“Tribal Boundary Confusion an Old Issue”
by Dick Hefton
For all the current turmoil over whether Indian tribal boundaries were erased when Oklahoma became a state in 1907, questions and confusion over criminal and civil jurisdiction had waged from the times of the Indian removal from their eastern homelands to western Arkansas and eastern Oklahoma, circa -1832.
One dramatic example blanketing all the aspects of an old Louis L’Lamour novel was heralded in a recent issue of THE OKLAHOMA CHRONICAL. It tells of a dominant trader in Muscogee- Creek territory, Georgian, Seaborn Hill, shot dead in his office near Ft. Gibson by Creek Indian Agent Captain James L. Dawson, whose frequent financial difficulties were blocking appointment as agent. Dawson’s mother-in-law, Sophie M. Baylor, had greased some skids for him but it took Hill to come along to provide the $20,000 security bond for Dawson to win Senate confirmation. Dawson’s continuing troubles eventually brought Hill to withdraw his security.
On the fateful day, July 8, 1844, Dawson and his young brother-in-law, John R. Baylor, confronted Seaborn Hill in his Three Forks business demanding he send another message in support of Dawson’s reliability. Dawson was armed with two pistols and a bowie knife. Words were exchanged, a Little Rock newspaper later reported, before Dawson put his gun to Hill’s breast killing him.
Bystanders were able to subdue Dawson and Baylor and handed them over to Creek Chief Roley MacIntosh who ordered them held at the nearby Creek Agency. MacIntosh Notified Col. Mason, commandant at Ft. Gibson, that since he had no jurisdiction to make an arrest of white crime in the IT, suggested Mason send a detachment to take the prisoners. Mason politely refused due to “defects” in federal jurisdiction currently being argued in the Arkansas Federal District involving white crime on white victims committed in Indian Country but assured the chief he would report the case to the U.S District Attorney in Little Rock.
Astonished by the process, Superintendent Armstrong, in charge of the Choctaw removal and director of the agencies, took it on himself to rearrest the pair and called in the Lighthorsemen of the Choctaw who captured Capt. Dawson and Baylor short of their hoped sanctuary. During the night, however, the two escaped to Texas. They later were joined by family in Texas while high rewards for their apprehension and safe keeping made widespread news as jurisdiction battles raged in the State of Arkansas before Dawson was arrested November 8, 1852 and held until convicted for manslaughter in April, 1855 and sentenced to 2 years in the Pulaski county jail. Dawson was pardoned by President Franklin Pierce summer of 1855.
Footnote: (1) Hill became a formidable importer-exporter from Apalachicola – New Orleans, then added a warehouse in Little Rock. While his old friend from Georgia, Abner (Levi) Chapman, focused his interests on the Creek, IT. Their business connections in Columbus influenced partnering numerous Creek trading stores often supplying goods to A.P. Chouteau’s store at Three Forks. After John Hill died 2 years after Seaborn, Chapman’s in-law, Catlett James Atkins, came west, filling the void. (Some descendants live in Oklahoma today.) (2) Dawson, who had been stationed at Ft. Gibson, was promoted by his wife’s mother, a sister of Robert Baylor, founder of Baylor University. That union dissolved as was family contact thereafter.