Primary Source: Elias C. Boudinot's Letter Promoting the Opening of the Unassigned Lands (1879)

(There are TWO versions of the same document included here)

Elias C. Boudinot’s Letter Promoting the Opening of the Unassigned Lands in I.T. {Excerpts}

Elias C. Boudinot was the son of Elias Boudinot, who’d helped to establish and edit the first Amerindian newspaper, the Cherokee Phoenix. (Remember Sequoyah and his syllabary? Boudinot was the guy who turned it into movable type so it could be printed easily.) The senior Boudinot believed acculturation (assimilation into white culture) was the best hope for the survival and success of his people. He was assassinated for his role in Indian Removal, having signed the Treaty of New Echota in the belief that the move was inevitable and the Cherokee should at least secure the best terms possible. The rest of the younger Boudinot’s upbringing took place in Connecticut with his mother’s family – a well-known white family who’d been active in supporting missionaries among the Cherokee. 

Elias C. Boudinot became in  many ways the worst version of his father’s progressive vision – a political figure who worked in both Indian Territory (I.T.) and Washington, D.C., often more in support of railroads and national expansion than anything traditionally Cherokee. The excerpts below are from a letter written in response to an Augustus Albert of Baltimore, although the same argument was published in a Chicago newspaper around the same time. It’s not entirely clear which came first and it probably doesn’t matter - they seem to be the same document repurposed. In any case, in the early months of 1879, Boudinot’s argument regarding the availability of ‘unassigned lands’ in I.T. sparked quite a kerfuffle and spawned ‘Boomers’ like Charles Carpenter and the unofficial ‘Father of Oklahoma’, David L. Payne.

As with most historical events, the neatness of this series of events is muddied by a smattering of other editorialists and advocates and early ‘boomers’ attempting to settle the area without official sanction. History is made by people, and people are messy. The greatest impact, however – and the part which shaped history most clearly – came from Payne’s actions and Boudinot’s words, excerpted here.

1. The United States, by treaties made in 1866, purchased from Indian tribes in the Indian Territory about 14,000,000 acres of land… 

2. Of these ceded lands the United States has since appropriated for the use of the Sacs and Foxes… and for the Pottowatomies…  These Indians occupy these lands by virtue of treaties and acts of Congress...  The title, however, to these lands is still in the United States.

By executive order, Kiowa, Comanche, Arapaho and other wild Indians have been brought upon a portion of the ceded lands, but such lands are a part of the public domain of the United States, and have all been surveyed and sectionized.

A portion of these 14,000,000 acres of land, however, has not been appropriated by the United States for the use of other Indians and, in all probability, never will be.

3. These unappropriated lands… amount to several millions of acres and are as valuable as any in the Territory. The soil is well adapted for the production of corn, wheat and other cereals. It is unsurpassed for grazing, and is well watered and timbered.

4. The United States have an absolute and unembarrassed title to every acre of the 14,000,000 acres… The Indian title has been extinguished… the lands {were} ceded “in compliance with the desire of the United States to locate other Indians and freedmen thereon.”

By the express terms of these treaties, the lands bought by the United States were not intended for the exclusive use of 'other Indians,' as has been so often asserted. They were bought as much for the negroes of the country as for Indians…

{The} public lands in the Territory… amount, as before stated, to about fourteen million acres.

Whatever may have been the desire or intention of the United States Government in 1866 to located Indians and negroes upon these lands, it is certain that no such desire or intention exists in 1879. The Negro since that date, has become a citizen of the United States, and Congress has recently enacted laws which practically forbid the removal of any more Indians into the Territory… 

These laws practically leave several million acres of the richest lands on the continent free from Indian title or occupancy and an integral part of the public domain...

Elias C. Boudinot’s Response to Augustus Albert – Full Version  

{Note: The letter was accompanied by at least one map highlighting the ‘unassigned lands’ described by Boudinot. The map inset in the PDF version below may not be the same.}

Washington, D.C., March 31, 1879.

Sir: - Your letter of the 25th instant, making inquiries concerning the lands belonging to the United States, situated in the Indian Territory, is received.

1. In reply, I will say that the United States, by treaties made in 1866, purchased from Indian tribes in the Indian Territory about 14,000,000 acres of land.

2. These lands were bought from the Creeks, Seminoles, Choctaws and Chickasaws. The Cherokees sold no lands by their treaty of 1866.

The Creeks, by their treaty of 1866, sold to the United States 3,250,560 acres for the sum of $975,168. The Seminoles by their treaty of 1866, sold to the United States, 2,169,080 acres for the sum of $325,362. The Choctaws and Chickasaws, by their treaty of 1866, sold to the United States the 'leased lands' lying west of 96 degrees of west longitude for the sum of $300,000. The number of acres in this tract is not specified in the treaty, but it contains about 7,000,000 acres.

Of these ceded lands the United States has since appropriated for the use of the Sacs and Foxes, 479,667 acres, and from the Pottowatomies, 575,877 acres, making a total of  l,055,544 acres. These Indians occupy these lands by virtue of treaties and acts of Congress. By an unratified agreement the Wichita Indians are now occupying 743,610 acres of these ceded lands. I presume some action will be taken by the United States Government to permanently locate the Wichitas upon the lands they now occupy. The title, however, to these lands is still in the United States.

By executive order, Kiowa, Comanche, Arapaho and other wild Indians have been brought upon a portion of the ceded lands, but such lands are a part of the public domain of the United States, and have all been surveyed and sectionized.

A portion of these 14,000,000 acres of land, however, has not been appropriated by the United States for the use of other Indians and, in all probability, never will be.

3. These unappropriated lands are situated immediately west of the 97 degree of west longitude and south of the Cherokee territory. They amount to several millions of acres and are as valuable as any in the Territory. The soil is well adapted for the production of corn, wheat and other cereals. It is unsurpassed for grazing, and is well watered and timbered.

4. The United States have an absolute and unembarrassed title to every acre of the 14,000,000 acres, unless it be the l,054,544 acres occupied by the Sac and Fox and Pottawatomie Indians. The Indian title has been extinguished.  "The articles of the treaties with the Creeks and Seminoles, by which they sold their lands, begin with the statement that the lands are ceded 'in compliance with the desire of the United States to locate other Indians and freedmen thereon.'

By the express terms of these treaties, the lands bought by the United States were not intended for the exclusive use of 'other Indians,' as has been so often asserted. They were bought as much for the negroes of the country as for Indians.  "The commissioner of the General Land Office, General Williamson, in his annual report for 1878, computes the area of the Indian Territory at 44,154,240 acres, of which he says 17,150,250 acres are unsurveyed. The balance of the lands, amounting to 27,003,990 acres, he announces have been surveyed, and these lands he designates as 'public lands.' 

The honorable commissioner has fallen into a natural error. He has included in his computation the lands of the Cherokees west of 96 degrees west longitude, and the Chickasaw Nation, which, though surveyed, can in no sense be deemed 'public lands.' The only public lands in the Territory are those marked on this map, and amount, as before stated, to about fourteen million acres.

Whatever may have been the desire or intention of the United States Government in 1866 to located Indians and negroes upon these lands, it is certain that no such desire or intention exists in 1879. The Negro since that date, has become a citizen of the United States, and Congress has recently enacted laws which practically forbid the removal of any more Indians into the Territory. Two years ago Mr. Mills, of Texas, caused a provision to be inserted in the Indian Appropriation Bill prohibiting the removal of the Sioux  Indians into Indian Territory, a project at that time contemplated by the Interior Department; and by a similar provision in the Indian Appropriation Bill of last winter, the removal of any Indians from Arizona or New Mexico to the Indian Territory is forbidden.

These laws practically leave several million acres of the richest lands on the continent free from Indian title or occupancy and an integral part of the public domain.

5. The town of Wichita, in the state of Kansas, at the junction of the Big and Little Arkansas rivers, the present terminus of a branch of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad, and the town of Eldorado, the terminus of another branch, are the nearest railroad points to these lands. From Wichita to these lands is about ninety miles south. There are several other railroad points on the northern line of the Territory, more remote than Wichita or Eldorado. These points are Coffeyville, the terminus of the Leavenworth, Lawrence & Galveston Railroad; Chetopah, on the Missouri, Kansas & Texas Railroad, which is built through the Territory to Texas; and Baxter Springs, the southern terminus of the Missouri River, Fort Scott & Gulf Railroad. A glance at the map will show the location of these places. The Atlantic & Pacific, now called the Saint Louis & San Franciso, is finished to Vinita, in the Cherokee Nation, where it crosses the Missouri, Kansas & Texas Railroad. The surveyed line of this railroad runs through these ceded lands.   

6. To save the time which would be required to answer the many letters I am constantly receiving upon this subject, I have made a plain but accurate map which I enclosed with this letter.

I shall be glad to furnish maps and such other information as may be requested.

Very respectfully yours, &c.,

E.C. Boudinot.

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