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JEFERSON ET AL. v. FINK ET AL.

June 3, 1918

JEFERSON ET AL
v.
FINK ET AL., ADMINISTRATORS OF SEVERS, ET AL.



ERROR TO THE SUPREME COURT OF THE STATE OF OKLAHOMA

White, McKenna, Holmes, Day, Van Devanter, Pitney, McReynolds, Brandeis, Clarke

Author: Van Devanter

[ 247 U.S. Page 289]

 MR. JUSTICE VAN DEVANTER delivered the opinion of the court.

The title to a Creek allotment is here in controversy. The allotment was made under the Act of March 1, 1901, c. 676, 31 Stat. 861, known as the Original Creek Agreement, and the modifying Act of June 30, 1902, c. 1323, 32 Stat. 500, known as the Supplemental Creek Agreement. In 1903 the usual tribal deeds, approved by the Secretary of the Interior and passing the full title, were issued to the allottee. In June, 1908, she died intestate, leaving her surviving a father, brothers, and sisters, but no mother, husband or issue. The survivors, like the allottee, were enrolled members of the tribe, and all were freedmen. In determining who inherited the land the courts below applied the Oklahoma law of descent existing at the time of the allottee's death, 53 Oklahoma, 272; and the question for decision here is whether under the legislation of Congress an Arkansas law, theretofore put in force in the Indian Territory, should have been applied.

When the allotment was made and the tribal deeds issued the land was in the Indian Territory, but before

[ 247 U.S. Page 290]

     the allottee died that Territory and the Territory of Oklahoma had become the State of Oklahoma.

In early times, when allotments in fee simple to individual Indians were made only occasionally, there was no congressional enactment prescribing who should inherit allotted land on the death of the allottee, and in such cases it was held that while the tribal relation continued the applicable rule of descent was to be found in the laws and usages of the tribe, and not in the laws of the State or Territory in which the land lay. Jones v. Meehan, 175 U.S. 1, 29-32. In actual practice this rule proved unsatisfactory, because the tribal laws and usages were generally crude and often difficult of ascertainment; and so in later allotment acts Congress provided that the descent should be according to the state or territorial law. A notable illustration of What came to be the policy of Congress on the subject is found in the general allotment Act of February 8, 1887, c. 119, 24 Stat. 388, the fifth section of which says that for a designated period the United States will hold the land in trust for the allottee, "or, in case of his decease, of his heirs according to the laws of the State or Territory where such land is located," and at the expiration of that period will convey the same in fee to the allottee, "or his heirs as aforesaid;" and also "that the law of descent and partition in force in the State or Territory where such lands are situate shall apply thereto after patents therefor have been executed and delivered." True, that act has no direct application to the lands of the Five Civilized Tribes, of which the Creek tribe is one, but it does throw much light on what was intended by the subsequent legislation relating to the descent of those lands when allotted.

A territorial government never was established in the Indian Territory and it never had a territorial legislature. Apart from the tribal laws of the Indians, among which were laws relating to descent and distribution, the only

[ 247 U.S. Page 291]

     laws which became operative there were such as Congress enacted or put in force.

By acts passed in 1890, 1893, 1897 and 1898, Congress manifested its purpose to allot or divide in severalty the lands of the Five Civilized Tribes with a view to the ultimate creation of a State embracing the Indian Territory; put in force in the Territory several statutes of Arkansas, including Chapter 49 of Mansfield's Digest relating to descent and distribution; provided that those statutes should apply to all persons in the Territory, irrespective of race; and substantially abrogated the laws of the several tribes, including those relating to descent and distribution. Acts May 2, 1890, c. 182, 26 Stat. 81, § 31; March 3, 1893, c. 209, 27 Stat. 645, § 16; June 7, 1897, c. 3, 30 Stat. 83; June 28, 1898, c. 517, 30 Stat. 495, §§ 11 and 26. This was the situation when the Act of 1901, known as the Original Creek Agreement, was adopted. That act in the course of providing for the allotment in severalty of the lands of the Creeks revived their tribal law of descent and distribution by making it applicable to their allotments, §§ 7 and 28. But the revival was only temporary, for the Act of 1902, known as the ...


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