LAND PROBLEMS
ON THE FORT BERTHOLD INDIAN RESERVATION
ARISING FROM
THE GARRISON PROJECT

Missouri River Basin Investigations Staff
Region No. 2, Bureau of Indian Affairs
Billings, Montana
April 20, 1948
Revised, May 7, 1948


FOREWORD

      The Garrison Dam and Reservoir Project on the Missouri River involves the clearance of 175,000 acres of valley land running through the Fort Berthold Reservation, North Dakota. This land taking will necessitate the removal of 289 Indian families. They will lose their homes and farms. Eighty percent of these families have expressed a definite preference to resettle on the remaining reservation.

      This map folio has been prepared to present graphically the problems facing the Indians. It deals especially with the problem of consolidating the Indians' remaining lands into practical units of use.

      Plates 1 to 3, inclusive, provide a general summary of the effects of the Garrison Land Taking on the existing reservation. Plates 4 to 9, inclusive, reveal the elements of the complex problem of readjusting ownership of land on the residual reservation.

      Special legislation has been proposed to the Congress to establish a "Land Readjustment Fund" to assist the Indians in effecting a solution of this problem. This folio presents the basic reasons for the need of this assistance.

      The maps were prepared by Rudolph Cvelbar, Jr., and T. E. DeJarnett, Draftsmen on the Indian Bureau's Missouri River Basin Investigations Staff.

Allan G. Harper
Assistant Regional Director

Billings, Montana
April 20, 1948
Revised, May 7, 1948

Plate No. 1

From the Treaty of Fort Laramie to the Garrison Taking (1851 - 1948)

      The map opposite telescopes the entire land history of the Three Affiliated Tribes from the establishment of the Fort Berthold Reservation in 1851 to the impending Garrison Reservoir taking.

      The original reservation totaling about 12½ million acres was located wholly south and west of the Missouri River. By successive statutes and Executive Orders, this land base was progressively reduced. But it was also extended north and east of the river. This area of about 1½ million acres was also subsequently reduced.

      The large reductions in the area of the reservation took place in 1870, 1880, 1891, and in 1910 through the opening of that part of the then existing reservation north and east of the Missouri River, to white settlement.

      The gross area of the Fort Berthold Reservation today is 643,368 acres, of which 60,085 acres are alienated through Indian fee patents and sales to whites.

      After the Garrison Taking of 145,714 acres (not including 9,197 acres of Indian claimed accretion along the Missouri River), Indian holdings of all kinds will total 426,413 acres.

      In the course of settling the West and the assimilation of the Indians, it is to be expected that the vast original reservation -set aside on the basis of the Indians' hunting economy -should have been reduced. It is demonstrable, however, that the land resources finally left to the Indians after the Garrison Taking will be insufficient to provide for their full development in the white man’s economy.

Plate No. 2

Principal Effects of the Garrison Project on the Fort Berthold Reservation and Its People

      The flooding of the Garrison Reservoir site will submerge the best lands of the Fort Berthold Indians and the majority of their homesites. The residual reservation will be left in five parts, each separated from the others by water. The sheltered and timbered bottomlands will be taken. More concretely, the facts are:

      The Taking Area: Garrison Reservoir will take 175,716 acres of land located within the Fort Berthold Reservation, as follows:

Indian-owned (surveyed)      145,714acres
Indian-owned (accretion)9,197"
Owned by non-Indians20,805"
Total175,716"

      Segmentation of residual reservation: The residual reservation will be segmented into five parts through the flooding of the Missouri River, the Little Missouri River, Lucky Mound Creek, and the Shell Creek Valley. The unity, organization, and communications of the people will be virtually destroyed.

      Removal of Indian population: Of the 357 Indian homes on the Fort Berthold Reservation, 289 are located within the Taking Area for the Garrison Reservoir. About 1,700 people will have to remove their homes. Of the 289 families which have to move, 240 (or 83%) wish to remain on the residual reservation, largely in the Western, Southern, and Eastern segments.

      Implications of losing bottomlands: The Garrison Reservoir takes all the Indians' bottomlands along the Missouri River. Deprived not only of their homes and the base lands for their cattle operations, they will also lose nearly all their standing timber -- and therewith their free supply of fuel, fence posts, house logs, and habitat for game. Developed water supplies will be lost. From their presently sheltered location, the Indians must move to the unprotected uplands where they must face the full fury of the plains winds, a severe shortage of winter range, and the greater cost of developing water.

      Destruction of existing social facilities: All of the government's facilities for the Indians' health, educational, agricultural and administrative service, centered at Elbowoods and in outlying communities, are located in the Taking Area. It will be difficult to reconstruct these facilities and restore services in terms of the segmented reservation.

Plate No. 3

From the River Valley to the Uplands: The Problems of Removal

      The reservation lands used by Indians are indicated by the yellow coloring. Note the correlation with the Garrison taking line:

      1. Although some Indian acreage within the Taking Area is being used by non-Indians, the taking closely approximates the lands which the Indians are using.

      2. The areas of Indian use overflow the taking line to include adjacent areas.

      3. The non-Indian use areas north and east of the Missouri River are largely under agricultural leases; those west and south are under grazing permits.

      Effect of taking on livestock economy: The Fort Berthold Indians have made their greatest strides towards economic self-sufficiency through the production of beef cattle, based on the bottomlands and adjacent uplands. It is precisely these lands which are taken or severed for Garrison Reservoir.

      Problems of removing cattle industry to uplands: The reestablishment of the Indian cattle industry on the residual reservation is faced with these difficulties:

      1. Lack of shelter and winter range which will force a radical change and cost in grazing and feeding practices.

      2. Lack of developed water supplies.

      3. Lack of roads and trails, especially west and south of the Missouri River, and the severance of communications between the two segments formed by the flooding of the Little Missouri River.

      4. The allotment and fractionization of individually-owned Indian lands on the residual reservation, together with white ownership of key tracts in the grazing units. The succeeding plates in this folio analyse this problem.

Plate No. 4

Readjustment of Land Ownership, No. 1: The Allotment Pattern

      The residual Fort Berthold Reservation is marked by three outstanding ownership characteristics:

      1. There are no tribal lands of any consequence.

      2. All of the residual lands are allotted in severalty.

      3. The Indians' allotted lands are interspersed with some 44,000 acres of white-owned lands.

      Objective of readjusting ownership on residual reservation: To reestablish the Indians' livestock industry on the residual reservation, ranch lay-outs of approximately 2,500 acres must be assembled to provide homesites, ranch headquarters, and sufficient grazing land.

      Ownership of typical township: The existing ownership pattern on the residual reservation is illustrated by Plate No. 4. All of the land is classified for grazing and no Indians live within the township. It forms a part of a large grazing unit of 108,000 acres, taken out by a group of eight white livestock men who pool their use of the area.

      This township could be organized into nine family-size ranches, which is the type of use for which the Fort Berthold people have expressed a preference. It is presently subdivided into 91 allotments of diverse and scattered Indian ownership, which makes individual use impracticable. Two alternatives appear: (1) a program of purchase and exchange to create individually-owned ranch units, or (2) a program of purchase and exchange to create consolidated blocks of tribal lands to be used under permit by individual Indians.

Plate No.5

Readjustment of Land Ownership No. 2: The Inheritance Problem

      Physical partition of allotments, at the death of original allottees, has nearly always proved economically undesirable and an obstacle to Indian use of the land. The inheritance and re-inheritance of trust allotments have tended generally to produce the result which is illustrated by Plate No. 5.

      Not only was the land base of the residual Fort Berthold Reservation allotted in tracts which were too small for economic cattle operations, but it is also burdened now with minute inherited subdivisions of these allotments.

      A two-fold process is constantly operating: with the rare exception of estates with single heirs, all allotments and inherited interests are being continually redivided with arithmetic certainty into numerous ownerships. Nearly all members of the tribe, after the first generation, find their land holdings represented by collections of geographically scattered inherited interests.

      Removal to the residual reservation forces on members of the Tribes the necessity of consolidating their allotted and inherited interests to provide themselves with tracts sufficiently large for homesites, farms, and ranches It appears that the Indians prefer to receive new trust patents for their consolidated holdings.

      Will such newly trust-patented lands begin all over again to be fractionized? Possibly, but there are three favorable factors operating against that result:

      1. Lands would be in economic units on a family basis, offering the opportunity, heretofore absent, of Indian operation. Full advantage of this opportunity has been taken on other reservations, where consolidations have been made.

      2. As going concerns, the opportunity would exist to transfer operation of the farms or ranches to family members who would take over on the death or retirement or the family head.

      3. Economic units would produce income sufficient to pay off the inherited interests of non-resident heirs. Some resident heirs could purchase unused economic units in estate status.

Plate No. 6

Readjustment of Land Ownership No. 3: The Problem of a Typical Family

      The Fort Berthold family whose land holdings are platted on the map opposite consists of five members. Its total of allotted land and heirship interests aggregates 1,036 acres.

      Inside the Taking Area, the family has one allotment of 160 acres and five heirship interests totaling 202 acres. In all, it has 362 acres which will be taken.

      Outside the Taking Area, the family has four allotments totaling 600 acres and six heirship interests totaling 74 acres. In all it will have 674 acres left on the residual reservation.

      With these assets, the family is one that perhaps will find these holdings on the residual reservation, if consolidated, sufficient to provide for a homesite, garden, a few chickens, and a winter feeding base for a small herd of cattle. Cash proceeds from the taking of its 362 acres for Garrison Reservoir could be used to acquire additional lands, or be used to defray the expenses of setting the family up in its new home.

      Under the pending contract the family's moving expenses would be defrayed from the $5,105,625 appropriation. It would also be assisted in salvaging and moving its old home and improvements, if that were feasible and desired.

Plate No. 7

Readjustment of Land Ownership, No. 4: A Family With Large Land Holdings

      Probably not more than five to ten percent of the Fort Berthold Indians own holdings as large in the aggregate as those of the Mahto family. Yet the family is "land poor" in the sense that the full income possibilities of its lands cannot be realized because of their scattered, fractionized status.

      Consolidation of the family's holdings and interests outside the reservoir R/W would net it a total of 2,218 acres. This base could be augmented by the purchase of additional land from the proceeds of the sale of 1,326 acres to be taken for the reservoir.

      With its assets the Mahto family can make a good readjustment, but the help provided through the proposed Land Readjustment Fund will be indispensable. There is no way in which the family can effect consolidation of its holdings except through a reservation-wide program of land readjustment and consolidation.

Plate No. 8

Readjustment of Land Ownership, No. 5: The Holdings of the Non-Residents

      The land holdings of a typical non-resident Indian family are illustrated by Plate No. 8.

      In the Garrison taking, 416.50 acres will be taken for the Garrison Reservoir. Under the terms of the pending contract the non-residents would receive payment in cash.

      The family will still own an aggregate of 856.30 acres on the residual reservation. As there is need for this land by resident members of the tribe, means for its purchase should be made available.

      Two sources of funds for this purpose are: (1) proceeds derived by allottees and heirs from the Garrison taking and (2) the proposed Land Readjustment Fund.

Plate No. 9

Readjustment of Land Ownership, No. 6: Purchase of Alienated Land

      The two segments of the Fort Berthold Reservation, shown on Plate No. 9, are of the utmost (and perhaps controlling) importance to the Indians' removal:

      1. The land in these segments, west and south of the Missouri River, is predominantly grazing in character.

      2. It is to these segments that a majority of the Fort Berthold Indians will remove.

      As shown in Plate No. 3, the bulk of these lands is leased to non-Indians at the present time. It is obvious that one of the first effects of the Indians' removal will be -- and necessarily -- the progressive return of these permitted lands for grazing Indian-owned cattle.

      Some 14,000 acres of land in these two segments are presently alienated from Indian to white ownership. These lands would not be of any use to their owners if the Indians withdrew their grazing permits.

      Their purchase would ––

      1. Probably be welcomed by their present owners.

      2. Provide the Land Readjustment Fund with a land pool from which to begin operations of exchange, purchase, and sale in order to block up economic ranch units for individual Indians.

      3. Greatly simplify administration of the range.


Scanned and formatted by Kathryn Thomas
North Dakota State University Libraries
March 22, 2004
Typographical errors corrected