Indigenous Peoples’ Day: Remembering an 1898 lynching of Seminole People

The Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project (CRRJ) at Northeastern University School of Law investigates and examines redress for racial harms in the United States, particularly for those communities who bear the legacy of historical racial violence. The history of Indigenous communities in the US is the history of violent racialized dispossession, colonialism, exploitation, and subjugation.

This Indigenous Peoples’ Day, non-Native people are called upon to support Native communities’ demands for sovereignty and self-determination as well as their continued efforts to be free from relentless violence, whether state-sponsored or individual.

We remember the history, the ongoing exploitation, and we celebrate the resilience and resistance. 

 A recently published book, Seminole Burning: A Story of Racial Vengeance, by Daniel F. Littlefield, Jr., provides an account of a lynching that scarred a Seminole community in Oklahoma at the turn of the nineteenth century. This racialized lynching of more than 20 members of the Seminole Nation in the winter of 1898 exemplifies the historical, collective violence to which Native communities have been subjected.

Following the killing of a white woman by an Indigenous man in Maud, Oklahoma, a mob descended on the Seminole Nation, capturing, torturing, and murdering Native men and boys. No closer to finding the suspected murderer after a week, a mob lynched two boys, Lincoln McGeisey and Palmer Sampson, both teenagers, chaining them to a tree and burning them alive. Members of the mob falsely claimed that the boys had sexually assaulted the woman.

The federal government subsequently investigated this lynching and prosecuted six members of the mob, who were found guilty. Meanwhile, the number of lynchings of Indigenous men in Oklahoma continued to grow. This lynching followed the familiar pattern that targeted African American males—men and boys—in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. 

On this Indigenous Peoples’ Day, we remember Lincoln McGeisey and Palmer Sampson, and others still unnamed, even as we appreciate that the violent subjugation of Native communities has taken many forms, including the theft of Native land (by, for example federal laws like the General Allotment Act of 1887), environmental destruction, the removal of Indigenous children to Indian Boarding Schools and the foster care system, and the incarceration of Native activists.

Special report written by Alida Pitcher-Murray (2024), who is currently a research assistant with CRRJ, examining historical racial homicides of communities of color, where the federal government failed to intervene or investigate the violence.

Image: This photograph features a group of people from the Seminole tribe, largely in European-style dress. Wewoka, Oklahoma. Photographer: H. Trevor Booth or M. Harris Cole, June 12, 1913, Wanamaker Collection, Mathers Museum of World Cultures.

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