Blackfeather v. United States
190 U.S. 368 (1903)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Blackfeather v. United States, 190 U.S. 368 (1903)

Blackfeather v. United States

No. 276

Argued May 1, 1900

Decided June 1, 1903

190 U.S. 368

Syllabus

The moral obligations of the government towards the Indians are for Congress alone to recognize, and the courts can exercise only such jurisdiction over the subject as Congress may confer upon them.

Under the Act of October 1, 1890, 26 Stat. 636, jurisdiction was conferred upon the Court of Claims to hear and determine the rights in law or equity of the tribes of the Shawnee and Delaware Indians arising out of the subject matter referred to in the act, and there is no grant of jurisdiction to hear or determine the rights of individual members of those tribes. The claims of the Shawnee Indians which under the Act of July 1, 1892, were to be presented to the Court of Claims are those of a tribe or band of Indians, and not of individual members thereof.

Statutes which extend the jurisdiction of the Court of Claims and permit the government to be sued will be strictly construed, and the grant of jurisdiction therein contained must be shown clearly to cover the case, and if it do not, it will not be implied.

The petitioner filed his amended petition in the Court of Claims in August, 1892, in which he asked to recover from the United States over five hundred and thirty thousand dollars on the grounds therein set forth. There was a demurrer to the amended petition by the United States on the ground that it did not allege facts sufficient to constitute a cause of action. The demurrer was sustained, and the plaintiff has appealed to this Court.

In his petition, the petitioner represents himself as a Shawnee Indian by blood and descent, a member and the principal chief of the Shawnee Tribe or Nation, and residing in the Indian Territory. He states that he brings suit in the Court of Claims as such principal chief of such Shawnee Tribe or Nation under the provisions of two acts of Congress, the first of which is entitled

"An Act to Refer to the Court of Claims Certain Claims of the Shawnee and Delaware Indians and the Freedmen of the Cherokee Nation, and for Other Purposes,"

approved October 1, 1890, 26 Stat. 636, and the second entitled

"An Act Supplementary

Page 190 U. S. 369

and Amendatory to an Act Entitled 'An Act to Refer to the Court of Claims Certain Claims of the Shawnee and Delaware Indians and the Freedmen of the Cherokee Nation, and for Other Purposes,' Approved October 1, 1890, Approved July 6, 1892,"

27 Stat. 86. These acts are set out in the margin. *

Page 190 U. S. 370

The petitioner asks to recover and collect from the United States the several amounts of money thereafter set out at length in payment for the destruction, loss, forcible taking, carrying, and driving away of livestock, farm products, household goods, money, and other personal property of divers descriptions and kinds belonging to, owned, and possessed by, and the property of, the said Shawnee Indians, by white and United States citizens and soldiers, in the State of Kansas and the Indian Territory at divers times and places in the year 1861, and all the time up to and including the year 1866. Reference is then made to a schedule which is made part of the petition, and in which appear the names of between three and four hundred Indians, and the schedule gives their individual claims, varying in amounts from as high as $7,000 down to $75, and aggregating $530,945.14.

It is contended that the claims arise out of treaty relations with the United States (mentioned in the foregoing acts of Congress),

Page 190 U. S. 371

particularly articles 11 and 14 of the treaty of May 10, 1854, 10 Stat. 1053, 1057, between the United States and the Indians, and also out of sections 2154 and 2155 of the Revised Statutes of the United States. The articles of the treaty are as follows:

"ARTICLE 11. It being represented that many of the Shawnees have sustained damage in the loss and destruction of their crops, stock, and other property, and otherwise, by reason of the great emigration which has for several years passed through their country, and of other causes, in violation, as they allege, of guarantees made for their protection by the United States, it is agreed that there shall be paid in consideration thereof, to the Shawnees, the sum of twenty-seven thousand dollars, which shall be taken and considered in full satisfaction not only of such claim, but of all others of what kind soever, and in release of all demands and stipulations arising under former treaties, with the exception of the perpetual annuities, amounting to three thousand dollars, hereinbefore named and which

Page 190 U. S. 372

are set apart and appropriated in the third article hereof. All Shawnees who have sustained damage by the emigration of citizens of the United States, or by other acts of such citizens, shall, within six months after the ratification of this treaty, file their claims for such damages with the Shawnee agent, to be submitted by him to the Shawnee council, for their action and decision, and the amount in each case approved shall be paid by said agent: Provided, The whole amount of claims thus approved shall not exceed the said sum stipulated for in this article. And provided, That if such amount shall exceed that sum, then a reduction shall be made pro rata from each claim until the aggregate is lowered to that amount. If less than that amount be adjudged to be due, the residue, it is agreed, shall be appropriated as the council shall direct."

"ARTICLE 14. The Shawnees acknowledge their dependence on the government of the United States, and invoke its protection and care. They will abstain from the commission of depredations and comply as far as they are able with the laws in such cases made and provided, as they will expect to be protected and to have their rights vindicated."

Section 2154 of the Revised Statutes, which is part of the Act of June 30, 1834, 4 Stat. 731, reads as follows:

"SEC. 2154. Whenever, in the commission by a white person of any crime, offense, or misdemeanor within the Indian country, the property of any friendly Indian is taken, injured, or destroyed, and a conviction is had for such crime, offense, or misdemeanor, the person so convicted shall be sentenced to pay such friendly Indian to whom the property may belong, or whose person may be injured, a sum equal to twice the just value of the property so taken, injured, or destroyed."

Section 2155 of the Revised Statutes, which is also part of the Act of June 30, 1834, 4 Stat. 731, reads as follows:

"SEC. 2155. If such offender shall be unable to pay a sum at least equal to the just value or amount, whatever such payment shall fall short of the same shall be paid out of the Treasury of the United States. If such offender cannot be apprehended and brought to trial, the amount of such property shall be paid out of the Treasury. But no Indian shall be entitled to any

Page 190 U. S. 373

payment out of the Treasury of the United States for any such property if he or any of the nation to which he belongs have sought private revenge, or have attempted to obtain satisfaction by any force or violence."

It is also stated that, at the time the property was taken, the Indians were in amity with, and had always been loyal to, the United States. Judgment was asked in favor of the Indians mentioned for the respective sums set opposite their names, and that ten percentum of the amount might be allowed the attorneys for their services.

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