Skip to main content

Dawes General Allotment Act


DAWES GENERAL ALLOTMENT ACT. Named after its chief sponsor, Republican Senator Henry Dawes of Massachusetts, the Dawes Act of 1887 represented an attempt to speed the assimilation of Native Americans into U.S. society. The act proposed to break up tribal communities, which were seen as impediments to the civilizing process, and redistribute communal lands to individual Indians. In the view of reformers and government supporters of the policy, distributing lands "in severalty" (that is, to each member) would promote individual initiative and enable Indians to become self-supporting. The act provided for the issuing of 160 acres of land to each head of household, 80 acres to each single adult and orphan under the age of eighteen, and 40 acres to each minor child. The act also stipulated that the government would hold allotted lands in trust for twenty-five years, thereby preventing them from being taxed or sold and protecting the allottee's interests. At the end of this period the allottee would receive a fee-simple patent to the land. After a reservation had been allotted surplus land would be purchased by the government and sold to homesteaders.

Although conceived primarily by eastern reformers, the Dawes Act also responded to the land hunger of western states and settlers. Indian tribes resisted the new law, but the government applied pressure to numerous tribes to accept its principles. Between 1887 and 1934 the government allotted 118 out of 213 reservations. During this period the Indian estate shrank from 138 million acres to 52 million acres through the cession of surplus land and the alienation of land after the end of the trust period.

Overall, the act failed to convert Indians into self-sufficient farmers. On many reservations allotments proved too small to be commercially viable, and heirship proceedings following the deaths of the original allottees often left Indians with scattered and fragmented landholdings. Ironically, the act also failed to destroy tribal communities on most reservations. After its failures were documented by the Meriam Report, issued by the Department of the Interior in 1928, the Dawes Act was finally repudiated as federal Indian policy by the Indian Reorganization Act, passed by Congress in 1934.


Hoxie, Frederick E. The Final Promise: The Campaign to Assimilate the Indians, 1880–1920. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1984.

McDonnell, Janet A. The Dispossession of the American Indian, 1887–1934. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1991.


See alsoIndian Land Cessions ; Indian Reorganization Act .

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Dawes General Allotment Act." Dictionary of American History. . 9 May. 2019 <>.

"Dawes General Allotment Act." Dictionary of American History. . (May 9, 2019).

"Dawes General Allotment Act." Dictionary of American History. . Retrieved May 09, 2019 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.