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Press Release

Release Date: October 06, 2021
by Chickasaw Nation Media Relations Office

Waurika, Oklahoma’s annual rattlesnake festival turns a quiet rural community of 2,500 into a teeming mass of an estimated 6,000 to 8,000 snake enthusiasts a day during the event.

Such a large influx of visitors creates a challenge for Jefferson County Sheriff Jeremie Wilson and Waurika Police Chief Matthew Peck, who share responsibility of serving and protecting no matter how many show up.

Both law enforcement professionals say they are grateful for Chickasaw Nation Lighthorse police who shore up their numbers not just for this event, but anytime during the year it may be needed.

“Lighthorse has been real good about helping us (during the festival) and I’m sure they’re going to help us every year,” Wilson said.

Wilson says Lighthorse Police don’t just offer assistance that one time a year.

“I’ve had standoffs and hostage situations where it would have been me and two other people having to deal with them and Chickasaw Lighthorse has responded to give me another individual or two,” he said.

“We’ve had several situations like that where Lighthorse has been there to assist us and it’s given us manpower we don’t have. It mainly gives us a cohesive ability to have more team members because we’ve got 787 square miles and it’s myself, an undersheriff and two deputies to cover them.”

Jefferson County recently signed a cross-deputation agreement with the Chickasaw Nation. Doing so eliminated the potential for jurisdictional confusion in light of the court rulings affirming the reservations of the Five Nations in Eastern Oklahoma.

On reservations, state law enforcement lacks jurisdiction when a crime involves a Native person, either as perpetrator or victim, which marks a significant change from prior jurisdictional understandings.

Wilson says even though others have fought the ruling, his office has embraced the reality of it.

“Statewide there’s a lot of controversy and people not happy with the Court’s decision,” he said.

“The way I saw it in my foresight was, ‘It’s coming, it’s here, let’s do everything we can to be one team, one fight, to serve all the citizens.’ I think it’s working great.

“Lighthorse police are just one phone call away,” he said. “They give me their cellphone numbers and tell me to call anytime. It’s been a good relationship thus far and I can only see it just getting better.”

Waurika’s Police Chief Matthew Peck is equally appreciative of Lighthorse Police’s assistance during the town’s annual rattlesnake festival. His is a four-person force and one of those is a part time position.

“We definitely need as much help as we can get during the influx of people we have every year – 30,000 to 35,000 - that come in and out over that four-day week,” Peck said.

He said Lighthorse Police send one and sometimes two officers every evening of the festival.

That’s a huge help.”

His department also recently signed a cross-deputation agreement, which formalizes a partnership that Peck says benefits both sides.

“I think (our cross-deputation agreement) is a great idea. It’s worked out well so far. I’m real big on inter-department relationships and working together, helping Lighthorse whenever we can, and they have been a big help whenever we need it. My employees know Lighthorse officers can call us anytime and we’re going to respond willingly.”

Ringling, on the eastern side of Jefferson County, is far removed from the rattlesnake festival. It too has signed a cross-deputation agreement with Chickasaw Lighthorse Police.

“I got here a year ago in July and there was no agreement in place then, so shortly after the Supreme Court’s reservation decision came down is when we got the ball rolling,” said Ringling Police Chief Brian Huckabee.

Huckabee admits there was a learning curve involved with adding tribal and federal law into the law enforcement mix.

“Until this came along, everything I had ever done would have either dealt with the municipality or the state,” he said. We had to get with the district attorney and he clarified some of that for us. We were able to work through it and the Chickasaw Nation made the transition a good experience.

“I think it’s going to be beneficial for Lighthorse and beneficial to us. I think it just helps everybody all the way around.”

Chickasaw Lighthorse Police Chief Mike Manning agrees that collaboration is key in the shared goal of serving and protecting Jefferson County residents.

“The partnerships we have developed with the agencies in Jefferson County are paramount when it comes to providing service to the citizens in need,” Manning said. “We work closely with the agencies and I communicate with Sheriff Wilson on a weekly basis. Lighthorse is very thankful for the great relationships developed with the agencies in Jefferson County and we look forward to fostering those relationships in years to come.”