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The Dawes Act of 1887 (also known as the General Allotment Act or the Dawes Severalty Act of 1887),[1][2] authorized the President of the United States to survey Native American tribal land and divide it into allotments for individual Native Americans. Those who accepted allotments and lived separately from the tribe would be granted United States citizenship. The Dawes Act was amended in 1891, in 1898 by the Curtis Act, and again in 1906 by the Burke Act.

The Act was named for its creator, Senator Henry Laurens Dawes of Massachusetts. The objectives of the Dawes Act were to abolish tribal and communal land ownership of the tribes into individual land ownership rights in order to transfer lands under Native American control to white settlers and stimulate assimilation of them into mainstream American society, and thereby lift individual Native Americans out of poverty. Individual household ownership of land and subsistence farming on the European-American model was seen as an essential step. The act provided that the government would classify as "excess" those Indian reservation lands remaining after allotments, and sell those lands on the open market, allowing purchase and settlement by non-Native Americans.

The Dawes Commission, set up under an Indian Office appropriation bill in 1893, was created to try to persuade the Five Civilized Tribes to agree to allotment plans. (They had been excluded from the Dawes Act by their treaties.) This commission registered the members of the Five Civilized Tribes on what became known as the Dawes Rolls.

The Curtis Act of 1898 amended the Dawes Act to extend its provisions to the Five Civilized Tribes; it required abolition of their governments, allotment of communal lands to people registered as tribal members, and sale of lands declared surplus, as well as dissolving tribal courts. This completed the extinguishment of tribal land titles in Indian Territory, preparing it to be admitted to the Union as the state of Oklahoma.

During the ensuing decades, the Five Civilized Tribes sold off 90 million acres of former communal lands to non-Natives. In addition, many individuals, unfamiliar with land ownership, became the target of speculators and criminals, were stuck with allotments that were too small for profitable farming, and lost their household lands. Tribe members also suffered from the breakdown of the social structure of the tribes.

During the Great Depression, the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration supported passage on June 18, 1934 of the US Indian Reorganization Act (also known as the Wheeler-Howard Law). It ended land allotment and created a "New Deal" for Native Americans, renewing their rights to reorganize and form their self-governments.[3]

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Toppenish owes a significant part of its existence to a woman with foresight.

Josephine Louise Bowzer Lillie Parker’s decision to subdivide a portion of her allotment of land on the Yakama Nation reservation opened the door to non-Native American development, and earned her the title “Mother of Toppenish.”

Parker was born May 8, 1863, in Rockland, across the Columbia River from The Dalles, Ore., to Joseph and Sophia Bowzer. Her father had come west to the California gold fields in 1849, and later moved to Oregon to work in timber.

Her mother was a member of the Yakama Nation. When Parker turned 3, her family moved to Ahtanum Valley, where her father homesteaded and established the Potlatch Hole, one of the first trading posts in the Valley.

It also served as a post office. In 1878, the family moved to what was then known as Yakima City — today’s Union Gap — where her father opened a livery stable. Parker helped her father in the business, and met her first husband, a stagecoach driver named Nevada Lillie.

In the 1880s, the federal government announced that Yakama Nation members would be eligible to receive land allotments of 40 to 160 acres on the reservation. With the Northern Pacific Railway coming into the area, Parker and her husband moved to Toppenish, staking out land a mile to the east of the Toppenish depot.

Families could claim land through “squatter’s rights” by occupying it. In addition to a house, Parker and her husband built a store with living quarters in the back and ran a post office out of it.

With statehood, it was announced that allotments would be awarded as soon as surveying crews completed their work. Parker’s family moved to the west side of the depot, 
building another store and 
post office on the 80-acre tract of allotted land she had been given. They also built a larger home to accommodate their growing family — four daughters and two sons — between Division Street and South Toppenish Avenue. Some accounts describe the 12-room, two-story home as one of the grandest in Toppenish.

Parker and Lillie divorced in 1900, and Parker took her children to Portland to get a better education than was available in the Lower Valley.

Parker was the first of the Yakama to gain full title to her allotment. With that title, she could sell the land to non-
Indians, which she did in 1905, subdividing 40 acres.

For two years, the lots, sold at $25 to $150 an acre — $692 to $4,153 in today’s money — were the only land that non-Yakamas could buy in Toppenish. It formed the nucleus of the city, which was incorporated in 1907.

A year later, she married her second husband, Lewis Parker, and moved back to Toppenish in 1910. They divorced in 1931.

Parker had diabetes and was among the first people to test insulin treatment. She was asked to keep meticulous records of what she ate, including weighing her food, which she did faithfully.

Her efforts, along with others in the test group, helped improve treatment of the disease.

In 1931, Parker became the first president of the Yakima Valley Historical Society, and set to work on compiling her own history. But that was not completed, as she died Jan. 7, 1932.

Her funeral service at the Methodist Church in Toppenish was attended by hundreds of people. She is buried next to her father in Yakima’s Tahoma Cemetery. One of Toppenish’s famous murals commemorates her and her role in the city’s formation.

Parker’s daughter, Maud Bolin, went on to become the first Native American woman in the state to earn a pilot’s license. She also was a rodeo star and donated land for a hospital and park in Toppenish.

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