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Photograph of an Execution in the Choctaw Nation

The final acts in the execution of Silan Lewis, 1894 (LOC).

This disturbing image is the only available photographic documentation of an execution carried out by the Choctaw Lighthorsemen, the nation's police force that was established in 1834.

In November of 1894, Silan Lewis, who had been found guilty of killing Joe Hokolotubbee, was set to be executed for the crime in Wilburton (then, Gaines County, I.T.; now, Latimer County, Oklahoma). According to Choctaw tradition, Lewis was given several months to put his affairs in order before his date with death. Also according to Choctaw tradition, he was allowed to ask his friend, Sherriff Pusley, to kill him, as this prevented anyone from Lewis' family to seek revenge.

On the set date of execution, Lewis appeared in Wilburton, ready to accept his fate. Pusley aimed for a shot in the heart but missed. This photo shows Pusley (edited - it might not be Pusley but another, unidentified man) suffocating Lewis. The photo was part of a large donation from the C.M. Bell Collection to the Library of Congress. Bell was a prominent photographer based out of Washington D.C. at the turn of the century. It is unknown how Bell acquired this photo.

(Photo and information from Library of Congress).

Click here learn more about Silan Lewis.

The murder that Lewis committed was political, based on the full blood vs. progressive Anglo-influenced factions' outlook for the nation's future.

Choctaw historian Kenny Sivard explained that in the nation's execution laws, only one shot could be fired: "This was a fairly common happening in Choctaw Nation executions because of it. In the last execution of the nation, that of William Going, he was also hit in the lung. A bucket of water was poured slowly into his mouth until he died. According to a witness at the Lewis execution the rag being held in his mouth was to muffle his screams. Another witness said it was to suffocate him. They did hold him down while he fought out his final minutes, which was the common practice. The men on each arm were holding his arms out as he was shot as well and this was part of their job, should the execution be botched. This photo was taken after Lewis had suffered most of it out and was slipping into unconsciousness, but still gasping breaths while he choked to death on his own blood."

Kenny Sivard further explains that this photo was not the "Last Execution in the Choctaw Nation," regardless how others have sensationalized the image. "There were at least three executions after Silan Lewis. Unfortunately, the photographer who took the picture wrote faulty info on it to sell it back east and the myth of Lewis being the last was perpetuated. My mentor, Louis Coleman spent a great deal of time proving that the Lewis execution was not the last, not even near the last. He fought to have the Oklahoma historical marker telling the story of the Goings execution erected near Ringold, OK. He also wrote a very well researched article on the actual last execution for the Chronicles of Oklahoma. The myth was also perpetuated by Lymun Pusley in his later years who got a lot of attention from state and local newspapers as the, "last executioner of the Choctaw Nation", a title that rightfully belongs to Appukshunubbe Dist. High Sheriff, Thomas Watson."


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