This phrase usually brings to
mind the southeastern half of the present state of Oklahoma, one of the Twin
Territories that were admitted to the Union as a single state in 1907.
Territory actually existed under a formal Territorial Government for only a very brief
time, but the phrase has also been used to describe many
different regions down through the years as westward expansion changed the
face of the Nation.
Historically, the older term "Indian Country" is actually
a more useful description. I make no attempt here to track every
encroachment and every land cession, only to depict general boundaries as they
existed at different times. I believe this is enough to show how
Tribes and Nations from such varied parts of the country ended up in what is
More specific migration paths can be found in exploring
the appropriate First Nation
Histories and the individual land cessions that are covered on most state pages.
Click on thumbnail map to see a larger
In the early 1700s, Britain controlled the
eastern coast (shown in blue), while France held the Mississippi Valley (shown
in olive green) and Spain had Florida and
the Great Southwest (shown in yellow). Only the British displaced the natives with
their settlements, so in this period everything that isn't blue was
generally considered to be "Indian Country".
At the Treaty of Paris in 1763, France ceded her land east of
the Mississippi to England. King George III issued the Indian Proclamation Line that ran
along the crest of the Appalachian Mountains, creating the first official Indian
Country. It extended from the Appalachians to the Mississippi and south to
the Spanish lands.
The British then proceeded to negotiate
treaties and acquire lands for future settlements. By 1768
the Ft. Stanwix Treaty opened all lands south of the Ohio to the mouth of the
|After the American
Revolution, the new Treaty of Paris of 1783
officially revoked the Indian
Proclamation Line, recognizing both intervening land cessions and the settlements that had already
encroached across the Appalacians into the Ohio Valley. Natural
barriers, like the Ohio River, were again used as boundaries between
white settlements and Indian Country.
||After the Louisiana
Purchase in 1803, there was a movement to make the Mississippi River a
natural barrier, with Indian Country to the west and everything east to
be opened to settlement. This map shows the logic of the proposed division.
||A period of rapid
westward expansion followed and the line between white settlements and
Indian Country was in a state of rapid flux. By 1810
land cessions had extended west of the Mississippi.
Although they were not organized as a territory, by policy the western
lands were reserved for resettlement of eastern tribes.
||The Indian Trade and
Intercourse Act of 1834 created an Indian
Territory that included all United States territory west of the
Mississippi, except the states of Louisiana and Missouri and the
Territory of Arkansas (shown in red). It
also included est of the Mississippi in present-day Florida, Michigan,
Wisconsin and Minnesota to which
Indian Title had not been extinguished (these small isolates are not shown
||By 1854, Indian Territory
covered only the area west of Arkansas and Missouri, from the Red River to
the Missouri River, and west to the 100th Meridian. The Cherokee,
Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole occupied all of what is now
Oklahoma, except the panhandle. Others had been relocated to what
would later become Kansas and Nebraska.
|After the Civil War, the
Five Nations were forced to cede their western lands and tribes from the
Great Plains were relocated there. By 1876, with the admission of Kansas
and Nebraska to the Union, Indian Territory had shrunk to what is now
the state of Oklahoma, excluding the panhandle.
||With the passage of the
General Allotment Act and the creation of Oklahoma Territory, by 1889 Indian Territory had shrunk to its final form: the Five
Nations (Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek and Seminole) and the
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