Choctaw Law and Order 1

Bishinik, unknown date

Law and Disorder in the Choctaw Nation – circa 1800’s

There were organized gangs at various times in the Choctaw Nation which specialized in the theft of livestock. The secret organization of horse thieves kept whole counties terrorized during the administration of Chief Jack McCurtain. There were later gangs, the Carpenter gang in particular, which operated in the Nation, but with less efficiency than other groups. John Carpenter and his men had a hangout at the mouth of Blue River, from which they sallied forth to steal livestock in the Choctaw Nation and North Texas. The gang was finally scattered, some killed, others captured.

The more notorious outlaws of the era, the James brothers, the Daltons, Belle Starr, Bill Doolin, and others did not feature in the lawlessness of the Choctaw Nation. Old-timers tell of one of another of these notorious outlaws visiting in the Nation when hiding from the law, but none of their famous exploits occurred within Choctaw boundaries.

Belle Starr, the well-known female bandit, lived just north of the Canadian River in the Cherokee Nation, and her activities brought her into the Choctaw country on several occasions. One of her hideouts reportedly was Robber’s Cave in the Sans Bois Mountains, now an Oklahoma state park. The James brothers undoubtedly were in the Nation at times, but their movements remain elusive and legendary. A mile south of the Red River in Texas, on the road from Boggy Depot to Sherman, one of Quantrell’s men had a store, which was visited occasionally by Frank and Jesse James, Cole Younger, and others of their type. They must have crossed the Choctaw country once in a while to reach this rendezvous, but if they did, they committed no desperate deeds in the Indian country.

The children of W.J.B. Lloyd, noted Presbyterian missionary to the Choctaws who resided at Old Bennington during most of this period, related the story that one day, while their father was absent, three well-dressed men mounted on fine stallions rode up to the family home. The leader asked Mrs. Lloyd if they could buy some chickens. She replied in the affirmative but said that the men would have to catch them, whereupon the riders drew their guns and shot the chicken’s heads off. The men’s actions unsettled Mrs. Lloyd. It was near sunset, and she had several thousand dollars in gold hidden in the house, given to her for safekeeping by Wilson N. Jones. However, nothing Mrs. Lloyd feared happened; the men paid her for the chickens and rode away. Some years later, Mrs. Lloyd’s son John, who had witnessed the incident, attended a session of federal court in Paris, Texas, in connection with his job as one of Wilson N. Jones’ cowhands. Frank James was also at the court. Lloyd recognized him as one of the three riders who had come to his mother’s house, talked with James about the incident, and asked him what they would have done had they known about the gold. James told him that they would have done nothing, since they never harmed women or children.

From The Social History of the Choctaw Nation: 1865-1907, by James D. Morrison, edited by James C. Milligan and L. David Norris, pages 92-93, copyright © 1987, Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.

Bishinik, unknown date

Laws enforced by Lighthorsemen

In the early 1800s, officers, known as Choctaw Lighthorsemen, were organized to keep whiskey out of the Choctaw country. In accordance, a prohibition law was passed and lighthorsemen organized to drive the whiskey peddlers out of the country. They did their work well and succeeded to a great extent.

When the Lighthorsemen had meetings, a speaker would present whiskey as being Miko Homa (red king) and proceed to use his eloquence to show the evil habits of any who followed Miko Homa. He would describe Miko Homa as taking his money, his property and bringing suffering to his wife and children; that he would take all that he loved away from him. The people attending the meeting would then be urged to sign a pledge that they would not use intoxicating liquor and exert their influence to help the officers keep the whiskey out of the country.

Today, the Choctaw Nation has only one Lighthorseman, appointed by Chief Hollis E. Roberts since 1978. William Williston of McCurtain attending all judicial meetings as the County serves the Choctaw Nation, official Lighthorseman.

Bishinik, unknown date

Controlling liquor in the 1800s was not always an easy job to do

With the acceptance of the while man’s religious beliefs, a great deal of temperance sentiment also developed among the Choctaws at this time, and the prohibition policy which they had adopted in Mississippi was again put into operation. An amusing story, which may or may not be true, relates the manner in which this policy was initiated. At a Council soon after their arrival in the West, many speeches were made against the evils of drink, and it was voted by acclamation that any citizen who should introduce intoxicating liquors into the Nation would be punished by one hundred lashes and the destruction of his stock. The law, however, was not made retroactive, and after adjournment the members of the Council began to realize that the liquor traffic would continue for some time until the stock on hand should be exhausted. Accordingly, they decided to drink up the available supply, a feat which they accomplished in two hours. The immediate effect upon those who performed this necessary public service is said to have been rather appalling.

The legislation was strengthened and modified by the developing legal technique of the Choctaws, but the prohibition policy was continued, and the laws were well enforced by the tribal officials. Many of the Choctaw leaders, especially the native preachers, were active temperance workers. Apparently there was at this time very little drunkenness in the Choctaw Nation, but many of the Choctaws habitually succumbed to temptation whenever they crossed the Red River into Texas or the Arkansas line at Fort Smith.

In 1858 they actually persuaded the Texas legislature to pass a law prohibiting the sale of intoxicants to their citizens, but it is apparent in all accounts of life in the border towns that no attention was ever paid to its enforcement.