Yellowstone County MTGenWeb

Yellowstone County History

Indian Depredation Claim #2891


On September 13, 1877 the Advance Guard for Chief Joseph’s small band of Nez Perce Indians destroyed $654.50 of materials and supplies from Joseph MV Cochran’s home site along the Yellowstone River (today’s Riverfront Park area.) To recoup losses, Cochran filed a claim for depredation damages with the Department of the Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs, for the loss. The claim process is very lengthy & difficult to prove, as the United States Government used their Supreme Court Judges as their defense attorneys. Claimants could file directly with Congress, via the House of Representatives (or use an attorney), and after all associated branches of Government had their say (approved to pay ordered), the Speaker of the House would issue a demand to the Secretary of the Treasury for payment. All of this methodology is extremely complicated, and designed to eliminate or minimize any such payments, although all monies were to be paid from the separate and individual Indian Credit Accounts. (The actually monies in their accounts, the Indian Nations truly never saw, nor could spend, as the Government did the spending for them in their name and without any true identification of the funding transfers. It appears that the actual claims were paid from a general fund, and not from the individual Indian Nation account.) The Cochran claim was LOST within Congress and never paid, after 100% verification by them  that the claim was to be paid!


The Nez Perce raid upon the settlers in the Canyon Creek-Coulson area on September 13, 1877 as time lined from the Congressional Reports associated with DOI Claim #2891 and personal diaries of others is presented in the applied link. The pre-battle map sketch of the events is shown below.



To understand how this process actually worked, refer to:


“Indian Depredation Claims, 1796-1920”, by Larry C. Skogen, PhD,

[President of Bismarck State College, and former Professor of History at the U.S. Air Force Academy]


As originally established by the US Courts, the United States can only negotiate, trade, hold treaties, and participate in Wars, and the like between Nations. Thusly, the war-like actions taken by Chief Joseph to leave his assigned reservation land in 1877, and depart to Canada were not actually a war. Accordingly, damages inflicted upon other persons property and lives by his band, were subject for restitution to the injured parties by the Nez Perce Nation. When the Nez Perce leaders decided to sell off the piece of land where Chief Joseph’s band resided, Chief Joseph retaliated against this tribal decision, refused to join with his Nation’s companions in the north, and left the reservation, leaving a swath of relatively minor damages as he gathered supplies along the way. In the attempt to apprehend Chief Joseph, members of the Nez Perce Nation, other Indian Tribes and the military were tracking his route, in an attempt to apprehend him. It was on September 13, 1877 when the Advanced Guard members ransacked Cochran’s homesite in the local area [Riverfront Park.]


Cochran is just one of several persons filling claims for these losses. At this time, management of the Depredation Claims was handled through the DOI/BIA, with the top department managers being directly involved in review and signoff. The Claims Department was managed by one director and one clerk at the time, and as tens of thousands of claims started to pour in from various locations in the US, they were clearly swamped. This small group couldn’t keep pace with the actions needed to approve or reject claims, and in 1891 Congress halted all claim processing until a better system was identified. In 1894 they discovered that they were already setup to handle claims through the Court of Claims, and no new system was needed. Congress ordered the Secretary of the Interior to turnover all files to the Court of Claims for completion of processing. Those claims already approved for payment were to be processed first, others to follow in order of their submittal dates. Cochran’s Claim #2891 was fully approved for payment, and only had to be ‘so stated’ at a House of Representatives meeting by the Speaker. During the three-year interim, the fully approved-for-payment files had been issued to him (held within the Speaker’s Clerk’s office). And there they sat until many years later. The approval and review cycles follow about as noted below, but during the processes, two or more originals are created at each step as required, one goes to the claimant, others forwarded to the appropriate offices as they become involved. There is a huge amount of paperwork associated with each processing step, and original copies of all such actions are provided to the claimant and the case file.


1)      Claimant contacts the nearby local Indian Agent (Federal employee) and receives verbal and written instructions on filing procedures.

2)      Claimant prepares a claim (handwritten, as there are no typewriters in this area), has it notarized, and issues it to the Indian Agent. Indian Agent obtains a Claim Number from his superiors in Washington, and the DOI/BIA creates a file folder in DOI (Last Name, First Name or Initials, and Claim Number. [This file folder stays in DOI, and cannot be relocated nor moved to another branch. The files within are all originals, and they can move about, since simple-direct copy machines weren’t yet in use.]

3)      The Indian Agent then calls for a first hand review of the claim, and obtains written testimonies from all persons within the affected claim area. These are collected by the Agent meeting with each person, and having their testimony formally recorded.

4)      The Agent reviews the claim and the testimonies and then makes a judgment call as to the probable validity of the claim. Once he determines that it seems valid, it is forwarded to the DOI with his approval for payment

5)      The DOI issues paperwork to the BIA office and they initiate action to send field agents, who specialize in such claim actions, to verify the claim and the attesting affidavits.

6)      Field Agents first visit the Indian Agent, and then the claimant and each witness. All documentation is reviewed, and if needed new and/or additional testimony is obtained. These Agents prepare a written statement, attach all correspondence related to the claim, and issue back to the BIA Claim Office with their comments for approval or rejection.

7)      The BIA Claim’s Officer files these documents, reviews the case file, and if all seems to be in order, calls for review with the offender (Chief Joseph and his members)

8)      Special Field Agents are next assigned and go to the offender’s location and holds a major conference and review. (Interpretors are required). All statements are written out in English, attested to by the Indian members, and the documents issued to the Claimant and the DOI/BIA file folder.

9)      The BIA Claim’s Officer reviews these documents, and if all were approved for payment, issues a call for final payment review.

10)  The Payment review is a messy affair, with the document file (not the file folder), and the call for review is issued to various branches of the government involved with legality (Chief Justices, Secretary of the Treasury, and others that are involved in the payment cycle. After collecting all supporting authorities for payment, the HR is called to approve or reject. After approval of this Bill, it has another review by DOI Secretary, and then the Speaker calls for issuance of payment for the authorized expenditure to the Representatives. During this process the claim file folder contents sits in the Speaker’s office area.


Cochran’s Claim #2891 is about 3-1/2 inches thick, and was fully approved and was sitting for the final step when the Speaker decided to stop handling all claims in 1891. [So far 14-years have elapsed.] After the three-year hiatus in searching for a better claim payment method, the claims were ordered to be delivered by the Secretary of the Interior directly to the Court of Claims. The Speaker never returned the claim files he had in his office area to DOI, and the Secretary never bothered to regain these files he issued to the Speaker, so that they could actually be sent to the Court. The DOI Secretary only had his staff send the contents in the folders of each of their files to the Court. As a result numerous files were omitted from the claim process. Even though numerous searches and admonishments to the offending officers and staff were noted, only the later letters in the files were transmitted to the Court. When the Court reviewed the case file, and upon discovering there was no proof of any claim ever have been submitted, it was rejected automatically. The Court refused to read the documentation within the case file, that the contents were delivered to the Speaker, and not returned. To further compound the problem, when the Court was assigned to process the Indian Depredation Claims, they created a new file folder, and assigned numerical sequences to their file folder (Claimant), based upon the order in which they were received from DOI. Thus Claim #2891 written on original documentation was crossed out, and became another number (3689) penciled on the various Cochran claim folders. Approval for Court Claim #2891 (not Cochran’s) was readily approved by them and paid; leading to the confusion that Cochran’s documented claim in DOI was stolen and used by another person. It took over 30-years of investigation to uncover the mix-up of these accounting numbers.


Within the claim, the various documents describe the farming/business life in the local area, the actions taken by the army and Chief Joseph, the various agents, and the people who were there at the time.


Note: Kate (Cochran) Dotson, daughter of Joseph MV Cochran, resides in California. She has been pursuing the failure of Congress to pay this small legitimate claim for over 40 years, and restore her father’s reputation[2]. Joseph had four attorneys pursuing this claim when he was alive, and three died in office during the effort. Apparently the only original set of documents that currently exist, are held by her. The government apparently will only act upon their copy of the originals, which they lost.




Cleve Kimmel – ([email protected])

Original Release Date: January1, 2010.

Referenced documents that contain current copy rights cannot be copied and submitted in their entirety – only granted excerpts. No file that is downloaded to a recipient can be utilized in multiple-mailing lists; or for a fee or profit. Files downloaded are for the expressed usage by the recipient in pursuit of historical information or genealogical background.


[1] This document identifies the names of various persons and their attending documents. Most are handwritten, some are type-set in various ways; but virtually all bear the originators personal signature. These are a treasure trove of signatures for a family member.

[2]Various government officials, Federal Judges, Senators and Representatives have failed to note that the Speaker of the House failed to pass this claim, removed from the DOI file folder and held by him, into the Court of Claims as required by law that the Speaker created, thus leaving DOI Claim 2891 File Folder void of any actual claim. All have assumed that Joseph MV Cochran NEVER submitted a claim, with the result that it appeared to be a fraudulent attempt by him!

  Email me:
Katy Hestand
Yellowstone County Coordinator

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