Under the allotment system, many American Indian families made an effort to succeed at farming but often failed.

The allotment system was created by the Dawes Act. The Dawes Act was an Act of Congress of February 8, 1887, regulating in the United States the distribution of land to Native Americans, in the Indian Territory that will become Oklahoma in 1907. It carried the name of the Massachusetts senator Henry L. Dawes, his principal initiator. The law was amended in 1891 and in 1906 by the Burke Act.

The law pursued two main objectives: first of all, the community structure of the Indians was to be broken and the Indians thus integrated into American society. The Indians should become farmers. As such, according to official opinion, they would need far less land than they claimed for their traditional non-sedentary lifestyle as hunters and gatherers. The Indians themselves fought mostly against a life as a farmer, especially those of the northern Plains. These saw the farm work as unworthy and restrictive. Another advantage of the parcelling saw the government in the liberated surplus land, which it could sell at a profit to whites. Overall, the Indians lost thereby 36 million hectares of a total of 55 million hectares in 1887.