Because of the alias of Cherokee Bill, the only name by which he is known, Crawford Goldsby is widely and erroneously believed to have been a Cherokee Indian. Actually he was only an eighth Cherokee. The rest of him was a weird mixture of other bloods. George Goldsby, his father, saw honorable service as a trooper in the Tenth U.S. Cavalry, an all-Negro regiment, our first, which distinguished itself in the Apache campaigns in Arizona. On his enlistment papers he put himself down as a Negro, but in later years he claimed to be of mixed white, Mexican and Sioux Indian descent. The assorted blood strains from which Cherokee Bill sprang did not end there, for his father married Ellen Beck, who was half Negro, a fourth Cherokee and a fourth white. Perhaps the assorted origins of his parents clashed violently in Cherokee Bill and made him the cruel, psychopathic killer that he was. Certainly some of his murderous traits appeared in Clarence Goldsby, his younger brother.
Both boys were born at Fort Concho, Texas; Crawford on February S, 1876, and Clarence two years later. The father was an industrious, upright man; the mother devoted to her small family. To the very end she was fiercely loyal to her oldest boy. He was not much over thirteen when she packed him off to the Indian School at Cherokee, Kansas, and kept him there for three years. Being part Cherokee and having gone to school at Cherokee, Kansas, were enough to fasten the nickname of "Cherokee" on him. Where the "Bill" came from is not known.
His mother, as indomitable in her way as he was in his, insisted that he continue his education. With what must have entailed some sacrifice on her part, she sent him east to the Carlisle Industrial School for Indian youths, at Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Hundreds of Indian boys went to Carlisle. They came from many tribes. Apparently, Crawford Goldsby is the only one who returned home to become an outlaw.
He was at Carlisle for two years. But he had no aptitude for learning and no liking for the rigid discipline of the school. His father had passed away. His mother had remarried and was living in Fort Gibson with his brother Clarence and his stepfather William Lynch, a white man. His sister Maude had married and was living a few miles from Nowata. He moved in with his mother and was soon in trouble. Following a quarrel with a young Negro named Jake Lewis, he secured a pistol and shot him twice. Believing he had killed Lewis, he dusted off for the Cookson Hills to escape arrest. Lewis recovered, but by then Grawford Goldsby had met Bill and Jim Cook, Young Henry Starr and others, and had taken part with them in several minor holdups and store robberies. At the time, the Cook Gang was just in the process of formation. New men were coming in - men like Sam McWilliams, alias the Verdigris Kid, and Skeeter Baldwin, with whom he was acquainted. The wild, free, dangerous life of the outlaw camp suited him. Crawford Goldsby was hardly a fitting name for an outlaw. He dropped it and became Cherokee Bill, by which he was to be known for the rest of his life. He was then barely eighteen.
Only the color of his skin revealed his Indian blood; his features were distinctly Negroid - round face, low forehead, thick pursed lips and kinky black hair. Though not quite six feet tall, he was a burly, broad-shouldered man possessing great physical strength. His eyes have been described by some as baleful, with a wild beast stare. Others describe them as impassive. In the few available photographs of him, they appear to me to be lighted with a mocking, contemptuous amusement.
When he and the Cooks had had their battle with the Cherokee police at the Halfway House, in June 1894, a year had passed since Henry Starr had broken with the Cooks and organized his own bandit crew. But adequate replacements were always at hand. On July 31, Cherokee Bill took part in his first bank robbery, the Lincoln County Bank at Chandler, and shot to death J. M. Mitchell, the barber. He was never tried for it, nor for the killing of Sequoyah Houston. That he killed others without being charged by the law with the crimes is not to be doubted. Though he is reputed to have killed thirteen - the Reed-Harman figure - I can pin only seven killings on him, including the slaying of Sam Collins, a Missouri-Pacific conductor who was shot to death when he insisted that Cherokee Bill pay his fare or get off his train.
That he participated in many of the Cook Gang robberies is well-known. But he did not have a hand in all of them. His ego being what it was, it followed that as his reputation grew, he had to be head man. Accordingly he broke away from the Cooks and with three men, their identity unknown, held up the Missouri Pacific-Iron Mountain depot at Nowata, in the course of which, without cause or reason, he killed station agent Dick Richards. It was this propensity for killing without cause that was making him the most feared outlaw in the Territory. He topped his other crimes by wantonly killing his sister Maude's husband, George Brown, because he felt he was entitled to some of the hogs that Brown's father had given his son. His first shot killed Brown, but in his frenzied rage he stood over the fallen man, squeezing the trigger of his pistol until it was empty.
On old maps of the Territory, Nowata, Claremore, Wagoner and Lenapah are bunched together in northeastern Oklahoma. On November 9, Cherokee Bill and two others, one of whom can be put down as Sam McWilliams, the Verdigris Kid, rode into Lenapah in broad dayliglt and entered the general store of Schufeldt and Son and at gnnpoint compelled the younoer Schufeldt to open the store's safe. It yielded several hundred dollars, which was as much as the bandits could reasonably have expected to get. But when Cherokee Bill saw the clothing on display in the rear room of the store, as well as a rack of guns and a shelf of ammunition, he decided that this was an excellent opportunity to replenish his wardrobe and lay in a supply of cartridges. Rifle in hand, he forced young Schufeldt into the rear room and made him lay out the articles he wanted. Schufeldt was no fool. He knew with whom he was dealing, and he did as he was bidden.
There was a narrow vacant lot between the Schufeldt store and the restaurant next door, the interior of which was being repainted. A man by the name of Ernest Melton was doing the painting. What drew him to the side door of the restaurant, the upper half of which was a glass panel, will never be known, but as he gazed idly across the open space between the buildings and through a window into Schufeldt's, he must have been startled to see John Schufeldt nervously waiting on a customer who kept him covered with a rifle.
Cherokee Bill flicked a glance at the window and saw Melton staring at him. Enraged at the painter's audacity in spying on him, he threw his rifle to his shoulder and slapped a shot at Melton that killed him instantly. It was a brutal, senseless killing, but no more so than others he committed. The excuse could not be offered that in slaying Melton he was removing the only witness to the robbery, since there were others, notably Schufeldt. A few moments after the fatal shot was fired, he and his companions rode away.
If the killing of Ernest Melton was not quickly forgotten, as many others were, it was because at last the law had an air-tight case of murder against Cherokee Bill. Rewards for his capture, dead or alive, were stepped up until he was worth fifteen hundred dollars to anyone who could bring him in.
There was good reason to believe that he was hiding out in the rough, broken country and tangle of creeks west of the Verdigris River. Two of Parker's deputies, W. C. Smith and George Lawson, working out of Sapulpa, combed that country for two weeks without cutting his trail. However, they made an arrangement with a Cherokee half-blood, named Charles Patton, a Verdigris River native and personally acquainted with Cherokee Bill, that if he could locate him and get word to them in Sapulpa, they would split the reward money. Patton was agreeable to such an arrangement. He began drifting through the hills without arousing suspicion, since he was known to everyone and had had a little difficulty with the law himself. As luck would have it, he was watched as he was making camp on his second night out. When the watchers saw who it was, they hailed him and invited him to camp with them. It Was Cherokee Bill and the Verdigris Kid.
Bill made light of Patton's news about the hornet's nest that had been stirred up by the affair at Lenapah. He did not bother to deny that he had killed the painter. He made statements that were afterward used against him. Patton got away the following morning and was soon back in Sapulpa. A posse was hurriedly organized and left for Cherokee Bill's hideout. He was still there, alone now. The posse exchanged a number of shots with him. His horse was hidden in the trees. They killed it before he could reach it. When they looked around for him, he was gone, and they were not foolhardy enough to pursue him into the junglelike willow brakes into which he had disappeared.
From Judge Parker came the order, "Get Cherokee Bill." The marshals tried, but weeks, and then months, passed without his being run down. He was reported as having been seen here and there in the Cherokee Nation or across the line in Creek country. But he had become a will-o'the-wisp and the marshals never caught sight of him.
The stream of settlers moving across the Territory from Arkansas, Kentucky and Missouri that followed the opening of the Cherokee Strip still continued. In some form of improvised covered wagon they drove across the Cherokee Reservation. The natives referred to them as "movers." Invariably, they had disposed of whatever property they owned and turned it into cash, which they had with them as they headed west. Though it was usually very little, many were held up and relieved of their hoard. At least two "movers" were killed in resisting the robbers. The attacks were made by two men, and the description the Cherokee police received fitted Cherokee Bill and the Verdigris Kid. Several country post offices were looted. The express office at Pryor Creek was entered during the night and an unsuccessful attempt made to blast open the safe. The crimes were charged to Cherokee Bill. No evidence to substantiate it was forthcoming, but in the popular mind he had become such a menacing figure that it was taken for granted that he was guilty of every robbery and holdup that occurred.
Why it took the law so long to learn that Cherokee Bill had a sweetheart and to discover where he was meeting her at irregular intervals, despite the risk of capture, is a little difficult to understand. The love life of other outlaws had been their undoing. Winter was coming on, however, before Deputy W. C. Smith got around to doing something about it. Through a man named Clint Scales, a mixblood, who sometimes worked as a handyman, he learned that Cherokee Bill was in the habit of meeting his inamorata, named Maggie Glass, at the cabin of Ike Rogers, five miles east of Nowata. Scales got word to Rogers that Deputy Smith wanted to see him, and a meeting was arranged in Nowata.
Ike Rogers was a mixture of Indian, Negro and white blood, who sprang from a family of Negro freedmen. Croy says they had taken the name of Rogers from Will Rogers' father, Clement Vann Rogers. Ike had once held a deputy marshal's commission, but his reputation was bad and he lived without visible means of support.
Deputy Smith was reasonably sure that Ike would do anything for money. The proposition he made him was that he (Rogers) was to invite the girl to spend a few days with him and his wife and then get word to Cherokee Bill that she was there. Scales was to be watching the cabin, and when he saw Bill arrive, he was to drop in casually and spend the night there. They were to catch Cherokee Bill off guard and capture him, in return for which Ike Rogers and Scales were each to get a third of the reward money. Though fully aware of the dangerous nature of the part they were to play, they agreed to do it, and the trap was set. It was after the first of the year, before it was sprung. This brings us to Maggie Glass, the buxom, far from stupid Cherokee-Negro girl, who was the niece of Ike Rogers' wife.
When Cherokee Bill learned that Maggie was at Ike Rogers' Place, waiting for him, he lost no time getting there. Several hours after he arrived, Clint Scales put in an appearance. Unquestionably the hours that followed were charged with dramatic dynamite - Cherokee Bill unsuspecting, Maggie Glass suspicious of Rogers and Scales, and the latter, beneath their pretense of rough goodfellowship, playing their cat and mouse game, waiting for the moment to arrive that would enable them to get the drop on the outlaw. Though the situation was supercharged with drama that needed no embellishment, some writers, for thrill purposes, have added details that are strictly imaginary, saying among other things that Ike Rogers' wife was in on the plot and that she helped to subdue Cherokee Bill. There is nothing in statements made later by Rogers and Scales to indicate that she had anything to do with his capture.
According to Rogers' account, Bill and Maggie were alone for some time before supper. When all sat down to the table, Bill kept his rifle on his lap. Supper over, the three men played cards for small stakes. The game ran on for hours. Mrs. Rogers went to bed. Maggie begged Bill to quit playing, but he was winning, and he put her off. She went to bed with her aunt. The game continued until early morning.
For hours, Scales and Rogers had been watching Cherokee Bill like hawks, but hunted animal that he was, he watched them as warily as though he knew what was on their minds. When they were ready to turn in, Scales bedded down on the floor and Cherokee Bill got into bed with Rogers, his rifle on the blanket at his side.
Rogers said that he lay awake most of the time, that whenever he turned, his bedfellow turned, too. It must have been, as he claimed, a harrowing experience lying there alongside that human tiger who would kill him instantly if he were caught making a suspicious move.
Morning came. Breakfast over, Mrs. Rogers sent Maggie to a neighbor's a quarter of a mile away to buy a couple of chickens. The day was cold, it was January, but there was no snow on the ground. Certainly it imposed no hardship on the girl to send her on the errend. But some investigators contend that sending Maggie for the chickens was only an excuse to get her out of the house, and they use it to bolster their argument that Mrs. Rogers was a party to the plot to capture Cherokee Bill. From what followed, it would not appear that it made any difference whether Maggie was in the cabin or ten miles away; she had innocently served her purpose as bait and there was nothing further she could do. The three men sat around before the fireplace, talking. Cherokee Bill began to "git fidgity," according to Rogers. "He said he'd have to be shovin' off. I told him to wait till Maggie got back. He rolled another cigarette and as he bent down to git a coal from the fire to light it, I picked up a chunk of firewood and hit him over the head hard enough to kill an ordinary man. It knocked him down. Scales and I jumped on him but before we could snap the handcuffs on his wrists, he let out a yell and leaped to his feet."
Rogers described the life and death struggle that followed, Cherokee Bill's desperate efforts to reach his rifle, half-stunned though he was, and how he (Rogers) and Scales finally got him on the floor and got his wrists manacled. He says the outlaw begged them to kill him then and there rather than to send him in to face Judge Parker.
Scales hitched Rogers' team to a wagon. With Cherokee Bill seated beside him, he started for Nowata; Rogers following on Scales' horse, his shotgun across his saddle bow. On the way to town, the outlaw in some manner managed to break the handcuffs (Rogers says by sheer strength) and made a desperate lunge for Scales' rifle. "Scales had to fall out of the wagon to keep from losing his Winchester," says Rogers, "while I kept Cherokee covered with my shotgun."
The outlaw went along quietly after that, obviously realizing that he was worth as much dead as alive to the two men who had betrayed him. On arriving in Nowata, he was turned over to Deputy Marshals Smith and George Lawson. News of Cherokee Bill's capture spread like wildfire, and a crowd gathered at the railroad station, where he was chained to the station safe. Word was telegraphed to Fort Smith, where another excited crowd gathered to await the train that was bringing him. Half a dozen deputy marshals, including the two Crittendens, were on hand to aid Deputies Smith and Lawson and frustrate any attempt at escape.
Obviously pleased and flattered by all the attention he was receiving, Cherokee Bill waved a pudgy hand at acquaintances in the crowd and readily consented to being photographed. One picture shows him lined up with his captors and the Crittenden brothers, his right arm playfully draped over little Zeke Crittenden's shoulder as he reached for Zeke's pistol, which the latter had had the good sense to remove. The ceremonies over, Bill was bundled into a van and driven to the crowded Fort Smith prison, where he received a riotous welcome from the inmates, who crowded against the bars, hooting and hollering. He was pushed in among them, but though the steel-barred doors clanged shut on him, he was far from finished, and so was his younger brother Clarence.
To digress briefly, the treacherous part Ike Rogers had played in the capture of Cherokee Bill had made him no friends. As weeks, then months, were consumed in the two trials of the notorious outlaw, finally resulting in his execution, the feeling against Rogers grew. He was tough, and he pretended to ignore the threats made against his life. But they were real enough. It was generally believed that, sooner or later, young Clarence Goldsby would avenge his brother. Relatives restrained the boy, but he declared over and over that he meant to kill Rogers on sight.
Time ran on, and nothing happened. Ike Rogers was living in a hell of his own making. Finally, he could stand it no longer. Clarence was working as a guard for the U.S. paymaster at Fort Gibson. Ike sent word that he was coming to kill him. After some drunken boasting in Nowata, he took the train for Fort Gibson. Clarence was on the depot platform, waiting for him. Three and a half years had passed since Rogers betrayed Cherokee Bill, but it was as fresh in the boy's mind as though it had happened yesterday, and as Ike came down the car steps, he fired a single shot that broke Ike's neck, killing him almost instantly.
Deputies W. C. Smith and the two Lawsons were on the station platform, but the shooting had happened so suddenly that Clarence darted under the standing train and made good his escape into the scrub timber, very likely with the blessing of the deputies. Whatever became of him is not known, though some say he went to Texas, where he was born.
Cherokee Bill came up for arraignment before Judge Parker, charged with the murder of Ernest Melton, the Lenapah painter. From the moment they first faced each other, the air was charged with a personal enmity between judge and prisoner seldom recorded in any courtroom. Cherokee Bill had been a thorn in Parker's side for years, and he was prepared to show him no mercy. Though the evidence against the accused was overwhelming, he knew from the moment J. Warren Reed appeared as counsel for the defense that the case would be bitterly contested to the very end.
Bill's mother had retained Reed to represent her son. In some manner that has never adequately been explained, she raised the money to pay his usually exorbitant fee. Very likely the astute Reed, in his feud with Parker, was so anxious to take the case that money, for once, meant little or nothing to him. The trial was certain to attract tremendous attention, perhaps more than any other ever heard by the Fort Smith court. With the evidence against the notorious outlaw so strong, Reed undoubtedly expected Parker to run roughshod over the defendant's legal rights. Sufficiently goaded, he might overstep the rules of jurisprudence flagrantly enough to convince the U.S. Supreme Court that a fair trial could not be had in the Fort Smith court -€“ which Reed had been contending for years.
The trial became an endless series of clashes between defense counsel and the bench. Bullied, exasperated beyond endurance, Parker laid down some rules of his own, limiting the cross-examination of witnesses by both the prosecution and the defense and refusing to grant Reed the delays he insisted he must have to call up additional witnesses. Those he put on the stand were "alibi" witnesses, who swore they had seen Cherokee Bill fifty miles south of Lenapah on the day Melton, the painter, was murdered. The prosecution produced seven, including John Schufeldt, who positively identified Cherokee Bill as Melton's slayer. The jury was out only a few minutes and returned with a verdict of guilty.
Parker delivered his famous excoriation of Cherokee Bill. As it ran on, minute after minute, the latter stood there unmoved, his mouth twisted in a sarcastic grin. The death sentence was pronounced and the day of execution named. His mother wept when she heard it. She had been in daily attendance. Bill spoke to her as he was being led away. "What's the matter with you, Ma, crying like that? I'm not a dead man yet by a long ways."
In truth, he was right, for Reed immediately took an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court to have the verdict set aside, stipulating on five counts that Crawford Goldsby, alias Cherokee Bill, had not received a fair trial. It stayed the date of execution until the high court could review the case.
Months dragged by. Bill's mother had moved to Fort Smith to be near him. Every day she passed the prison, carrying a cane fishing pole and a lunch basket, as she went back and forth to the river to spend hours fishing. The guards let her stop outside the wall to speak to her son through the bars of his cell. The old vermin-infested basement hell-hole in which prisoners had been held during Parker's earlier years on the Fort Smith bench was no more. Conditions were still unspeakably bad, but cells had been installed and men were no longer herded together. When the temperature soared and the cells became unbearable, they were given the freedom of the corridors.
Among Cherokee Bill's fellow inmates was one with whom he was well acquainted from his days with the Cook Gang. He Was Henry Starr, under sentence of death for the killing of Floyd Wilson, a deputy marshal, the only homicide with which he was ever charged. His case had been appealed, and, like Cherokee Bill, he was waiting for the high court's decision. That the two men had some contact is likely, but Starr certainly had no part in the prison break the other was planning.
In some manner, two .41-caliber pistols were smuggled in to Cherokee Bill. During a routine check of the cells on July 10, one of them was found in his bucket. It has been said that he placed it there, where it was certain to be found, in order to quiet any possible suspicion that he might have a second pistol. This seems to be specious reasoning, since he could have passed the weapon on to one of his fellow conspirators, or hidden it as he did the other by removing a brick in the wall and secreting it there.
Of course, he refused to say how the pistol came into his possession. It was agreed, however, that the revolver had been fastened to a pole and passed in through his barred cell window. His mother could have done it. She saw him twice a day, coming and going to the river. She could have carried the pistols in her lunch basket, fastened them to her fishing pole and put them in his hands.
But it was on Ben Howell, a two-bit thief who was serving ninety days for a minor theft and was considered harmless enough to have been made a trusty, that suspicion fell. He had disappeared just before the pistol was found in Cherokee Bill's bucket. He was recaptured and given an additional six months for breaking his parole. He stoutly denied having had anything to do with smuggling the weapons to Bill. The latter, before he was executed, "confessed" that he had got the six-guns from Howell. For all his faults, Cherokee Bill loved his mother, and he certainly would have lied rather than implicate her.
After supper on the evening of July 26, on what had been a hot, sultry day, not a breath of air stirring, the prisoners were allowed out in the corridors. At seven o'clock the signal was given for them to return to their cells. The men responded sullenly as a turnkey and guard came down each of the corridors, locking them up for the night. Turnkey Campbell Eoff and Lawrence Keating, a guard, started down the corridor in which the prisoners convicted of murder were held. Keating was armed with a pistol; Eoff, as was his habit, was unarmed.
Cherokee Bill had entered his cell, and there was no confusion until Eoff and Keating reached his cell door. He had removed his hidden revolver from its hiding place. Suddenly, Eoff and Keating found themselves covered. Keating was ordered to hand over his pistol, butt first. Instead of obeying, the guard backed away and started to draw. The outlaw fired instantly and Keatin; staggered back, mortally wounded, his face a bloody smear.
Eoff ran for the gate. Cherokee Bill, out into the corridor, blazed away at him. The shots went wide, however, and he escaped unharmed. Behind him came Keating, who dropped dead as he reached the cage and safety. Bedlam broke out all over the prison. Men who had not yet been locked up rushed from their cells, and a full-scale riot was ready to errupt. Guards and other prison officers drove them back at gunpoint.
Deputy Marshal Heck Brunner reached Eoff. He was armed with a sawed-off shotgun. He began firing down the corridor in which the trouble had begun. That he killed no one was only because Cherokee Bill and the other rioters had darted back into their cells. Bill had a supply of cartridges. Reloading his revolver, he traded shot for shot with the guards. Above the din of the shootin; rose his shrill, nerve-wracking "gobbling." When an Indian "gobbled like a cock turkey" it was regarded by the superstitious Cherokees as the death cry.
With gunsmoke hanging heavily in the corridor, Henry Starr got Eoff's attention. With courage seldom, if ever, equaled by a man outside the law, he said quietly: "If you guards will stop shooting, I'll go into Bill's cell and jet his gun." His offer was accepted, and when he was released from his cell, he walked down the corridor. As the sounds of shootin; died away, they heard him calling to Cherokee Bill. The latter had barricaded himself, but he permitted Starr to enter. What passed between them will never be known. Certainly it was more than Starr's laconic statement. "I just said, `Bill, your mother wouldn't want you to do this. Give me your gun and call it quits.'"
Judge Parker was in St. Louis when Keating was killed. When he got the news, he started back to Fort Smith at once, but not before calling in reporters and denouncing the Supreme Court for interfering with the Fort Smith tribunal, recklessly granting appeals and setting aside the justly deserved convictions of known killers. It was ill-advised and hastened his downfall. Possibly, he no longer cared. His health was failing, but he came back to Fort Smith with a fresh burst of energy. At last he had such an ironclad case against Cherokee Bill that even the learned judges in Washington would not dare to dispute it.
The second trial of Cherokee Bill was largely a repetition of the first. Again J. Warren Reed was counsel for the defense. He argued all one morning that the prisoner was already under sentence of death for killing Ernest Melton and could not be tried for his life a second time until the appeal taken in the Melton case had been acted upon by the Supreme Court. Parker was adamant. He told Reed to get ready to go to trial.
Of passing interest is the fact that the foreman of the jury was loquacious Sam Harman, subsequently co-author with Reed of Hell on the Border. The jury was out only thirteen minutes. For the second time Parker imposed the death penalty on Cherokee Bill. Then to the surprise of all, the Supreme Court sustained the verdict in the Melton Case, so when Cherokee Bill was marched to the gallows on March 17, 1896, it was for the killing of the Lenapah painter, not for the slaying of Lawrence Keating.
There was no one to share the spotlight with him; he had it all to himself. George Maledon was no longer the official hangman, having resigned some months previously. To turnkey Eoff fell the duty of springing the trap. Deputy Marshals George and Will Lawson adjusted the straps binding the doomed man's arms and legs. Father Pius, a Catholic priest, was on the platform with them, at the court's request.
Invitations to the hanging had been limited to one hundred, but hundreds of others, denied the privilege of the yard, witnessed it from the walls and adjoining rooftops. Before the black cap was adjusted, Cherokee Bill was asked if he had anything to say. His answer was a fitting epitaph to his ferocious career. "Hell, no," he snarled. "I came here to die, not to make a speech."
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