Henry L. Dawes served as senator from Massachusetts from 1875 to 1893. In 1887, Dawes wrote the Dawes Severalty Act, which forced the majority of Native American tribes in the United States to take land allotments instead of holding land in common as a tribe, as they had up until that point. Dawes was born in Cummington, Massachusetts in 1816. He was serving as the head of the Dawes commission at the time of his death in 1903. During his service as a senator, and before that a member of the United States House of Respresentatives, Dawes primarily concerned himself with the welfare of Native Americans. Among other accomplishments, he secured provisions for their education, rights of U.S. citizenship and land ownership. A Republican, Dawes was generally well respected by both Republicans and Democrats and twice declined a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Dawes Rolls were written between 1898 and 1914, and are the final and permanent records for members of the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Seminole and Creek tribes. Because the records are unalterable, they are also known as the Final Rolls. For this reason, the Dawes Rolls are a valuable and authoritative resource for genealogists seeking to establish membership in one of those tribes.
Who Was Dawes?
The Dawes Commission
Because the Dawes Severalty Act excluded the Choctaw, Cherokee, Chickasaw, Seminole and Creek tribes from its province, in 1894, President Grover Cleveland authorized the formation of the Dawes Commission to work with the Five Tribes to establish an authoritative membership roster and distribute land accordingly. In addition to Dawes who was appointed chairman, Meredith Helm Kidd and Archibald S. McKinnon also served. Although originally intended as a diplomatic organization, eventually it became more of a court -- requiring that members of the tribe prove their ancestry and rejecting applications for the roles that they judged less than credible.
Searching the Dawes Rolls
The Dawes Rolls consist of over 100,000 names, each representative of an individual who was able to provide sufficient proof to the Dawes Commission of their status as a member of one of the Five Tribes. You can search the National Archive's (archives.gov) interactive Dawes Rolls records with only the individual's name and the name of his tribe. If the individual is listed on the Dawes Rolls, you may be able to view additional information, such as his record on the 1900 census.
Importance of the Dawes Rolls
At the time of their creation, the primary objective of the Dawes Rolls was to establish land ownership for Native Americans in an effort to address their land losses during the United States' westward expansion. It was also an attempt on the part of the government to establish workable guidelines for interacting with Native Americans, with whom the U.S. had a historically tumultuous relationship. Today, locating an ancestor on the Dawes Rolls is important for establishing membership in one of the five nations described therein.