Oklahoma Court Records
This entry was originally written by Wendy Bebout Elliott Ph.D., FUGA for Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources.
The western district of Arkansas at Fort Smith covered present-day Oklahoma as early as 1844. U.S. Federal District Courts served as the official criminal and civil courts for non-Native Americans until land was opened in 1889. Congress established federal courts at Muskogee in 1889 for crimes except those punishable by death or imprisonment. Cases for felonies were tried at either Fort Smith, Arkansas; Paris, Texas; or Fort Scott, Kansas. For nonnatives, the laws of Arkansas were applicable.
Between 1890 and 1895, federal law divided Indian Territory into the three judicial districts of South McAlester (Choctaw Nation), Ardmore (Chickasaw and Seminole nations), and Muskogee (Cherokee and Creek nations and the Quapaw Agency). Judges from these three jurisdictions heard all appellate cases, including those from Fort Smith, Paris, and Fort Scott. Until 1898, tribal courts continued hearing cases in which both parties were Native Americans. Thereafter, all persons in Indian Territory, no matter their race, were subject to federal laws and the laws of Arkansas.
In 1883 Congress changed the jurisdiction for the northern half of the western section of Indian Territory to that of the U.S. District Court of Kansas. The U.S. District Court, Northern District of Texas, was authorized to extend its jurisdiction to the southern half of the western part of Indian Territory.
During the first few years, a district court in Oklahoma Territory frequently served more than one county.
Most original, pre-statehood, district court records are in the National Archives—Southwest Region. Some are on microfilm at the Oklahoma Historical Society, Archives and Manuscripts Division.
Civil and criminal court records after statehood are available from the clerk of the court for the respective county. They maintain records such as proceedings, dockets, cases, and indexes to civil court matters. Jurisdiction may include probate, felony, civil, divorce, adoption, naturalization, small claims, licenses, juvenile, notary, minister’s credentials, traffic, and misdemeanor cases. The appellate courts for Oklahoma are the state supreme court, court of appeals, and the court of criminal appeals.
Some early court records may include non-court related records. A volume stored in the basement of the Logan County courthouse contains the first court minutes, but the frontispiece lists a few marriages that occurred during that period. A few reference books include:
- Bowen, Jeff. Cherokee Citizenship Commission Docket Books, 1880–1884 and 1887–1889. N.p.: the author, 1997.
- Burton, Jeffrey. Indian Territory and the United States, 1866–1906: Courts, Government, and the Movement for Oklahoma Statehood.
Norman, Okla.: University of Oklahoma Press, 1995.
- Downs, Marion. Chickasaw [Nation] Court Records. Calera, Okla.: Bryan County Heritage Association, 2000. Includes Indian and county court records.
- Ford, Jeanette W., comp. Preliminary Inventory of the Records of the United States District Courts for Oklahoma. Fort Worth, Tex.: National Archives, Central Plains Region, 1980.