Does anyone know—or know how to find out—the etymology of the phrase “off the reservation?” I’ve seen the phrase used here and there in legal writing, and I’m curious about its origins. I have heard two plausible stories:
In the time when members of Native American tribes were confined to reservations, to “wander off the reservation” was to be in a place where you should not be.
In more recent times, tribal institutions have authority over matters only on the reservation. When tribal agents go “off the reservation,” they have left their geographic jurisdiction and act without even the color of authority.
The first comparison is offensive; the second less so. I’d be interested to know in which sense the phrase was used back when its reference was less ambiguous.