1889 - Jerome Commission convenes

A map of the Indian territory lands that were made available to white settlement by the notorious Jerome commission. Though later ruled unlawful and a violation of federal trust responsibilities to Indian nations, as in many other similar cases, the land was already settled by non-Indians by the time the rulings made their way through the courts.

        The Jerome Commission was set up to negotiate the cession of Indian lands west of the 96th meridian and to open those lands to white settlement.  The commission got off on the wrong foot when the commissioners told the assembled tribes that the "government wants nothing from you." 

       Indians had long since realized that the white man viewed them as complete fools.

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        The late legendary legal scholar, David Getches, has argued that the commission came to the bargaining table with fixed conceptions regarding private property.  Privately held land had a higher status than commons in white society.  The commission was still eager to press the Indians into programs of assimilation, and to abandon its communal ways.  To that extent, members of the Jerome Commission were intent on declaring tribal governments as being invalid institutions.  This was the same argument made ninety years earlier by southern states -  one that would resurface in the Termination Era in the 1950s.

         The Kiowa, who were present at these talks, wanted nothing more than the government to honor the agreements in the 1867 treaty.  The government refused, but the negotiations went back and forth for 12 years, stalling the implementation of the Allotment Era until 1900.

         A Kiowa named Lone Wolf then sued the government to enjoin it from opening Kiowa lands to allotment.  His lawyer filed a request for an injunction, asking the court to prevent the Interior Department from implementing the General Allotment Act.  Lone Wolf argued that this unilateral federal action would deprive the tribe of its treaty-protected lands, but his request was denied.  The judge explained that it was Congress's prerogative to allot any Indian reservation regardless of the alleged misunderstandings or deceptions perpetrated by treaty commissioners.  Only Congress had the power to decide this issue, therefore, Lone Wolf's due process objections to the forced allotment and the sale of his lands should be dealt with by the body that could balance the competing public interest against the rights of the tribes.

         The legalities were made moot by the fact that while the case was making its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, more than 150,000 homesteads were marked out in what had been Kiowa and Comanche territory.   It came as no surprise when the highest court of appeals in the land affirmed the lower court's ruling.