Wisconsin Historical Society

Historical Essay

General Allotment Act of 1887 (Dawes Act)

General Allotment Act (1887) | Wisconsin Historical Society
Dictionary of Wisconsin History.

 

The General Allotment Act of 1887 (also known as the Dawes Act) was a federal law that divided lands previously held in common by American Indian tribes into small parcels owned by individual tribal members. The federal government enacted this legislation to encourage self-sufficient farming by Indians. Under the law, some parcels could be sold to whites; Indian owners could also be foreclosed upon if they failed to pay taxes or debts.

Over the decades following the Dawes Act, large numbers of Native Americans lost their land. Whites acquired nearly half of all the former Indian lands in the United States. In Wisconsin, allotment resulted in the transfer to whites of 174,785 acres of land formerly owned by the tribes.

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[Sources: 24 Stat. 388; Loew, Patty. Indian Nations of Wisconsin (Madison: Wisconsin Historical Society Press, 2001); Indian Land Tenure Foundation.]