Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Light Horse in the Indian Territory and Their Involvement With James, Tom Starr and other Starrs


The term "light-horse" is a familiar one in connection with Light-Horse Harry,  a nickname conferred upon General Henry Lee, because of the great rapidity of his cavalry movements during the Revolutionary War. This expression was a common one in the Indian Territory where the Five Civilized Tribes were equipped with a body of men known as the "light-horse,” who served as a mounted police force. The name appears frequently in the law books of the different nations as acts were passed directing the organization of such bodies of men to carry out the laws, the length of terms they were to serve, the funds appropriated to pay for their services, the number of men in each body and the captains who commanded them. The light-horsemen were given considerable latitude in enforcing the judgments of the court as much reliance was placed upon their discretion.

On February 23, 1839, Hon. A. H. Sevier of Arkansas delivered a speech in the United States Senate in which he quoted the Reverend Isaac McCoy who in writing of the Choctaws had asserted that two judges belong to each of the four districts in their nation west in the Indian Territory, and that "Two officers, denominated light-horsemen, in each district, perform the duties of sheriffs. -1 company of six or seven, denominated light-horsemen, the leader of whom is styled Captain, constitute a national corps of regulators, to prevent infractions of the law, and to bring to justice offenders."'

"In 1808 the chiefs and warriors of the Cherokees passed an act appointing regulators, who were authorized to suppress horse stealing and robbery, to protect the widows and orphans,' and kill an- accused person resisting their authority.  These regulators were evidently the forerunners of the light-horsemen.
Major George Lowery who was born at Tohskeege in the old Cherokee Nation about 1770, was a captain of one of the first companies of light-horse appointed to enforce the laws in 1808 and 1810. He was one of the most useful and distinguished members of the "Old Settler" faction; he held several tribal offices and served as assistant principal chief for many years. He died October 20, 1852 and was buried in the Tahlequah cemetery.

In November, 1845 the Cherokee Advocate was aroused over articles appearing in western Arkansas newspapers regarding the killing of James Starr and Suel Rider. One whole page in the edition of September 27 was devoted to the subject. In a long letter signed "Citizen" the case was set forth in the following words:
. . . . If the killing of Starr and Rider is a party affair, and we see how anxious their friends wish it to be so understood, they certainly will admit that all the murders and outrages committed by the Starrs and their connections was also a party affair. It is a bad rule that does not work both ways.
Now are those who have fled across the line are any of them prepared to say that the murder of Charles Thornton was a party move? Was the recent and inhuman butchery of Crawford and A-to-la-hee, and the attempt on Mr. Meigs' life and the burning of his residence a party affair? It is well known that the perpetrators of these and numerous other crimes belong to the "Treaty party," but the authorities of the Nation and the people have never held the party responsible, nor do they now. It is a miserable expedient of reckless men to subserve sinister purposes at the expense of the Peace and character of their own race . . . . When did the Treaty party or those who now claim so much for them of right, purity, and protection, ever attempt to aid in the arrest of the notorious bandit who had long escaped.

 General Matthew Arbuckle from his Headquarters, 2d Military Department at Fort Smith wrote to Acting Chief George Lowery on November 15, 1845 that he had "received intelligence of the recent commotion in the Flint District of your nation." He had sent Major B. L. E. Bonneville, "an officer of rank and experience to the scene of the disturbance and he learned from his report . . . . that the murder of Starr and Rider, and the wounding of two of Starr's sons, and the consequence of disturbance in the Cherokee nation, have resulted, directly or indirectly, from Resolutions of the National Council, or orders issued in pursuance thereof.

It appears from the evidence in my possession (acknowledged to be correct by the Captain and Lieutenant of the Light Horse Company which committed the murders,) that no resistance was made on the part of any of the victims; in fact, nothing was done in the remotest degree to justify these outrageous proceedings. That a lad of 12 or 13 years of age, was pursued and dangerously, if not mortally wounded, proves that the Police must have had some other object in view besides the vindication of the laws. Agreeably to the law, Resisting or aiding, or abetting &c., only authorized the Light Horse to take violent measures. No resistance was offered, yet the Light Horse went to the extreme of committing murder, in violation of the very law of the nation, under which they claimed to be acting . . . . .

The result of these proceedings has been to drive from their homes more than 100 men. From the reckless proceedings of the Light Horse, or Police, they fear, I think very justly, to return, having no guarantee, however Innocent they may he, that they may not fall victims, like their friends, to the illegal and savage acts of an armed and irresponsible body . . . . .

After a scathing diatribe against the affairs in the nation, Arbuckle continued:
The Light Horse must be disbanded at once, and the persons concerned in the murder of James Starr and Rider, arrested. Nothing short of this would he becoming a country of law; the guilty individuals must be tried for murder; otherwise the Cherokees must cease to think they lived under a government of law.
The peace of the Cherokee nation must be secured; . . . . I have already sent a company of Dragoons to the disturbed District, for the purpose of preserving order . . . . . I desire you will submit this communication to the National Council, and inform me, as soon as may he, of the measures taken to secure peace to the nation.

Acting Chief Lowrey, on November 26, 1845 addressed a letter to Colonel *James McKissick, Cherokee Agent, in which he wrote: . . . . The information communicated to Gen. Arbuckle, must have been entirely exparte and incorrect, to have authorized the harsh terms in which his letter abounds. There is no wish on our part to enter into a correspondence or controversy with the Gen. on the subject, and we are content to pursue the hitherto usual and long established medium of communication through the U. S. Agent.

The object, therefore, of this, is to furnish you with sound information as may be deemed necessary in vindication of the punishment? . . . .

This information was extracted from the Chronicles of Oklahoma in the Library of OK State.

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