Letters Received by the Office of Indian Affairs, 1824-1881. NAID: 159715232. Records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, 1793 - 1999, Record Group 75. The National Archives at College Park, MD
About the U.S., Letters Received by the Office of Indian Affairs, 1824-1881
General collection information
This collection contains letters received by the Office of Indian Affairs between 1824 and 1881. Formed in 1824, the Office of Indian Affairs (now known as the Bureau of Indian Affairs or BIA) was created to broker relations between the U.S. government and Native American people.
The collection is organized alphabetically by superintendency or agency and then chronologically by date. Superintendencies oversaw geographic areas, while agencies worked with specific tribal nations.
Using this collection
Records in the collection may include the following information:
When researching Native American ancestors, knowing the history of your family member or members—especially their tribal affiliation and where they lived—will be helpful when using this collection. If you don’t already have that information, ask family members. Are there any personal documents available? Vital records, marriage licenses, journals, and photos can all provide clues to aid your research.
This collection offers an insider's view of U.S. government policies regarding Native Americans and how those policies affected real people. Letters may have been written by officials within the department, or by politicians, private citizens or tribal members affected by BIA decisions.
Collection in context
Letters in this collection date from the early- to late-1800s, a period of time when U.S. policies towards Native American tribes and peoples were especially violent. Contents of the letters may address everyday issues, but they may also reference important historical events.
For example, in 1831, the Cherokee Nation sought an injunction against the State of Georgia to protect its land rights. The Supreme Court ruled that the Cherokee Nation was a dependent ward and, therefore, had no jurisdiction. The Supreme Court later reversed its decision and declared the Cherokee Nation a sovereign state, but President Andrew Jackson refused to uphold the ruling. That same year, President Jackson began forcibly removing tens of thousands of Cherokee, Creek, Chickasaw, Choctaw, and Seminole from their lands in what would come to be known as the Trail of Tears. The practice of forced removal then became integral to U.S. federal Indian policy for the next 20 years.
Beginning during this time period, the Office of Indian Affairs also oversaw the implementation of boarding schools for Native American children. Hundreds of thousands of Indigenous children were taken from their families and forced to assimilate, often suffering abuse, neglect, and starvation in the process. Tragically, many of these children never made it back to their communities.
National Archives. "Letters Received by the Office of Indian Affairs, 1824-1880." Last modified April 12, 2019. https://catalog.archives.gov/id/159715232.
White, Cody. "Letters Received by the Office of Indian Affairs, 1824-1881 - Live and in the Catalog!" History Hub. Last Modified March 27, 2020. https://historyhub.history.gov/community/american-indian-records/blog/2020/03/27/letters-received-by-the-office-of-indian-affairs-1824-1881-live-and-in-the-catalog.
U.S. Department of the Interior, Press Releases. “Secretary Haaland Announces Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative. Last modified June 23, 2021. https://www.doi.gov/pressreleases/secretary-haaland-announces-federal-indian-boarding-school-initiative.
U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs. "Genealogy." Last modified January 30, 2020. https://www.bia.gov/bia/ois/tgs/genealogy.
U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs. "Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA)." Last modified December 2, 2019. https://www.bia.gov/bia.
State of Oregon. "Cherokee Nation v. Georgia." Last modified June 2, 2020. https://www.oregon.gov/ode/students-and-family/equity/NativeAmericanEducation/Documents/SB13%20Curriculum/SC%20Summary%207_Cherokee%20Nation%20v%20Georgia.pdf.