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The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture


An attorney, Thomas Chauncey Humphry had one of the most varied careers of any federal judge of the United States Court for the Indian Territory. Born in Magazine, Arkansas, on December 20, 1846, to Charles and Elizabeth Humphry, he joined the Confederate States of American Army soon after the war broke out. Serving in the First Arkansas Cavalry, he saw action at Prairie D'Ane and Marks Mill.

When the war ended, Humphry returned to Arkansas, taught in a country school at Quitman, earned a medical degree at McDowell Medical College in St. Louis, Missouri and practiced for a time in Tennessee. He returned to Arkansas in 1869 to operate a drug store. In 1879 he married Anna Eliza McLeod. In the mid-1870s he studied law, attended the University of Louisville (Kentucky), and was admitted to the state bar of Arkansas. Active in politics, he served as a county and circuit judge and was a member of the Arkansas House of Representatives, including serving as speaker in 1893.

Around 1900 Humphry moved to Indian Territory, practicing at Cameron and South McAlester. One of his most famous cases was as defense counsel for Solomon Hotema. Hotema, a Cherokee, was an ordained Presbyterian minister. Charged with murdering three persons he believed to be witches, Hotema was acquitted on two counts, but convicted on the third and sentenced to death. In time, the Supreme Court of the United States affirmed the judgment. President Theodore Roosevelt commuted the death sentence to life imprisonment, and Hotema died in the federal penitentiary at Atlanta, Georgia. As part of his fee, Humphry received the shotgun Hotema had used to dispatch the witches.

Humphry's political activity in Arkansas had been as a Democrat. At some point after moving to Indian Territory, Humphry became a Republican. In 1904 Congress created four new judgeships for the United States Court for the Indian Territory, one for each of the court's four districts, Northern, Central, Southern, and Western. Humphry was named to the Central District. In a sense, the 1904 judgeships were "junior" judgeships because the judges did not have the power to appoint court personnel and did not sit on the court of appeals.

When Humphry left the bench with statehood, he moved to Hugo and practiced law. Staying true to his new political allegiance, he was a presidential elector for the Hoover-Curtis ticket in 1928. An Episcopalian and a Mason, Thomas C. Humphry died in Hugo on December 3, 1937, at ninety years of age. He is interred at Mount Olivet Cemetery in that community.

Von Russell Creel


Von Russell Creel, "Capital Punishment and the United States Court for the Indian Territory," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 81 (Summer 2003).

Von Russell Creel, "Fifteen Men in Ermine: Judges of the United States Court for the Indian Territory, 1889–1907," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 86 (Summer 2008).

"Thomas Chauncey Humphry," Vertical File, Oklahoma Historical Society, Oklahoma City.

Thomas C. Humphry, Jr., "Judge Thomas Chauncey Humphry," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 17 (September 1939).

>James Clark Fifield, ed., The American Bar; Contemporary Lawyers of the United States and Canada (Minneapolis, Min.: James C. Fifield Company, 1918).


The following (as per The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition) is the preferred citation for articles:
Von Russell Creel, “Humphry, Thomas Chauncey,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry?entry=HU012.

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