Seminole Burning: A Story of Racial Vengeance

Seminole Burning: A Story of Racial Vengeance

Seminole Burning: A Story of Racial Vengeance

Seminole Burning: A Story of Racial Vengeance

Synopsis

In 1898 after the murder of a white woman, two young Seminoles were chained and burned alive. Hiding behind a wall of silence and fearing reprisal for identifying the executioners, virtually the entire white community became involved with the ghastly execution. In this absorbing narrative Daniel F. Littlefield, Jr., captures the horror and details the events that incited this alarming act of mob violence and community complicity. Seminole Burning not only gives an account of a dramatic, violent chapter in Indian-white relations but also provides insights into the social, economic, and legal history of the times. Because the lynchers took the victims out of Indian Territory and into the new state of Oklahoma for execution, the case became a target for federal investigation. With the conviction of six this became the first successful prosecution of lynchers in the Southwest.

Excerpt

My first knowledge of the episode known as the Seminole burning came from an undergraduate course in Oklahoma history taught by Angie Debo in the summer of 1959. The context in which she presented it became lost to me in time, but I could not forget the incident itself. Perhaps a decade later, I obtained a microfilm copy of "Violence on the Oklahoma Territory‐ Seminole Nation Border: The Mont Ballard Case" (1957), a master of arts thesis by Geraldine Smith, whose work at the University of Oklahoma was the first attempt to write a detailed history of the event. That film remained in my files until recently, after my interest in the Seminole burning had been sparked once more and I was well into the process of researching it.

In one of my frequent rummagings among the inventories and records in the National Archives, I found the Justice Department files relating to the case. As I read them, I realized that the story that emerged differed significantly from the one Smith had told. It was the discrepancies between the stories that caught my attention and led to this book.

Heretofore, historical treatment of the event has rested largely on newspaper articles, published federal documents, and the transcript of the Mont Ballard trial. The result has been an extremely inaccurate rendering of the facts in the case and some erroneous conclusions about its causes. Smith's work is flawed in that respect, though it was an attempt to go beyond the event itself and place it in a larger historical context of frontier lawlessness. Edwin C. McReynolds took Smith's work a step further in The Seminoles (1957), hinting briefly at the racial overtones of the affair. Since their work, the topic has lain dormant except for an occasional piece in the pulp press. My work expands on the contexts Smith and McReynolds introduced, with emphasis on the latter, and explores others that bear significantly on the event, such as questions of criminal jurisdictions in Oklahoma and Indian Territory, white renters in Indian Territory, the public perception of lynching in that era, and the personal agendas of individuals involved in the case.

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