In 1885, two Indian men, Kagama and Mahawama (defendants), were indicted for killing another Indian man. All three men were members of the Klamath Indian tribe, and the crime had taken place on the land in California where the tribe lived. Although this was an Indian-on-Indian crime, Kagama and Mahawama were charged federally under the Major Crimes Act of 1885 (Act). The Act provided that federal courts had jurisdiction over significant crimes, including murder, that were committed by one Indian against another Indian. In district court, Kagama and Mahawama contested this jurisdiction and argued that the Act should have been struck down because Congress did not have the power to pass the Act. The district court could not decide whether the Act was permitted by the Constitution and whether Congress had the power to extend federal jurisdiction to Indian-on-Indian crimes committed in Indian territory. The district court certified this division of opinion to the United States Supreme Court.