The legend of the outlaws of the Old West starts in the Indian Territory and the courtroom of Judge Isaac Parker of Fort Smith, Arkansas

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NO LAW WEST OF FORT SMITH - THE OUTLAWS

The outlaws who faced him made Parker's court famous.  It was in session for 21 years, from 1875 through the summer of 1896.  However, it's most notorious desperadoes gained their fame during the last decade, mostly because they rode as gangs. Their careers were usually short, usually less than a year from the first murder to the end of a rope.

THE RUFUS BUCK GANG

The gang members were five Native Americans (Rufus Buck was full-blooded Euchee Indian, Sam Sampson and Maoma July were full-blooded Creeks, Lewis Davis and Lucky Davis were of mixed African American and Creek blood). The gang started its deadly road to fame in July 1895 and for two weeks the Buck Gang crime spree was unequaled by all the other outlaw gangs combined. Although each gang member had been in and out of trouble with the law for years, two weeks accounted for the most deprived record of rapes and murders in the history of the Indian Territories.  Left to right in the picture at the right are Maoma July, Sam Sampson, Rufus Buck, Luckey Davis and Lewis Davis.  Notice the shackles on the men's legs.

On August 9, 1895 they were discovered by a posse of irate citizens of the Indian Territory and U.S. Deputy Marshals. Unaware of the posse, they sat under a groove of trees on top of a small hill dividing up the loot from two robberies earlier in the day.  The posse surrounded the outlaws and opened fire. The gang dove for cover and for hours held the posse at bay. Finally, out of ammunition, the gang surrendered and all five were taken alive and unhurt. They were tried in Fort Smith in September 1895 and all five found guilty of rape. Judge Parker sentenced the men to die on the gallows and on July 1, 1896 all five dropped together through the gallows trapdoor and met their final judge.

Rufus Buck gang after their capture. They would die on the gallows together for their vicious crimes. They were all still teenagers.

BELLE STARR, QUEEN OF THE OUTLAWS

After her death she became the most famous women outlaw in the old west. During her lifetime she was a familiar sight in Fort Smith. Her reputation as an outlaw was overrated and infllated thanks to dime novels long after her death. She was convicted only once, in 1886 for horse theft. She was probably involved in much more and the fact she was held accountable only once gives testimony to her brains and cleverness. Much of Belle's legend has been wildly embellished, very likely by her daughter Pearl and swallowed whole in movies, newspapers and dime novels. Part of her legend says Belle was the daughter of a man who supported Quantrill's Raiders during the Civil War and she herself, at the age of fifteen or sixteen, supposedly acted as a spy and courier for Quantrill; however, most of this story is pure fantasy without any evidence to support the story.

She was a dead shot with a pistol and an expert rider. Legend says that one of her first lovers was Cole Younger of the Jesse James gang, by whom she had a daughter, Pearl, this is pure fiction. She married three times.  Her first husband was Jim Reed, stagecoach robber and horse thief who was killed by a deputy sheriff after he and Belle returned to Texas from California. Her second husband was Sam Starr the son of a notorious Cherokee renegade and an accomplished criminal in his own right.  He was killed in a gun fight while waiting trial for horse theft.  Her last husband was Jim July, another outlaw who some believe was her killer.  Her cabin at Youngers Bend in the hills of eastern Oklahoma, near today's Lake Eufaula, was a hideout and refuge for bandits and killers so suspects in her murder are plenty.

Live by the gun and die by the gun. Belle was ambushed by a person unknown, most likely her husband Jim July as she was returning to her cabin on February 3, 1889 after escorting July part way to Fort Smith to attend trial. July was known to despise his wife he called an old hag. A shotgun blast to her back knocked her from her saddle. A second blast hit her in the face and neck and she was found face down in a puddle.  She died in the arms of her daughter Pearl just shy of the age of forty-one.  She was buried near her cabin near Porum, Oklahoma. A grave stone erected by her daughter Pearl marks the site.

The photo bottom right is an early photo of Belle's grave in front of her cabin at Youngers Bend. Today this is an Oklahoma State Park with hiking trails to various points of interest. Her cabin was torn down hears ago, but today there is a replica minus her barn seen to the right in the photo. Her grave was neglected for years, but thanks to the Oklahoma Historical Society it has repaired. The headstone, which was leaning against the side of the tomb, has been restored to its original location. The stone and the tomb with a heavy slab covering the top were paid for by Belle's daughter Pearl.

The inscription on the headstone reads, "BELLE STARR Born in Carthage Mo. Feb 5 1848 DIED Feb 3 1889"

"Shed not for her the bitter tear,
"Nor give the heart to vain regret,
"But tis the casket that lies here,
"The gem that filled it sparkles yet."

 

For more on Belle Starr click here for Belle Starr, Queen of the Outlaws.

Belle Starr and her favorite horse in Fort Smith. The man in front of her is thought to be Deputy U.S. Marshal Tyler Hughes who arrested her at her cabin at Youngers Bend. During her life time she was only convicted of one crime, for horse theft. She claimed that its owner had loaned it to her. She only spent a brief time in Jail.

Belle's grave at Youngers Bend - this appears to be an old newspaper photo. She was two days short of her 41st birthday when she was ambushed and gunned down probably over a dispute with a neighbor.

CHEROKEE BILL

His real name was Crawford Goldsby but as an outlaw he was infamous as Cherokee Bill. He was born in 1876 in Texas to George Goldsby, a member of the U.S. Tenth Cavalry (the Buffalo Soldiers) and Ellen Beck whose parents were former slaves. I found it interesting that Bill was a year younger than my grandfather who was my legal guardian as a child.

The Goldsby's were of mixed African-American, Cherokee Indian, Mexican and White blood.  No one really knows how he came by his alias but during his short outlaw career most people knew him simply as Cherokee Bill.  Bill's criminal career started hen he was eighteen.  He was not yet twenty when he died on the Fort Smith Gallows.  When he was 17 he attempted to shoot and kill a man who had beaten him up in front of his girl friend at a dance.  The man filed charges against him for attempted murder.  Cherokee Bill started down the outlaw trail in earnest by joining with the infamous Bill Cook gang. During a holdup of a store and post office a few miles south of Coffeyville, Kansas, Cherokee Bill shot Ernest Melton through the eye and killed him instantly.  Melton was watching the robbery from the window of a restaurant across the street.  This was the crime that would lead Bill to Judge Parker's gallows. The killing may have been accidental as Bill claimed, but his subsequent crime spree made that irrelevant.

During his career with the Cook gang he was involved in numerous robberies and murders.  He was captured in January 1895 after he robbed a train on his own.  Bill was taken to Fort Smith and convicted of the killing of Melton.  During his incarceration in the Fort Smith jail a trustee smuggled him a revolver which he hid in his cell.  As the guard was about to lock down the jail Bill came out of his cell and shot him.  A furious gun battle raged for hours inside of the jail.  Finally, Henry Starr a friend and fellow outlaw persuaded the jailers to allow him to talk to Bill.  Starr convinced Bill to give up his gun on the promise that the guards would not hurt him.  Cherokee Bill's appeals failed and on March 17, 1896 he was marched to the gallows.  When asked if he had any last words he made his famous comment, "I came here to die, not make a speech."

Crawford Goldsby, A.K.A. Cherokee Bill. When he met his end he was nineteen years old.

NED CHRISTIE

was a full-blooded Cherokee and very intelligent. His career as an outlaw was longer than most. He had served in the Indian legislature but turned to banditry and whiskey peddling as a more lucrative way of life. After several months on the run and battles with Parker's deputies Christie was cornered in 1889 and wounded not long after he ambushed and killed a deputy as the man was crossing a stream. He escaped.  Christie's hideout was a log house, a virtual fortress he constructed in Rabbit Trap canyon. about a dozen miles from Tahlequah.  In the fall of 1892 the marshals learned of his hideout and surrounded the location. The battle raged for days.  Even with the use of a cannon the deputies were unable to dislodge Christie.

Finally, the marshals tied together several sticks of dynamite. Under a covering of rifle fire from the posse one of the marshals placed the bomb against the house. The explosion blew down walls and set the ruins of the building on fire. In the midst of the flames Ned Christie emerged from a trapdoor in the floor and attempt his getaway. A hail of bullets brought him down. In Fort Smith Christie's corpse was propped up on a slab and his picture taken, surrounded by the men who had ended his life. His body was claimed by relatives and buried in the Cherokee Nation, today's Sequoyah County in eastern Oklahoma.

 

Ned Christie

Ned Christie in death

The posse that killed Ned Christie

THE DALTON GANG

Thanks to books and subsequent movies, the Daltons are, next to Belle Starr, the most famous of Oklahoma's outlaws during the era of Judge Parker. Three of the Dalton brothers served as U.S. Deputy Marshals for Judge Parker's Court. Frank was possibly the only law-abiding sibling of the Dalton brothers. He died while attempting to arrest whiskey peddlers near Fort Smith.  Grat and Bob Dalton began their careers with the intent of following the footsteps of older brother Frank, but were soon involved in shady deals and horse stealing. Their errant ways ended their careers as lawmen. The Dalton's were cousins of the outlaw Younger brothers of Missouri. At the time of the Civil War the Dalton family lived near the Younger family. Bob Dalton dreamed of becoming more famous than Cole Younger and Jesse James. As bandits they never matched the cunning of the James gang but they earned their reputations by their disregard for their lives and the audaciousness of their robbery attempts.  Their final exploit in Coffeyville, Kansas in October 1892 gained them a national reputation and ended the lives of Bob and Grat.

The town of Coffeyville, Kansas took unkindly to the daring daylight attempt to rob two banks at the same time. The town folk shot them to pieces as they tried to make their escape. Emmett was seriously wounded but survived to spend more than fourteen years in prison. He died peaceably at the age of sixty-six in Hollywood, California on July 13, 1937. The Dalton's were the end of an era in old west and Judge Parker's Court.

For a more detailed accounts you should obtain a copy of Glenn Shirley's book, LAW WEST OF FORT SMITH, a History of Frontier Justice in the Indian Territory, 1834-1896 (University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, Neb., 1957)

The book is an interesting and entertaining history of the outlaws and lawmen who made Fort Smith a legend of the Wild West.

The end of the Dalton Gang, a gruesome day in Coffeyville, Kansas. The dead men are (left to right) Tim Evens, Bob Dalton, Grat Dalton, Dick Broadwell.

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Ronald N. Wall
Modified: 11 November 2017