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  • Writer's pictureDennis McCaslin

The saga of Silon Lewis: Choctaw martyr or cold-blooded killer?

Silon Lewis

To this day, you can mention the name of Silon Lewis to older members of the Choctaw Nation and depending on their knowledge and interpretation of the events of 125-years ago, he was either a heinous killer or a hero that was the victim of the hanging times and morays that plagued native Americans in 19-th century Oklahoma.

Like so many natives in the region at the time, Lewis was deeply troubled by the intrusions of the white settlers from the east that not only encroached on the very land that had been promised his people but the traditional way of life for the Choctaws. as well.

Time after time, treaties were broken. Land was being parceled out to newcomers, reducing the territorial lands of the Choctaws. Three different chiefs had ruled various sections of the Nation and they had different values and ideas about the encroachment of white settlers in the territory. Missionaries insisted on "taming the savages", turning them into Christians and assimilating the younger members of the tribe to English and an Americanized economy.

Lewis's farm lie west of Pine Mountain, near present-day Blanco in Pittsburgh County. The farm was located about a mile from Hartshorne It's been said that Lewis wore his hair short, dressed like a white man, and spoke some rudimental English. But at his core, he was a traditionalist whose beliefs were closely associated traditions of his tribe.

Among those beliefs were that the Choctaws should maintain control over their sovereignty by maintain the traditional tribal government as they had been promised by treaty with the federal government. Lewis also believe in a stringent code of honor that had been watered down--and mostly ignored--by many of his kith and kin.

Silon and Sally Lewis

Silon Lewis claimed to be sixty-four years old in 1894 but because he had no birth certificate, even he could not sure. He had taken a seventeen-year-old bride (Sally) the previous year/ Sally was the daughter of a Choctaw mother and a white man who share-cropped on Lewis's prosperous farm, where he raised horse, cattle and hogs and worked the land with rotating crops.

Two years earlier an the election loomed for Principal Chief of the tribe. Sitting Chief Nathanial Jones, a Progressive who was favored by the educated, mix breed wing of the tribe, and Jacob Battiest Jackson, a Nationalist who was supported by the less educated, tradition-laden, and full blood faction were the candidates.

Chief Nation Jones and Jacob Jackson

Some of the hardcore traditionalist decided the way to sway the election and put fear into the opposition was to assassinate some of the key members of the Progressive Party and a plan was put in place. Because Lewis was well-liked by his tribesmen, he was put in charge and a series of raids and assassinations were planned to take place simultaneous at designated time and places throughout what was then Greene County.

Sheriff Joe Holotubee

A co-conspirator by the name of Simeon Wade took one group to kill three Progressives in Green County, while Lewis and his crew went to the home of County Sheriff Joe Hoklotubbee on September 10, 1892.

Sheriff H0klotubbee, who was sleep on his porch when the men rode up, died in a hail of bullets from sixteen Winchester rifles. Lewis and Wade the joined up and were headed towards the home of Chief Jones when they learned that other Nationalist had failed to follow through with their part of the plot. Someone had leaked the plans of the Progressives to Jones and his people, who barricaded in the home and fought off the attackers.

tJones got the federal government involved by telegraphing the Indian Agency in Mueskogee and he also sent the Lighthorsemen after Lewis and the gang. He was arrested in McAlester--some say reluctantly-- by officers that knew and respected him.

Lewis and eight others were tried by a Gaines County judge. All were found guilty and sentenced to die, but as was Choctaw tradition all the men were given a stay long enough to return home and put their affairs in order. Through political wrangling Lewis and six others were spared death and given 100 lashes with a bullwhip for their part in the plot.

Silon Lewis was the only defendant who now faced he death penalty. He was released as a freeman but was told he had to return to Gaines County in November to face his fate.

Lesser men would have fled, but the traditional code of honor that Lewis had put his life in peril in order to maintain would not allow him to flee to escape his justice.

Sally Lewis

He went home to Blanco. He married Sally on June 4, 1894 just five months before his execution date. They worked the farm, made several runs to McAlester for supplies and even had their photograph done in Hartshorne. Sally and his in-laws made frequent pleas for Lewis to go on the run. One of the officers assigned to "keep an eye" on Lewis even "accidentally" left a fresh horse and a pack horse loaded with supplies tied to a tree near the home and tried to urge him to make use of both.

In a 1959 interview, Sally Lewis said Silon was firm in his constitution concerning the impending execution. He told her had to "face he music" and that "White man will never understand but I have got to go".

On the appointed day, he showed up exactly as he promised. He had stopped on the way and hid his last will and testament notarized, leaving everything to Sally. When the clock struck noon, the nattily attired Lewis removed his blue serge dress coat and vest and unbuttoned his shirt to allow the attending physician to draw a circle of flour around his chest indicating the target.

Sheriff Tecumseh Moore was the usual executioner, but he refused to fire the fatal bullet because he was longtime friends with Lewis. The task was then given to Deputy Sheriff Lyman Pulsey.

Pulsey took up the rifle and fired the shot from twenty feet away. "Blood and white powder exploded as the bullet went through Lewis's body "according to one eyewitness.

In a horrific scene, the doctor had drawn the circle on the wrong side of the chest and the shot had passed through the right side of Lewis's body, puncturing a lung. He lie on the ground suffering and gasping for air for fifteen minutes before a man placed a handkerchief over his mouth and nose and smothered the life from Silon lewis.

Lewis's body was returned to his farm and he was buried next to his two sons from a previous marriage. According to Find a Grave, he is buried in a grave in Sec. 7, T-3-N, R-15E of Pittsburgh County on private land.

One thing about it. Lewis was a traditionalist to the end. And he lived a code of honor in which he believed a man's word was his bond.

So we have come full circle. Was Silon Lewis a cold-blooded killer and deep own a savage, or was he a martyr for the cause and way of life he believed in?

I'll let the reader be their own judge.

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