121. Stephens v. Cherokee Nation. May 15, 1899
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197 121. Stephens v. Cherokee Nation May 15, 1899 Suits brought against the determination of property rights by the Dawes Commission tested the constitutionality of the Curtis Act. The Supreme Court upheld the act in all its provisions. . . . . We repeat that in view of the paramount authority of Congress over the Indian tribes, and of the duties imposed on the Government by their condition of dependency, we cannot say that Congress could not empower the Dawes Commission to determine, in the manner provided, who were entitled to citizenship in each of the tribes and make out correct rolls of such citizens, an essential preliminary to effective action in promotion of the best interests of the tribes. It may be remarked that the legislation seems to recognize , especially the act of June 28, 1898, a distinction between admission to citizenship merely and the distribution of property to be subsequently made, as if there might be circumstances under which the right to a share in the latter would not necessarily follow from the concession of the former. But in any aspect, we are of opinion that the constitutionality of these acts in respect of the determination of citizenship cannot be successfully assailed on the ground of the impairment or destruction of vested rights. The lands and moneys of these tribes are public lands and public moneys, and are not held in individual ownership, and the assertion by any particular applicant that his right therein is so vested as to preclude inquiry into his status involves a contradiction in terms. The judgments in these cases were rendered before the passage of the act of June 28, 1898, commonly known as the Curtis Act, and necessarily the effect of that act was not considered. As, however, the provision for an appeal to this court was made after the passage of the act, some observations upon it are required, and, indeed, the inference is not unreasonable that a principal object intended to be secured by an appeal was the testing of the constitutionality of this act, and that may have had controlling weight in inducing the granting of the right to such appeal. The act is comprehensive and sweeping in its character, and notwithstanding the abstract of it in the statement prefixed to this opinion, we again call attention to its provisions . The act gave jurisdiction to the United States courts in the Indian Territory in their respective districts to try cases against those who claimed to hold lands and tenements as members of a tribe and whose membership was denied by the tribe, and authorized their removal from the same if the claim was disallowed ; and provided for the allotment of lands by the Dawes Commission among the citizens of any one of the tribes as shown by the roll of citizenship when fully completed as provided by law, and according to a survey also fully completed; and “that if the person to whom an allotment shall have been made shall be declared, upon appeal as herein provided for, by any of the courts of the United States in or for the aforesaid Territory, to have been illegally accorded rights of citizenship, and for that or any other reason declared to be not entitled to any allotment, he shall be ousted and ejected from said lands.” . . . For reasons already given we regard this act in general as not obnoxious to constitutional objection, but in so holding we do not intend to intimate any opinion as to the effect that changes made thereby, or by the agreements referred to, may have, if any, on the status of the several applicants, who are parties to these appeals. The elaborate opinions of the United States court in the Indian Territory . . . consider the subject in all its aspects, and set forth the various treaties, tribal constitutions and laws, and the action of many tribal courts, commissions and councils which assumed to deal with it, but we have not been called on to go into these matters, as our conclusion is that we are confined to the question of constitutionality merely. As we hold the entire legislation constitutional , the result is that all the Judgments must be affirmed. [174 U.S. Reports, 445, 488–89, 491–92.] ...