The US expanded by acquiring title to lands by purchase and treaty with other governments that claimed them, such as Spain and France.  Of course a lot of this land came from the Louisiana Purchase. {LA P included LA, MS, AR, MO,KS, IA, MN, NE, CO, OR,ND & SD, MT, ID, WA, WY.} But obviously there were already people living in these places and they were considered by law to have what was called “aboriginal title” to these lands. The US had to deal with that by making treaties and finding ways to legally “extinguish the aboriginal title.”

Through treaties with Indian Nations the US expanded its initial land holdings. Usually the first treaty the US made with a given tribe recognized the “aboriginal possession of the tribe and defined its geographical extent.“ “Sometimes the cession of aboriginal title was coupled with a cession of portions of the aboriginal domain.” (See Handbook of Federal Law, Felix Cohen, for information on aboriginal title and how aboriginal land was ceded to and acquired by the US.)

Some lands were reserved for the Indians, beyond which there would be no settlers, and some were open to settlement. Tribal ownership of certain lands was in effect codified by the treaties. Other ways treaties provided for Indian lands was through the establishment of reservations where lands were purchased for the tribes. Sometimes reservations were established also by Executive Order.

The treaties usually specified certain lands as being ceded to the US, and the Indians were either given the chance to get parcels of land for themselves (called “reserves”) and become US citizens, or the entire tribe was encouraged to move to other places.  The legalities of acquiring land this way and “extinguishing” the Indian rights to it are the basis of policies and arguments and lawsuits for the next several centuries.  Many of these are in RG 279, Indian Court of Claims records.

One of the problems that arose was when some of a tribe wanted to become citizens and some wanted to maintain their tribal relations. It was necessary to figure out the tribal assets and divide them up equitably among them. There not uncommonly was a “citizen party” and an “Indian party.” The citizen party would receive per capita shares of tribal funds and the Indian party would have exclusive rights to the remaining tribal fund. Sometimes this involved a migration of the Indian party to Indian Territory. The citizen party stayed and relinquished their tribal rights. Many people who have Indian ancestors today do not realize the ancestors left their tribes and relinquished their tribal rights, in order to become US citizens.  Today’s recognized tribes will not consider them as members.

The earliest treaties were of course for lands in the New England area of the US, and along the edges of the colonies. The “Removal” location would have to be to a place that the US considered that it owned, in the first place, and in the second place, it would have to be considered less desirable for other settlers.  That removal end-location continued to shift as new settlers and prospectors redefined the desirability of public lands.

By 1830, the US was getting serious about lands for settlers and Andrew Jackson spearheaded the whole Indian Removal movement, which was eventually a lot more than just the so called Trail of Tears and the Cherokees.  Almost of the tribes that settled in Oklahoma or Indian Territory as it was then, were removed successively from upper middle states such as Illinois, Ohio, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, Minneapolis, Wisconsin, Indiana and the southern states of Georgia, Alabama, and the Carolinas. There are many “Removal” records in RG 75, not just the well-known Five Civilized Tribes. These can usually be researched under the name of the tribe.  The records we have are listed in PI163.