The Dawes Act was designed as an attempt to assimilate American Indians into the culture at large. At the same time it gave the government power over Indian tribal lands, dividing them individually and giving white settlers the right to claim lands that were previously Indian territory.
The Dawes Act was signed by President Grover Cleveland into law in 1887. Ultimately it would strip the American Indians of 86 million acres of land.
The law stipulated that tribal lands would be redistributed according to the individual. Each male with a family would receive 160 acres of land, single adult men were given 80 acres and boys were allotted 40 acres.
The rationale behind splitting up the lands was that by doing so, the Indians would be forced to farm, turning away from their "barbaric" ways and towards a more "civilized" way of living. Those that followed the edicts of the Act and farmed their land in good stead would be given citizenship in the United States.
The lands that remained after the allotment process were then sold to settlers who sought prime farmlands in the plains. The Dawes Act remained legally binding in the United States until the allotment process was stopped in 1934.