The Curtis Act Failed to End Tribal Governments

Neal McCaleb, Ambassador At-Large, Chickasaw Nation

The Curtis Act of 1898 was an amendment to the U.S. General Allotment Act that brought about allotment of tribal government lands to individual members of the Five Tribes: the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek and Seminole. These tribes were exempted from the 1887 General Allotment Act. Neal McCaleb, Ambassador At-Large for the Chickasaw Nation, explains that this new measure was intended to abolish tribal courts and governments, but ultimately failed to do so.

The amendment brought about allotment of tribal government lands to individual members of the Five Tribes.

Curtis Act Passes


Despite opposition from the Chickasaws, Congress incorporated the Atoka Agreement into the Curtis Act, which passed on June 28, 1898. This act authorized the federal government to allot Chickasaw lands even though the tribe owned those lands. In addition, it took away Chickasaw jurisdiction over Indian courts, gave the government control of the tribe’s schools and established a framework for the termination of the federal government’s recognition of Chickasaw’s rights to self-government. Despite setting that framework, Congress never terminated its recognition of the sovereign Chickasaw Nation, and instead continued such recognition as section 28 of the 1906 Act.

The Curtis Act also granted the Chickasaw freedmen 40-acre allotments. However, in 1902, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the freedmen were not entitled to citizenship in the Chickasaw Nation. The federal government reimbursed the Chickasaw tribal funds for land allotted to the freedmen. In 1907, the final Chickasaw Freedmen Role was adjusted to include 4,662 names.