Roots of crime and punishment in Oklahoma run as deep as the ‘Whipping Tree’

Data pix.

WEWOKA, Okla. (KFOR) - It's been here for a couple hundred years, this towering pecan tree.

It predates the current Seminole County Courthouse.

Most people around here, even the people with business in the upstairs courtroom, have forgotten its deep roots.

But historian Richard Ellwanger will often point visitors to a stone sign at the tree's base, and the title conferred on this tree more than a century ago.

"It's the Whipping Tree," he announces. "The Seminoles were known for their swift and effective justice."

From the time of removal in the 1830's to just before Oklahoma statehood, the Seminole Nation administered justice in the county.

Their Lighthorsemen acted as police and took their jobs with deadly seriousness.

Ellwanger notes, "Their Lighthorsemen, their police force, was the most feared force in all the Five Tribes."

But there were no jails.

Punishment held to the Mosaic law of an eye for an eye in the form of lashes.

That's where the Whipping Tree came in.

"They would bind your legs and the Lighthorsemen would administer however many lashes the tribal council had adjudicated to you."

There was another tree that once stood on the courthouse square as well.

The Seminole Chief and Tribal Council occasionally issued death sentences administered by firing squads.

Ellwanger continues, "You would come wearing the finest clothes you could afford, and the Seminole Lighthorsemen would cut a paper heart and pin it to your chest as a target."

A section of the Execution Tree complete with bullet holes has been on display in the Seminole Nation Museum since 2016.

Their roots mix with the bloody soil of the Old West and the colored leaves of our own sense of right and wrong.

"The idea of justice and punishment is an eternal struggle," says Richard.

Historians say they are important in that way, touchable symbols of the questions we all still face beneath the spreading arms of justice.

For more information on the Whipping Tree or Seminole County history, click here.

'Is This a Great State or What?' is sponsored by WEOKIE.

Notice: you are using an outdated browser. Microsoft does not recommend using IE as your default browser. Some features on this website, like video and images, might not work properly. For the best experience, please upgrade your browser.