The McCumber Agreement (or 10 Cent Treaty) of Turtle Mountain
By the treaty of 1863 (13 Stats. 667) the Red Lake and Pembina bands of Chippewa ceded certain territories. The cession left about 3,200,000 acres for use and occupancy by the Red Lake band in an area surrounding Red Lake and extending north to Lake of the Woods and Rainy River. The Pembina Band under Little Shell and Red Bear reserved for themselves a rich hunting ground to the west.
In the proceedings of the council, furnished by the commission who negotiated this treaty of 1863, it is stated that the Pembina Chippewa "…proposed to reserve all the country west of a line running from Poplar Grove to the head of Salt River, and thence due north to the British boundary, as a hunting ground." The commission reported that that "the Pembina bands who subsist by buffalo hunting also retain for themselves a tract of country claimed by them, embracing some of the present favorite pastures of that animal north and northwest of Devil's Lake."
Also party to the treaty, but not as composite members of the Red Lake and Pembina Bands specifically, were half-breeds (Metis) who were related by blood to the bands. Article VIII of the 1863 treaty set forth that the mixed-blood relatives of the Chippewa, who were US citizens and had adopted the habits and customs of civilized life, were permitted to take a homestead of 160 acres, or scrip (as provided by supplemental articles of April 12, 1864), that were to be located within the ceded territory, and to be accepted in-lieu of all future claims for annuities. The half-breeds received 464 pieces of scrip for 160 acres each, entitling them to 74,240 acres of land. A failed attempt was made in 1873 to remove the Pembina Band to White Earth in Minnesota, but only 263 Pembina Band members could be enticed to remove to the east.
In an effort to extinguish the claims of the Pembina to almost 10,000,000 acres of land, an Executive Order was passed on December 21, 1882, which set forth a reservation of 32 by 24 miles, which encompassed the majority of what is now Rolette County, North Dakota. Two subsequent Executive Orders in 1884 further restricted the Pembina Band (now known as the Turtle Mountain Band) to two townships of land that comprise the current Turtle Mountain Reservation.
Little Shell was not pleased with the developments surrounding the arbitrary creation and almost immediate reduction of the reservation, especially since the Band’s claim to the entirety of the land reserved, following the 1863 treaty, was not being dealt with honorably. In an attempt to appease Little Shell and to finally extinguish the claims of the Band to the almost 10,000,000 acres of land that were fast being settled by white men, a commission was established in 1891 and sent to Turtle Mountain to negotiate.
From day one the commission was destined for failure. Before the Chief and the headmen would meet with them, it was demanded that a customary feat should be held at each meeting so that Ojibwe traditions were met with everyone speaking while their hunger was satisfied. To this, the commission replied that it was not in the “feasting business." Once it was arranged to ensure food at the meetings, a committee of sixteen mixed-bloods and sixteen full-bloods was selected to negotiate tribal interests, and to determine who was a legitimate member of the Turtle Mountain band.
It was the hope of the McCumber Commission to disenroll as many Indians and half-breeds from the band as they could, so as to reduce the amount of land the tribe would require and to save the government money having to support so many Turtle Mountain people. This Committee of 32 immediately disenrolled 522 people. The white commissioners then went over the list of names remaining after this and disenrolled even more people who they felt shouldn’t be included as Turtle Mountain Indians. Notices were placed around the reservation with the names of those who would be disenrolled, but many people could not read and did not attend their hearings to defend their claim to membership in the tribe. Others who did attend their hearings, but with few exceptions almost all that were on the list were rejected and disenrolled. Once the list of persons who were disenrolled was complete, the McCumber Commission completed a census of those persons who were, in their opinion, Turtle Mountain Indians (what is now known as the 1892 McCumber Rolls).
Once the census was complete, the commission worked to try to remove the remaining Indians from Turtle Mountain. A team of local chiefs and headmen was established and sent to Fort Berthold to negotiate and select a place where the Turtle Mountain people might be relocated, so as to open up all of Rolette County for white settlement. The band selected four full-bloods and two mixed-bloods to travel there: Little Shell, Foggy Cloud, Clear Eyes, Kannick, Vandal, and Jerome. Even though the Turtle Mountain folks were on friendly terms with the people of Fort Berthold, no amount of persuasion could induce them even to consider the subject of disposing of any of their reservation or to allowing the Turtle Mountain people a home there. When this attempt failed, a proposal was made by Little Shell to seek a reservation in Montana near the Milk River, but this possibility was not entertained by the Commission.
After the failure of trying to find an alternate home for the Turtle Mountain people, Little Shell demanded that the current reservation (two townships) be expanded back to its original size. The Commission discounted this as impossible due to white settlement of the region surrounding Turtle Mountain. As an alternative, the Commission suggested an ‘Agreement’ that the reservation be allotted and that and that their interest be settled. Those persons who could not make an allotment in the country immediately surrounding the two townships would be allowed to take one under the Indian Homestead Act instead, whereby any head of a family (or person over 21 years of age) could select 160 acres on any vacant public land, and that those who did not desire to remove to any other section could take advantage of that act wherever they could find vacant lands.
The faction headed by Little Shell, Red Thunder, Yellow Bird, Young Man, and others, complained bitterly of the action of the Committee of thirty-two and the Commission in cutting down the membership roll and disenrolling families—leaving them to starve. Kakenowash, chairman of the Committee of thirty-two; Beaver, Yellow Day, Foggy Cloud, Offers-the-Pipe, Circling Hawk, Elevated, Red Bear, and many others also complained much about the treatment that the Turtle Mountain Band, who had always maintained peace with the Americans, were receiving at the hands of the Government. Kakenowash asked the commission: "Have we or our ancestors ever ceded the lands we claim? If we have, there must be some record of it on the files in Washington, and we ask the commission to show it to us. If we have ceded this land we will no longer make a claim to it, but if we have not, we ask the Government to deal rightly with us. The Government has not taken the lands of other Indians, even its worst enemies, without securing the Indian title. What right, then, has the Government to reduce us to two townships? We are unlearned and cannot read or write and we ask the commission not to deceive us, but to inform us truly whether or not this land has ever been ceded to the Government”. The McCumber Commission replied that it found no relinquishment of the territory from them, but that there was a question about their territory, and that the Government had already paid the Sioux and Assiniboine money for some of the land claimed by Turtle Mountain.
Little Shell and his headmen declared that if this was the decision of the Commission to ignore their request for a larger reservation and adequate compensation, that they would leave as they would never consent to any treaty which would not give them what was rightfully theirs. Once Little Shell and his men had left the negotiations, the Commission worked hard to gain agreement from the Committee of thirty-two and the others who were present. A final agreement was reached which set forth significantly reduced payment for the cession of the land claims of the Band (earning it the title the “Ten-Cent Treaty”), the cession of the reservation selected under the 1863 Treaty by Red Bear, and the ability of tribal members to select lands on the Public Domain. The Agreement was signed by the Indians on October, 22, 1892. However, the Agreement was never ratified by congress.
In the years following, Little Shell returned to the Turtle Mountains and re-asserted his leadership of the Band. He spent years working with the other leaders and with J.B. Bottineau, tribal attorney, to seek settlement of the Band’s claims. He finally passed away and a watered down version of the Agreement was finally signed and ratified in 1904 (the Davis Agreement) which allowed for Indian allotments to be taken on the Public Domain. Because so many years had passed, many of these allotments had to be selected in western North Dakota and Montana, rendering them useless to those who selected them, as they generally did not want to leave their friends and relatives in the Turtle Mountains and farm in some far-away place.
Thus, the Turtle Mountain people were decimated by the McCumber Commission, which disenrolled hundreds of people—robbing them of their identity and birthright as Indians—and stealing the land from the people, leading to over a century of poverty and hardship.
Report to the Secretary of Interior for the year of June 30, 1891. USGPO, Washington, DC
A Report of the Turtle Mountain Indian Commission, Executive Documents of the US House of Representatives, 1892-1893. USGPO, Washington, DC.