As long as anyone can remember, the Choctaw people have had a way of keeping peace and enforcing the law within their nation. These are the Lighthorsemen, a crack team of mounted tribal police who have existed since at least 1800, when the Choctaws lived in Mississippi. When the Choctaws were forcibly relocated to "Indian Territory in what is now Oklahoma, they brought their law enforcement with them, where it was soon adopted by the other of the Five Civilized Tribes who were moved there with them.
Each of the five Indian nations (in the original relocation treaties, the tribes were recognized as separate nations from the United States, a ruling that was broken when Oklahoma obtained statehood in 1907) ran their own version of the lighthorsemen, designed to keep peace within the boundaries of their own land. These forces only had authority over people of their own nation, but often assisted law enforcement from other nations, including the United States, by apprehending and detaining suspects until they could be turned over to the right authorities. The organizations of lighthorsemen, and the methods of justice varied some from tribe to tribe.
The Cherokee lighthorsemen had an expressed purpose to "suppress horse thievery and robbery, protect widows and orphans and kill anyone resisting authority". Cherokee sentences of death were usually carried out via a gallows built in Talequah. The other tribes carried out execution by firing squad, as they believed that the spirit of a man who died by hanging could never leave the scene of his death. Sam Sixkiller was the most famous Cherokee lighthorseman. He successfully stopped the crime spree of Creek freedman Dick Glass who for many years stole horses from Indian Territory, sold them in Texas for large quantities of whiskey, and then returned to Indian lands to sell the whiskey at huge profits. Sam shot and killed Dick and most of his gang in a well planned out ambush.
The Seminole lighthorsemen were the smallest bunch in number, but were the most feared due to their aggression. They had no qualms at shooting to kill and carrying out sentences immediately. They had their headquarters at Wewoka and consisted most of the time of only 8 men.
The Creek and Chickasaw lighthorsemen were quite similar in size and makeup, except the Creek officers and judge were elected while the Chickasaw force was hired.
The Choctaws became a main force in their nation in fighting the flow of liquor to the Indian people. They would hold meetings where a speaker would present whiskey as Miko Homa, or red king, and would tell the audience of the evils that whiskey could bring a man and his family to. Then the people would be asked to sign a pledge to not drink alcohol and to assist the lighthorsemen in keeping it out. Charles LeFlore was the most famous Choctaw Lighthorseman. He had a running battle going with the infamous Dalton Gang, and while he never caught them, he succeed several times in interupting or stopping their holdups.
Indian Territory in the 1800s was the home of many outlaws. Belle Starr and her gang were known to frequent the area, and indeed one of their favorite hideouts, Robbers' Cave was in the nearby San Bois Mountains. The James Brothers and their gang traveled through the area often. The Dalton Gang and the Doolin Gang passed through Indian Territory frequently. Perhaps because of the reputation of the lighthorsemen, none of these outlaws, with the exception of the Dalton gang ever committed crimes within Indian Territory.
One detterence to crime in the lighthorsemens' range is that the policy was often one where the lighthorsemen acted as judge, jury, and executioner. Attempted escapes were not taken lightly, and rarely successful. If a criminal was apprehended and found guilty, the punishment could range from 25 lashings to death by firing squad. A first conviction for rape, for example, demanded the punishment of 50 lashes and the cutting off of the left ear. A second conviction increased the lashes to 100 and called for the removal of the second ear. A third conviction was punished by death. Generally when a person was convicted, the date of punishment was set to be one year from conviction. Very very few Indians failed to appear on the appointed day for their punishment. It was considered a matter of honor and family pride to accept punishment and death without fear.
Today, the lighthorseman force has been decreased to one. One man, appointed by the chief of the Choctaw tribe serves as a lighthorseman. That man is currently William Williston.