Indians living in the 1800s were not in the habit of writing wills. The Utes, for example, simply burned the possessions of the deceased.
As they were forced to become more “civilized,” the government pushed Indians to make legal arrangements for a person’s property after death. On June 25, 1910 the United States Congress passed An Act to Provide for Determining the Heirs of Deceased Indians…
This act was written to protect land the government had given to individual Indians when they agreed to settle on reservations.
It was called “allotment” land. It could not be sold for a set number of years. At the end of this “trust period”, the Indian would own the land. Then he or she could choose to sell the land.
The new law stated what would happen to allotment land, if the Indian died during the trust period and did not leave a written will.
The Secretary of the Interior had to define how the government would decide who was entitled to the property of deceased Indians who left no will. Formal regulations for evaluating such “heirship” cases were not completed until June 19, 1923.
During the following two years, twelve Examiners of Inheritance were hired. In his annual report for the fiscal year ending June 30 1925, Charles H. Burke, Commissioner of Indian Affairs, reported 1,695 Indian heirship cases were settled and 206 wills were evaluated.
A few months later, the case of Chipeta’s property came before P.L. Hallam, Examiner of Inheritance. She did not leave a written will.
Continued next week…
Sources: Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, “Heirship and Probate, 1925 and 1926