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Crimes and Punishment Among the Choctaw

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Until a very few years ago no Choctaw could be brought legally before a court in Louisiana to answer for any crime, even murder, provided such crime was perpetrated against another member of the tribe.

Murder was the one great crime recognized by the Choctaw, and the life of the murderer was invariably claimed by the friends or rela­tives of the victim. It is Said that murderers seldom attempted to escape, holding it a duty to their families to receive the punishment of death. To attempt to escape was regarded as a cowardly act, which reflected on every member of the family. If, however ,a mur­derer did succeed in escaping, another member of the family usually was required to die in his stead.

The following account of a native execution, the last to occur according to tribal custom, was related by the two women at Bayou Lacomb. This event occurred some thirty years ago at a place not far from Abita Springs:

One night two men who were really friends, not enemies, were dancing and drinking with many others, when they suddenly began quarreling and fighting; finally one was killed by the other. The following day, after the murderer had recovered from the effects of the whiskey, he realized what he had done, and knowing he would have to die he went to the relatives of the murdered man and told them he was ready to meet his doom, but asked that he be allowed to remain with them about two weeks longer, as he did not want to miss a dance to be held within that time. To this they consented, and during the following days he was given many small presents, as pieces of ribbon, beads, and tobacco. He was treated by everyone, by old and young alike, with the greatest respect and kindness; all endeavored to make his last days enjoy­able. At last came the event on account of which his life had been prolonged, and for three days and nights all sang and danced. The next day, just at noon, when the sun was directly overhead, was the time fixed for the execution. Shortly before that time Isis friends and relatives gathered at his house, where he joined them. All then proceeded to the cemetery, for the execution was to take place on the edge of the grave that he himself had helped to dig, us a spot he had selected. The murderer stood erect at one end of the grave, and with his own hands parted Isis shirt over Isis heart. Four of his male friends stood near with their hands on his shoulders and legs, to keep Isis body erect after death. His female relatives were on each side, and all were singing loudly. Soon he announced that he was ready. A relative of the mur­dered mass advanced and pressing the muzzle of a rifle against the murderer’s chest, fired. As provided for, the body was held in an upright position and immediately a piece of cloth was inserted into the wound to stop the flow of blood. Late that afternoon the remains were placed in the grave, which was filled with earth without ceremony.

Thieves apprehended with the stolen property in their possession were forced to return it. If they could not produce the property, either they or their families were compelled to return goods of equal value.

The Choctaw bear a good reputation among the people of the sur­rounding country for honesty and truthfulness. They regard lying as a crime and they have no respect for a person whom they can not believe. Bossu, writing in 1759, said of the Choctaw:

Although they are wild and ferocious, you must gain their confidence, and be very careful to keep your word after having promised them anything, otherwise they treat you with the greatest contempt.

The Choctaw appear to be quiet and peaceable people, and even now the few remaining at Bayou Lacomb often refer to the fact that their tribe never took up arms against the Americans.


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