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The Character of the Choctaw

     In conclusion permit a reference to the character of the aborigines. The Choctaw has many interesting traits of character, but mention of only one of these will be made here, his high sense of reverence for and obedience to the law as pronounced by the courts. 

     This phrase may seem strange to some who are familiar with the work done by the Federal Court at Fort Smith, Ark., so ably presided over by Judge Isaac Parker. But while it is probably true that Parker’s legal executions are greater in number than those of any other judge in the United States, it must be remembered that this court had jurisdiction for a time over the greater part of the Indian and Oklahoma Territories. How this beautiful country was filled with thieves, cut-throats, and robbers of all races and colors, how they were brought to trial and made to pay the penalty of their crimes on the scaffold are vividly told
in a book written by an official of Judge Parker’s court, entitled Hell on the Border

     The list of criminals includes Choctaws as well as other races; but when a Choctaw was once arrested there was no getting rid of him till the law was satisfied.  No bond was necessary to bring him to trial, if convicted no jail was necessary to keep him till the day of execution. An old Choctaw was once under process of the court to appear at Fort Smith to answer a charge of crime. It was in the spring, and all the streams were overflowing from the heavy rains. The field marshals with prisoners, witnesses, etc., had crossed the streams before the freshet, but this old Choctaw had been left behind. The court proceeded with business and on the day set reached this old Choctaw’s case. Half-naked, half- starved, dripping wet, and almost frozen, he appeared in court. He had walked himself almost to death and had swum several overflowing streams including Poteau river to be at court when his case was called.

     Judge Geo. W. Riddle a full-blood Choctaw who has served several terms as judge of Gaines county, Choctaw Nation, disowned his brother because he failed to appear at the whipping-post under sentence of a Choctaw court. 

     Another Choctaw, whose son was suspected of crime, took his boy and carried him to the officials, lest he should be accused of evading the marshal. Many other instances of this fidelity of the Choctaws to the mandate of the courts might be given, but one more will suffice.

     About ten years ago some political strife arose among the Choctaws. Two parties were bitterly arrayed against each other. The conflict came to an end with the triumph of one party, and a young Choctaw, Simon Lewis, a leader in the defeated party, was arraigned before a Choctaw court, charged with some crime known to Choctaw jurisprudence. He was convicted, sentenced to be shot, and a day fixed for his execution.  As was their custom, he was released on his honor without bond. 

     For a few weeks this condemned lad mingled with his friends as freely as he had ever done. The day of the execution was approaching. He was advised by his white friends to flee. Mr. Louis Rockett, a native Mississippian, for many years a merchant in Wilburton, Indian Territory, begged the condemned man most urgently to escape for his life while he was yet free; explaining to him that he was guilty of no crime, that his party was in the right and that he should not have been convicted. 

     But no appeal could move him, and on the fatal day he voluntarily walked from Wilburton to the old Choctaw courthouse, a few miles away, the place for the execution. He took off his shirt, stood for the target to be painted over his heart, covered his head, and bravely took his stand for the mortal shot. The writer has seen a photograph of this execution, taken just after the shot was fired.  The picture shows the victim lying on the ground, and the executioners standing over him choking and smothering him to death. A mistake had been made. In the excitement the target was painted on the wrong side, and the shot not entering the heart only wounded the condemned man.  His executioners rushed on him as he lay wounded and bleeding with sacks to finish the fatal work. 

     This was the last Indian execution; the brutal termination of this tragedy aroused public sentiment against its possible repetition.  It is said that this photograph was sent to Congress, and there helped to incorporate in the Curtis Bill a provision giving to the United States Courts of the Indian Territory exclusive jurisdiction over all felonies committed in the Indian Territory.  This provision the Choctaws ratified. 

     But in whatever court, the same deep respect for and blind obedience to the mandates of the courts have characterized the Choctaws. As this trait of character in the Choctaws stands out in such bold contrast to that of any other people it has seemed worthy of mention even though foreign to this narrative.

The Future of the Choctaw

     The question of the future of the red-man has confronted the people of the United States during the entire history of the country. That the race will ultimately become entirely extinct is generally believed. That the Choctaws will survive but few centuries at the most is highly probable. 

     But as to what will be the future history of this tribe is difficult to foretell. At present they are divided into two classes, the mixed breeds and the full-bloods, or the progressives and the non-progressives. These classes at present take their names from their leaders and are known as the McCurtains and the Hunters. 

     Green McCurtain, the present governor of the Choctaws, and leader of the progressive class, is an able politician. The present governors of the other tribes are also able and progressive men. Concerted action is at this writing being taken by these progressive leaders looking forward to the admission of their country into full statehood with a view of Indian supremacy. A convention of all the Indians of the Indian Territory has been called, and the assemblage is intended to be the greatest of all Indian powwows. 

     Whatever may be the outcome of this effort, it is highly probable that these progressive Indians by virtue of their superior skill and sagacity in politics will for many years play a prominent part in the local affairs of their country. But with the Choctaws this progressive element is much in the minority, in numbers if not in votes. 

     The full-bloods of the interior are not pleased with the invasions of the whitemen.  With them the clearing up of fields and the building of cities and country homes are causes now as they have ever been of much discontent. These sons of wild nature long for the deep, secluded forest, far from the face of progress and civilization. With them this longing is an expression of innate character. Already they have explored the deep and rocky wildernesses of Mexico; and some of their number have found there the happy homes of their fathers, while many others are anxious to join them. It is highly probable that in the near future the great body of Choctaws will sell or abandon the homes allotted them by the United States Government, and crossing to the south our Mississippi Indians will join their advance guard in the wild recesses of the old Montezumas. It is their last fight for racial preservation. 

     May they in their last days live in peace and contentment, and in the bright hereafter awake on the happy hunting ground with their fathers.


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Copyright 2001 - All Rights Reserved
Ellen Pack