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A resource for territorial research

There’s nothing The Legal Genealogist likes better than a first-class online source of legal information that’s useful in researching family history.

OsageExcept maybe having a reader tell me about one I hadn’t known about before.

And this one is really a doozy. Anybody who ever had kin who spent any time at all in the Arkansas Territory (today, Arkansas and most of Oklahoma) in the early 1800s needs to go spend time looking around in this one.

It happened yesterday after reader Larry Head had time to look at yesterday’s blog post, “Reading the law,”1 a tale of greed and murder from the Territory of Arkansas that I stumbled across while doing what I like best — poking around in old law books.

It was the story of a falling-out among business partners in a salt works located in what is present-day Oklahoma that ended in a gruesome murder — Johnson Campbell being “shot and barbarously scalped”2 by “his partner David Earhart, … with employee (or partner) William Childers.”3

First, Larry offered a theory about the method of murder: “Can’t help wondering if scalping was intended to implicate Native Americans,” he suggested. And that sure seems likely since the salt works was on Cherokee land. But, he went on, “if you haven’t already done so, query this resource: http://144.167.100.214/arcourts/case.htm.”

So what exactly is http://144.167.100.214/arcourts/case.htm? It’s about the neatest online law site I’ve seen in a long while. It’s from the William H. Bowen School of Law at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, entitled Territorial Briefs and Records. And here’s the description:

This site contains images, transcripts and abstracts of records and briefs filed with the Arkansas territorial courts. The records date from 1809, when Arkansas was a district within the Territory of Louisiana. They continue through 1812, when Arkansas became part of the Territory of Missouri. In 1819, Congress made Arkansas a territory in its own right, and the Territorial Superior Court was established as the highest court of the territory. The Territorial Superior Court met first at the Arkansas Post, and later at Little Rock. Not all of its records have been preserved, but enough exist to give us a glimpse of appellate procedure, law and life in early 19th century Arkansas. At statehood, the existing records passed into the custody of the Arkansas Supreme Court, where eventually they were forgotten. Along with 90 years of the Supreme Court records and briefs, the territorial records and briefs were moved to the University of Arkansas at Little Rock William H. Bowen School of Law, where they were discovered by library assistant Louise Lowe in 2001.

… (T)he entire territorial collection is being scanned, transcribed, summarized, indexed and being made available on the Internet. …

These documents will interest historians, both legal and nonlegal, attorneys, genealogists, and all those who love history. …4

Right now there are 108 cases covering 1809-1834 in the database, many with transcripts and images of the original case records, and while the site hasn’t been updated in a while, we can all sure hope more students get the legal history bug and get more online.

So why is this such a neat resource? First, because it offers scans of the original records. Being able to see those original documents is so important to the researcher. Second, because there are transcriptions and indexes to them that help us get into the original records in an easy way. And third, because there are historical notes tucked into nooks and crannies all over the site, not just in the History of the Territorial Courts page but also in the case abstracts.

A few snippets from the case abstracts to whet your appetite:

• Sex, scandal, domestic violence and women’s rights — or lack thereof — were at the heart of Samuel Allen v. Elizabeth Allen (1827): “This story began in December of 1825 when Samuel Allen and Elizabeth Tygert were married. After an apparently tumultuous year and a half, Samuel Allen, via his attorneys Richard Searcy and Townsend Dickinson, petitioned the circuit court of Independence County for a divorce a vinculo matrimonii on May 30, 1827. In his petition for divorce, he stated that ‘notwithstanding the strict observance of his marriage contract on his part, the said Elizabeth wholy regardless of her duty as a wife, and her said marriage vow, did not conduct herself with the prudence discretion and affection which she owed to her husband and the delicacy of her sex; but on the contrary was ill natured and disobedient to [Samuel] and endeavored by every means in her power to render his life miserable and unhappy.’”5 That was his side of the story; hers was different, and it’s all there online.

• The fascinating story of an attack by an Osage band on some white hunters can be found in United States v. Osages (1824): “The indictment placed the killing on November 17, on the Blue River branch of the Red River, in the territory of Arkansas (today Oklahoma). The indictment claims that Welborn was shot, stabbed and struck with guns, butcher’s knives and tomahawks, and that his head was severed from his body.” Reading on, we find this case went on to involve a Presidential pardon for an Osage chief, Mad Buffalo.6

• And anybody who claims descent from or even kin to John D. Chisholm has to read Robert Clary v. John D. Chisholm (1811): “Robert Clary … sued … John D. Chisholm for a debt of $207.33 for “whiskey, corn, pork, beef, bacon, and flour” and for another debt of $107.33. John D. Chisholm was born in Scotland and emigrated to America in the 1700s. He had several wives, and was at one time married to a Cherokee woman. He was involved in speculation of Florida land (then owned by Spain) and spent some time in debtor’s prison in London. He lived for awhile in Tennessee, where he and the Indian chief Doublehead swindled settlers in fraudulent land deals in the Muscle Shoals area. He was a prominent member of the Western Cherokees, who migrated to and settled western Arkansas in the early 1800s. He would later represent the Cherokees at the Treaty of Cherokee Agency in 1817.”7

• And in John Miller v. Henry Cassidy (1812), we learn that the territorial officials weren’t immune from trouble either: “during this session of the Arkansas territorial court one of the judges was charged three times, sentenced once and tried once, and the prosecuting attorney was charged as well, but neither of them withdrew for the term.”8

Now seriously… how can you not want to spend time in these records?

Kudos to the Bowen Law School, a tip of the hat to reader Larry Head, and don’t bother me the rest of the day, okay?

I’m going to be head over heels deep into Arkansas legal history…


SOURCES

IMAGE: Indictment, United States v. Osages, October 1824.

  1. Judy G. Russell, “Reading the law,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 14 Dec 2015 (http://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : accessed 15 Dec 2015).
  2. Thomas Nuttall, A Journal of Travels Into the Arkansas Territory: During the Year 1819 (Philadelphia: Thos. H. Palmer, 1821), 178; digital images, Google Books (http://books.google.com : accessed 13 Dec 2015).
  3. Salt and Salt Works,” Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, Oklahoma Historical Society (http://www.okhistory.org/publications/encyclopediaonline : accessed 13 Dec 2015.
  4. About This Site,” Territorial Briefs and Records, William H. Bowen School of Law, University of Arkansas at Little Rock (http://144.167.100.214/arcourts/index.htm : accessed 14 Dec 2015).
  5. Ibid., Samuel Allen v. Elizabeth Allen, “Abstract”.
  6. Ibid., United States v. Osages, “Abstract.”
  7. Ibid., Robert Clary v. John D. Chisholm, “Abstract.”
  8. Ibid., John Miller v. Henry Cassidy, “Abstract.”
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