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
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
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
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.
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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