The Mississippi Court of Appeals upheld a ruling in a dispute over allegations that a man repeatedly trespassed on his neighbor’s rural land.
Curtis Henry Johnson said he had the right to go to the land because he claimed, without providing evidence, that he was a Native American.
A Holmes County Chancellery judge in 2019 issued a civil contempt order against Johnson at the behest of Paul Benton and ordered Johnson to pay $ 5,000 for Benton’s legal costs. The appeals court said on Tuesday the judge ruled correctly.
The Johnson and Benton families own adjacent plots of land in Holmes County, about an hour’s drive north of Jackson, and their legal battle dates back to 2013. Court records show Curtis’ great-grandfather Johnson bought the land in 1918 and passed it on to his sons. . The Benton family then bought part of it.
Paul Benton said in a court complaint that Curtis Johnson let people hunt on other nearby land owned by the Benton. He also said Johnson destroyed a gate on part of the Benton family’s land and Johnson had already changed the lock on a gate, blocking Paul Benton and resulting in the loss of a soybean crop.
Johnson said during the legal dispute that he was the chief of the “Creek Indian Tribe East of the Mississippi” and that the property was ancestral land, so he could not break into it. He also said any dispute should be taken to a tribal court, not a state court. But the Mississippi Court of Appeals wrote that Johnson had offered no evidence of his ancestry when a chancery judge requested it in a June 5, 2019 hearing and has not offered it since.
“Curtis testified that he traced his ancestors, which revealed that his family was not African American but Creek Indian,” Chief Justice Donna M. Barnes wrote for the Court of Appeal. “Curtis later testified that he had lived his whole life ‘as an Indian’. He claimed that his great-grandfather Walter L. Johnson, who died in 1970, was a Creek Indian. The Chancellor asked for evidence, but Curtis replied that he had not brought it to court that day.
Curtis Johnson has also accused Paul Benton of trespassing on tribal lands, court documents show.
The appeals court noted that the Creek Tribe was forced to cede land east of the Mississippi River in 1832 and relocate to what is now Oklahoma.
“Therefore, no ‘Creek Tribe East of the Mississippi’ has such a reservation,” the appeals court wrote.
The Creek people are known as the Muscogee Nation. In 1981, the US Department of the Interior rejected a petition from a group in Georgia seeking federal recognition as a tribe called the Lower Muskogee Creek Tribe-East of the Mississippi.