In recognition of National Native American Heritage Month, this post highlights UVA Law alumnus Napoleon Breedlove Ainsworth, a member of the Choctaw Nation and a law student from 1881 to 1882.
Ainsworth, a citizen of the Choctaw Nation, was born on February 26, 1856 in Skullyville, Oklahoma, part of Indian Territory. At age fifteen, he enrolled in Roanoke College in Salem, VA. According to Ainsworth’s 1885 testimony before a Congressional committee on “The Condition of Certain Indian Tribes,” the Choctaw government sent a group of students each year to universities and supplied them with stipends. Ainsworth was such a student, and he attended Roanoke College on a scholarship funded through Choctaw coal mining. He graduated from Roanoke in June 1880 with the Orator’s Medal and then enrolled in the University of Virginia for the 1881–1882 term to study law.
Since a JD was not required to pass the bar at that time, this single session at UVA was enough for Ainsworth to pursue the career he already had chosen as a practicing lawyer. Prior to returning home to the Choctaw Nation, Ainsworth married Emily Thompson in Roanoke, and they eventually had three children, Ben P., Helen, and Agnes. Upon his return, Ainsworth was appointed draftsman for the Council of the Choctaw Nation by Chief Jack McCurtain. He then served as National Weigher at McAlester, in Indian Territory, for three years, before resigning in order to focus on his law practice. Following the death of the National Auditor, Ainsworth was appointed to that position, and then in 1887, he was reelected to fill the same office for a second term.
In 1889, Congress established the United States Court in Indian Territory. Ainsworth became a noted member of the bar of this Court, which held jurisdiction over civil cases between persons residing in Indian Territory and citizens, states, or territories of the United States. He remained active in the affairs of the Choctaw government until he died on August 20, 1922.