November 13, 1844 | Cherokee Light-Horse

 Mounted police were a traditional and practical means for American Indians to police themselves on reservations. These mounted police in Valentine, Nebraska, are most likely from the Sioux Nation.

“In the present condition of affairs, such a company is absolutely demanded…. The Assistant Principal Chief George Lowrey approved the bill, and appointed Robert Brown, first, and John W. Brown, second in command, both men of nerve and energy.”

—Cherokee Advocate, 1844

In November 1845, the Cherokee National Council met and established a Light-Horse Company consisting of a captain, a lieutenant, and twenty-four horsemen. The Cherokee Light-Horse’s duty was “to purse and arrest all fugitives from justice.”

The Cherokee had been one of the first American Indian tribes to adopt the Anglo-American forms of law enforcement. Breaking from the traditional Native American policing methods of revenge, restitution, banishment, and embarrassment, the Cherokee Nation first established a system of sheriffs, marshals, and constables as early as 1808. Light-Horse companies were also formed at that time, primarily to pursue horse thieves, but also to act as a quasi-militia protecting Cherokee territory.

The forced removal of the Cherokee from their homelands in Georgia and the Carolinas during 1838 and 1839 destroyed these systems of policing. Their re-establishment in 1845 was a sign of the Cherokee Nation’s adaptation to Oklahoma Territory, but too often the Light-Horse companies were used as a tool by opposing tribal factions. Weakened by these bitter sectarian fights, the Cherokee Light-Horse companies were torn completely asunder by the American Civil War, as was much of the Cherokee Nation.