LONE WOLF v. HITCHCOCK
Lone Wolf was a Kiowa Indian chief, living in the Indian Territory created by the Medicine Lodge Treaty of 1867. A provision in the treaty required that three-fourths of the adult males in each of the Kiowa, Apache, and Comanche tribes agree to subsequent changes to the terms of the treaty. In 1892, Congress attempted to alter the reservation lands granted to the tribes. In enacting the relevant legislation, Congress substantively changed the terms of the treaty and opened 2 million acres of reservation lands to settlement by non-Indians. Lone Wolf filed a complaint on behalf of the three tribes in the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia, alleging that Congress' change violated the 1867 treaty. That court dismissed the case. The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit affirmed the decision. Lone Wolf and the tribes appealed to the Supreme Court.
Did Congress have the authority to substantively change the terms of the 1867 treaty and open the two million acres to settlement?
Yes. In a unanimous decision, the Court affirmed the Court of Appeals and upheld the Congressional action. The Court rejected the Indians' argument that Congress' action was a taking under the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment. Justice Edward D. White described the Indians as "the wards of the nation," and matters involving Indian lands were the sole jurisdiction of Congress. Congress therefore had the power to "abrogate the provisions of an Indian treaty," including the two million acre change. Justice John M. Harlan concurred in the judgment.