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Chronicles of Oklahoma
Volume 5, No. 4
December, 1927
CHICKASAW COURTS
Reminiscences of Judge John H. Mashburn.

Czarina C. Conlon

Page 400

The Panola County Court House, Chickasaw Nation, is in what is now Bryan County. It is located three miles from Aschielel and twelve miles from Colbert. It was named Rock Springs Court House. An act of the Chickasaw legislature approved October 9th. 1876 caused the place of holding court in Panola County to be removed from a location near Abija Colbert’s place to a locality known as Rock Springs. It was further enacted that the sum of one hundred and fifty dollars be appropriated for the purpose of removing the court house, and putting it in a habitable condition.

William Kemp and Charlie Sheco were appointed as commissioners to contract with some suitable person to do the work. The first court held in the county was held under black jack trees and called Black Jack Court grounds. A little later a hewed log house was built. When the building was moved to Rock Springs a half story was added. At that time, a set consisting of forty hewed logs, a foot thick, and sills and sleepers could be bought for $10.00. The half story called for six or more logs which included the rafters, made of poles. Boards or shingles were gotten out for twenty-five cents per hundred. The building was eighteen by eighteen feet. A rock chimney was built for heating both up and down stairs. The expense of building the chimney was the most expensive part of the contract. The furniture was very meager; it consisted of rude benches, a few chairs, and a table, all made by hand.

The location of the court was a splendid one. There was plenty of shade, and an abundance of water, which bubbled out from below large boulders. The water power is sufficient to run a gin. This court house was near the old Holmes Colbert (Senior) home. People who attended court there came from within a radius of forty miles. Court was held the first Monday of each month. The court house was miles in the country from any dwelling, and many times those who came any distance camped near the springs, which were only a few hundred feet from the court house. This court house was used as a county and probate court and also as a district court.

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Page 401

At that time the Chickasaws did not have many laws, but the few were simple, and rigidly enforced. There were few jails, and Rock Springs Court House had none near it. The nearest was at Tishomingo.

On one occasion Judge Sam Love became very much incensed by the indignities of a man who had a case in his court. Instead of fining the man for contempt of court the irritated old Judge asked the Sheriff to adjourn court until he could "kick the damned scoundrel out of court." The court was adjourned, and he proceeded to do so.

Another interesting incident occurred in the early eighties. Judge J. H. Franklin was the presiding judge at the time. A man in trouble brought into court a prominent attorney from Texas to defend him, A. B. Pearsons. When he was about to make a statement for his client the attention was called to the Judge that he was not a licensed lawyer to practice in the Chickasaw Nation. Mr. Pearsons replied he had a license to practice anywhere in the United States. The Judge replied that "the Chickasaw Nation and Panola County were not in the United States."

During the time that James Allen Colbert was serving as judge of Panola County a woman was accused of having in her cow lot a calf which belonged to another party. They threatened to bring the case into court Judge Colbert hearing about it sent the accused woman word, that as long as he served as judge there would be no woman whipped.

The judges who presided over Rock Springs Court are among the leading pioneer settlers of early Indian Territory days. These men were known for their splendid character rather than any great knowledge of law. The list of them includes the following, Simon Kemp, Jim McCaughey, James Allen Colbert, Lem Reynolds, Adolphus, Jim Franklin, Chas. Gooding, Charlie Sheeo, C. B. Kingsbury, Dr. H. F. Murry, John Mashburn, Dr. R. P. Goldsby, W. H. Bacon, and Frank Gooding.

The district judges who presided at this court were Sam Love, Tom Johnson, Overton (Sobe) Love, L. L. Wood, and B. F. Kemp who was the last to serve.

In those early days the judges were elected viva voce vote. They had always two clerks, and when a man wished to vote for his candidate, he simply came before those clerks

Page 402

and stated who he wanted for his candidate. The men who were candidates for the judgeship of either county or district had to be men of ability and of high standing in the community and well versed in the Chickasaw laws, which were few and explicit. It was always men of prominence that aspired to those places, and as a rule they had a good education.

The term of office of those judges was two years. All officers and even senators and representatives of the Legislature were elected for two years. Only the Supreme Judges held four years. They could be re-elected as long as the people wanted them. The same custom prevailed in electing their governors. As long as the people wanted them they served and were willing.

The attorneys general who served during those days were R. L. Boyd, Osburn Fisher, Charlie Sheco, Bill Bourland, George James, George Harkins, H. F. Murry, J. H. Godfrey and B. W. Carter. To be an attorney it was not necessary to be a graduate of law, but of course they had to understand the Chickasaw laws. B. W. Carter, and George Harkins were the only ones who had studied law outside of the Indian Territory. These attorneys had to be examined and be granted a certificate to practice before these courts, which was granted them through the Supreme Judges of the Chickasaw Nation.

Although they did not have many laws the penalties were very severe. For minor cases the guilty parties were whipped with a hickory switch on the bare back by the sheriff of the county. For the first offense thirty-nine lashes were given. For the second one hundred, and for the third offense the culprit was hung by the neck until dead, dead, so the law read. After the whipping had been administered the sheriff bathed the victim’s back with salt water. This was done to sear the bruised places on the back. The Choctaws’ mode of capital punishment was shooting.

Joe Bryant, the sheriff of Blue County, a good friend of Mr. Mashburn, told of an unusual experience he had with whipping a man. The Indian man was tried for his second offense and was to get one hundred lashes. Mr. Bryant had nine deputies and each were to give him ten lashes after, he was tied to a tree. Bryant was to put on the last

Page 403

ten licks. His sympathy was aroused, and he told the men when they gave him the licks to give light ones. When Bryant gave the last ten licks they untied him and the man jumped up and whooped at him. Bryant said "he felt he should have tied him up and whipped him again." Any one who had been whipped lost his franchise unless it was restored to them by an act of the Legislature.

Mr. Mashburn was a legal member of the Chickasaw tribe, having married a Chickasaw woman. He served as Judge of Panola County two years. One of the unusual cases that came before him was a man by the name of Wilson, a desperate character who had killed a nephew of George Harkins. He was tried and convicted and sentenced to be hanged. He got away from the court sentence by swearing that he was not a Chickasaw, but a United States citizen, which made him immune to be tried before an Indian court. He claimed he was part negro and very little Chickasaw. He had never said before he was of negro blood, and not until his neck was in jeopardy did he admit that he was not Indian.

One of the attorney generals Robert Boyd, let many cases go by default because he was afraid of the prosecuting attorneys, George Harkins, and George James, because they were better versed in the law than he was. The way he would do he would say he had the headache or the neuralgia, and go to the woods. This surely would provoke the Sheriff and those who had spent much time in working up the cases. On several occasions it had taken the Sheriff four or five days to get the witness there. There were no railroads at that time in the Territory except the M. K. and T. and the Sheriff had to go on horseback through the country and find the witnesses as best he could.

An incident that happened in county court at Tishomingo, was a case which came up regarding the disposition of property in the case of separation of a man and his wife. Judge Joe Harris was presiding. The woman was a Chickasaw and the man was white. They had accumulated quite a little property. Judge Harris was going to give the woman everything, and not let the man have anything. Frank Overton was Governor at the time and happened to be present. He asked the Judge if he did not think he was exceed-

Page 404

ing his authority. After a little consideration the Judge changed his ruling, and did not mind the interference of the Governor.

It is interesting to know what the salaries of those Chickasaw officials were at that time. The Governor received $1500.00, Attorney General, $500.00, County Judge, $200.00, District Judge, $600.00, Supreme Judge, $200.00, Treasurer, $600.00, Auditor, $500.00, Constable, $400.00, Superintendent of Schools $750.00, Supreme Clerk, $100.00. The Senators and Representatives of the Legislature received four dollars a day; Draftsmen, Clerks, Interpreters and Sergeants at Arms also received four dollars a day. Principal of teachers, $1500.00 a year, Seamstresses in schools $300.00, Laundresses $300.00, and the Cooks in the schools received $300.00 per year.

By such a simple code of laws the Chickasaw people lived peaceably and happily together. It was after the settling and the intrusion of so many white people their troubles began.

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The above article was obtained by Czarina C. Conlan in an interview with Judge John H. Mashburn November 18th. 1926.

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