Indian Territory Notaries, 1834-1907
Indian Territory was land in the Central United States, now Oklahoma, reserved for the forced relocation of Native American tribes.
The period after the American Revolution (1775-1783) saw rapid western expansion into areas occupied by Native Americans known as Indian Country. It was not even an unorganized territory, the areas were established by treaties.
In 1803, the United States completed the Louisiana Purchase from France. President Thomas Jefferson sent Lt. Zebulon Pike to explore the region along the Arkansas River, and Lewis and Clark to explore the Missouri River region in the north.
Much of the newly acquired land west of the Mississippi River was viewed as a place to relocate the Native Americans, so white settlers could live east of the river.
Arkansas Territory, 1819
Arkansas Territory was created in 1819. It originally extended further west to include current-day Oklahoma. The westernmost part of Arkansas Territory was removed in 1824 and further removed in 1828 reducing the state to its present size.
The former western portion of Arkansas Territory became Indian Territory and later Oklahoma Territory.
Indian Removal Act, 1830
With the passage of the Indian Removal Act in 1830 by President Andrew Jackson, Indian removal became the official U.S. government policy.
The Five Civilized Tribes of the southeastern states, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Cherokee, Muscogee (Creek), and Seminole, gave up their native lands in the cotton-producing region to relocate to new districts in the Indian colonization zone.
Thousands of Indians and their African slaves died of disease, starvation, exhaustion, and exposure on forced marches escorted by soldiers along the Trail of Tears in the 1830s.
Indian Trade and Intercourse Act, 1834
The general borders of Indian Territory were set by the Indian Trade and Intercourse Act of 1834.
Congress passed several Organic Acts that created statehood for much of the original Indian Country, but it never passed an Organic Act for the Indian Territory. It was never an organized incorporated territory.
Treaties with the tribes restricted non-Indians from entering tribal areas. Tribes were largely self-governing nations, with established tribal governments.
Treaties Rewritten after Civil War
After the Civil War, the Southern Treaty Commission re-wrote treaties with tribes that sided with the Confederacy, reducing the territory of the Five Civilized Tribes. The treaties provided land to resettle the Plains Indians and Midwestern tribes. They included provisions for a territorial legislature with proportional representation from various tribes.
Oklahoma Territory, 1890
According to the School of Choctaw Language, “okla” means “people” and “humma” means “red”. So, Oklahoma means red people.
The Oklahoma Organic Act of 1890 reduced the size of Indian Territory to the lands occupied by the Five Civilized Tribes and the Tribes of the Quapaw Indian Agency. The western portion, including the panhandle federally-owned Public Land Strip, also known as No Man’s Land, or Cimarron Territory, north of Texas, became Oklahoma Territory.
The Oklahoma Organic Act applied the laws of Nebraska to the newly incorporated Oklahoma Territory and the laws of Arkansas to the still unincorporated Indian Territory.
Here are the Nebraska and Oklahoma Territory Notary Laws, 1889.
Until Oklahoma became a state in 1907, Fort Smith, Arkansas served as the legal authority overseeing Oklahoma Territory. The Army oversaw issues dealing with the Indian Nations. The federal U.S. District Court in Fort Smith had criminal and civil jurisdiction.
Cimarron Strip TV Show
Cimarron Strip was a weekly 90-minute CBS TV Western series that aired 23 episodes in the 1967-1968 season. It featured actor Stuart Whitman as the lead character, U.S. Marshall Jim Crown. Cimarron Strip was set in 1888 in the Oklahoma Territory panhandle, comprised of Beaver, Texas, and Cimarron counties.
Oklahoma Statehood, 1907
In 1905, the Five Civilized Tribes met at the Sequoya Constitutional Convention in Muskogee and wrote a constitution to create the State of Sequoyah, named after the Cherokee who invented their writing system, or syllabary. It was approved by Indian voters.
The proposal was rejected because Congress and President Theodore Roosevelt did not want two new states to disrupt political power, but it later became the core of the Oklahoma state constitution.
The Oklahoma Enabling Act combined the Oklahoma and Indian Territories into the single state of Oklahoma on November 16, 1907, creating the 46th state in U.S. history.
Notaries in Indian Territory
Because Indian Territory was not incorporated and was previously part of western Arkansas Territory, the notary laws of Arkansas were used. The U.S. Court appointed the notaries.
Here are the Arkansas and Indian Territory Notary Laws, May 1890.
A notary in Indian Territory had the authority to
take the proof or acknowledgment of all instruments related to commerce or navigation, including deeds and letters of attorney,
make declarations and protests, and
take depositions and affidavits, certifying the truth of his acts under his official seal.
The notary was required to keep a fair record of all official acts (including all relevant facts truthfully) and to give a certified copy of any record to any person upon request and payment of a fee. When the notary left office, his records were delivered to the county clerk, to be delivered to his successor notary.
The notary was required to provide a seal of office, to be used on all official acts. In Arkansas, the seal included the great seal of Arkansas, surrounded by the words, Notary Public, County of _____, Arkansas. Until an official seal was procured, the notary could use his private seal, with the same force and effect as his public seal. In Indian Territory, the judicial district was used rather than the county.
Notary fees ranged from $0.50 to $2.00. (See fee schedule.)
The venue written on notarized documents read:
United States of America
Indian Territory (often abbreviated as I.T., Ind. Terr., Ind. T., or other variations)
(Northern, Southern, Central, Western) Judicial District
When needed, an interpreter made a sworn affidavit before a notary to truly translate between English and Native American languages. One Choctaw language interpreter in July 1897 was Joseph E. Nelson.
For Native Americans who could not write or sign in English, the notary would print the name on a document, and the signer would make a mark between their first and last names as a signature, such as John X Red Eagle.
Some notaries who served in Indian Territory included:
1. O.H. Etting, Central Judicial District, appointed November 30, 1897, recorded by the territorial clerk at Atoka, in the Pushmataha District of the Choctaw Nation. Atoka was a Choctaw Chief.
2. R.M. Moore, Central Judicial District, signature on affidavit dated July 23, 1897, at Atoka.
3. W.L. Poole, Central Judicial District, signature on documents dated July 1897, at Durant, now the seat of Bryan County and headquarters of the Choctaw Nation.
4. E.C. Boltwell, Western Judicial District, signature on Indian Territory warranty deed dated May 27, 1907, for $800 sale of land in Cherokee Nation. The deed is now in the Tulsa County Clerk records.
5. A.B. Swanson, Southern Judicial District, signature on Indian heritage claim documents dated July 20, 1899, for residents of Chickasaw Nation.
6. S.W. Wallace, operated a mercantile store, including horses and cattle, at Erin Springs, Chickasaw Nation. In 1889, he was appointed U.S. Commissioner, in 1890, he was appointed notary public.
7. Wm.P. Moore, at Dawson, Cherokee Nation, May 1900.
8. W.L. Chapman, Vinita, Cherokee Nation, January 1900.
9. John D. Scott, Chelsea, Cherokee Nation, January 1900.
10. R.L. Simpson, Eufaula, Creek Nation, May 1900.
Some law firms that advertised notary services in Indian Territory in Hubbell’s Legal Directory, 1902 (see image):
1. Potterf and Bowman, Ardmore
2. J.F. Sharp, Purcell
3. J.F. Craig, South McAlester
Notary history records:
The records collection of the Redwine Trading Company general store in Spiro, Choctaw Nation, includes notary records for 1904-1906 stored in the Western History Collection at the University of Oklahoma in Norman.
U.S. Supreme Court Ruling, McGirt v. Oklahoma
On July 9, 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, in a 5-4 vote in McGirt v. Oklahoma, that land reserved as a home for the Five Civilized Tribes is still considered Indian reservation land in Indian Country and is under the jurisdiction of federal law and tribal law, not Oklahoma state law, unless Congress explicitly acts to diminish, terminate or disestablish the reservation land.
The Oklahoma State Court does not have jurisdiction for offenses enumerated under the Major Crimes Act (MCA) involving a tribal member on tribal land. Proper jurisdiction for MCA is in federal court.
1. Map, Arkansas Territory, 1819, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0
2. Map, Indian Territory, 1885, Wikimedia Commons,
3. Map, Indian Territory, Five Civilized Tribes, 1891, Wikimedia Commons,
4. Map, Oklahoma and Indian Territory, 1892, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0