Book Review: Sam Sixkiller, by Howard Kazanjian and Chris Enss

By HistoryNet Staff
10/2/2012 • Andrew Jackson, Wild West Reviews

Sam Sixkiller: Cherokee Frontier Lawman, by Howard Kazanjian and Chris Enss, TwoDot, Guilford, Conn., 2012, $14.95

Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma) was the stepchild of a cynical violation of a Supreme Court decision—the court said the Cherokees could stay in the South, but President Andrew Jackson, with the military on his side, defied that decision. What followed in the late 1830s was the Trail of Tears—the forced relocation of the Cherokees and other Five Civilized Tribes to the West. With such origins it should come as little surprise that law and order found a less-than-amenable reception in the territory, as lawmen, both white and Indian, tried to implement it while incurring a fearsome casualty rate. The handful with the grit to emerge from this criminal crucible, such as lawman Bill Tilghman and “Hangin’ Judge” Isaac Parker, acquired a certain legendary status. But Sam Sixkiller, though Parker was singularly impressed with him, has never enjoyed the wide recognition that his accomplishments—and ultimately his supreme sacrifice—warranted. Howard Kazanjian and Chris Enss redress that omission.

Son of a Cherokee judge, Sam Sixkiller likewise devoted himself to restoring culture among the Civilized Tribes. Sam wore many white hats, as one of those indigenous enforcers known as Lighthorsemen, as a detective for the Missouri Pacific Railroad, as the first captain of the U.S. Indian Police in Muskogee, Creek Nation, and as a deputy U.S. marshal who would sometimes face down badmen and then serve as warden of the jail in which they were kept. His opponents included such notorious hard cases as “Badman” Dick Glass, but his end came at the hands of more cowardly men, Cherokee mixed-bloods Richard Vann and Alf Cunningham, who ambushed Sam on Christmas Eve 1886. The United States did not recognize the killing of an Indian deputy U.S. marshal as a federal offense. Sixkiller’s death exposed that injustice and led to its eventual correction.

A biography that sets its subject’s life and times in historical context, Sam Sixkiller also does overdue justice to the skill and integrity of a man dedicated to preserving the peace while maintaining the traditions of his people. Given the authors’ bona fides, the reader might well wonder whether a screenplay and a dramatization might be in the offing.

—Jon Guttman

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