|Many Indians themselves sought to abolish the pagan practices which|
hindered moral reform. The "Rules for Indian Courts" - which provided
just, Christian laws - was a means to help remedy this problem.
In 1883, the U. S. established the Courts of Indian Offenses to provide Indian Country with just, Christian laws and to ban its defiling pagan practices. Pro-Christian Indians were appointed as judges to enforce the laws. In August 27, 1892 these laws were reissued with modifications.
The 1892 Rules for Indian Courts includes prohibitions of such Indian practices as ritual dances, practices of medicine men, sexual immorality, and polygamy. Restraining the devilish pagan rites was especially considered important to helping the Indians; as one Arizona agent reports in 1882:
[T]he great evils in the way of their ultimate civilization lies in these dances. The dark superstitions and unhallowed rites of a heathenism as gross as that of India or Central Africa still infects them with its insidious poison, which, unless replaced by Christian civilization, must sap their very life blood.
|Pro-Christian Indians were appointed |
as judges to enforce the "Rules
for Indian Courts."
Many of the agencies are without law of any kind, and the necessity for some rule of government on the reservations grows more and more apparent each day. If it is the purpose of the Government to civilize the Indians, they must be compelled to desist from the savage and barbarous practices that are calculated to continue them in savagery, no matter what exterior influences are brought to bear on them. Very many of the progressive Indians have become fully alive to the pernicious influences of these heathenish practices indulged in by their people, and have sought to abolish them; in such efforts they have been aided by their missionaries, teachers, and agents, but this has been found impossible even with the aid thus given. The Government furnishes the teachers, and the charitable people contribute to the support of missionaries, and much time, labor, and money is yearly expended for their elevation, and yet a few non-progressive, degraded Indians are allowed to exhibit before the young and susceptible children all the debauchery, diabolism, and savagery of the worst state of the Indian race. Every man familiar with Indian life will bear witness to the pernicious influence of these savage rites and heathenish customs.
Whether or not every detail conforms to biblical civil law, much of it does, such as the prohibitions of idolatrous, pagan practices (although the punishments for such practices may need more conformity to Scripture). Also significant are the prohibitions of sexual immorality and theft, and the requirement of judges to be of good moral character.
|The Rules for Indian Courts banned the practices of the|
medicine man (above), whose pagan rituals contributed
to keeping Indians darkened in superstition.
Rules for Indian Courts
1. Districting of reservation. - Whenever it shall appear to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs that the best interests of the Indians on any Indian reservation will be subserved thereby, such reservation shall be divided into three or more districts, each of which shall be given a name by which it shall thereafter be designated and known. As far as practicable the county lines established by the laws of the State or Territory within which the reservation is located shall be observed in making the division, provided that each district shall include, as nearly as can be, an equal proportion of the total Indian population on the reservation. All mixed bloods and white persons who are actually and lawfully members, whether by birth or adoption, of any tribe residing on the reservation shall be counted as Indians. Where the lands of the reservation have not been surveyed or where it is not practicable to observe the State or Territory county lines on the reservation, the lines of the district shall be defined by such natural boundaries as will enable the Indians to readily ascertain the district in which they reside.
2. Appointment of judges. - There shall be appointed by the Commissioner of Indian Affairs for each district a person from among the Indians of the reservation who shall by styled “judge of the Indian court.” The judges must be men of intelligence, integrity, and good moral character, and preference shall be given to Indians who read and write English readily, wear citizens’ dress, and engage in civilized pursuits, and no person shall be eligible to such appointment who is a polygamist. Each judge shall be appointed for the term of one year, subject, however, to earlier removal from office for cause by the Commissioner of Indian Affairs; but no  judge shall be removed before the expiration of his term of office until the charges against him, with proofs, shall have been presented in writing to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, and until he, shall have been furnished a copy thereof and given opportunity to reply in his own defense, which reply shall also be in writing and be accompanied by such counter proofs as he may desire to submit.
3. District courts. - Each judge shall reside within the district to which he may be assigned and shall keep an office open at some convenient point to be designated by the Commissioner of Indian Affairs; and he shall hold court at least one day in each week for the purpose of investigating and trying any charge of offense or misdemeanor over which the judges of the Indian court have jurisdiction as provided in these regulations: Provided, That appeals from his judgment or decision may be taken to the Indian court in general term, at which all the judges on the reservation shall sit together.
4. Offenses. - For the purpose of these regulations the following shall be deemed to constitute offenses, and the judges of the Indian court shall severally have jurisdiction to try and punish for the same when committed within their respective districts.
(a) Dances, etc. - Any Indian who shall engage in the sun dance, scalp dance, or war dance, or any other similar feast, so called, shall be deemed guilty of an offense, and upon conviction thereof shall be punished for the first offense by the withholding of his rations for not exceeding ten days or by imprisonment for not exceeding ten days; and for any subsequent offense under this clause he shall be punished by withholding his rations for not less than ten nor more than thirty days, or by imprisonment for not less than ten nor more than thirty days.
(b) Plural or polygamous marriages. - Any Indian under the supervision of a United States Indian agent who shall hereafter contract or enter into any plural or polygamous marriage shall be deemed guilty of an offense, and upon conviction thereof shall pay a fine of not less than twenty nor more than fifty dollars, or work at hard labor for not less than twenty nor more than sixty days, or both, at the discretion of the court; and so long as the person shall continue in such unlawful relation he shall forfeit all right to receive rations from the Government.
(c) Practices of medicine men. - Any Indian who shall engage in the practices of so-called medicine men, or who shall resort to any artifice or device to keep the Indians of the reservation from adopting and following civilized habits and pursuits, or shall adopt any means to prevent the attendance of children at school, or shall use any arts of a conjurer to prevent Indians from abandoning their barbarous rites and customs, shall be deemed to be guilty of an offense, and upon conviction thereof, for the first offense shall be imprisoned for not less than ten nor more than thirty days: Provided, That for any subsequent conviction for such offense the maximum term of imprisonment shall not exceed six months.
(d) Destroying property of other Indians. - Any Indian who shall willfully or wantonly destroy or injure, or, with intent to destroy or injure or appropriate, shall take and carry away any property of any other Indian or Indians, shall, without reference to its value, be deemed guilty of an offense, and upon conviction shall be compelled to return the property to the owner or owners, or, in case the property shall have been lost, injured, or destroyed, the estimated full value of the same; and in addition he shall be imprisoned for not exceeding thirty days; ant the plea that the person convicted or the owner of the property in question was at the time a “mourner,” and that thereby the taking, destroying, or injuring of the property was justified by the customs or rites of the tribe, shall not be accepted as a sufficient defense.
(e) Immorality. - Any Indian who shall pay, or offer to pay, money or other thing of value to any female Indian, or to her friends or relatives, or to any other person, for the purpose of living or cohabiting with any such female Indian not his wife, shall be deemed guilty of an offense, and upon conviction thereof shall forfeit all right to Government rations for not exceeding ninety days, or be imprisoned for not exceeding ninety days, or both, in the discretion of the court. And any Indian who shall receive, or offer to receive, money or other valuable thing in consideration for allowing, consenting to, or practicing such immorality, shall be punished in the same manner as providing for the punishment of the party paying, or offering to pay, said consideration.
(f) Intoxication and the introduction of intoxicants. - Any Indian who shall become intoxicated, or who shall sell, exchange, give, barter, or dispose of any spirituous, vinous, fermented, or other intoxicating liquors to any other member of an Indian tribe, or who shall introduce, or attempt to introduce, under any pretense whatever, any spirituous, vinous, fermented, or other intoxicating liquors on an Indian reservation, shall be deemed guilty of an offense, and upon conviction thereof shall be punishable by imprisonment for not less than thirty nor more than ninety days, or by a fine of not less than twenty nor more than one hundred dollars, or both, in the discretion of the court.
5. Misdemeanors. - The judges of the Indian courts shall also have jurisdiction within their respective districts to try and punish any Indian belonging upon the reservation for any misdemeanor committed thereon, as defined in the laws of the State or Territory within which the reservation may be located; and the punishment for such misdemeanors shall be such as may be prescribed by such State or Territorial laws: Provided, That if an Indian who is subject to road duty shall refuse or neglect to work the roads the required number of days each year, or to furnish a proper substitute thereof, he shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor, and shall be liable to a fine of one dollar and fifty cents for every day that he fails to perform road duty, or to imprisonment for not more than five days: And provided further, That if an Indian refuses or neglects to adopt habits of industry, or to engage in civilized pursuits or employments, but habitually spends his time in idleness and loafing, he shall be deemed a vagrant and guilty of a misdemeanor, and shall, upon the first conviction thereof, be liable to a fine of not more than five dollars, or to imprisonment for not more than ten days, and for any subsequent conviction thereof to a fine of not more than ten dollars, or to imprisonment for not more than thirty days, in the discretion of the court.
6. Judges to solemnize marriages. - The said judges shall have power also to solemnize marriages between Indians. They shall keep a record of all marriages solemnized by them, respectively, and shall issue certificates of marriage in duplicate, one certificate to be delivered to the parties thereto and the duplicate to be forwarded to the clerk of the court in general term, hereinafter provided for, to be kept among the records of that court; and for each marriage solemnized the judge may charge a fee not to exceed one dollar.
7. Indian court in general term. - The judges of the Indian court shall sit together at some convenient place on the reservation, to be designated by the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, at least once in every month, at which sitting they shall constitute the Indian court in general term. A majority of the judges appointed for the reservation shall constitute a quorum of the court and shall have power to try and finally determine any suit or charge that may be properly brought before it; but no judgment or decision by said court shall be valid unless it is concurred in by a majority of all the judges appointed for the reservation, and in case of a failure of a majority of the judges to agree in any cause, the same shall be continued, to be again tried at a subsequent term of the court. The court in general term shall be presided over by the senior judge in point of service on the reservation, and in case there be no such senior judge, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs shall designate on of the judges to preside.
8. Clerk of court. - The judges of the court at the first general term, and annually thereafter, shall elect from among the Indians on the reservation some person of good moral character who can read and write English readily, wears citizen’s dress, and engages in civilized pursuits, to be the clerk of the court in general term. He shall serve for one year, and it shall be his duty to receive and carefully preserve all papers filed in any case submitted for adjudication by the court, keep a docket of all cases and a proper record of the action taken by the court in each case, receive and preserve the duplicate marriage certificates furnished him by the several judges of the districts of the reservation as heretofore provided, and perform all other duties usually required of clerks of courts of ordinary jurisdiction in the State or Territory within which the reservation may be, except such duties as may require the possession of a seal.
9. Jurisdiction of court in general term. - The court in general term, organized as above provided, shall have jurisdiction to try all appeals by persons convicted before any judge of any offense or misdemeanor, as the same are defined and prescribed in these regulations, and to render judgment therein.
The said court shall have the same probate jurisdiction over the administration and settlement of estates of Indians belonging on the reservation as is exercised at the time by the courts of probate, in the State or Territory within which the reservation may be, over the settlement or administration of estates of citizens of said State or Territory: Provided, That the probate jurisdiction of said court shall extend only to the disposition according to law of such property as members of the tribe may have in their possession on the reservation at the time of their deaths, and to the execution of wills affecting such property.
The said court shall have exclusive jurisdiction over all civil controversies arising between Indians belonging on the reservation.
10. Practice, pleadings, etc. - The practice, pleadings, and forms of proceedings in probate and civil causes shall conform as near as may be to the practice, pleadings, and forms of proceedings existing at the time in like causes in the probate courts and the courts of justices of the peace in the State or Territory within which the reservation may be; and the plaintiff shall be entitled to like remedies by attachment or other process against the property of the defendant, and for like causes, as may at the time be provided by the laws of said State or Territory.
11. Agents to compel attendance of witnesses and enforce orders of the court.- That the orders of the court in general term and of the judges of the several districts may be carried into full effect, the United States Indian agent for the agency under which the reservation may be is hereby authorized, empowered, and required to compel the attendance of witnesses at any session of the court, or before any judge within his proper district, and to enforce all orders that may be passed by said court, or a majority thereof, or by any judge within his proper district; and for this purpose he may use the Indian policy of his agency.
 Laurence Armand French, Legislating Indian Country: Significant Milestones in Transforming Tribalism (New York, NY: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc., 2007), 68.
 Francis Paul Prucha, ed., Documents of United States Indian Policy (University of Nebraska Press, 2000), 185.
 United States Bureau of Indian Affairs, Annual Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs to the Secretary of the Interior for the Year 1882 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1882), 5.
 United States Department of the Interior, Annual Report of the Secretary of the Interior: Volume One (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1883), XI.
“Report of the Secretary of the Interior; being part of the Message and Documents Communicated to the Two Houses of Congress at the Beginning of the Second of the Fifty-Second Congress: In Five Volumes: Volume II,” in John W. Noble, Secretary of the Interior, Rules of Indian Courts and “What is an Indian?”, Executive Doc. 1, Part 5, House of Representatives, 52d Congress, 2d Session, pp. 28-37. Cited in Thomas D. Russell, HouseofRussell.com (
Note about the Theonomy Applied Series: In discussing any particular law, we do not necessarily endorse every aspect of that law as biblical, whether it be the prohibition, sanction, court procedure, etc. Rather, we are merely showing the more or less attempt to apply biblical law in history, whether or not that application was fully biblical. Moreover, in quoting any particular law, we do not necessarily consider those who passed and/or enforced such a law as being fully orthodox in their Christian theology. Professing Christian rulers in history have ranged in their theology from being orthodox (that is, Reformed Protestants) to heretical (for example, Roman Catholics).