This week’s edition of Diverse Collections features the Register of Indigenous People at the Nez Perce Agency.
In February 1887, Congress enacted the Dawes Act (also commonly referred to as the “Dawes Severalty Act” or the “General Allotment Act”) which attempted to “assimilate Native Americans into mainstream US society by encouraging them towards farming and agriculture, which meant dividing tribal lands into individual plots. Only the Native Americans who accepted the division of tribal lands were allowed to become US citizens.”1 Under the Act, “160 acres of farmland of 320 acres of grazing land” was allotted to family heads, 80 acres were allotted to single people over 18 years old and orphans under 18 years old, and 40 acres were allotted to other single people under 18 years old.2
Although the details of the Act were comparably similar to the Homestead Act, Indigenous tribes “already controlled the land that was being returned to them at a fraction of the acreage.”1 Additionally, “Native Americans were not accustomed to a life of standardized ranching and agriculture, and the lands allotted to them were often unsuitable for farming.”1
Nevertheless, Indigenous people who accepted the terms of the Act “were required to enroll with the Office of Indian Affairs, now known as the Bureau of Indian Affairs. By enrolling, the individual registered themselves with the office and their name went on the ‘Dawes rolls,’ which assisted government agencies in determining whether or not that individual was eligible to receive their allotment.”1
The PDFs above compose MG 221. This collection consists of three separate items. One is a contemporaneous copy, believed to be accurate, of the record of allotments made by U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs special agent Alice Fletcher on the Nez Perce Indian Reservation, Idaho. This item is a bound volume consisting of 448 photocopied pages on which allotment assignments were recorded in handwriting probably by surveyor Edson Briggs. Imprinted on the spine of the volume are the words “Nez Perce Indians Land Allotments Register.” The first 31 pages of this volume appear to be an index to the remaining pages. The original is in Record Group 75 in the National Archives in Washington, DC.
A second item is a collection of photocopied pages from National Records and Archives Administration Record Group 75: Records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Entry 572. Enrollment Records, 1884-1909. Registry of Nez Perce Indians. Volume 6 of 12. This item is titled “Register of Indian Families at the Nez Perce Agency, 1884-1909,” in its record in the University of Idaho Library catalog. This record also contains a note that the “register was compiled by special agent Alice Fletcher.” This item consists of 437 pages and is, essentially, a list of the families that Fletcher felt were entitled to allotments.
The third item is a collection of photocopied pages from National Records and Archives Administration Record Group 75: Records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Entry 571. Enrollment Records. Registry of Nez Perce Indians. This item is titled “Index to Register of Families in the Nez Perce Agency, 1909?” in its record in the University of Idaho Library catalog and does appear to be an index to the item in the collection titled “Register of Indian Families at the Nez Perce Agency, 1884-1909”. This record also contains a note that the “register was compiled by special agent Alice Fletcher.” This item consists of 56 pages and includes a second copy of the pages.