Matter of Heff, 197 U.S. 488 (1905)

Author: U.S. Supreme Court

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Matter of Heff, 197 U.S. 488 (1905)

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Matter of Heff

No. 14

Argued January 9-10, 1905
Decided April 10, 1905
197 U.S. 488



The recognized relation between the government and the Indians is that of a superior and an inferior, whereby the latter is placed under the care of the former. The government, however, is under no constitutional obligation to continue the relationship of guardian and ward and may, at any time and in the manner that Congress shall determine, abandon the guardianship and leave the ward to assume and be subject to all the privileges and burdens of one sui juris.

In construing a statute affecting the relationship of the government and the Indians, it is not within the power of the courts to overrule the judgment of Congress. While there may be a presumption that no radical change of policy is intended, and courts may insist that a supposed purpose of Congress to change be made clear by its legislation; when that purpose is made clear, the question is at an end.

Under the act of February 8, 1887, 24 Stat. .88, an Indian who has received an allotment and patent for land is no longer a ward of the government, but a citizen of the United States and of the state in which he resides, and, as such, is not within the reach of Indian police regulations on the part of Congress, and this emancipation from federal control cannot be set aside without the consent of the Indian or the state, nor is it affected by the provisions in the act subjecting the land allotted to conditions against alienation and encumbrance, and guaranteeing him an interest in tribal or other property.

In the United States, there is a dual system of government, national and state, each of which is supreme within its own domain, and it is one of the chief functions of this Court to preserve the balance between them.

The general police power is reserved to the states subject to the limitation that it may not trespass on the rights and powers vested in the national government.

The regulation of the sale of intoxicating liquors is within the power of the state, and the license exacted by the national government is solely for revenue, and is not an attempted exercise of the police power.

The Act of January 30, 1897, 29 Stat. 50, prohibiting sales of liquors to Indians, is a police regulation, and does not apply to an allottee Indian who has become a citizen under the Act of February 8, 1887.

On October 15, 1904, petitioner was convicted in the District Court of the United States, District of Kansas, under an indictment charging that he did

unlawfully sell, give away, and dispose of certain malt, spirituous, and vinous liquors at the Town of Horton, in the County of Brown, in the State and district of Kansas, to John Butler, to-wit, two quarts of beer, more or less, and he, the said John Butler, being then and there an Indian, a member of the Kickapoo Tribe of Indians and a ward of the government, under the charge of O. C. Edwards, an Indian superintendent, contrary to the form of the statute in such case made and provided, and against the peace and dignity of the United States of America.

Upon such conviction, he was sentenced to imprisonment in the county jail of Shawnee County, Kansas, for a period of four months, and to pay a fine in the sum of $200 and the costs of the prosecution. The Court of Appeals of the Eighth Circuit having decided the question involved, Farrell v. United States, 110 F. 942, adversely to his contention, he presented this application for a writ of habeas corpus directly to this Court.

The Act of Congress, January 30, 1897, 29 Stat. 506, provides:

That any person who shall sell, give away, dispose of, exchange, or barter any malt, spirituous, or vinous liquor, including beer, ale, and wine, or any ardent or other intoxicating liquor of any kind whatsoever, or any essence, extract, bitters, preparation, compound, composition, or any article whatsoever, under any name, label, or brand, which produces intoxication, to any Indian to whom allotment of land has been made while the title to the same shall be held in trust by the government, or to any Indian a ward of the government under charge of any Indian superintendent or agent, or any Indian, including mixed bloods, over whom the government, through its departments, exercises guardianship, . . . shall be punished by imprisonment for not less than sixty days, and by a fine of not less than one hundred dollars for the first offense and not less than two hundred dollars for each offense thereafter.

The Act of Congress, February 8, 1887, 24 Stat. 388, is entitled

An Act to Provide for the Allotment of Lands in Severalty to Indians on the Various Reservations, and to Extend the Protection of the Laws of the United States and the Territories over the Indians, and for Other Purposes.

Section 1 of that act provides:

That in all cases where any tribe or band of Indians has been, or shall hereafter be, located upon any reservation created for their use, either by treaty stipulation or by virtue of an act of Congress or executive order setting apart the same for their use, the President of the United States be, and he hereby is, authorized, whenever in his opinion any reservation or any part thereof of such Indians is advantageous for agricultural and grazing purposes, to cause said reservation, or any part thereof, to be surveyed, or resurveyed if necessary, and to allot the lands in said reservation in severalty to any Indian located thereon in quantities as follows:

SEC. 4. That where any Indian not residing upon a reservation, or for whose tribe no reservation has been provided by treaty, act of Congress, or executive order, shall make settlement upon any surveyed or unsurveyed lands of the United States not otherwise appropriated, he or she shall be entitled, upon application to the local land office for the district in which the lands are located, to have the same allotted to him or her, and to his or her children, in quantities and manner as provided in this act for Indians residing upon reservations, and when such settlement is made upon unsurveyed lands, the grant to such Indians shall be adjusted upon the survey of the lands so as to conform thereto, and patents shall be issued to them for such lands in the manner and with the restrictions as herein provided.

Section 5 reads:

That upon the approval of the allotments provided for in this act by the Secretary of the Interior, he shall cause patents to issue therefor in the name of the allottees, which patents shall be of the legal effect, and declare that the United States does and will hold the land thus allotted, for the period of twenty-five years, in trust for the sole use and benefit of the Indian to whom such allotment shall have been made, or, in case of his decease, of his heirs according to the laws of the state or territory where such land is located, and that, at the expiration of said period, the United States will convey the same by patent to said Indian, or his heirs as aforesaid, in fee, discharged of said trust and free of all charge or encumbrance whatsoever; Provided, That the President of the United States may in any case, in his discretion, extend the period. And if any conveyance shall be made of the lands set apart and allotted as herein provided, or any contract made touching the same, before the expiration of the time above mentioned, such conveyance or contract shall be absolutely null and void.

Section 6 is as follows:

That upon the completion of said allotments and the patenting of the land to said allottees, each and every member of the respective bands or tribes of Indians to whom allotments have been made shall have the benefit of, and be subject to, the laws, both civil and criminal, of the state or territory in which they may reside, and no territory shall pass or enforce any law denying any such Indian within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the law. And every Indian born within the territorial limits of the United States to whom allotments shall have been made under the provisions of this act, or under any law or treaty, and every Indian born within the territorial limits of the United States who has voluntarily taken up, within said limits, his residence separate and apart from any tribe of Indians therein, and has adopted the habits of civilized life, is hereby declared to be a citizen of the United States, and is entitled to all the rights, privileges, and immunities of such citizens, whether said Indian has been or not, by birth or otherwise, a member of any tribe of Indians within the territorial limits of the United States, without in any manner impairing or otherwise affecting the right of any such Indian to tribal or other property.


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Chicago: U.S. Supreme Court, "Syllabus," Matter of Heff, 197 U.S. 488 (1905) in 197 U.S. 488 197 U.S. 489–197 U.S. 497. Original Sources, accessed May 28, 2023,

MLA: U.S. Supreme Court. "Syllabus." Matter of Heff, 197 U.S. 488 (1905), in 197 U.S. 488, pp. 197 U.S. 489–197 U.S. 497. Original Sources. 28 May. 2023.

Harvard: U.S. Supreme Court, 'Syllabus' in Matter of Heff, 197 U.S. 488 (1905). cited in 1905, 197 U.S. 488, pp.197 U.S. 489–197 U.S. 497. Original Sources, retrieved 28 May 2023, from