Myths, Misinformation and Motivations regarding the 1907 Dawes Roll and 1909 Miller Rolls

By Josiah Hair on September 3, 2013
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I have written several articles on each of these rolls from a genealogical viewpoint, In this article I will address the two rolls and compare them side by side from a motivational point of view. Anotherwords what was the motivation for thousands to refuse to sign the Dawes Roll and those same thousands to come forth willing to sign up for the Miller Roll? What Myths and Misinformation was spread on the outset of the Dawes Rolls? What Group of Cherokees were intentionally left off the Miller Roll and why?  My hope is to assist the reader in having a better understanding of the two rolls, answer the questions I have posed and more importantly give a glimpse into the politics and History of these two very important Rolls to Cherokees today.

Dawes Commission & General Allotment Act, or Dawes Severalty Act

An act of Congress approved on 3. March. 1893 (27 Stat, 645) authorized the establishment of a commission to negotiate agreements with the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek and Seminole tribes providing for the dissolution of the tribal governments and the allotment of land to each tribal member. The sponsor, Senator Henry L. Dawes of Massachusetts was appointed Chairman of the Commission on 1. Nov. 1893, after which it has commonly been referred to as the Dawes Commission. ¹The Commission was authorized by an Act of Congress approved 28. June. 1898 (30 Stat. 495) to prepare citizenship (Tribal Membership) rolls for each tribe.  Under this act, subsequent acts and resulting agreements negotiated with each tribe, the Commission received applications for membership covering more than 250,000 people and enrolled more than 101,000. ²The Tribal Membership Rolls were closed on 4. March. 1907, by an Act of Congress approved on 26. April. 1906 (34 Stat. 370), although an additional 312 persons were enrolled under an act approved 1. August. 1914.

So what does this mean?? We shall breakdown several key sentences in this paragraph one at a time and address them:

  1. ¹The Commission was authorized by an Act of Congress approved 28. June. 1898 (30 Stat. 495) to prepare citizenship (Tribal Membership) rolls for each tribe:  This one sentence has perhaps caused more misunderstandings and caused the Dawes Roll to be viewed as open Enrollment for anyone that applied for it when that could not be farther from the truth. In fact Lawyers at the time of the Commission advertised in Eastern papers to anyone that read those papers, that Free Land was to be had and these same Lawyers would help them get enrolled as a Cherokee Indian by just paying a fee to them! The Dawes commission enrolled onto the Dawes Rolls a Person or Family that met this Criteria: 1) Physically Resided within the BOUNDRIES of that particular nation, 2) Were Alive at the time of the Commission, 3) Were shown on either the 1896 or 1880 Census for that particular Tribe and Recognized by that Tribe as being a citizen of that nation. Who was excluded? Married Whites of an Indian, Persons that could not show that they were enrolled on either the two previous rolls, more precisely recognized by that particular tribe as a citizen. Who was included? Everybody that was listed on either the 1896 or 1880 Census including Old Settlers commonly called Keetoowah today, you did not need to apply for the Dawes Rolls in person! The Dawes Commission was tasked with preparing membership rolls for each tribe, they used the Tribes own Membership Rolls as the baseline, thus separating those that did not have a legitimate claim to land and more importantly allot land to those that they found were living in Indian Territory and were listed and recognized as Citizens. This brings up several other Questions now, such as: How did they find those that did not want to enroll? And more importantly why did they care if they did not show up would that make thier job easier?? To answer both of these questions we must understand the make up of the commission and more importantly what the motivation was. They were preparing a citizenship roll for each tribe Based on That Tribe’s OWN Citizenship Roll that TRIBE had ALREADY Prepared! So the commission were merely cross checking for each and Everyone ON that DOCUMENT. They did this by taking Testimony of individuals and families that appeared in person confirming that they appeared on previous rolls, they would enroll them and allot land to them. As for those that refused to enroll; They hired Cherokees to go out and find those that were not going to come in each district and determined if they were still living who was in the household then the commission would confirm the results and enroll them. They enrolled ALL 5000 or so Night Hawks that Actively fought against enrollment, This was a Group of Full Blood Cherokees led by Redbird Smith who advocated  to all Cherokees to refuse to enroll. In 1906 they traveled Indian Territory again and looked for Minor Children and enrolled them also. Is the Roll absolutely 100% correct? no! It has been found over the years some decendants of those that were for whatever reason not enrolled have had some issues. In the majority of these case it was found that people had documented previous ancestry on previous rolls or Family were documented in some other fashion and those issues have been worked out. We are only talking a  hand-full of cases out of 40,000, so less than 1% error remarkable for such a day and age! In every case some sort of documentation showing that their ancestors were considered Cherokee by the Nation could be found!
  2. ²The Tribal Membership Rolls were closed on 4. March. 1907, by an Act of Congress approved on 26. April. 1906 (34 Stat. 370), although an additional 312 persons were enrolled under an act approved 1. August. 1914: When a search  is done of a person or families’s “Dawes Packet” within this group of documents you will find a Testimonial page and if you scroll to the end you will see when the Notary Public stamped it and dated a great majority were done in 1901 and 1902. Between 1903 to 1905 the Commission audited the results they had gathered over the previous years and sent out notices to the post office of record to those that they had followup questions for. In 1906 they went out and enrolled Illegitimate Children of those that refused to enroll or there was not a clear picture who the parents were and they enrolled those. The Commission took about 8 years to accomplish there work and during that time they returned over and over in field teams  to clear up any issues that they found.

What are our conclusions regarding the Dawes Roll? 1) That the Dawes Roll was a citizenship Roll of members of the Tribe That they lived within the boundaries within the Cherokee Nation. 2) These individuals/families were recognized by the Tribe that they were Cherokee. 3) That they were still alive during the time of the commission. So what does this Roll mean for present day Cherokees that are wanting to Enroll in the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma and for that matter the United Keetoowah to some extent? You must provide primary documents that proves you are a direct descendant of someone that is enrolled on this roll. So starting with your self then your parents grandparents and then great grandparents and so on. The Tribal Registar will not do genealogy research for you however they do have a list on the Cherokee website of some great Researchers. Do not waste money on DNA research although these same websites tout that you could discover Native American “roots” in no way shape or form could they tell you what Tribe! They are much like the shyster lawyers at the beginning of the 1900’s advertising throughout the East that they could get you enrolled and “Free” LAND! No you must do research the hard way and that is by primary documents, Birth Records certified by the State, Death Records certified by the State and provide those documents to the Tribal Registrar.

Guion Miller Roll aka  Eastern Cherokee Roll of 1909

This Roll is a list of Cherokees that applied for compensation arising from the judgment of the United States Court of Claims on May 28, 1906 for the Eastern Cherokee Tribe.  Approximately 46,000 people applied for compensation but not all were admitted.  Basically this was a payment roll ($133.33 per person) for the Eastern Cherokee and their descendants that had been removed from the Southeast.  It was not a citizenship roll as the Dawes Roll was.  The Guion Miller Roll lists Cherokees in two broad categories: Cherokees residing East of the Mississippi and Cherokees residing West of the Mississippi. This compensation did not apply to those Cherokees that had left the East prior to 1835 and were covered by the Treaty of 1828, what we today call the Old Settlers. The Old Settlers received compensation in 1896 for loss of lands and other goods promised them by treaties of 1828 and 1832. The commission would take the application and determine if they could trace either the applicant or decindants of the applicant to either the Drennon, Chapman or Henderson Rolls. These three rolls were of Cherokee that resided in Indian Territory in 1851 (Drennon), Resided in Eastern Cherokee lands in 1849 (Chapman) or the Emigration Roll of those that were forcibly removed from the east in 1835-1838 (Henderson).

To apply for compensation a person gave testimony of their family as far back as they could recall, depending on the applicants age the commission would determine through research if it was the applicant or the parents of and in some cases even the Grandparents that would have been listed on one of the three Rolls in question (Drennon,Chapman or Old Settlers). The focus of this roll was to determine if the applicant was an Eastern Cherokee or a Decindant of one. In the case of this roll they were only concerned with if an applicant could list anyone maternal or paternal either direct or indirect such as uncles, aunts, cousins ect ect. It is a Wealth of Information for unlike the Dawes Roll that was only concerned if that person was listed on a roll in the 1890 or 1880’s, On this Roll they would show some 2 or 3 generations of Cherokees along with siblings aunts uncles and their Indian Name; Another important fact was female applicants would have theirMaiden names listed! For genealogists it is a very important roll and perhaps the most important one ever done of Cherokees. For it TRANSLATES names from Cherokee into English it determines how the names were written for the commission did the research at that time to determine eligibility of the Applicant. This brings up several important point regarding these two rolls: most full blood cherokees refused to enroll with the Dawes Commission for they did not want to lose their government nor did they want to live on the land that the government decided for them (You could pick your allotted land but only if you enrolled with the commission). However with the Miller roll not only did full bloods apply but any Cherokee did and those that were not enrolled with the Dawes Commission because they lived outside the boundries were counted on the Miller Roll if they could trace to an ancestor and meet the criteria of the roll. The other fact was Married couples could apply seperately, all preivous rolls they only took application from the Male head of house, and would only take an application from the female if she was a widow. For the first time it would not only show the female side but would list her maiden name and who her parents were!

Some Final Thoughts

Regarding the Dawes rolls, large groups of Cherokee refused to enroll and yet were enrolled without their consent and allotted land. On the other hand those same Cherokees stepped forward to enroll because of the money that was involved (although not a huge amount by today’s standards). A researcher that was attempting to trace family genealogy could and should research both rolls using them to gain a better insight into the thoughts of both commissions at the turn of  century





TOPICS: Blog, Featured, Native American Articles, Native American Culture, Native American Genealogy, Native American History, Native American Information

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9 Responses to “Myths, Misinformation and Motivations regarding the 1907 Dawes Roll and 1909 Miller Rolls”

  1. Jo Olsen says:

    Thank you for sharing this information. This clears up alot of questions that I had regarding the subject.

  2. Mary Bloodsworth says:

    My heart cries, I am by force, in disconnect from my ancestors, existing in unclear worlds, separated, by lack of a Number. Alabama born, South Eastern Cherokee, Eastern Creek. I am as much an Indian as those who are numbered. The history of Indians of the South, being hunted down, many times killed, their families treated as less than wild animals.My heart aches, thinking of their pain. So, it is true I am not Numbered, yet I am proud to honor the memory of my Elders/Ancestors, as I proclaim, I am Native American Indian. ” May The Great Mystery, bless us with peace, making way for compassionate inclusive change”

    • Sandie Cheney says:

      I am also an Native American but can not prove it on paper but in my heart. I know what my great-great grandmother has pasted down to me. I ask The Great Father to bless all of us. I have been so blessed by your words. Thank you.

    • janice degrande whitehawk says:

      this fills my heart. thank you for posting your comment, as i too cannot “prove” my cherokee heritage. and unable to enroll. i had decided i don’t need a number to prove my heritage, i know what i am. i practice all traditions of my people and walk the red road. thank you again.

  3. Cathy Phillips says:

    So the children of a Cherokee mother and White father that lived in Choctaw Nation, could not be listed on the Dawes, since they were not living in Cherokee Nation? My Grandma is not included on the Dawes. Neither is my great grandma but she died in 1896. My great grandma, her siblings were listed on the 1896 Cherokee Old Settlers Roll. My Great Great Grandma was listed as deceased on that roll. But she was on the 1851 Cherokee Old Settlers Roll along with her parents and siblings. 2 of my Great Grandma’s siblings lived in Cherokee Nation. They applied for the Dawes. They were rejected. The Dawes Commission said they were not on any documents. I am confused. If the commission tried so hard, how come my ancestors were rejected?

    • Josiah Hair says:

      Short Answer Yes… Long Answer: The Commission only listed those that lived within the boundaries of the Cherokee Nation, they did not list Cherokees that were living elsewhere even in other parts of Indian Territory. In my article I stated that the commission used the documents that the Cherokee Nation provided to them, Remember this was not to certify citizens or enroll citizens there ONLY concern were to determine IF those Citizens that the Cherokee Nation listed were still residing within the boundaries and were still alive! Was the Dawes Rolls perfect no it was not and yes we have found cases that were later corrected by the registration dept. in all cases though it was found that other members of the family were listed or that the person was listed earlier on say the 1880 Census! If you would like you can PM on my user name is Josiah and perhaps I can look into your case and see if there is some information that can be gleaned…

  4. Kimberly Kays-Wooley Jr. says:

    I am just starting my search into my families past. I know that I am a great deal Cherokee, but I don’t know much more than that. I hope to find the answers to the questions that have been in my heart for years.

    • Josiah says:

      My suggestion to anyone starting out researching is start with what you know, your name, Mother and Father, Grandparents, ect, ect, the more information you know such as where they were born, birth and if applicable death dates the more accurate your search will be. I have heard so many stories of folks that go right to a tribal roll such as the Dawes Roll or Miller Roll and look for a name that matches and boom they try to connect that back to them. With no luck or worse they attempt to make a claim to the particular tribe. Understand this one fact: if your grandparents or great parents lived outside of Cherokee Nation prior to 1907 they will not be listed on the Dawes Roll. On the other hand if indeed they are Cherokee they will be listed on the Guion Miller Roll unless they were old settler then in that case they will be listed on the 1896 Old Settler payment. Cherokees have many many sources to prove Heritage, you just may not be able to prove for citizenship sake. Good Luck

  5. taltsuska says:

    Great article! I look forward to others

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