Education from LVA

Depostion of Chief Cook

  • Deposition of Chief Cook, August 25, 1917
Chief Cook gained affirmation that Pamunkey Indians living on the reservation continued to be wards of the state.
Related documents:
  • English and Powhatan Indian Treaty
    Treaty Between the English and the Powhatan Indians, October 1646
  • Freedom Suit Claiming Indian Descent
    Freedom Suit Claiming Indian Descent of an Enslaved Family, 1804
  • Indian Citizenship Act
    Indian Citizenship Act, President Coolidge and Osage Indians Photograph, 1924
  • African American Soldiers in WWI
    Broadside, African American Soldiers during World War I, 1918
  • Walter Plecker Letter
    Walter Plecker Asserted that Virginia Indians No Longer Exist, December 1943
« Return to The Law

Deposition of Chief Cook, August 25, 1917

When the Constitution of the United States was drafted in 1787, it embodied the attitude of many white people that American Indians were essentially foreign nationals and therefore could not be citizens of the United States. The drafters designated those noncitizens as "Indians not taxed" and they were exempted from the population entitled to representation in Congress. This and other constitutional distinctions revealed that the founding generation of white men did not regard Indians, even those residing within long-settled communities, as being equal to white men or possessing the same rights. Not even the ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment in 1868, which defined as citizens "all persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof" conferred full civil rights and liberties on American Indians, as the amendment retains the exemption of "Indians not taxed."

The Pamunkey Indian Tribe did not negotiate with the federal government directly when the United States was established. Their reservation in Prince William County was created through a 1677 treaty with the English. As early as the eighteenth century, many white Virginians believed that all Virginia Indians had been assimilated into either European or African American culture. A few Virginia Indian tribes struggled throughout the centuries to retain their legal position as Indians in the face of this overarching societal belief.

The official relationship between the Pamunkey Indian Tribe and the Commonwealth of Virginia is that of ward of the state, under the protection of the governor and tax exempt. In 1917, when young men of the tribe including Ottigney Pontiac Cook, were drafted into the military, Chief George Major Cook, O. P. Cook's father, successfully gained a reaffirmation from the attorney general's office that the Pamunkey Indians living on the reservation continued to be the wards of the state, without voting rights and were therefore were not subject to the draft. The United States Army agreed, and once the young men had proved their point, O. P. and several other Indians enlisted.

During World War II the Pamunkey and other Virginia Indians again ran into problems with enlisting in the armed forces. As the federal 1924 Indian Citizenship Act had conferred national citizenship on the reservation Indians, they were then also subject to the draft. The young men had to fight to be inducted with the white troops, so as not to be subject to the discrimination dealt out to African Americans in the segregated armed forces. Some Virginia Indians served time in federal prisons when they refused to be inducted with blacks instead of with whites.

When the 1924 Indian Citizenship Act conferred federal citizenship and the right to vote on American Indians including the Pamunkey, the political atmosphere of Virginia was such that very few if any Virginia Indians were able to exercise that right. After an edict was issued in 1948 by the federal Office of Indian Affairs decreeing that all American Indians were entitled to vote in that year's presidential election, Virginia Indians slowly began to vote. Indians living on the Pamunkey Reservation still enjoy many tax and licensing exemptions, and continue to bring an annual tribute of game to the governor of Virginia as stipulated by the 1677 treaty.

For Educators


1. Who was George Major Cook?

2. What is the draft?

3. In which war was the United States involved in 1917?

Further Discussion

1. Why would the Pamunkey men enlist in the military after winning the argument that they were not subject to the draft? What point were they attempting to make about their unique legal status?

2. Think about this document in relation to the "Treaty Between the English and the Powhatan Indians, October 1646." Describe the similarities or differences in the relationship between the Virginia Indians and the government of Virginia in these two instances almost three hundred years apart.

Suggested Reading

Rountree, Helen C. Pocahontas's People: The Powhatan Indians of Virginia through Four Centuries. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1990.

Murray, Paul Thom. "Who is an Indian? Who is a Negro?: Virginia Indians in the World War II Draft." Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 95 (1987): 215–231

In the Matter of appeal by Ashland Holmes and C. P. Cook Indians, from Local Board of King William County to District Board for the Eastern District of Virginia.

State of Virginia,
City of Richmond, to-wit:
 This day personally appeared before the undersigned G.M. Cook, Chief of the Pamunkey Tribe of Indians, who having been first duly sworn, deposes as follows:
 That the Pamunkey Tribe of Indians is governed by a Chief and Council, and those coming under its jurisdiction constitute what is known as Tribal Indians; that he is Chief of said Tribe. That this affidavit is made in support of the appeals filed before the District Board by Ashland Holmes and O. P. Cook under date of Aug. 24, 1917, from decision of Local Board for the County of King William, Virginia; that as a part thereof there is filed herewith a copy of a statement or petition, dated July 22, 1917, addressed to the said Local Board for King William County by the Chief and Council of said Pamunkey Tribe of Indians, and there is also filed as a part hereof a copy of a letter, dated June 26, 1917, from Hon. Leslie C. Garnett, Assistant Attorney General, to Hon. C. Lee Moore, Auditor of Public Accounts of the Commonwealth of Virginia, and there is also filed as part hereof an original letter, dated Aug. 13, 1917, signed by L.M. Bazile, Law Assistant to the Attorney-General of Virginia, addressed to affiant, which said two letters establish the fact that the land and other property of the said Pamunkey Tribe of Indians is not subject to taxation by the Commonwealth of Virginia; that said Pamunkey Tribe of Indians have always been wards of the Commonwealth of Virginia, and that the male members thereof have never been allowed to exercise the privilege of voting, and therefore affiant believes that they are not deemed and held citizens within the laws of this State and of the United States, and hence that the members of the said Tribe are not properly subject to draft for military service in the present war.
 Subscribed and sworn to before me, Hill Montague, a Commissioner in Chancery for the Chancery Court of the City of Richmond, Virginia, this 25th day of August 1917.

 Commissioner in Chancery