Prologue Magazine

Fall 1993, Vol. 25, No. 3

Indian Bounty Land Applications
By Mary Frances Morrow

Finding records that will extend genealogical research back into the early nineteenth century for Indian ancestors can be quite challenging. Most tribal enrollment records and censuses taken by the Bureau of Indian Affairs do not begin until around 1880. The earliest federal censuses that mention Indians are the 1860, 1870, and 1880, and even these are sporadic. The 1900 federal census is the first one available that has a more systematic listing of residents of Indian reservations. Other records such as various applications taken for enrollment purposes after the Land Allotment Act of 1887 are a primary source of family history, and they often list parents and grandparents on earlier rolls. But tracing back into the early 1800s is very difficult because there are so few records containing kinship information and birth or death dates. What could you do, for example, if you know that your great-great-grandmother's name was Mary, she was probably Creek, you have no idea what her parents' names were, and you think she must have been a young girl in the 1850s? One possibility would be to search the bounty land warrant application files.

An act of March 3, 1855 (10 Stat. L. 701) extended military bounty land laws to Indians, entitling veterans from the Revolutionary War and the Indian Wars of 1818 and 1836 to warrants that could be exchanged for public lands. A few earlier acts had specified bounty lands for Indians, but this act marked the first time land was made available on a large scale.

Applications for Indian Bounty Lands

Applications were taken by Indian agents in the Indian Territory west of Arkansas in the years immediately following the act. The records are now a part of Record Group 15, Records of the Veterans Administration (entry 27 of Preliminary Inventory NM-22, "Case files of bounty land warrant applications of Indians based on service between 1812 and 1855"). They consist of forty-five boxes of envelopes, around a hundred per box. The envelopes are identified on the outside as "Bounty Land Files, Act of 1855." The name of the veteran is given, his grade, service date, company commander, tribal affiliation, and the warrant number and number of acres.

The applications have been arranged alphabetically by the name of the veteran. These names are primarily transcriptions of Indian names, such as In-to-yo-ye, Ish-tar-yi-see, or Soks-set-he-ne-ha. Whenever second names appear, the order is by the first name. For example, Ne-har-locco Harjo is filed under N.

Inside the envelope is an application, usually a printed form with the appropriate blanks filled in by the Indian agent. The form typically gives the name of the veteran and establishes the veteran's eligibility for bounty lands through military service in a particular war. There is confirmation of the veteran's service in the form of statements and signatures of witnesses. The claimant might be the veteran, his widow, or a minor heir. Different forms were used for each according to specifications by the Office of Indian Affairs. The form established the right of the claimant to the benefits of the veteran.

The application was originally enclosed in a wrapper, which was used to summarize the contents. Notations on the wrapper include application number, date, name, name of company commander and Indian Nation, dates of service, whether or not the name was found on the rolls by the Treasury Department auditor, the number of the warrant that was issued and the date, and on the back, a volume and page reference.

The volume and page numbers on the wrappers refer to books such as the "Choctaw" volume, or volume "1," as yet not located. The related bounty application records in Record Group 75, Records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, do not correspond to these references. The actual warrants are arranged by the act and the number of acres and warrant number, and they are filed with the General Land Office records in Record Group 49.

Most of the envelopes also contain a slip of paper that has written on it the warrant number and the number of acres. Other occasional enclosures include letters of transmittal from the commissioner of Indian affairs to the commissioner of pensions and affidavits from the Office of the Third Auditor saying that a particular name was or was not found on the rolls.

Tribes represented by the veterans include primarily the Five Civilized Tribes: Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Cherokee, and Seminole. There are also a large number of other tribes included, such as the Seneca, Tonawanda, Shawnee, Delaware, Onandaga, Menominee, Oneida, Tuscarora, Green Bay, and Stockbridge. There are a few Pueblo, New Mexico (Jicarilla Apache), Yankton, and Pottowatomie. The periods of service include the War of 1812, the 1818 Seminole War, the 1836 Florida War, and the Cherokee Removal.

Genealogical information on the application includes the name of the veteran (usually his Indian name); his age or death date; his wife's name and age; sometimes the marriage date and place; the names, ages, and places of birth of surviving children; the Indian tribe or nation; the town of residence; and the names and ages of witnesses and guardians.

Indexes and Abstracts Relating to the Applications

The related records in Record Group 75 include an index (entry 544 in Preliminary Inventory No. 163, "Index to abstract list of Indian applicants for military bounty lands") giving names of both veterans and heirs in alphabetical order. Other information in the index includes the tribal affiliation, a reference to "Book A" and page, and an abbreviation for "Warrant Issued." Book A (entry 545, "Abstract list of Indian applicants for military bounty lands") is a list of Indian applicants for military bounty land under the act of March 3, 1855, showing the name, tribe, service and length thereof, names of officers under whom service is claimed, date of the completion of papers sent, name and post office address of agent or representative, date of receipt at Office of Indian Affairs, date when sent to the Pension Office, date of warrant, number of warrant, when and (if to another than the person who sent the application) to whom sent, to whom transferred, date of transfer, and the consideration paid therefore. There is also a Book B, with the same type of information, but no index for it.

Using the Records

Looking through Book B, on page twenty-seven we found Mary, a young Creek girl who was twelve at the time of the application (February 5, 1859) filed for her by her guardian, Echo Tustunnuggee. She is listed as the minor child of Pahose Yahola (veteran). Pahose Yahola had served in the Seminole War in 1818 under Powis Harjo. The agent handling the case was W. H. Garrett. Warrant number 95885 for 120 acres was issued on December 15, 1859, and sent on February 24, 1860. (Note: Book B and other records mentioned here are not on microfilm and must be consulted in the Central Research Room in Washington, D.C.)

We found the bounty land application filed under the name Pahose Yahole. From the application filed by Mary's guardian we learned that Pahose Yahola had been a private in the company commanded by Powis Harjo in the brigade of Creek volunteers commanded by Gen. William McIntosh in the Seminole War of 1818. He volunteered at Fort Mitchell in the old Creek country east of the Mississippi, served from March until May, and was discharged at Fort Gaines. He died "on [the] North Fork" in the spring of 1850. Mary's mother was named Socotige, and she died the winter of 1853-1854. Coe Harjo, age forty-nine, and Hotulke Harjo, age fifty-three, Creek Indians residing in Eufaula town, bore witness that Echo Tustunnuggee was the name of her guardian. Echo Tustunnuggee had been appointed Mary's guardian by the Eufaula town council. There were no other living children of Pahose Yahola who were minors on the date March 31, 1855.

This application case file contained an added benefit. In addition to the application of the minor, as expected, there were two earlier applications from the widow, Socotige, allowing a rare chance to compare information on the three applications and weigh its validity. Socotige filed one application on October 31, 1851, under the provisions of an earlier bounty act passed on September 28, 1850, "granting bounty land to certain officers and soldiers who have engaged in the military service of the United States." In this application she said she was forty-eight years old and a resident of the Creek Nation. She said she was married to Pahose Yahola in 1812, according to the customs of the Creek Nation, and claimed that he had died in 1838, in contradiction to the later date and location given in the claim of Mary and her guardian. Her claim was witnessed by Cusseta Micco and Nehi Yahola.

The other widow's claim was filed by "Sockhotikee," age fifty-eight, on September 1, 1855. She claimed to be the widow of "Powes" Yahola, a private in the company commanded by Okfuske Yahola in the brigade of Creek volunteers commanded by Gen. Thomas Jessup during the Creek hostilities of 1836. Note that this time she is claiming a bounty land warrant under a later period of service than that claimed on the minor's application, and note the difference in spelling of her own and her husband's first names. Widely variant spellings are a problem researchers will often encounter in these transcriptions of Indian names.

Sockhotikee said she was married to Powes Yahola in the summer of 1815 and that her husband died on Deep Fork the winter of 1839-1840. Her application states that she had previously applied under the act of September 28, 1850, and had received a warrant and had disposed of it (see below). This 1855 claim obviously contradicts the death date for Socotige of the winter of 1853-1854, as given by Mary and her guardian in 1859, and slightly changes the previous dates given for her marriage and the death of her husband (either 1812 or 1815 for the marriage, and 1838 or 1839-1840 for the death). And it seems that Socotige may not have been too sure of her own age, either.

The biggest discrepancy was the death date of Pahose (or Powes) Yahola. Did he die around 1839 as his widow claimed in 1851 and 1855? Remember, Mary the minor child was stated to be twelve in 1859, making her birth year around 1847. It is no wonder that her application places his death in 1850!

Other slips of paper in the file confirm the receipt of land warrant 71598, issued August 30, 1852, to Socotige under the 1850 act. The records also indicate that a warrant number 95885 for 120 acres was issued under the 1855 act to Mary and her guardian. Apparently Socotige's second application for Powes's service in 1836 did not result in a warrant because his name was not found on Okfuske Yahola's rolls.

Military land warrants could be surrendered at a land office for public lands. The holder of the warrant might be the person to whom it was originally issued, but as often as not, it was someone else. Many of these warrants appear to have been purchased by a small number of people, perhaps professional land speculators who then resold the warrants. The warrant could be sold for cash for less than its face value ($1.25 per acre). A warrant for 120 acres sold for about $70 to $75; one for 160 acres sold for $100 to $120. To locate land, the holder had to pay a fee of $1.50 each to the register and the receiver of the land office. If the land desired was being sold for more than $1.25 per acre, the person surrendering the warrant had to make up the cash difference.

The next step to logically follow through these records would be to look for the land entry case file to see if the holders of the warrant received the land. This case file was missing. One reason we chose to look at Mary's application was that Book B did not show the warrant as being sold to someone else. However, the tract books yielded the information that the warrant was indeed "located" by another person, Martin Fiedler, on land in St. Cloud, Minnesota.

It appears from the volumes in Record Group 75 that a disproportionate number of the bounty land warrants were being sold off to intermediate land speculators, who then sold the warrants to homesteaders in public land states. It was difficult to find any that did not appear to have been sold to other parties. Very likely, most Indians would not have had the money to take advantage of the land warrants. They would have had to have paid cash fees to the land office; they would probably not have been interested in traveling to the areas where public lands were currently being offered, locating a parcel of land, clearing it, and homesteading it. In effect, the veteran or his heirs received a small cash payment from the government. In light of the government policy of encouraging Native Americans to farm the land and give up their ancient culture to become more like the mainstream white population, the bounty land warrant was a failure.

The discrepancies revealed in the examination of these three applications for bounty land warrants give us fair enough warning that the information in the records may have been distorted for the purposes of meeting the requirements for eligibility. Was Mary's father really Powes/Pahose Yahola? It seems unlikely since her mother had twice previously given his death date as around 1839, and Mary was not born until 1847. Did Powes actually serve in the second war as claimed in Socotige's second application, or was this simply an attempt to get a another warrant?

As with any historical record, one must be careful in judging the validity of the evidence. When we can establish a motive for distorting the facts, it seems wise to take that information with a grain of salt. Who was Mary? Was she perhaps actually the daughter of Echo Tustunnuggee? Or might he have been her mother's brother? Was Socotige even her real mother? The Eufaula council may have given Echo guardianship of Mary because of a kinship relationship; or maybe because he was owed a debt that could be paid by awarding him guardianship of a child who might be eligible for a warrant that could be sold for cash. Unfortunately, we cannot tell from these particular applications.

On the other hand, we do know that Powes Yahola did serve in the 1818 war since his name was verified on the muster roll, and it does seem likely that he was married to Socotige. The slight discrepancy in the marriage dates is probably attributable to faulty memory and the fact that the system of dating was the white man's system, not hers. We can assume that there were other tribal members with the names given on the affidavits and that they also lived in Eufaula. We learn from the records that Eufaula had a governing body that took responsibility for assigning guardianship of minor children. Other interesting information revealed by these records is that there were a substantial number of Native Americans who fought for the United States government against other Indian nations and were eligible for bounty land awards. Most appear to have taken the cash rather than the land.

Now, what about researching your Indian ancestors in the early 1800s? The bounty land warrants and applications discussed here are best suited to a researcher who has exhausted the usual sources and still wishes to continue the search. Since the records have not as yet been microfilmed, accessibility is limited to the Washington, D.C., area. You will find some interesting information in the bounty land warrant applications, but you will have to be the judge as to how much credence to give the specific data.


Mary Frances Morrow is an archivist in the National Archives and Record Administration's Old Military and Civil Branch. She received her M.A. in history from North Carolina State University and has been with the National Archives for ten years.

Articles published in Prologue do not necessarily represent the views of NARA or of any other agency of the United States Government.
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