January 25, 1860- February 8, 1936
Kansa (also known as Kaw)
In 1860, near present-day Topeka, Kansas, Ellen Pappan, gave birth to Charles Curtis. Curtis spoke French and Kaw before he learned English. After his mother’s death, Curtis lived with his maternal grandmother. He attended an Indian Mission School on the Kaw reservation until the age of eight when a Cheyenne raiding party attacked the Kaw. After the attack, Curtis went to live with his paternal grandparents, and later attended Topeka High School.
In 1881, the bar admitted Curtis and he began his political career. In 1884, he married Annie Elizabeth Baird and they had three children. During the next four years he served as the elected county attorney for Shawnee County.
Curtis served eight terms in the House of Representatives from 1893 to 1907.
Much of the legislation he sponsored related to agriculture and American Indians. While his work opposed many tribal leaders’ efforts, it set the stage for Oklahoma statehood. Curtis believed assimilation into American culture as the best option for American Indians. In 1898, he drafted the Curtis Act, an amendment to the Dawes Act, which extended the provision of the Dawes Act over Indian Territory (Oklahoma). While Curtis authored the initial draft, he did not support the final bill which ultimately overturned many treaty rights by allocating federal lands, abolishing tribal courts, and giving the Interior Department control over mineral leases on Indian lands. The Curtis Act stipulated that tribal governments would continue to exist only to issue allotment deeds to tribal members and to terminate any other tribal business. Also drafted by Curtis, in 1902 the Kaw Allotment Act officially dissolved the Kaw Nation. As a result, Curtis and his children received a total of 1,625 acres in Oklahoma.
After his first term as Senator in 1907, he ran again in 1915, and served in the Senate until 1929. While in the Senate he attempted to prohibit the Indian use of peyote, supported women’s suffrage and Prohibition.
Curtis served on many subcommittees during his political career including: Committee on Territories, Ways and Means, Public Lands, Indian Affairs, Coast Defenses, Cuban Relations, Five Civilized Tribes, Pensions, Fisheries, and the committee that drafted the Gold Standard Act of 1900.
In 1923 Curtis became chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, and by 1925 he became the majority leader – the first Republican to hold the official title of party floor leader.
From 1929 to 1933, Curtis served as the 31st Vice President of the United States in the Republican Administration of President Herbert Hoover.
In 1959 Curtis received induction into the National Hall of Fame of American Indians.
Fun fact: Since Curtis, there has not been another vice-president to wear a mustache while in office.