Quote and Credit

Quote and Credit


Mohave Indian Ronald Jones Murders John Lee Stokes Witch Doctor 1937. An Incomplete Story

An extraordinary story I wish I knew more about. Press photos here from 1937 show Ronald Jones, age 37, a Mohave Indian (or member of the Yuma tribe, both have roots in the area now known as Colorado) as he was awaiting his trial for murder. Typical saturday night fight on the Rez? Not quite. Mr. Jones defense claims the murdered person, John Lee Stokes, age 68, was a witch. That's right, a witch doctor. He had apparently bewitched others on the reservation near Parker, Arizona as well. I was able to locate a subsequent article in the LA Times which indicates Ronald Jones accepted a 12 year sentence. I can not find that he was released after completing his sentence. Oh...the handwritten note on the reverse of the photo indicates he "hacked" his fellow tribesman to death. Shamanism was a spiritual practice of many, if not all of the original Americans but I certainly don't know the Shamanistic characteristics of the tribe here. Nor do i have any idea how the Justice system of the United States prosecuted a member of First Peoples outside of their own system of justice. Doctoral students? Here is a big plate of story for you.

Pair of small press photos, original, dated 1937 Collection Jim Linderman

NOTE: an informed reader sent the following: It does not address this particular case, which is so interesting as the murder of a presumable tribal leader was involved(?) but he covers the general rules of reservation law. Thanks!

I refer you to a U. S. Department of Justice publication, Policing on American Indian Reservations. Having grown up in New Mexico, I was taught the basics of reservation justice during my junior high school days (New Mexico History) due to the many reservations in the state. I refer you to chapter 2, page 9 (pdf page 21) of the DoJ document above. Tribal justice systems only have jurisdiction over crimes committed on tribal lands. The offender must be an American Indian (although there are exemptions). Finally, the crime can't be a serious one like murder. For major crimes, e.g. felonies, the Federal system has jurisdiction, not tribal courts or police. The laws cited include the Major Crimes Act of 1885 and the Indian Civil Rights Act of 1968.

Indians in the U.S. are dual citizens, not sole citizens of a separate sovereign nation. Indeed, Chief Justice Marshall referred to Indian nations as semisovereign or "domestic dependent nations" in 1831. Members of U. S. Indian nations are U. S. citizens at their root. This is how they can, and are, appropriately, subject to the U. S. Federal justice system.

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