Today in History, February 8, 1887:
President Grover Cleveland signs the Dawes Severalty Act into law. Massachusetts Senator Henry Laurens Dawes authored the bill with the intent of facilitating the integration of native Americans into the white society.
Dawes and others felt this was the only way to “protect” the Indians, by forcing them to cease their communal way of living.
The law broke up the tribal holdings, giving individuals the land. Married men were given 160 acres of land, single men 80 acres, boys 40 acres and women no land.
The thought was that by forcing the native American families into individual units, as whites lived, they would be assimilated.
As seems to have happened with all acts to benefit the Indians, hidden within the law was a land grab. The law provided that after the lands had been apportioned, any land that was left could be sold to non-Indians. The result was that by the 1930’s, when Congress reversed the act and gave the tribes back their rights as nations, the tribes had lost fully 3/4 of their previous land holdings on the reservations.
Initially the 5 Civilized Tribes in Indian and Oklahoma Territories were exempt, but eventually policies were initiated that effected them also. Much of the land that wasn’t sold outright to non-Indians was eventually sold by the Indian owners when they were down on their luck, reducing tribal holdings even more.
The act also had other negative effects on the Native American community, as it forced changes in the community dynamic; the traditional roles for men and women in the tribal leadership were changed.
The Wheeler-Howard Act of 1934 repealed the Dawes Act, but much of the damage was irreparable.
Today in History, December 18: 1888 –
Rancher Richard Wetherill and his brother-in-law Charles Mason, with the help of Ute guide Acowitz “discover” some of the Cliff Dwellings in the canyons of the Mesa Verde area of Southwest Colorado. The Wetherills were certainly not the first to discover the hundreds of amazing ancient homes built into the protection of the cliffs centuries earlier. However they did persist in a campaign to institute Federal protection of the sites. The Wetherills were fearful that tourists and vandals would loot and destroy the sites.
Archaeologists tell us ancient Native Americans made the Cliff Dwellings their home for over seven hundred years before moving away within a two generations in the thirteenth century. As a reference, elsewhere in the world the Mongols were conquering Asia and the seventh Crusades were occurring.
The Wetherill family spent years exploring the canyon dwellings, collecting hundreds of artifacts which now reside in museums. Unfortunately much of the vandalism did occur and Swedish scientist Baron Gustaf E. A. Nordenskiöld mapped and collected many artifacts, taking them back to Sweden before the American government acted to protect the site.
After years of pressure from the Wetherill family and many others, and four unsuccessful attempts, Congress finally passed a bill creating the Mesa Verde National Park, which President Theodore Roosevelt signed into law.
In the same month in 1906, Congress passed and President Roosevelt signed into law “An Act for the Preservation of American Antiquities”, or “The Antiquities Act”, inspired to protect sites such as Mesa Verde and others for generations to come. TR made great use of the Antiquities Act to set aside Historic sites for preservation.
The law has been in the news lately as President Trump dialed back the extent of land set aside by Presidents Clinton and Obama at Bears Ears and Grand Staircase National Monuments.
According to the National Parks Conservation Association, the have been 157 National Monuments designated by 16 Presidents since President Theodore Roosevelt enthusiastically named 18 sites during his terms as Chief Executive.
Today in History, November 24: 1835 –
The provincial legislature of Texas, before Texas was a nation or a state, orders the creation of companies of “Rangers” to patrol the range, or frontier. Their job, continuing a less official group of rangers begun by Stephen F. Austin in 1823, was to protect citizens from Indians and bandits.
The Rangers would see success at fighting Commanche and bandits. When the Texas war for independence came they served as scouts and couriers.
During the Mexican-American War they would earn more fame (or infamy depending on your position…the Mexican populace referred to them as los Diablos Tejanos, or Texas Devils) for their fighting acumen and scouting for the US Army. How many police agencies can say they were recruited as a unit to fight alongside the military at war?
Over the next century and a half the Rangers would have their highs and lows…being all but disbanded during the Civil War and due to politics on other occasions.
But when it counted they were there to track down bad guys like John Wesley Hardin, Sam Bass and other terrors as the West was settled, and Bonnie and Clyde during the thirties.
The Rangers were known for their relentless tactics against the Native American tribes and others. They also took the fight to the KKK and against lynchings.
Today the Texas Rangers are much different. They are still the elite response unit…but as part of the Texas Department of Public Safety they are the investigators working with the patrol arm of the Highway Patrol.