.
The term appears in the reports of the
Office as early as 1876, when the agent reported that each tribe had a
constitutional government, with legislative, judicial, and executive
departments, conducted upon the same plan as our State governments,
the entire expenses of which, are paid out of their own funds."
However, at that time there was no court with jurisdiction to try
cases where an Indian
was one party and a citizen of the United States or a corporation was
These five tribes differed from most others in the fact
that their lands were held not on the same basis as reservations, but,
by patents or deeds, with certain restrictions as to alienation and
reversion, as well as other restrictions regarding timber, mining and
grazing within their respective tracts. .
All of the Five Civilized Tribes lived in the
Southeastern United States before the government forced their
relocation under Indian Removal Act to other parts of the country,
especially the future state of Oklahoma.
This act, signed into law by President Andrew Jackson in May, 1830,
required that all
American tribes living east of the
Mississippi River relocate to lands west of the river.
Over the next several decades the Five Civilized Tribes
were relocated from their homes to
Indian Territory (Oklahoma)
during a series of removals, authorized by federal legislation.
The title of the Chickasaw Nation to their lands in
Indian Territory was obtained from the
Choctaw in accordance with
treaties with the United States, while that of the
obtained from the
Creek tribe. The territory assigned to these five
tribes within the limits of
Indian Territory, in present-day eastern
was approximately 30,431 square miles.
began in 1861, the Five Tribes were divided in
politics, with the
Choctaw and Chickasaw fighting on the Confederate
Seminole supporting the Union, and the
fighting a civil war within their own nation between the majority
Confederates and the minority pro-Union men.
number of slaveholders was small, members of each tribe held black
slaves. There were also free African Americans who lived with them,
especially the Seminole. Many of these became known as Black
the Federal government's peace treaties with the tribes required the
emancipation of slaves and guarantees of citizenship in each nation.
These former slaves became known as tribal Freedmen, such as
Freedmen. However, determining the status of the freedmen within the
tribes became a difficult one, even though, in the treaties of 1866,
it was agreed that they should be subject to the same laws as the
and be entitled to a portion of the land and rights in differing in
the different tribes.
The Chickasaw, for example, refused to
automatically make their
Freedmen citizens, instead requiring them to go through the same process
as anyone else to gain citizenship. These requirements provided that
citizens be born of a
Chickasaw parent or to petition for citizenship if they were not a
Chickasaw. Due to their refusal to automatically make the former
slaves citizens of their nation, the U.S. Government penalized the tribe
by taking over half of their lands without compensation.
Veterans in 1903
There were other issues within the tribes, such as school
privileges, where in some tribes, the Freedmen had separate schools, and
were restricted from receiving other privileges.
Though the United States government promised that all of
the lands of the Five Civilized Tribes would be free of white settlement,
this was not the case as thousands violated the policy.
In May, 1890, the lands of the five tribes were abolished,
providing each member with an allotment of acreage and in 1893, the
government opened the remaining land to outside settlement.
In 1907, the
Territory and the Indian Territory were merged to form the state of
All five of the nations of the Five Civilized Tribes continue to have a
major presence there today.
of America, updated June, 2015.
Indian Removal Act of 1830
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