Testimony taken by the Committee on Indian Affairs - 1885
Testimony taken by the Committee on Indian Affairs
1885


RICHARD M. WOLFE.

RICHARD M. WOLFE sworn and examined.
By the Chairman:

Question. What is your full name?—Answer. Richard M. Wolfe.
Q. Where is your residence?—A. Tahlequah, Cherokee Nation.
Q. What is your business ?—A. Well, I practice law a little at home.
Q. Have you any special relation to the government of the Cherokee Nation?—A. Well, I am delegate here attending to the business of the nation before Congress, authorized for that purpose by the Cherokee government; recommended by the chief and confirmed by the senate.
Q. How long have you been here?—A. This is my fourth term.
Q. Do you mean the fourth session—A. Yes, sir.
Q. Are you a native-born Cherokee?—A. Yes, sir; I am a native-born.
Q. Do you know anything about the transactions which resulted in this lease?—A. Well, what I know is, that there was an act passed by the legislature authorizing the lease of the Cherokee Strip.
Q. I believe you presented a document to be placed before the committee?—A. Yes, sir.
Q. Will you please state the purpose of that document?—A. Gentlemen of the committee, myself and Mr. Landrum, and Mr. W. A. Phillips are authorized to attend to the business of the Cherokee Nation here. We are directed by law, in our instructions, to protest against any infringements upon the rights of the Cherokee Nation, and, based upon a clause in our instructions, we have prepared this document protesting against any infringement which may be attempted upon the rights of the nation. We claim that the nation, as a body, has a right to regulate their own affairs under the 5th article of the treaty of 1866. This article gives the Cherokee Nation the right to regulate their own affairs, and we have exercised that right for a number of years, and we think it is hardly justifiable for the United States Government to interfere at this late day.

By Mr. Harrison:

Q. What is the infringement you protest against?—A. Well, sir, we protest against the resolution which authorizes this investigation, believing that it is for the purpose of obtaining Congressional action in reference to our disposition of certain lands. We presume that the result of this investigation would be to change the lease we have made or modify it in some way, and put restrictions upon it, which we claim the right to do ourselves as a nation.
Q. In other words, you protest against any investigation?—A. Well, sir, we protest against any act of Congress changing what we think we have a right to do. We protest against any interference by the General Government in connection with our supervision of the lands in the Cherokee Strip, and the supervision of contracts made for the lease of these lands.

By the Chairman:

Q. That, then, is the purport and object of this document you have ?—A. Yes, sir.

By Mr. Slater:

Q. That is a new sort of phase of the State rights doctrine?—A. It has been held by the Supreme Court of the United States that we are a nation, sir.

By the Chairman:

Q. You consider yourself independent?—A. Well, sir, the United States has guaranteed us protection from intrusion, and has allowed us to control our own affairs.
Q. Then you consider yourself not only independent, but that we are bound to protect you?—A. Yes, sir; I think so.
Q. Now, Mr. Wolfe, do you understand that the Cherokees are under treaty contract to dispose of this land contained in the Cherokee Strip to the United States whenever the United States wants to buy it?—A. Yes, sir; under the treaty of 1866.
Q. Well, then, suppose the United States Government think you have made such use of the land as to make it wise to buy it themselves?—A. The treaty of 1866 says the right of possession and jurisdiction shall be in us until it is so occupied by the United States Government.
Q. Suppose the United States should think they could not use it for friendly Indians so long as you lease it? Would it not be proper to look into the matter and see whether you are not setting up occupancy there, and such rights as to make it impossible for the United States to get the land for other Indians and freedmen; would it not be proper for us to look into that s Not to go and say, you must occupy it so and so, but to see whether we shall take it ourselves. I only throw out that view of it to show that possibly we ought to look into what you are doing with this land, in order to govern our own action in reference to it.—A. Well, sir, so far as the United States being determined to take it is concerned, there is nothing in the treaty that authorizes anything of the kind.
Q. You do not understand that the United States has power, for the purpose mentioned in the treaty, to take this land at any time?—A. I do not understand that the proper course would be to bring about an investigation to accomplish that end.
Q. But do you think the United States has the power to do it?—A. Of course you have the power to do it.
The Chairman . Well, the right I mean. Mr. Wolfe, I do not think the committee are animated by any desire to infringe upon your rights, but our citizens are going into this land, and occupying the territory as to which we have a treaty stipulation; they are occupying land which we understand we can take ourselves for purposes stipulated in the treaty with the Cherokee Nation; we understand our citizens are entering into some sort of arrangement to have exclusive occupation of it for five or ten years. It may be that we shall want this land before the expiration of that time.
The Witness. Well, sir, the Cherokee Nation have the right, whenever this land is wanted by the United States for the occupancy of other Indians or freedmen, or if the Cherokee Nation should determine to sell it, to give the stock association six months' notice.
The Chairman . Well, Mr. Wolfe, we cannot find that out without investigation. It is proper for me to assure you, gentlemen, as delegates of the Cherokee Nation, that there is no disposition on the part of the committee to interfere with your acknowledged rights; still we feel that it is necessary, if anything wrong is going on there, to find it out, and that is what we are trying to do now; because it may affect our own judgment as to whether, if our own citizens are going there to make contracts, it would not be better for us to take it ourselves commit malfeasance, it is within the province of the Cherokee Nation to attend to that matter themselves.
The Chairman Yes, doubtless that is so. But we have a right to investigate the actual condition of things, not for the purpose of directing you while you have this land yourselves, but for the purpose of determining our duty in reference to it.

By Mr. Harrison:

Q. What do you say as to the power of the United States to legislate in reference to our own citizens going there and staying and acquiring property rights?—A. Well, sir, the United States has a right to govern its own citizens, but we go to the treaty on that point. The treaty says when we shall call upon the President of the United States to remove these persons it shall be done.
Q. Does not the section you refer to simply allow you to take the initiative if the Government of the United States neglects its duty?—A. But it has been a custom for the executive of the Cherokee Nation to call upon the President, and up to this time parties have been promptly removed.
Q. The message of the chief to the council which was called together to consider this matter said that it was done at the earnest request of the Government of the United States.—A. I do not remember the chief's message exactly, but I was a delegate at the time, and it came about in this way, as well as I remember: There were a lot of Cherokees who had gone west of 96, and just here I will remark that our country is divided into two parts. West of 96 is ceded conditionally to the United States, and the country east of 96 is the part occupied by the Cherokees proper. A few of our citizens had gone over there, and also some citizens of the United States, and made wire fences in the name of the Cherokee citizens. We knew these Cherokee citizens were not able to build fences. Upon that, as delegates, we filed a protest, asking that these fences be put down. The matter was discussed time and time again, and finally the Secretary issued an order that the fences should be put down; but just at that time a delegation of stockmen came to the capital and made certain offers, and a part of this order of the Secretary was suspended. Then the Secretary wrote to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs to give the Cherokees and these stockmen reasonable time to come to some understanding, and that any agreement would be satisfactory to him. So we were given about thirty days. The chief convened the legislature and let them determine about the fences, and the matter terminated in the passage of an act authorizing the chief to lease to the Cherokee Live Stock Association.

By Mr. Gorman:

Q. Now, Mr. Wolfe, in reference to the right of the United States to examine into this lease. Is it not a fact that the action of your council was subject to the approval of the Secretary of the Interior, and that this lease was unauthorized by law ? I have not examined the lease, but is not this a fact?—A. Well, sir, I do not think that the act of the council says it shall be approved by the Secretary of the Interior. The act was passed by the legislature and approved by the executive of the Cherokee Nation.

By the Chairman:

Q. Have you any objection to telling us everything in reference to this lease without raising the question of jurisdiction?—A. Well, I do not know anything. It would take but a very short while to tell what I know. I have no objection to telling what I know, but I do it under protest if the committee insist.
The Chairman . Of course we understand that you have filed a protest against our authority to make any inquiry whatever.
The Witness. Well, no; it is not as broad as that.
Q. How broad do you make it? What do you think we may inquire into; because, of course, we do not want to go into conflict with your ideas if we can help it?—A. I think it competent for the committee to inquire whether we have placed this land in such a condition as to be in conflict with the stipulations of the treaty of 1866, and in such a condition as to be in the way if the United States wishes to settle other Indians or freedmen upon it. To that extent we admit the right of the United States to inquire into our affairs.
Q. Mr. Wolfe, the lease provides that all these fences and buildings should be left to the Indians at the expiration of the lease. Suppose we want to put a body of wild Indians on this land, would the wire fences be in the way?—A. I suppose not, because we believe they are guarded by the military.
Q. Do you think the wire fences would be a good substitute for the military?—A. Just as good, sir. [Laughter.]
Q. Is it not inside of the inquiry on our part whether they are as useful? You do not object to our going to that extent?—A. Oh, no, sir; of course I do not.
Mr. Harrison. Let me call Mr. Wolfe's attention to section 5 of the treaty with the Cherokees, made in the year 1835: "The United States hereby covenant and agree that the lands ceded to the Cherokee Nation in the foregoing article shall in no future time, without their consent, be included within the territorial limits or jurisdiction of any State or Territory. But they shall secure to the Cherokee Nation the right by their nation councils to make and carry into effect all such laws as they may deem necessary for the government and protection of the persons and property within their own country, belonging to their people or such persons as have connected themselves with them." That is what you refer to, is it not, Mr. Wolfe?—A. Yes, sir.
Mr. Harrison. Here is a proviso: "Provided, always, that they shall not be inconsistent with the Constitution of the United States and such acts of Congress as have been, or may be, passed regulating trade and intercourse with the Indians."
The Witness. That is correct.

By Mr. Harrison:

Q. Is it not entirely in the power of Congress to prohibit this intercourse?—A. Yes, sir; that is so far as it relates to trade and intercourse.
Q. Very well; is it not trade and intercourse for these outside parties to take the land and graze cattle upon it?
Now, Mr. Wolfe, you have no doubt of this right, ,in the largest sense. Do you not think your protest is not very well directed, as we are looking into the question of trade and intercourse. I suppose you did not think of it at the time you made the protest. Is it not clear that the subject is within the jurisdiction of Congress? Now, in view of that section of the statute, do you not think any protest against this investigation is scarcely very well founded?—A. Well, that is for the committee to determine.
Q. But I asked you if you overlooked that in framing your protest?—A. Well, sir; I have appeared before several tribunals, but I have never been asked that question.
Mr. Cameron. I have read the lease, and I find that there is no provision in it about the supervision of the Secretary of the Interior.

By the Chairman:

Q. Were you present when the law was passed?—A. Yes, sir; I was there.
Q. Were you consulted about the propriety of the law?—A. I cannot say that I was consulted; yet I was there and talked with my friends upon the subject.
Q. Were you in favor of this system?—A. I was in favor of leasing the land, but I desired to have it open to competition. My idea was that we should hold ourselves in a position to get as large amount of money for the land as possible.
Q. What led to its being confined to this particular company?—A. They had been occupying the lands and grazing cattle there for a number of years, and had paid us some revenue, and that was brought up by the friends of the bill. They said that it would be injustice to these parties, who had paid us revenue. not to give them a chance to rent the lands. Several offers were made, and then the price went to $100,000, and it was thought to be a sufficient amount by the legislature That is as I understood the matter. My position was that the $100,000 could be secured in this way, by passing a law, authorizing the chief to lease it for not less than $100,000, but if any one else would offer to pay us more it would leave us in a position to take that.
Q. Yon have changed your mind since that act was passed?—A. Yes, sir. Our legislature passed the act, and I stand by the law of my country.
Q. I am inquiring as to your opinion whether it would have been wise to follow the suggestion you made, or would it have been wiser than the plan that was adopted?—A. I cannot give a definite answer.
Q. Were there other people there ready to take the lease?—A. I can­not say that there were. There were a number of stockmen from different parts of the country.
Q. Who represented this company there?—A. I do not remember any one particularly. Some of the directors were there.
Q. Who were they?—A. Mr. Eldred and Mr. Drumm.
Q. Can you name any one else?—A. There was a gentleman there by the name of Brodhead.
Q. Was he there in their interest?—A. I do not know whether he was or not.
Q. What did you hear about the use of money down there?—A. I can only say I do not think there was a dollar used.
Q. What did you hear said about it?—A. Well, I have seen a good deal in the newspapers. That is about all.

By Mr. Cameron:

Q. Did you hear anything at or about the time the act was passed in reference to money being used?—A. No, sir.
Q. You did not hear that anybody had used any money?—A. No, sir.

By the Chairman:

Q. How long after this transaction did you hear anything about money being used?—A. I have not said I heard it at all.
The Chairman . Well, I beg your pardon. I thought you did say so.
Mr. Harrison. He has not said that he did not hear it at all.

By the Chairman:

Q. Have you heard rumors at all?—A. There has been a great deal of talk, but I never placed any confidence in it.
Q. When did you first hear it?—A. I can not tell you.
Q. How long after this enactment was it?—A. I can not say.
Q. Did you ever hear anything of the kind down there ?—A. No. sir; I did not.
Q. Do you know the gentleman who reported the bill to the council?—A. Yes, sir.
Q. What is his name?—A. His name is C. V. Rogers.
Q. What part of the Territory did he live in?—A. At Claremore.
Q. Is he interested in the stock business?—A. Yes, sir.
Q. Where?—A. Right at home.
Q. Has he an exclusive range?—A. No, sir; he occupies simply as every citizen of the nation has a right to occupy; that is as much as he likes, and lets his cattle run on public domain.
Q. Is his range enclosed?—A. No, sir. He had no right to enclose any part of it; but under the late act he has a right to enclose 50 acres for pasture purposes.
Q. That was an act passed since the laws authorizing these leases?—A. Yes, sir.
Q. I supposed a man had a right to make fences without limit. How long has this Mr. Rogers been in the cattle business?—A. He has been in the stock business for years.
Q. Had he before the existence of this law enclosed any part of this land?—A. Not that I know of.
Q. Has he any one associated with him?—A. I do not know that he has;
Q. Did you ever hear that he had ?—A. No, sir.
Q. Was Chief Bushyhead in favor of this lease from the outset?—A. I do not know.
Q. Did you ever have any conversation with the Interior Department in reference to it?—A. Yes, sir.
Q. Was this previous to the enactment of this law?—A. Yes, sir.
Q. What position did the Department take?—A. Well, sir, it was just as I have already stated. It resulted in a letter from the Secretary to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, stating that sufficient time should be given to the stockmen and to the Indians to make a different arrangement, one that would be satisfactory to him.
Q. According to your theory, Mr. Wolfe, what difference does it make whether it was satisfactory to him or not?—A. Well, sir, at that time we claimed that it was an intrusion. These men were there and had put up fences in violation of law and without our consent.
Q. You appealed to the Secretary of the Interior to exercise his jurisdiction and remove them. Why did you appeal to them to take them away if it was none of our business ? Had not they as much right on that land as anybody else?—A. I suppose the only reason would be this: That the Secretary of the Interior was the representative of the United States Government, and was placed in a position to execute the treaty made between the United States Government and the Cherokee Nation.
Q. Have you not all along treated it as a matter which the United States has no voice in saying what should be done?—A. She has a voice to this extent, to locate Indians there.
Q. It was with that view, then, that you asked him to remove the Indians, so there would be no intruders against our law? You were afraid the fences would be in the way of our putting Indians there?—A. We asked the United States to execute what she agreed to do.

By Mr. Cameron:

Q. Colonel Boudinot, as I understand, stated that he was of the opinion that there was a pretty strong public sentiment against this system of leasing the Cherokee Strip. What is your opinion?—A. I have not found this out, sir. I have been in the country all my life and he has been out of it twenty years.
Q. What is your opinion?—A. Just as I said; I have not found out. So far as I know the people have consented to it and gladly received the revenue and are satisfied with it. We are directed in our instructions, by an act of the Cherokee Nation, passed last December, to protest against anything looking towards destroying the lease.

By Mr. Harrison:

Q. You stated you have instructions of that kind?—A. I have not them with me. I can give you an abstract of these instructions.
Q. I prefer the original. When was that law passed?—A. Last December. I don't remember the date.
Q. Were you there at the time f—A. Yes, sir.
Mr. Harrison. I wish you would produce your instructions.
The Witness. Of course, I don't want to give up my instructions.
Q. Well, we will not deprive you of the custody of your instructions. I understand that you say in this protest that the persons who asked for an investigation here are the enemies of your nation, and are trying to rob you. What reasons or what evidence have you which lead you to make that statement?—A. I refer to one or two Cherokees.
Q. Name them.—A. I do not wish to go into any personalities.
Q. You refer to some members of your own tribe who, you think, are trying to dispossess the nation of its proper rights?—A. I refer to one individual, and there are stockmen, who did not pay any revenue, who have been clamoring about the matter. Before the lease was made we only got a revenue for a portion of this land.
Q. You say you are an attorney?—A. Yes, sir; I am an attorney and practice in the nation.
Q. Have you been employed in any way by any of these parties?—A. No, sir; I have not been employed by them in any way.
Q. Did you hold any official position except this?—A. Yes, sir; I have been a member of the senate and sat on the supreme bench of the nation.
Q. You have been one of the supreme judges?—A. Yes, sir.
Q. Do you know whether Mr. Phillips, who signs this protest as the special agent and counsel of the nation, has had any relation with any of these parties?—A. None that I know of.
Q. Is he, Mr. Landrum, or yourself interested in these leases at all?—A. No, sir; except so far as to maintain them on the part of the Cherokee Nation.
Q. The only interest you have is to maintain them, because they are wise and profitable to your people. Do you think the price was enough?—A. Well, I expected to get more. I might say it is hardly enough, yet we are willing to stand it for five years. At the end of the lease we will have the land again.
Q. The price is 2 cents?—A. Yes, sir.
Q. On how many acres?—A. Six million acres.
Q.. Is that all the land in the strip?—A. There are about 6,000,000 acres in the strip.
Q. One hundred thousand dollars is very much less than 2 cents an acre, if there are 6,000,000 acres. That would be not more than a cent and a half.—A. Well, sir, I do not know how much it makes per acre. It is $100,000 for the 6,000,000 acres.
Q. It makes a good deal of difference if the 6,000,000 acres are leased at 2 cents an acre?—A. Well, we cannot change that now.
Q. I am speaking of the wisdom of the contract which you so stoutly maintain.—A. It was supposed to be a wise one or we would not have entered it.
Mr. Harrison. Well, sir, many men make unwise contracts. I am simply asking the wisdom of making the contract.
The Witness. It was law, and law is always just.
Mr. Harrison. That is hardly an answer.
I asked whether the rental of $100,000 for the land which you have stated to be 6,000,000 acres, whether that is not an inadequate price. Would it not have been wiser to rent it at 2½ cents an acre?—A. I do not know that anybody would have offered it.
Q. Did you not know that these men were to get 2½ for the whole number of acres?—A. No, sir, I did not understand so at the time.
Q. You elect a chief once in four years?—A. Yes, sir.
Q. Does the question of leases enter into your politics?—A. No, sir.
Q. Did not the question enter into consideration at all?—A. No, sir.
Q. Who is your chief now?—A. Bushyhead.
Q. Has he been re-elected since the execution of this lease?—A. Yes, sir; I think he was re-elected the August following.
Q. The act passed in May; you think he was re-elected in the August following?—A. Yes, sir.
Q. Has the lease been discussed since that election more than be-fore?—A. I do not think so.
Q. What portion of your time do you spend in the Territory—A. I spend the session of Congress here, and the rest of the time down at home.
Q. So far as you know the lease has not been a matter of discussion in your politics?—A. No, sir.
Q. Was there no party there who thought you could have made a better arrangement?—A. I do not know of anything of the kind.
Q. Is there anybody there who opposes this policy now?—A. I can­not say that there is; at least, I do not think so.
Q. So far as you know there is no one?—A. No, sir ; there is not, so far as I know.

By Mr. Gorman:

Q. Are you not mistaken about the election of Bushyhead since the lease was made?—A. I said I was not positive. The lease was not made before July, 1883, but the act was passed in May, and the lease went into effect the 1st of October.
Q. What division was there in the council? Was there a great division?—A. I do not think there was. In fact I was a member of the legislature, but I had nothing to do with the committees.
Q. Then you think it was substantially unanimous?—A. The bill was reported as a unanimous bill.

By Mr. Cameron:

Q. Have the members of the present council been elected since the execution of the lease?—A. A great many of them have been reelected, sir.

By Mr. Gorman:

Q. Have you looked into the matter of leasing lands outside of your country to ascertain whether you are getting a fair price? Have you made any examination at all?—A. I cannot say that I have. I know nothing about it except what I have seen in the newspapers.
Q. How does the price you are getting compare with the prices in Texas?—A. We are not getting as much. But a lease of land in the States is better, because parties can go into their courts, and in the Cherokee Nation that cannot be done, and it is some disadvantage.

By Mr. Cameron:

Q. In speaking of the rates in Texas, do you know whether the improvements on the Texas lands belong to the lessee at the termination of the lease?—A. No, sir, I do not.
Q. In your lease the improvements at the end of the term belong to the Cherokees?—A. Yes, sir; and they virtually belong to the nation now.

By the Chairman:

Q. What do you mean by that?—A. Well, sir, from the nature of the act the lease is subject to be invalidated at any time.
Q. Suppose the lessees should determine to occupy the entire tract in common and remove their fences, could you prevent them?—A. I do not know that the nation would take any steps to prevent it.


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