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Circuit Court Opinions:

Associate Justice Peter Vivian Daniel, United States v. Ragsdale (1847)

Associate Justice Peter Vivian Daniel (1841–1860)

United States v. Ragsdale, 27 F. Cas. 684 (C.C.D. Ark. 1847) (No. 16,113) [Ninth Circuit]

Like Alberty, Ragsdale involved the alleged murder in the Indian Territory of a white man by an Indian. The defendant denied the act but pleaded that even if the court found him guilty, he had been pardoned by the terms of an 1846 treaty between the United States and the Cherokee Nation. The Treaty of Washington, intended to put a stop to factional warfare among the Cherokee, provided that differences between the factions “are hereby settled and adjusted, and shall, as far as possible, be forgotten, and for ever buried in oblivion.” In pursuit of this goal, the treaty further provided that all crimes committed by one citizen of the Cherokee Nation against another were pardoned.

The defendant claimed that the victim was an adopted member of the Cherokee Nation by virtue of marrying a Cherokee woman and that the crime alleged, occurring before the treaty, came within its terms and was pardoned. Justice Daniel quoted Chief Justice Roger Taney’s 1846 Supreme Court opinion in United States v. Rogers to the effect that while a white man could not by adoption become an Indian, which was considered a racial classification, he may “become entitled to certain privileges in the tribe, and make himself amenable to their laws and usages.” The Treaty of Washington spoke not in terms of Indians, but of citizens of the Cherokee Nation. Finding the evidence to be clear that the decedent was a member of the Cherokee tribe, Daniel ruled that the crime had therefore been pardoned.

The treaty had been aimed “at the restoration of peace and harmony among the hostile parties of the Cherokee tribe,” Daniel noted. If the pardon provision, made with this goal in mind, were extended to native-born Cherokees, he asked, “why should it not also extend to adopted members of the tribe?” “After adoption they became members of the community, subject to all the burdens, and entitled to all the immunities of native born citizens or subjects.”