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U.S. Courts for the Indian Territory, 1889-1907

In 1889, Congress created a court to preside over the “Indian Territory” (25 Stat. 783), an area of land roughly corresponding with the modern state of Oklahoma (a small portion of modern Oklahoma was then included as a division of the Eastern District of Texas). The court had original jurisdiction over criminal matters not punishable by death or hard labor and civil matters to which at least one citizen of the United States was a party. The court could not hear cases that arose “between persons of Indian blood only.” (id., §6). The 1889 statute permitted Supreme Court review in civil cases with more than $1,000 in controversy. The Evarts Act of 1891 provided for appeals to either the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit or the Supreme Court “in the same manner and under the same regulations as from the circuit or district courts of the United States” (26 Stat. 826).  

The court was originally staffed by one judge, appointed by the President of the United States by and with the consent of the Senate, to a four year term. In 1895 the court’s membership was expanded to three judges and the area over which it had jurisdiction was divided into northern, central, and southern districts (28 Stat. 693). Under this statutory scheme, a quorum of two of the three judges could constitute a court of appeals. Judges could not hear appeals from cases over which they had presided at trial. Appeals from this court were, in turn, taken to the Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.

These courts were abolished in 1907, when Oklahoma attained statehood (34 Stat. 267, 275).