Friday, October 4, 2013

Last Legal Indian Execution Is In November, 1894

Thank you Dad for this little hidden treasure I found inside one of your books when faced with the unpleasant task of clearing out your office.

The caption under this picture reads:  "On April 19, 1894, Silon Lewis was sentenced to be shot "until dead," for the murder of Joe Haklotybbi.  He was given his freedom, without bond, until execution day.  On November 5, 1894, he promptly appeared at Mashalatubbe Court House, near Red Oak, Indian Territory, sat down on a blanket, removed his shoes and calmly signified he was ready.  He was shot through his lung by the sheriff, because Lewis' heart-beat was on the right side of his breast.  Guards are shown smothering him as the sheriff stands by with a Windchester."

What a story. I love history. It provides closure. As opposed to living out life on faith, not knowing what your final epitaph will read. Life is going along ok now, but will it change? People change. Things happen. History doesn't change. There is closure. I have a hard time driving by any museum when I'm traveling about.

There are lots of great tales about the wild west. What draws me to this one is the fact that it took place in the town I lived in until I was six years old. Silon Lewis' trial took place fourteen miles southwest of Red Oak, Choctaw Nation, but they ask him to report to the old council house near Wilburton (where I lived until I was 6 years old) on the morning of the execution. He shot the Sherriff, Joe Hoklotubbee (so like in the movies). He was to be shot at high noon on the 5th day of November, 1894 (high noon - just like in the movies). By the way we are talking about Oklahoma before it became a state. It was just the Choctaw Nation back then.

This article is quite something just on the surface of the story, but it just keeps on giving. Lewis' wife gave her account in her own words, which was as strangely calm and far removed from the world I know, as was the calm resolve Lewis displayed toward being executed. Part of her account reads “We carried on a normal life through the summer. Lewis managed his property as usual, but we made several trips to McAlester and Hartshorne.” She also mentioned that Lewis had his picture taken in Hartshorne about three weeks before his end. I have searched for that picture, but have yet to find it.

The reason I say this story keeps on giving is because I started researching some of the things that didn't make sense to me. Like why did they suffocate him when all those guys were standing around with guns (the law read to be shot one time)? And a thousand other questions. Mainly, why on earth did he come back (Choctaw code of honor)? Funny thing was he didn't think they would kill him. He was a prominent tribe member that owned lots of land. The sheriff even thought the locals would ride into town to save him, and was going to let him go the minute he saw their dust flying.

When it came time, high noon execution day, Silon Lewis wanted Lyman Pulsey to do it, not the Sheriff. Here's the thing. Lyman Pulsey was a close friend, and they use to hunt together when they were young men. I thought that was odd. Then I researched further and found out that if the condemned survived the execution by one shot to the chest they get to live. Guess he didn't plan on death by handkerchief.  I think Silon Lewis thought he'd be going home to nurse a bullet wound. Cocky politicians. I say this because Silon Lewis shot Joe Hoklotubbee during a political campaign. Joe was the leader in the Nationalist party of the Choctaw Nation, and Silon was the head of the opposing party. And we think politics is rough now days. 

I got more answers, but they are too voluminous to fit in this post. Instead I have provided the links below where I found the answers. 


Notes of interest: Moshalatubbee was misspelled in this article; appears as Mosholetvbbi, as was Hoklotubbee; appears as Hokalotybbi.






Choctaw Crime and Punishment, 1884-1907 By Devon Abbott Mihesuah
I found this book on ebay, but still couldn’t purchase it. It’s there, I push the purchase button, then it’s not there. After a little research I discovered this:

Dear Trula, 
Thank you for your message. JSTOR's Publisher Sales Service does allow unaffiliated users to purchase some articles through the publisher. You can now search JSTOR and receive a list of search results. From there, select an article. If it is available for purchase, you will see a button on the yellow banner with the price of the article. Once you have clicked on that, you will be given prompts to be able to purchase the article using your credit card.


Zane Varnum said...

This is such an interesting article! It makes you wonder about the order of things just a hundred years ago; which is not that long considering the larger scope of time. Thank you for sharing! Glad to see you're back!

Anonymous said...

interesting story....I happen to be a decendant of silon lewis...actually have original pictures (identical to the headline) and story of his torturous where is "the rest of the story"? im looking forward to reading more of this understanding of the story comes from listening to my grandfather speak of well as other elders of the family...

Trula Varnum said...

I would love to talk to you. I don't feel as though I could write a book about Silon Lewis because it is not my story. It would take someone like you, a relative who is willing to tell me their story, then give me permission to publish it.

Please email me.

Unknown said...

We recently bought a painting by formidable Choctaw artist C. T. (Chief) Saul at an estate sale in Oakland, Ca. It was unlike any of his others, because it depicted an execution much like the one in your historical photo. The parallels are striking. I'll endeavor to sent you a jpeg of the image.
Regards, Bill T. Saul

Trula Varnum said...

Unknown (or Bill T. Saul),

I would absolutely love to see that picture. It strikes me that an estate sale in Oakland has a high probability of possesing inventory collected by an old Okie; Oklahomaman. There was the Grapes of Wrath and all. My Dad was born and raised in Oklahoma, as was my Mother. Dad migrated west with his family in the 50's, a little after the great migration, and he only went so far as Mesa, Arizona. How cool (I think) that he saved this original newspaper article that his mother cut out of the newspaper and mailed to him. I would be very gratiful and indebted to you id you could somehow send me a digital caopy of that picture. Do you rebember the name of the estate? That would interest me, too.

Thank you so much for sharing this with me. I have been captivated with this story ever since I was cleaning out his office after he passed, and this old newspaper article fell out of one of his books.

Thanks again.