Government Decides Each Indian Will Receive 160 Acres

New Federal Act Breaks Up Tribal Holdings
Washington, D.C.
August 1887

One hundred-sixty acres of land. Each native person in the country will get 160 acres of land under the General Allotment Act. These grants of reservation lands will allow the hunters to become farmers.
According to Senator Henry Dawes of Massachusetts, the Indians will become civilized by tilling the land. The government will hold the title for each Indian for twenty-five years. At the end of the twenty-five years the head of the household will own the land outright and become an American citizen if the Indian is deemed competent by the government.
Any reservation lands remaining after each head of a household has received his share will be sold to white settlers. The money from the sale of the extra lands will be held in a government account for the purchase of seed, plows, and other farm supplies for the Indians.
Critics of the bill note that Western ranchers are in favor of the “Dawes Act,” as it is called. The leftover reservation lands can be bought at bargain rates and, after title is obtained, the Indian land-owners will be able to sell all of their land, if they wish to do so. Some believe that lumbermen and ranchers will pounce upon the opportunity to buy reservation lands at a low price from Indians who are inexperienced in selling real estate.
When he signed the bill, President Grover Cleveland commented, “If this were done in the name of greed, it would be bad enough; but to do it in the name of humanity, and under the cloak of an ardent desire to promote the Indians’ welfare by making him more like ourselves, whether he will or not, is infinitely worse.”

By Dr. D. Jerome Tweton


Originally published as The North Star Dakotan student newspaper, written by Dr. D. Jerome Tweton and supported by the North Dakota Humanities Council

Subject Matter

Social Studies

North Star Dakotan:

Journals and Art Work: The Indian People, The Trade, and The Land

The Indian People

The Purchase and Exploration of Louisiana

The Fur Trade

Dakota Territory

The Military Frontier

The Reservation System

George Armstrong Custer and the Battle of the Little Bighorn

The Great Dakota Boom, 1878-1890

Reservation Troubles, 1886-1890

The Making of a State and a Constitution

The North Dakota Economy, 1890-1915

Life on the Indian Reservations

The North Dakota National Guard and the Philippines

North Dakota, The Great War and After

The Nonpartisan League's Rise to Power

The Nonpartisan League in Power

The Nonpartisan League's Decline

The 1920s

1930s: North Dakota's Economic and Political Climate

The New Deal in North Dakota

The Road to World War II

North Dakota and American Society

North Dakota Optimism and Economic Developments

North Dakota and Political Change