Five Civilized Tribes, inclusive term used since mid-19th cent. for the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole tribes of E Oklahoma. By 1850 some 60,000 members of these tribes were settled in the Indian Territory under the Removal Act of 1830, which provided that this territory was to be held communally on the condition that the tribes surrendered certain land rights E of the Mississippi River. These tribes never lived on a reservation and were officially recognized as domestic dependent nations. Before crossing the Mississippi River, the Cherokee and the Creek had evolved a highly developed agricultural culture in the SE United States. Each tribe had a written constitution, a judiciary system, a bicameral legislature, an executive branch, and a public school system.
After the American Civil War, the majority of tribes having aided the Confederacy, all treaties were put aside, their lands were restricted to E Oklahoma, and their black slaves, who had numbered several thousand, were freed. Later a federal policy of detribalization resulted in loss of the governmental functions of the Five Tribes and the division of all land into individual holdings. Although the tribal governments have continued to function, they have little authority and serve mainly in an advisory capacity.
See G. Foreman, The Five Civilized Tribes (1934, repr. 1966) and Indian Removal: The Emigration of the Five Civilized Tribes (new ed. 1953, repr. 1966); A. Debo, And Still the Waters Run (1940, repr. 1966); R. S. Cotterill, Southern Indians (1954, repr. 1963); M. T. Bailey, Reconstruction in Indian Territory (1972); T. Perdue, Nations Remembered (1980).