Today in Legal History: Dawes Severalty Act Signed, Tribes Further Dispossessed

On February 8, 1887, President Grover Cleveland signed the Dawes Act, dividing up tribal lands into plots for individuals to farm.  The effect of the Act was to weaken tribes, break up traditional families, and put Indian lands into non-Indian hands.  Under the Act, farmers did not get ownership of the land for 25 years; if the farm failed, lands would be transferred back to the government and sold at auction.  In the meantime, the farmer could not sell any of his allotted 160 acres.  The Dawes Act was abolished in 1934 under Franklin Roosevelt.

More information is available at:

  • The Assault on Indian Tribalism: the General Allotment Law (Dawes act) of 1887 Wilcomb E. Washburn (Law Library – 4th floor @ KF5660.W38)
  • PBS
  • History.com
  • The Dawes Act and the Allotment of Indian lands D.S. Otis (Law Library – 4th floor @ KF5660.O85)