Ex Parte Crow Dog
Ex Parte Crow Dog
Crow Dog and Spotted Tail. Native Americans and white Americans had fundamentally different legal systems and ideas. This dichotomy was borne out in the 1880s when Crow Dog, a Brule Sioux medicine man, murdered a chief named Spotted Tail on a reservation in the Dakota Territory. While Crow Dog maintained traditional Sioux values, Spotted Tail had argued for peace and cooperation with the whites. The federal government built a house for Spotted Tail in appreciation of his friendship, allowed him to distribute rations, and even named an Indian agency for him. Spotted Tail’s prominence antagonized other Sioux, particularly when he began taking the wives of more-traditional chiefs.
Indian Law and American Law. Under the unwritten law of the Sioux, a murderer could be exiled from the tribe or the victim’s family could kill him unless it agreed to restitution. To avoid further bloodshed, the families of Spotted Tail and Crow Dog agreed on a settlement: Crow Dog gave Spotted Tail’s family fifty dollars, eight horses, and a blanket to “cover” the crime. This settled the case for the Sioux, but when white settlers in South Dakota learned that their friend Spotted Tail had been murdered, they summoned a grand jury. Crow Dog was tried for murder in the territorial court at Deadwood, South Dakota. Not surprisingly, he was convicted and sentenced to death.
Return of the Condemned. The convicted medicine man asked permission to return home in Rosebud to settle his personal affairs before his execution. The court allowed him to leave and set a date for him to surrender. On the day he was to return, a snowstorm raged in Deadwood. Court officials, knowing that no white man would walk several hundred miles in a blizzard to be executed, were certain Crow Dog would not appear. They waited at the courthouse, betting with one another on the likelihood of his arrival. On schedule Crow Dog emerged from the blizzard to surrender himself to the authorities. He instantly was transformed from a local villain into a celebrity, and newspapers celebrated his courage and stoic nobility. Lawyers volunteered to appeal his case, and in 1883 they brought it to the U.S. Supreme Court.
A New Verdict. The lawyers argued that because he had killed Spotted Tail on a reservation, Crow Dog was subject to tribal, not United States, law. In Exparte Crow Dog (ex parte is Latin for “on behalf of “), the Supreme Court upheld this argument and ruled that the Dakota territorial court was without jurisdiction. All nine justices agreed that the Sioux Treaty of 1868, which established the reservation in the Dakota Territory, did not explicitly limit tribal self-government. As a result the Sioux tribe retained exclusive judicial jurisdiction over all reservation affairs.
Reaction. The fact that Crow Dog could not be executed for murder disturbed many members of Congress as well as their constituents. A concentrated effort soon developed to outlaw the Indians’ “heathenish” laws and customs. In response to this case, Congress appended to the Appropriation Act of 3 March 1885 a section known as the Major Crimes Act, which gave the federal government jurisdiction over seven major crimes — murder, kidnapping, rape, assault, incest, arson, and burglary — committed by Indians on reservations. By limiting the jurisdiction of Indian courts, the Major Crimes Act removed an element of tribal sovereignty. The new law also clarified the legal standing of Native American tribes as wards of the federal government. The first test of the Major Crimes Act came in 1886. When two Hoopa Indians were found guilty of a murder committed on a California reservation, the Supreme Court upheld their convictions.
Vine Deloria Jr. and Clifford M. Lytle, American Indians, American Justice (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1983).
"Ex Parte Crow Dog." American Eras. . Encyclopedia.com. (January 17, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/history/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/ex-parte-crow-dog
"Ex Parte Crow Dog." American Eras. . Retrieved January 17, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/history/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/ex-parte-crow-dog
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Ex Parte Crow Dog
EX PARTE CROW DOG,
EX PARTE CROW DOG, 109 U.S. 556 (1883). Following the establishment of reservations in the nineteenth century, Indian groups faced new and difficult challenges. Living as "wards" of the U.S. government, Indians experienced the unprecedented intrusion of the federal government into their everyday lives. Indian families, social relations, cultural practices, and economic subsistence patterns became targeted by institutions of the state. The legal basis for state intervention into Indian community life remained unclear, however, and when one Brule Lakota, Crow Dog, was accused and convicted of murdering another, Spotted Tail, he appealed his death sentence. ("Murder" meant something different to the Lakota than to the Euro-Americans.) Arguing that the territory governments of South Dakota lacked the jurisdiction to prosecute, try, and convict members of Indian tribes, Crow Dog's case reached the Supreme Court. Since Indian affairs fall solely in the hands of the federal government, as outlined by the U.S. Constitution and nineteenth-century Court rulings, the Supreme Court overturned Crow Dog's conviction and ruled that the territory government did not have the jurisdiction to intervene into criminal matters among Indians. As Crow Dog was released, cries for additional reform measures among Indian communities arose among Indian policy advocates. A series of Indian policy reform acts followed that located Indian crimes outside the jurisdiction of state and local governments and solely in the federal judicial system. Ex Parte Crow Dog reinforced the supremacy of the federal government over Indian affairs.
Price, Monroe E. Law and the American Indian: Readings, Notes, and Cases. New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1973.
See alsoIndian Policy, U.S.
"Ex Parte Crow Dog." Dictionary of American History. . Encyclopedia.com. (January 17, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/history/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/ex-parte-crow-dog
"Ex Parte Crow Dog." Dictionary of American History. . Retrieved January 17, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/history/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/ex-parte-crow-dog