Ned Christie had the distinction of giving Parker's deputies the longest and most determined battle they ever fought. Ned Christie was born at Rabbit Trap, in the Cherokee Nation, in 1852. He was a fullblood, the son of Watt Christie a well-to-do, highly respected Indian. His father had taught him the trade of gunsmith and had seen to it that he was well-educated in the white man's ways and language.
Proof of the esteem in which Ned Christie was held in the community is found in the fact that when he was still in his early thirties he was elected to the Cherokee Tribal Council. Whisky tripped him - not that he "took to the bottle," it was just a friendly drinking bout with a companion. This ended in an altercation that became so heated that Deputy Marshal Dan Maples was called in to quell the disturbance. A gun went off and Maples was killed. It was never established who fired the shot. Other marshals rushed to the scene. Christie fled. His friend was captured. He swore that it was Ned Christie who killed Maples. The latter having fled, it was assumed that he was guilty. The law took after him, but he had friends who concealed him and relayed information to him. For four years Parker's deputies never caught sight of him.
If he was guilty of only half the robberies and thefts of horses which were charged to him, it was an imposing record. Though he was a dead shot with a rifle, he was not a killer. But he was an embarrassment to the deputy marshals and the Indian police. More than once he caught one riding alone and, from a safe distance, shot the horse out from under him and put him afoot. When the law chanced to come close to him in one place, he was next heard of a hundred miles away.
If Parker's deputies were nettled, so was the Judge. He called Heck Thomas into Fort Smith and ordered him to forget all else and bring Christie in, dead or alive. Thomas was the most dogged and courageous man he had. For three months the man-hunter followed Christie's trail before he caught up with him. They exchanged shots. A bullet from Thomas' rifle struck Christie in the face, costing him an eye. But he escaped. An Indian doctor patched up his face, and he survived, though horribly disfigured. The once handsome man had always maintained that he was unjustly accused of the killing of Deputy Maples; now his disfigured face became a constant reminder of the treatment he had received, and it fed his hatred of white men.
October was almost gone when Heck Thomas was tipped off that Christie was deep in the hills, eighteen miles east of Tahlequah, and was "forting up" for the winter. "Forting up" was not just a figure of speech in this instance. He had four young Indians with him, and they built a log fort on an open meadow that could not be approached within a hundred yards without the attackers exposing themselves.
Heck Thomas made a careful reconnaissance of the fort and got away undetected. Parker was delighted with his report. At last, they had Ned Christie pinned down. To make sure that there would be no slip-up this time, he assigned seventeen deputies to the capture of Ned Christie, with Heck Thomas in charge. This was unprecedented; never in the history of the Fort Smith court had there been such a concentration of marshals as this.
Marshal Thomas talked it over with them. They were the best men Parker had, men like the two Lawsons, Paden Tolbert, Bill Smith, Bud Ledbetter. They knew that numbers alone was no guarantee of success; that many would be cut down if any attempt was made to rush the log fort. At this juncture Paden Tolbert startled them with a suggestion that they dismissed at first as ridiculous, but which after further consideration seemed to have some possibilities. A friend of his in Coffeyville, Kansas, had an old brass cannon, a sturdy three-pounder, which he was sure he could borrow. Loaded to the muzzle, it would make kindling of Ned Christie's crude fort.
In their inexperience - not one of them had ever fired a cannon - they had no reason to doubt that it would do all that Tolbert claimed. There was nothing comical to them about blasting Ned Christie to Kingdom Come, whatever the means employed. Coffeyville was a day's journey by train. The better part of a week would be lost before he got back and they could move.
But they sent him. In the meantime, Christie, not knowing what was afoot, had allowed two of his cohorts to return to their homes. On October 30, Heck Thomas and his brigade left Fort Smith by train for West Forks, Arkansas, where Paden Tolbert with his cannon was to meet them.
He arrived the following day. He not only had the cannon but had had the foresight to lay in a supply of dynamite, just in case the little three-pounder failed to accomplish its appointed task. Saddle horses, a flat-bed wagon and a span of mules were secured. The cannon was bolted to the floor, with its muzzle pointed out the rear, the plan being that when it came time to use it, the wagon would be guided into position by men manipulating the wagonpole.
On the morning of November 2, the battle began, the marshals opening up a withering rifle fire on the fort. It drew a spirited answer from Christie and his two companions. By noon, it was apparent that no decision was to be reached in that manner. The wagon was brought up, and three men guided it toward the fort. Tolbert was in the wagon - in Coffeyville he had received some instructions on firing a cannon - and when he applied the match, there was a terrific explosion. The cannon vomited its supposedly lethal load. But nothing much happened. The bark flew from unpeeled logs and a few splinters went flying into the air.
A second try was had at much closer range. The result was equally discouraging. Tolbert decided it was time to use the dynamite. They pushed the wagon close to the wall. He planted the charge, lit the fuse and scampered back to safety. This was different; the fort was demolished and only a twisted mass of logs remained. In the smoke and confusion, one of the Indians escaped. The other one was killed. Out of the ruins stepped Ned Christie, snapping his empty rifle. The marshals opened fire on him, and he toppled over and lay still.
The body was taken to Fort Smith, photographed and exhibited. Old Watt Christie came to claim it. He had it placed in a coffin and drove off with it to give it burial in the Rabbit Trap graveyard. The marshals had rid themselves of Ned Christie, but with little honor. If it had taken them so long to catch up with him, it was undoubtedly because there was something of Robin Hood about Ned Christie. Most of his crimes were against white men. When he plundered an Indian it was usually a matter of robbing the rich to reward the poor.
With Ned Christie dead, the Deputy Marshal Dan Maples murder case never came to trial. It was not until 1918 that the truth in the matter became public knowledge. In a story in the Daily Oklahoman it was revealed that Tahlequah blacksmith Richard A. ("Dick") Humphrey, a former slave adopted into the Cherokee Nation, had witnessed the murder.
On his way home from work on the night of the tragedy, Humphrey had started across a footlog below the wagon camp at Big Spring. In the moonlight, he saw Bub Trainor stooped over Ned Christie, who was passed out in the bushes. Trainor took off Christie's dark jacket and slipped it on over his white shirt. With revolver in hand, Trainor stood behind a tree. Humphrey knew then "there was going to be some desperate deed attempted." Like others in the town, Humphrey was afraid of Trainor, so he stood hidden from Trainor's view and watched. What he saw was the assassination of Maples. Fear of Bub Trainor had sealed Dick Humphrey's lips at the time. Trainor died in 1896. He was, according to one newspaper report, "killed at Talala on Christmas night, by 4 negroes. It was a plot, and 4 shotguns did the work." Even then, Humphrey was still afraid to tell what he knew for fear of Trainor's gang. But he never forgot and wanted to set the record straight. He was 87 years old when his opportunity came with a Daily Oklahoman reporter 26 years after Christie's death.
Humphrey said that after Trainor shot Maples, Trainor ran to Christie, threw his coat over him, shook him vigorously, and told him to get up. Christie, still half asleep, got to his feet, walked over to a clump of small trees, lay down and fell asleep again. Trainor rushed up the slope, nearly running into Mack Peel, who was racing to the scene with gun in hand. Humphrey, terrified by what he had seen, fled in the opposite direction.
The day after the shooting, deputy marshals investigating the crime scene found the broken neck from a whiskey bottle near the tree where the assassin had hidden and fired upon Maples. In the broken neck was a strip of cloth from Nancy Shell's apron. A short distance away, they found Christie's jacket with the shattered remains of the bottle in the pocket. Based on this circumstantial evidence, the respected legislator Ned Christie had been blamed for Deputy Marshal Maples' death and his life made a living hell.
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