Page images

Mr. STIGLER. We have a number of witnesses from the State of Oklahoma. The three bills that we take up this morning concern matters affecting the eastern part of Oklahoma, Indian titles to land.

We will hear first from Mr. W. F. Semple, an attorney of Tulsa, Okla.

For the purpose of the record, will you please state your name and where you are from and your connection, Mr. Semple?



Mr. SEMPLE. My name is W. F. Semple and I am attorney at law at Tulsa, Okla. I am the general counsel for the Deep Rock Oil Corporation and I have functioned in that capacity for the past 13 years.

The Deep Rock Oil Corporation has property over the entire area which constitutes the former lands of the Five Civilized Tribes, which this bill affects.

I am speaking not only for my own company but I am authorized to speak for 'that association that is commonly known as the MidContinental Oil & Gas Association. That association is composed, as some of you members probably know, of all the oil producers, large and small, in the Mid-Continent area, and I think now it has spread to other areas; but the organization speaks for the industry as a whole, and I have been asked by the association to voice the sentiments of the association with reference to this particular bill and as to the other bills that are set for hearing here today.

Mr. STIGLER. Will you please state, Mr. Semple, the purpose of this bill and why it was introduced?

Mr. SEMPLE. Mr. Chairman, the very obvious purpose of this bill is to cure the defects and remedy the disastrous situation brought about in the Five Civilized Tribes area by the decision of the Supreme Court of the United States in the case known as Hellard v. United States, reported in 88 Law edition at page 1155.

Mr. STIGLER. For the information of some members of the committee who may not know what the Five Civilized Tribes area con-stitutes; will you please state where it is located?

Mr. SEMPLE. In response to that inquiry, Mr. Chairman, I will say that the Five Civilized Tribes area takes in that part of Oklahoma wbich is practically the eastern half of the State. It leaves out all of the area west of the Rock Island Railroad, if you are familiar with that railroad which runs through the State. It is practically one-half of the State of Oklahoma.

Excluding the Osage Nation, the Five Civilized Tribes were allotted lands in what has been commonly known as the Indian Territory, which is practically the eastern half of the State of Oklahoma. The larger private domain in the area is the Cherokee Tribe's, which is located in the northeastern part of the State. I would say the next largest domain is the Choctaw domain, which is located in the southeastern part of the State; and then we have the Chickasaw, which is west of the Choctaw; and then the small ones of the Seminoles and the Creeks.

Oil has been developed in large quantities and at great expense on land of all of the tribes; and, as you know, oil was discovered in the old Creek and Seminole areas, so that the oil industry as a whole is vitally interested in this legislation, as much so as any other institution or group of people in the State of Oklahoma.

The School and Land Department of the State of Oklahoma have a representative here and he will also speak for the Government.

The school-land department is the largest loaning agency in the State of Oklahoma, and loans from a fund that was originally allocated to the State to take care of the public schools when the State was brought into the Union.

I am not attempting to give definite figures, but Mr. Marlin, who is here, will give definite figures on that. That school fund now, I think, aggregates about $80,000,000 and it covers loans on farm lands in eastern Oklahoma; which, of course, comprise and include these particular lands that are involved in the so-called Hellard decision. Does that answer your question?

Mr. STIGLER. Yes, sir.

Mr. Semple. Now to come back to the basic facts that are involved in this Hellard case, I might state to the committee the facts in the case and give you this preliminary history.

Originally the Choctaws and Chickasaws were alone. As I said a moment ago, the Choctaw domain was in the southeastern part of the State of Oklahoma and they were the first tribe to give up their tribal government and accept lands there. First a treaty was made with the Choctaws in 1897. That was the first treaty made by any of the Five Civilized Tribes with the Government looking toward the breaking up of the tribal domain and the making of allotments in severalty.

Then we had the supplemental treaty which also further supplemented the original treaty and took care of provisions with reference to restrictions in regard to the alienation of land. There were some restrictions in supplemental treaties. Then, after that program of allotments was finished—I am using the Choctaw Nation simply as an example--after the program of allotments was completed, Congress passed the act of May 27, 1908. That was the first act of Congress that contained any general, comprehensive scheme with reference to the alienation of the land. It contained restrictive clauses against those Indians of the Five Civilized Tribes who were deemed by the Government to be not sufficiently prepared for the responsibilities of citizenship, citing a break-down of restricted Indians which applied to all the Five Tribes. In other words, any Indian, from a halfblood on up to fullblood, they were restricted; and from halfbloods down they were unrestricted.

After the act of 1908 was passed, the next act of Congress that dealt with the subject of alienation was the act that is here involved in this case that is commonly known as the Partition Act, passed in July 1918.

Now in the act of 1908 Congress gave to the probate court of the State of Oklahoma absolute and unlimited jurisdiction over the estates

The Supreme Court of the United States, in the case of Harris v. Bell (254 U. S. 103, 65 Law edition 159), and other cases that I might cite, has held that grant of jurisdiction to the probate courts in Oklahoma was complete and unlimited, and under that grant the

of men.

probate courts had jurisdiction over the estates of restricted and incompetent persons and minors; but there was a question raised immediately as to this general restriction act after it was passed, as to whether or not the State courts had jurisdiction in partition proceedings, as a means of distributing an estate that was in process of probate, or partitioning a man's estate in district court proceedings.

The Supreme Court of the United States found, in the case of Coleman v. BattiestI can supply the citation for you—Mr. Justice Rainey, former chief justice of the State, took that case to the Supreme Court. That was the first case where they held that the State courts did not have jurisdiction to partition lands among restricted heirs of members of the Five Civilized Tribes. Up to that time the lawyers and the courts generally in Oklahoma were in doubt as to whether or not the district courts, under the general grant of jurisdiction to the State courts by the act of 1908, had the power to partition lands among full-blood Indian heirs; so that after this decision was rendered in the Coleman v. Battiest case, the matter was brought to the attention of Congress. As I say, lawyers and the courts had been ir doubt about the matter prior to the decision, many taking the view that the State courts had that right under the enabling act and the act of 1908.

Subsequently the Federal land bank at Wichita, Kans., and the State-school land department both declined to make loans on lands where the title was based on partition proceedings, and it was apparent that

many titles were affected by that decision. In fact the bill that has been so interpreted by the Supreme Court of the United States was drafted by the general counsel of the Skelly Oil Co., who was Mr. W. P. Z. German. He drafted this bill and sent it to the House Committee on Indian Affairs. Mr. Carter of Oklahoma was then chairman of the committee and he introduced that bill in Congress and it was passed. It contained basically just two provisions:

It, first, gave the State courts jurisdiction to determine heirs. That was contained in the first section; and

In the second section it gave the courts of Oklahoma, both county and district, jurisdiction to partition lands among the Indians of full blood.

Nobody ever entertained the slightest doubt but that under that grant of jurisdiction in 1918—no one had any doubt but that the State courts had jurisdiction to partition land among full-blood Indians; that is, until the Supreme Court decided this case of Hellard v. United States, in which they held State courts were without jurisdiction if the United States Government is not a party to the proceedings. The decision of the United States Supreme Court in the Hellard case practically nullifies the statutes that were passed in 1918.

There is no difference between the grant of authority conferred upon the State courts by the act of 1918 and the grant of authority to the county courts in probate matters found in the act of 1908. Section 6 of the act of 1908, by which the county courts of Oklahoma acquired jurisdiction, authorized a sale of lands of full-blood minors, and reads like this:

That the persons and property of minors or allottees of the Five Civilized Tribes shall, except as otherwise specifically provided by law, be subject to the jurisdiction of the probate courts of the State of Oklahoma.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

Now the act of 1918, to which I have referred, and which is the Partition Act, I think it is modeled exactly after the language that was in the 1908 act, reads as follows: ! That the lands of full-blood members of any of the Five Civilized Tribes are hereby made subject to the laws in the State of Oklahoma providing for the partition of real estate.

Now no lawyer in Oklahoma, no judge that I ever heard of, no courts, questioned the grant of such authority contained in that act until it was questioned in the Hellard case. The Supreme Court of the United States in the Harris v. Bell case construed the language in the manner that I have read here in question and held specifically and emphatically that the grant of jurisdiction was complete; but in construing the second act, the act of 1910, the Supreme Court of the United States placed this interpretation upon the act. They said while this act was a grant of jurisdiction to the State courts, yet it was predicated upon the limitation that the United States had to be a party in the proceedings; and that is what has brought about the status that we are confronted with in Oklahoma, and insofar as we are permitted on Indian lands to pass title.

Of course, the oil companies cannot function in the Indian country where this question would likely arise. It is a pressing thing. It is affecting the investment not only of the oil companies, but of others who are confronted with the question as to whether or not they have titles as a result of this Supreme Court decision.

Mr. MUNDT. Mr. Chairman, I would like to ask the witness whether in any of these cases that we are considering the Indian has been defrauded by the white man out of some of his rich oil lands; and if there have been such cases of defrauding the Indian by the white man, would that involve titles which would be covered in H. R. 1200.

Mr. SEMPLE. Congressman, I do not think there are. Of course, you would have this situation in any event: If fraud or lack of consideration enters into the case, that would constitute a step toward something which ought to be corrected; but, of course, that would not affect the situation to which I am directing your attention.

Mr. Mundt. I remember when we had this same legislation before the committee in the last Congress a considerable amount of time was spent in conference with Members of the Senate and Members of the House, trying to agree upon language which would protect the Indian in case there was such fraud.

Mr. SEMPLE. Yes, sir.

Mr. MUNDT. And any language which was satisfactory to the committee was unsatisfactory to the people representing the Oklahoma citizens down there.

Mr. SEMPLE. Yes, sir.

Mr. Mundt. And no language that was satisfactory was developed, not because they wanted to defraud the Indians but because they considered it would open it up to endless litigation. I notice that in the discussion this morning there had been nothing whatsoever said in regard to safeguarding the Indians after some of these titles have been transferred, with inadequate or inequitable compensation for the titles.

Mr. SEMPLE. Yes, sir.

Mr. MUNDT. I feel there should be something inserted in the bill to protect the Indians in those cases that we have heard about so many times where the white man has beat the Indian out of his equity.



Mr. SEMPLE. Yes, sir.

Mr. Mundt. And I would hate to be a party to validating by act of Congress such improper acts.

Mr. SEMPLE. Yes, sir; I appreciate your position, Congressman; and, as far as I am concerned, I would be willing to insert in this bill the plain saving clause which has been inserted in the other bill. In other words, there could be inserted in this bill a provision which would say in substance that the question of the adequacy of consideration on contracts or frauds and related matters are still left open and are untouched by this legislation. That could be drafted and inserted in the bill.

Mr. MUNDT. I have in mind inserting in the law something like that.

Mr. SEMPLE. The oil companies and the State land department, make loans and they want a title that is merchantable. They want a title that is good. If the Indian is defrauded, of course, that should be a basis for setting aside the title, and it is a basis for setting aside title.

The only thing I am attempting to direct my remarks to today is that the Supreme Court of the United States, the court of last resort in these matters, in interpreting an act of Congress has now given it an interpretation that nobody in the country, not the court of appeals or the district court, have ever given a like interpretation to it.

Mr. ROBERTSON. When did the United States Supreme Court render that decision.

Mr. SEMPLE. The decision in the case of Hellard v. United States was rendered in May of 1944. I think it is found in 88 Law Edition at page 1155.

Mr. ROBERTSON. The purpose of this legislation, then, is to cure that situation before the courts.

Mr. SEMPLE. All this is saying is that notwithstanding the restrictions that have been found by the Supreme Court, that no order, judgment, or decree in partition made, entered, or rendered subsequent to the effective date of June 14, 1918, and prior to the effective date of this act, and involving inherited lands of enrolled and unenrolled members of the Five Civilized Tribes, shall be held null, void, invalid, or inoperative, nor shall any conveyance of any land pursuant to such order, judgment, or decree be held null, void, invalid, or inoperative because the United States was not a party to such order, judgment, or decree, and so forth. In other words, this law is validating State court judgments and district court judgments and conveyances involving Indian lands of the Five Civilized Tribes in the State of Oklahoma.

Mr. ROBERTSON. Where does the difficulty arise in your State following this Supreme Court decision? You have remarked to the effect that no one knows where they are. Are people reluctant to take the decision of the court?

Mr. SEMPLE. Congressman, here is judicial history of this partition statute. It reached the circuit court of appeals in the case of BondToms.

It was decided about 5 years ago by the circuit court of appeals and the same question was raised in that case and Mr. Justice Bratton rendered the opinion and said in regard to the grant of jurisdiction in the 1918 act that the courts had unlimited power to partition the

« PreviousContinue »