For many years prior to 1889 the United States District Court located at Fort Smith, Ark., had jurisdiction over the Indian Territory in cases where white men (non-citizens) were parties, both in civil and criminal cases, but it proved to be very unsatisfactory on account of the distance which litigants and witnesses were compelled to travel. Indians found it to be very burdensome and annoying to have to travel overland 100 miles and be detained at Fort Smith for several days awaiting trial of the cases in which they were interested. As a result of this inconvenience many crimes went unpunished simply because the witnesses who were in possession of testimony would not let it be known, on account of their dread of having to make the trip to Fort Smith.
Finally, after repeated appeals to Congress had been made for relief from this embarrassing situation, Congress passed an act on March 1, 1889, providing for a district court in Indian Territory, to be located at Muskogee. This court was given jurisdiction over the whole of old Indian Territory, extending from Kansas to Texas and from Arkansas to New Mexico, in offenses against the laws of the United States, and in civil cases, between citizens of the United States residing in the territory and in all cases where persons outside of the territory were parties litigant, in which the amount involved was $100 or more.
Judge William M. Springer was born in Sullivan’ County, Ind., May 30, 1836; removed to Illinois with his parents in 1848; graduated at the Indiana University at Bloomington in 1858; studied law and was admitted to practice in 1856. He was a member of the Legislature of Illinois in 1871-72. In 1874 he was elected to Congress, where he served his Illinois district as a democrat for twenty successive years. He was defeated in 1894, but was immediately appointed as United States District Judge for the northern district of Indian Territory.
While in Congress he served for several years on the committee on territories and when he entered upon his judicial career at Muskogee, in March, 1895, he was well acquainted with conditions here. Immediately upon his arrival in Muskogee, he announced the appointment of James A. Winston of Springfield, Ill., as clerk of his court.
During the early days of Muskogee, when the town was just beginning to assume city proportions, probably no man had a greater influence in shaping the policies of the city than Dr. Leo. E. Bennett. As a young physician, he left Fort Smith in 1883 and settled in Eufaula to engage in the practice of his chosen profession. He soon saw, however, that Muskogee was destined to become the Metropolis of Indian Territory and his restless, energetic disposition prompted him to come to Muskogee and assist in building’ a real city. In January, 1888, he established the Muskogee Weekly Phoenix which he continued to publish until 1889, when he was appointed United States Indian Agent. He resigned as Indian Agent in 1892, and was appointed United States Marshal for Indian Territory in 1897.
He was a stanch, true friend of the Indian and absolutely fearless in the discharge of his duties. Accompanied by a few deputies he captured “Crazy Snake” and twenty of his band during one of their “uprisings” and brought them to Muskogee. He did not hesitate to severely criticize the authorities at Washington when he thought they were derelict in their obligations to the Indians.
In 1908 Doctor Bennett was elected mayor of Muskogee, but after serving the city for some time he resigned on account of some technical legal question which arose under the new state’s first election law, and, at his request, Mr. T. H. Martin, former mayor, took. up the mayoralty duties again.
Doctor Bennett was active and prominent in Masonic circles, in Oddfellowship and in the Knights of Pythias and rendered material aid in organizing several of the banks and other business institutions in Muskogee. He was an honest official, a true friend of the Indian and a genuine town builder. In 1917, his health became impaired, and while on a visit to Mineral Wells, Tex., he died on the 27th day of May.
Early in the spring of 1909 the public press of Oklahoma, in glaring headlines, proclaimed an uprising and threatened rebellion of a band of full-blood Creek Indians, inhabiting a rough, hilly section of the country, west of Eufaula. The “Snakes,” like the “Kee-Too-Wahs” or “Night Hawks” of the Cherokee Nation, were opposed to the dissolution of their tribal government and to the individual allotment of lands. * They would occasionally meet and have a dance at their favorite place, known as “Old Hickory Stomp Grounds” and they would adopt resolutions denouncing the efforts of the Dawes Commission toward breaking up their tribal relations and customs, but that was the extent of their demonstrations. Upon this particular occasion the newspapers were so sure that an Indian outbreak was impending that the governor of the state was prevailed upon to send 200 of the State Militia to the vicinity of the “Stomp Grounds” to quell the promised uprising.
The facts in the case were as follows: A number of non-citizen Negroes who had been living in tents near the Stomp Grounds were suspected of having stolen some articles that were missing in the neighborhood. A constable undertook to search the tents, but, upon being denied admission, he organized a posse and arrested forty of the Negroes, one Indian and one white man. None of the so called “Snake Indians” were present. However, about the same time, Wilson Jones, alias Chitti Harjo or Crazy Snake, leader of the disaffected Snake band, had returned from Washington, D. C., where he had gone to beg the President to permit the Indians to retain their old customs and modes of living, and as was his custom, upon his return home, he called his band together at their Stomp Grounds, to report the failure of his trip to Washington. The authorities of McIntosh County, surmising that the Snakes, upon hearing the disheartening report of their leader, might cause trouble of some kind, sent five deputies to arrest Wilson, or “Crazy Snake.”
The deputies found Wilson at his humble home in company with seven other Indians. They resisted arrest, claiming that they had violated no law, and a fight followed, in which two of the deputies were killed and Wilson and one of his visitors were wounded.
Thus ended the “uprising” and it is a fair sample of the “Indian Insurrections” which have been periodically reported from this territory during the past thirty years.
Charles W. Raymond was appointed by President McKinley in 1901 to succeed Judge John R. Thomas as United States District Judge of the Muskogee District. Judge Raymond had practiced law in Watseka, Ill., his home town, for many years, and had served as County Judge of his home county. Soon after arriving at Muskogee he foresaw that the then struggling town was destined to become a city of considerable size and importance and backed his judgment by investing extensively in city property. He still owns some of the most valuable business property in Muskogee. At the close of his term of office he was succeeded by Judge William R. Lawrence and soon afterward returned to his former Illinois home where he now resides.
William R. Lawrence was born in Bloomington, Ind., January 14, 1840. In 1849 his father, John Lawrence, moved to Illinois, settling near Danville, taking the young lad with him. On July 14, 1862, William joined the Union army, enlisting at Georgetown, Ill. He was soon promoted to a lieutenancy; was wounded at the battle of Chickamauga, was captured by the confederates and confined in Libby Prison for six months. His prison confinement wrecked his health to such an extent that he was rendered unfit for further service and in 1864 he was honorably discharged from the army and returned to Illinois and began the study of law at Bloomington. Upon being admitted to practice law he married Miss Josephine Frazier, of Danville, and went to Booneboro, Iowa, to begin the practice of his chosen profession. In 1873 he returned to his old home at Danville, Ill., where he opened a law office and remained in the active practice until April 18, 1904, when he was appointed a United States District judge for the Northern District of Indian Territory. On December 8, 1905, he was transferred by President Roosevelt to the Muskogee District as the successor of Judge C. W. Raymond, where he remained until statehood. Prior to his coming to Indian Territory he was, for many years, regarded as one of the best lawyers of Eastern Illinois, having been identified with some of the most important cases which arose in the courts of that state. In one noted lawsuit he was pitted against Dan Voorhees, the Tall Sycamore of the Wabash, the most noted criminal lawyer of his time in Indiana. Judge Lawrence, now in his eighty-third year, resides in Muskogee, surrounded by his children, grandchildren and one great grandchild, William R. Lawrence III.
- First United States Court at Muskogee
- The United States Court In Indian Territory
- General Council For Indian Territory
- No Man’s Land
Source: Benedict, John D. Muskogee and northeastern Oklahoma, including the counties of Muskogee, McIntosh, Wagoner, Cherokee, Sequoyah, Adair, Delaware, Mayes, Rogers, Washington, Nowata, Craig, and Ottawa. 3 v. illus., ports., facsims. 28 cm. Chicago, S.J. Clarke Pub. Co., 1922.