Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version



Great Plains Quarterly 33:3 (Summer 2013)


© 2013 Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska


The General Allotment Act of 1887, or the Dawes Act as it came to be known, authorized the president of the United States to divide American Indian lands into private sections to be allotted to individual members of the tribes. The act was designed to move Indians from tribal ways into "mainstream" U.S. American life. According to Scherer,

the Dawes Act became one of the most far-reaching and, for Native Americans, disastrous pieces of Indian legislation ever passed by Congress. By the time the allotment process was stopped in 1934, the amount of Indianheld land in the United States had dropped from 138 million acres to 48 million acres, and, of the remaining Indian-owned land, almost half was arid or semiarid desert.

The Dawes Act was not the only attempt by the U.S. government to change the way American Indians used their land. In this study I investigate water resource and land use development as well as one family’s participation in a tribalfederal government-sponsored 1939 farm project on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in Montana. The project was developed to ensure the Indians’ utilization of water rights associated with the irrigation projects constructed on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in the early twentieth century. It was also a socioeconomic development effort to ameliorate the desperate living conditions the Blackfeet had suffered with the loss of their traditional buffalo economy. The 1934 Indian Reorganization Act provided start-up capital for tribal government development efforts as well as the opportunity for tribal members to become independent farmers. In this case, the Indian farmer could also provide feed for the emerging individual Indian livestock industry on the reservation.