Saturday, April 21, 2012
Before 1887, the federal government generally allowed tribes their own property law. A few tribes had agreed to dividing the reservation lands into individual parcels, but most did not. Tribal property arrangements were varied, but many included some private property rights. The Yankton Sioux, for example, recognized private rights in timber, if the owner had expended some effort. When the reservation was dividing into individual parcels, the allotting agent refused to honor pre-existing arrangements. Once it was clear that the government would not honor private property rights in timber, all timber was cut and sold.
Whatever economic or moral qualms the allotting agent refusal raises, he adhered to the law. Indians had no right to standing timber, since theirs was a mere right of occupancy. United States v. Cook, 86 U.S. 591, 592 (1873).
Source: Leonard A. Carlson, Indians, Bureaucrats, and Land: The Dawes Act and the Decline of Indian Farming 88 (1981).