When the United States opened a federal court for Indian Territory in Muskogee in 1889, it naturally brought a number of attorneys to the city. Many moved to Muskogee from Fort Smith where they had done business with the federal court there.

Prior to this time, few lawyers had reason to practice in Indian Territory because only tribal courts operated here. A few notable Native American attorneys such as Colonel E.C. Boudinot and Ridge Paschal argued cases both before the tribal courts and the federal court in Fort Smith.

The attorneys who came to Muskogee in 1889 quickly formed the Indian Territory Bar Association. James M. Shackleford, the presiding judge of the federal court, was elected president of the Association. Other members of the new Bar Association included Stockton S. Fears, Napoleon B. Maxey, who was later appointed to Oklahoma Supreme Court, and W. T. Walrond who served as vice president of the legal organization.

According to Judge Maxey, the first criminal case argued before Shackleford involved the theft of a horse. The defense attorney was Colonel Boudinot. Maxey joked that the case dragged on so long that the horse died of old age before it was settled. The first civil case heard in the new federal court pitted S.S. Fears again N.B. Maxey. Many of the first civil cases heard in the Muskogee court related to the Land Run that had just occurred.

Fears had come to Muskogee from Denison, Texas, where he had practiced law for a number of years. Before his time in Denison, he had lived in Sherman, Texas, and served three terms as mayor of that city. He was a widower with four children who also accompanied him to Indian Territory in 1889.

Fears had been born in Atlanta, Georgia, and educated in Virginia. He graduated from college just as the Civil War broke out and he joined the Confederacy and served under General Robert E. Lee. He rose to the rank of colonel, fighting in some of the most historic battles of the War. He was addressed as Colonel Fears for the remainder of his life, but like many other old soldiers, he rarely spoke of his war experiences.

After settling in Muskogee, Colonel Fears remarried and he and his family became some of the city’s leading citizens. His son William built a fine home on North Thirteenth Street that stands today in the Founders’ Place Historical District. This area was a part of the ranch owned and operated by Creek Chief Pleasant Porter. The Fears' home was one of the first built outside of the downtown core. Colonel Fears’ daughter Millie married William Porter, son of Chief Porter.

Fears, along with the hundreds of others who came to Muskogee when the federal court opened, added credence to the old joke that of the 300 leading citizens of Muskogee at the time of statehood, half of them were attorneys.

Reach Jonita Mullins at jonita.mullins@gmail.com.

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