William Howard Taft, 27th President of the United States, took office in January of 1909. He rode into the White House on a wave of popular support, and became known for his agenda on domestic reform, hoping to improve civil service practices, as well as the postal service. However, soon into his presidency, he gained notoriety for proposing a federal income tax to Congress in June of 1909; Congress approved the resolution of the Sixteenth Amendment to the Constitution a few weeks later, allowing for just such a tax. Amidst the furor and excitement caused by the proposal, most Americans paid little attention to other acts passed by President Taft that summer, including a short document titled “Proclamation 879,” which the President signed on this date in 1909.
Proclamation 879 dealt with the opening of the Standing Rock and Cheyenne River Indian Reservations to homesteaders. In a nutshell, the act allowed non-Native Americans to purchase and settle land that had previously been relegated to the Lakota, Yanktonai, Dakota, and Cheyenne tribes of North and South Dakota. The proclamation further reduced the size of the Standing Rock Reservation, which had been whittled down repeatedly since its creation in 1889.
In fact, the reservation had originally been part of the Great Sioux Reservation, which covered most of the southwestern portion of Dakota Territory. This enormous reservation was created by the Treaty of Fort Laramie in 1868 and included twenty-five million acres of land. However, when gold was discovered in the Black Hills in 1874, the government seized the Black Hills area and removed it from Native American ownership. In 1887, the size of the reservation was further reduced by the Dawes Act, and was divided into five smaller reservations, including Standing Rock. Once Taft opened the reservations to homesteading, nearly 2 million acres became available to non-Indians. Each Native American family living on the reservations at the time was granted an allotment of 320 acres, and all additional land was labeled ‘surplus’ and sold for an average of $4.00 an acre to potential homesteaders. Today, Standing Rock covers about one million acres, or less than 4% of the original area of the Great Sioux Reservation.
Dakota Datebook written by Jayme L. Job
United States Department of the Interior. 1909 “Opening of the Cheyenne River and Standing Rock Indian Lands.” Pamphlet, U.S. General Land Office.
Lounsberry, Clement Augustus. 1919 Early History of North Dakota: Essential Outlines of American History. Liberty Press: New York: p. 329.