Crimes and Debauchery

A grand ball-play recently came off at Ayakni Achukma, at which some avaricious and unprincipled trader succeeded in smuggling whisky into the camp. Soon after the liquor was distributed the excitement became wild, intense, and irrepressible; the play was summarily closed, and a general bacchanalian carousal and debauch were the results. While the whisky lasted the drunken revelry was kept up, each one contributing his part in the disgusting orgies. At length, having exhausted the supply of liquid fire, they struck their camps and dispersed, each in the direction of his own neighborhood and cabin.

Cornelius Macann and family, who were our near neighbors, had to perform a journey of thirty miles to reach home; as they could not do this in one afternoon, they were forced to camp and take one “sleep” by the roadside. Macann was about fifty years old; his wife was much younger, and his son Jim, by a former wife, was perhaps twenty-five years old. The old gentleman was a little more under the influence of liquor than his wife, and she assumed the responsibility of taking the jug into her own possession. Camping by the side of their trail, Macann was very stupid and almost consumed by thirst; his wife kept the jug concealed and would not give him the coveted oko-ho-ma–whisky. He complained bitterly of his wife’s unkind treatment, but finally lay down by the camp-fire and went into a drunken sleep. At a late hour Jim Macann, the son, rode up to the camp, whereupon Mrs. Macann immediately brought out the jug to treat Jim. The old man again begged for whisky to quench his thirst, which was about to consume him, but his request was not regarded; again he lay down and went to sleep. Mrs. Macann and Jim held a short conference, and then proceeded to murder the husband and father. The fiendish deed was accomplished by the son, in the presence of the wife, with a stout cudgel three feet long; he literally broke the father’s head, and left his lifeless and mangled corpse lying by the camp-fire. There had been no provocation; the act was cool, deliberate, premeditated, and murderous. It was believed that the wife’s object was to get rid of her husband, that she might secure a younger and more sprightly companion. The son, who was a fast young man, with a strong disgust for manual labor, wished to get possession of his father’s property, which consisted of a good stock of cattle and horses.

The entire community seemed shocked at the horrible and unnatural crime of the murder, and forthwith the light-horsemen arrested Jim and brought him before the proper tribunal to answer to the charge of murder in the first degree. The investigation was prosecuted with promptness; he was found guilty and sentenced to be shot. Jim succeeded, however, in obtaining a new trial, which was set for an early day; but there was no prison in which to confine him, and, before the time arrived in which the investigation was to be made, he absconded, and was next heard of in the “old nation,” east of the Mississippi, a thousand miles distant.

Their method and forms in the prosecution of criminals were of a primitive character. If a man was charged with crime it became the duty of the light-­horsemen to notify the accused to appear before the court, upon a set day, for trial; but during the interval the culprit went free. If a full-blooded Indian they had the fullest confidence that he would come voluntarily to the bar and meet courageously the impending decision; as his honor and bravery were involved no one feared that he would secrete himself or fly to escape sentence of the law. To be regarded as a coward was a doom more fearful, a thousand-fold, than death itself; he is altogether too brave to shun a judicial investigation; he is not afraid to die, but ready to face death with boldness. But half-breed Indians were not to be trusted; they were almost as mean and cowardly as white men themselves; they were alike destitute of honor and courage Jim Macann was a half-breed; he was “no brave,” and, hence, to save his unworthy life, fled from his tribe that he might obtain a refuge in a distant land.

A Suicide

A circumstance transpired in the vicinity of our mission, during the first session of the Academy, which will serve to illustrate a marked trait of Choctaw character. They cherished a strong disgust for all connections and amalgamations with the colored people. It was death, according to their laws, for one of the tribe to marry a negro or mulatto; all such intercourse was regarded with inexpressible loathing, and yet there were occasional intermixtures of the blood of the Indian and African races.

We had received into the Academy, as a day scholar, a lad whose name was Isaac M’Kee, about fourteen years of age, who might have claimed relationship with the Anglo-Saxon, the African, and the Indian races. His father was said to have been a chief, and his mother a bright mulatto slave, who had served her master in the capacity of housekeeper. But Isaac knew nothing of his parents; for his father had died during his infancy, and his mother had been sold to another master. He seemed to be entirely ignorant of the African taint in his blood, and regarded him­self as pure Choctaw. He had been in the school but a short time when one of his play-fellows became angry and taunted “lke” with being a “nigger;” but Isaac resented the insult with becoming indignation. But, when he had time to reflect coolly upon the subject, he was forced to admit that his complexion was peculiar and his hair curled, which was, indeed, remarkable, and hitherto unknown among Indians of unadulterated blood.

His home was in the family of William Riddle, the United States Interpreter, and, as he was exceedingly anxious to know the truth with regard to his parentage and race, he went to Mr. Riddle and frankly stated what the lads at the school had said. “Captain,” said he, “I wish to know the truth; is it so? am I a nigger?” Mr. Riddle replied: ” Isaac, I have seen your parents. Your father lived on Red river, and was once a chief; he was an honorable man, and died when you were an infant. Your mother was a servant a mulatto, a beautiful woman, of excellent character.” But Isaac waited to hear no more; he was gone. In about an hour after the conversation had taken place the Captain heard the report of a gun in the bushes near by, and, wishing to know who had fired the piece, he went to the spot, and was shocked to find Isaac M’Kee weltering in his own gore. He had regarded a life of degradation as more intolerable than death itself; he could not endure the odium which he believed attached to the word negro. This was the only case of suicide that came under our observation. We never knew a case of insanity or idiocy in any of the tribes; we heard of no such persons


In the latter part of September Lewis Calvin was shot by the light-horsemen at the council-ground.

Calvin was the brother-in-law of Jim Macann, and had been much enraged at the light-horsemen for their promptness in arresting Jim and bringing him to trial. He had sworn that he would wreak his vengeance upon Captain Riddle; this threat was made in the presence of one of Riddle’s friends. Calvin had been seen in the bushes, near the Captain’s residence, with his rifle in hand, and, when challenged, he boldly declared that his object was to kill Riddle. Thus matters stood for a number of weeks. Calvin’s deadly hostility could not be over come, although he knew full well that Riddle’s acts had been official and not characterized by personal animosity.

They met for the first time after the difficulty at Ayakni Achukma, when Riddle, T. Walls, T. M’Kenny, and C. James, all light-horsemen, approached Calvin and Lewis Macann, and asked if it was true that he Calvin had sworn vengeance against the light-horsemen, and against himself Riddle in particular? Calvin said it was true, and that his purpose was to kill every man of them, commencing with Riddle. The light-horsemen then simultaneously fired upon Calvin and Lewis Macann, killing them instantly.

The deed was violent and much to be regretted, and yet there seemed to be no remedy less cruel and bloody. They had only acted in their official capacity in the act which gave mortal offense, and then, to protect their lives, they were forced to destroy those who had sworn vengeance against them. They immediately surrendered themselves to the authorities, and demanded an investigation, which resulted in their acquittal; the authorities fully justified them in the deed. A man who deliberately and persistently threatens murder is considered an outlaw and treated accordingly.

But, after this unhappy occurrence, Captain Riddle became gloomy and wretched; he reflected on himself, regretting that he had killed Calvin. He was sad and greatly depressed in spirit, and remarked to a friend, “I never before shed blood ; I am not a murderer, had no malice in my heart against Calvin. I wish I had not touched him, but had run the risk of being shot myself; I am now so wretched that I would rather die than live!”

Some months after that event Mr. Riddle’s business called him into the southern part of the tribe; and, while in the vicinity of Fort Towson, he had an attack of toothache and neuralgia in the face. The surgeon at the Fort was called to see him, extracted the decayed tooth, and gave him medicine, not regarding the symptoms by any means alarming. Mr. Goode, being in that part of the nation, called to see Riddle, but did not think him seriously ill. He did not improve, however, but, gradually declining, in a few days died, apparently from mental rather than physical sufferings. He was a national loss a good, honest, patriotic, and capable officer whom the tribe could not well spare. We knew no Choctaw for whom we felt greater respect than for William Riddle, the United States Interpreter and captain of’ the light-horsemen, or marshals, of his district. His son, Philip, was in the Academy a fine, sprightly lad of twelve years of age and, when we left that country, was making fine progress in his studies; he was an unusually promising youth.

Choctaw, Crime,

Benson, Henry C. Life Among the Choctaw Indians and Sketches of the South-West. L. Swormstedt & A. Poe. 1860.

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