Leases In the Cherokee Outlet & Cheyenne-Arapaho Reservation
It was after the Civil War, cattle prices in the East soared as demand for beef exceeded supply.
In 1866, Texas cattlemen, seeking to maximize profits, began driving large herds northward through Indian Territory to railheads in Kansas and Missouri. The routes traveled soon developed into major cattle trails: such as the Chisholm Trail and the Great Western Trail, which bisected lands owned by the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes and the Cherokee Nation.
Historical Atlas of Oklahoma
To derive some income for the thousands of cattle streaming across their borders, Indians charged cattlemen a small fee for each cow passing through and also collected grazing taxes from ranchers who fattened their herds on Native pasturelands.
Stockmen grazing cattle illegally on tribal lands, however, were a constant problem. The Cheyenne-Arapaho and Cherokees began leasing large tracts of land to cattle ranchers willing to pay for grazing rights in the early 1880's. The leases signed in 1883 totaled more than nine million acres.
The more successful of the two tribal lease experiments was that consummated between the "Cherokee Nation" and the "Cherokee Strip Live Stock Association" in June of 1883. The agreement gave members of the association (mainly Kansas ranchers) the exclusive right to graze cattle on the more than six million acres of the Cherokee Outlet for a period of five years.
For this privilege, the association paid the Cherokees $100,000 per year (less than two cents an acre). In those days, it was more than doubled the amount that grazing taxes had brought the tribe the previous year.
Once both parties had signed the lease, directors for the livestock association divided the Cherokee Outlet lands into more than one hundred grazing tracts that were then subleased to individuals and corporations. Stockmen were permitted to construct fences, corrals, and other improvements on their parcels but had to leave them behind when the lease expired.
The lease allegedly worked out well for both parties. Ranchers, by formally leasing the land, gained some security that they would not be evicted from the Outlet along with intruders by either the federal government or the Cherokee Nation.
The association also worked with the tribe to prevent illegal homesteading in the Outlet by Kansans known as "Boomers." The Boomers, led by David L. Payne, attempted to establish colonies on Cherokee land several times during the 1880's, only to be escorted back across the border by federal troops who had been notified by Outlet stockmen.
The Cherokees earned significant revenue from a tract of land that had previously been of limited value to them. The Outlet was too far from the Cherokee Nation proper for tribal farmers to use it profitably. Cherokee ranchers did not own enough livestock to occupy more than a fraction of its available pasture.
Income generated from the Outlet lease was put to good use by tribal leaders, who divided it among the nation's more than 150 schools, seven district governments, and numerous orphanages and hospitals.
The Cherokee National Council voted to renew the lease in 1888, while President Benjamin Harrison unilaterally voided it and ordered ranchers off Outlet lands in 1890 because the federal government had decided to purchase the Outlet and open it to settlement. The Cherokees were stripped of their lease income and bullied by federal negotiators, which finally ceded the Outlet to the government in 1891.
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