The Caddo Herald
June 16, 1899
Our School Law
In an act approved June 28, 1898 and entitled “An act for the protection of the people of the Indian Territory and for other purposes” (commonly known as the Curtis Bill), congress provided for the creation, organization, and support of public schools in incorporated towns and cities in the Indian Territory. This provision for public schools was the result of petitions to congress from non-citizens living within the Territory praying legislation on behalf of education and that part of the act touching public schools reads as follows:
“Such councils (town) may also establish and maintain free schools in such cities and towns under the provisions of sections sixty-two hundred and fifty-eight to sixty-two hundred and seventy-six, inclusive of said Digest (Mansfield’s Digest of the Statutes of Arkansas) and may exercise all the powers conferred upon special school districts in cities and towns in the state of Arkansas by the laws of said state when the same are not in conflict with the provisions of this act.”
The important provisions of sections sixty-two hundred and fifty-eight to sixty-two hundred and seventy-six inclusive of said Digest made by the act of congress the laws of this country are briefly and in substance as follows: “Any incorporated town in the Indian Territory may be organized into and established as a single school district upon a majority vote of the citizens of the town; at the election held to ascertain the sense of the legal voters on the question of the adoption of the school law, those desiring to vote for public schools shall have printed or written on their ballots “For the School Law” and those opposed shall have upon their ballots “Against the School Law”; that a board of six (6) directors shall be voted for at the said election, and if a majority of the ballots cast at the said election shall be “For the School Law” then and in that case only shall the town or city be deemed and held to be a single school district under and in pursuance of law and the directors voted for and elected at said election shall qualify and enter upon the discharge of their duties as prescribed by law; no salaries are allowed members of the board of school directors and the board is required to hold monthly meeting and is vested with the management, supervision, and complete control of all things appertaining to public school within their district.
The law is very plain and complete and seems to have been framed in keeping with common sense and economy. Under its provisions our people may content themselves with the knowledge that the public money cannot be sequestered in salaries to superfluous officers. Knowing this and that the adoption of the law which will give us free and good schools is vital to our interests, should we not all vote “For the School Law” ?
From the Oklahoma Historical Society, Chronicles:
CURTIS ACT (1898)
During the 1890s, as white settlers flooded into Oklahoma Territory, demands increased to join the lands of the Five Civilized Tribes (Indian Territory) with Oklahoma Territory and thus form a new state. In 1887 the Dawes Severalty Act (General Allotment Act) legislated the allotment of communal tribal lands into individually owned plots, indicating a major shift in federal government policy. To aid the drive toward Oklahoma statehood and the full assimilation of its Indian population, the U.S. Congress created the Dawes Commission in 1893. Another congressional law, enacted June 28, 1898, was sponsored by Charles Curtis, a mixed-blood Kansa Indian and senator from Kansas. With the passage of the Curtis Act, Congress took final control over affairs in Indian Territory.
The Curtis Act helped weaken and dissolve Indian Territory tribal governments by abolishing tribal courts and subjecting all persons in the territory to federal law. This meant that there could be no enforcement of tribal laws and that any tribal legislation passed after 1898 had to be approved by the president of the United States. Towns could be surveyed and incorporated under the act, and residents were permitted to vote. The establishment of public schools was also sanctioned.
Prior to 1896 each of the Five Civilized Tribes had exercised sole jurisdiction over its citizenship requirements, determining who was a tribal member and who was not. With the passage of the Curtis Act Congress authorized the Dawes Commission to prepare new citizenship rolls for each tribe. Sen. Henry L. Dawes of Massachusetts undertook the compilation of a census to be used as the basis for allotment of tribal lands to individual Indians. Enrollment of tribe members, and ensuing allotment, was done without tribal consent.
The Curtis Act dealt a blow to the governmental autonomy of the Five Tribes, but the act was merely the culmination of legislation designed to strip tribal governments of their authority and give it to Congress and/or the federal government. Ironically, Charles Curtis, himself of Indian blood, was responsible for the act that helped pave the way for the demise of the Indian nations and for the statehood of Oklahoma. M. Kaye Tatro