Unlocking the Information in the Dawes Roll

First and foremost, what exactly is the Dawes Roll and why is it so important? The Dawes Roll was an allotment roll for the Five Civilized Tribes. It was created by the Dawes Commission in 1893, which was authorized by the U.S. Congress to prepare and execute the General Allotment Act of 1887.

The General Allotment Act, or Dawes Act of 1887, was put in place for the subdivision of tribal communal landholdings into divided allotments for all Native American heads of household. This idea was new to the Native Americans as the land was considered tribal property. Now they would own their individual portion of land to do with as they may.

The Dawes Act, named for Massachusetts Senator Henry L. Dawes, who had a pivotal roll in getting the Act passed. After leaving the Senate he became chairman of the Commission to the Five Civilized Tribes, or Dawes Commission when the Dawes Act was amended in 1898 to include the 5 Civilized Tribes, which he was apart of for ten years.

The Dawes Commission’s job was to accept the application of the citizens and accept or reject them based on whether the tribal government recognized them previously as a member of the tribe. Once accepted they were to complete the roll, listing each approved member into the proper grouping; By Blood, By Marriage, Minor Citizen By Blood, Newborn By Blood, Freedman, Newborn Freedman, or Minor Freedman.

Cherokee Delegation to the Dawes Commission. Source: Oklahoma Historical Society

In 1928, the Institute for Government Research and the Rockefeller Foundation commissioned a survey team led by Lewis Meriam to compile a report on the conditions of all Native Americans across the country. The Meriam Report, entitled “The Problem of Indian Administration” consisted of 847 pages and was submitted to the Secretary of the Interior, Hubert Work, on 21 February, 1928.

The findings showed the health of the Native Americans compared to the general population as bad. Poor healthcare services and poor food supplies were listed as the main cause. The economy was also extremely low and the Report suggested better education for the children.

Five years after the Report, the government abandoned the idea of allotments and on 18 June 1934, President Franklin D Roosevelt signed the Indian Reorganization Act into law, replacing the Dawes Act.

Now that we have the history of the Dawes Act under our belt, it is time to learn how to search the rolls and find the information you need.

Step one is the easy part. Do your research and find the ancestor that lived in Indian Territory at the correct time (1899-1907). Once you have established the name and date it’s time to search the database. Now that you have hopefully found your ancestor in the database, what’s next? Now it’s time to find their census card and enrollment packets. These can be found online at Ancestry.com or Fold3.com.

The census cards lists names, age, gender, blood quantum, tribe, residence, and roll #. The allotment packets give you so much more information. The applicant will have their genealogy as far back as they can remember, interviews, correspondences, plat maps, and other documents. Some packets I have research has been over 100 pages long, while others are much smaller. It just depends on each individual.

Walter McSpadden Allotment Packet, Page 2, Fold3.com

I hope that this article has helped you understand the Dawes Commission and Roll. Please leave any questions or comments below. I enjoy all feedback.


Published by Green Briar Girl

For 13 years I was a single mother until I married my handsome husband. Fast forward five years and we have added 3 sons and a daughter to our household. With all those kids I rarely have time to myself but my love of writing will always find a way. I have written books in the past. My range of genres is from romance novels to nonfiction historical, poetry, and children's books. I am currently working on a mystery book that should be a very exciting read I hope! I also love genealogy and have created my own forms which I will post later for people to download to use. I hope you enjoy my writings and recipes that I plan on sharing with you here.

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