Charles Curtis was born in Topeka, on January 25, 1860. His mother was of American Indian ancestry.  Through his mother's side, Curtis was a great-grandson of a Kansa (Kaw) Indian chief. His mother died when Charles was only three. After her death, he lived the early portion of his life with his maternal grandmother and other relatives on the Kansa Indian Reservation near Council Grove. During this time the Kansa were having conflicts with the Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians. In 1868, young Charles was sent back to Topeka to live with his paternal grandmother.


As a youth he worked at various occupations and even had a local reputation as a jockey. His knowledge of the law was obtained in the office of Topeka attorney A. H. Case, where he served first as clerk and later as partner. In 1884, he was elected county prosecutor and became widely known for his strict enforcement of the prohibition law. His rise to national prominence began with his election to the House of Representatives in 1892, an office he would hold for the next eight terms.


While in the House he served on the prestigious Ways and Means Committee and Committee on Indian Affairs and Public Lands. Curtis was the author of a bill which in 1898 made changes in the Indian Territory as well as several other pieces of legislation that affected the tribes. In January 1907, Curtis was elected by the legislature to fill the unexpired term of Kansas Senator Joseph R. Burton and subsequently to his own full term, March 4, 1907 - March 3, 1913. Although an unsuccessful candidate for reelection in 1912, Curtis regained a seat in the U.S. Senate in the election of 1914. Recognizing his abilities, the Republican caucus made him party whip in 1915.


Curtis worked tirelessly in this position. Behind the scenes he was continuously active in organizing and coordinating the party's strength. He served on many committees including Coast Defenses, Cuban Relations, the Five Civilized Tribes, Pensions, Fisheries, Committee on Rules (chairman), Finance and Appropriations and Indian Affairs. Much of the legislation he sponsored related to agricultural and Indian questions. He succeeded Senator Henry Cabot Lodge as majority leader in 1925.



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