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Justice is Served the Choctaw Way

July 10, 2002

Historian's Notes

In my opinion, this was one of the more fascinating stories of the 2002 Audio Almanacs. The notion that the Choctaw Nation used the execution of Going as a last stand protest against provision in the Curtis Act is not as obvious as perhaps it appears in the segment, yet it does seem odd that the Choctaw justices were so bent on carrying out the punishment. This segment provides for a very interesting view into the judicial processes of the Choctaw tribe and reveals the very intricate and thorough processes utilized by the tribe to insure the due process of law.

Resources

Chronicles of Oklahoma. Spring 1998.

Almanac Transcript

Justice is served the Choctaw way this week on the Oklahoma Audio Almanac.

Hello, Iím Steven Knoche Kite.

The laws and rules constructed by each nation of Native Americans held provisions for punishing lawbreakers. As the tribes were forced onto their reservations or into Indian Territory they brought with them the same methods of law enforcement and punishments. In the 1890s under the provisions of the Curtis Act, capital crimes were to fall under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Government rather than the individual tribal governments. Most tribes, at least those in Indian Territory, offered little resistance to this further intrusion into their affairs perhaps realizing the futility of doing so. The Choctaw tribe, however, offered a protest to the Curtis Act in the manner of one final execution carried out as dictated by the provisions of the Choctaw government. The year was 1896 and Choctaw William Going, returning from a day of drinking in Arkansas met up with and killed his uncle Samson Going. Choctaw courts tried Going and found him guilty of murder, and therefore deserving of death as prescribed by their tribal laws. The ruling was challenged by various lawyers, but after several delays and retrials the Choctaw supreme court upheld the decision.

Scheduled for August 6th, 1897 Goingís execution was delayed when he, along with another inmate, escaped from the Choctaw jail and roamed free for several weeks. Authorities recaptured Goings, chained him in his cell, and rescheduled his execution for July 13th, 1899. The new execution date was set after the passage of the Curtis Act, technically making it illegal for the Choctaws to carry out the execution. Tribal leaders argued, however, that since Going was convicted before the Curtis Act came into effect, that they had the right to carry out the execution. On the morning of the 13th those opponents of the execution, including U.S. district judges, began sending telegrams ordering the halting of the execution pending further review. Reasoning that they had followed the proper procedures and still had the authority, tribal justices held to their decision and Going was executed. Following tribal practice, Going, seated on a bench outside the courthouse was blindfolded and shot in the heart by Choctaw Sheriff Thomas Watson. The insistence of the Choctaw authorities to carry out the execution in the face of U.S. protest, it has been said, was a last assertion of what little autonomy the tribe still held. In any case, the execution of William Going occurring this week in 1899 was the last execution carried out under Choctaw Tribal Law.

I'm Steven Knoche Kite.

The Oklahoma Audio Almanac is a joint production of the Oklahoma State University Library and Oklahoma's Public Radio.

 

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