Anthropology Friday: Oriental Prisons pt 1: Thuggee

Group of Thugs, India, 1894

Welcome to Anthropology Friday. This month’s pick is more history than anthropology, but hopefully still interesting: The History and Romance of Crime: Oriental Prisons, by Arthur Griffiths, 1838-1908. I am not sure when the book was published, but I believe it was sometime in the early 1900s, for Griffiths mentions events that occurred up to 1899 and died in 1908.

Griffiths was a British prison administrator and inspector who wrote over 60 books, many of them mysteries or military histories–and many of them about prisons. According to Wikipedia:

Griffiths was born on 9 Dec. 1838, at Poona, India, the second son of Lieut.-colonel John Griffiths of the 6th Royal Warwickshire regiment. After graduating from King William’s College on the Isle of Man, Arthur Griffiths joined the British Army as an ensign in the 63rd Regiment of Foot on 13 Feb. 1855.

Serving in the Crimean War, Griffiths participated in the siege of Sevastopol. He also fought during the capture of Kinbum, receiving the British Crimea medal.

Today’s excerpts pertain to crime in India, chiefly that of thuggee, the semi-ritualized murder of travelers by a group known as the Thugs.

In General:

“Crime in India does not differ essentially from that prevalent elsewhere, although some forms are indigenous to the country, engendered by special physical and social conditions. As a rule, the people of India are law abiding, orderly and sober in character, but there is an inherent deceitfulness in them that tends to interfere with the course of justice.”

On the smuggling of money into the Montgomery jail in Punjab, one of the largest in India:

“The prisoners become very clever and use all sorts of devices to smuggle in coins, tobacco, opium and other drugs and dice. They are allowed to wear their own shoes, but these are examined very carefully, for the soles are frequently found to be made of tobacco, four-anna pieces and other things than leather.

““A common dodge,” says Captain Buck, “among the prisoners for concealing coins and other small things is to make a receptacle in the throat by means of a leaden weight about the diameter of a florin and half an inch thick; this is attached to a string some six inches long, a knot in the end being slipped between two teeth to prevent it sliding down the throat. By holding the head in a particular position for some time every day, ‘waggling’ the weight about, and from time to time altering the length of the string, a pouch can be formed in the throat suitable for holding as many as fifteen rupees. The possessor of this strange ‘safe’ is able to put in and take out his treasure with facility, but it is exceedingly difficult to make a man disgorge the contents against his will, or even to find out whether he possesses the pouch at all without the use of the Röntgen rays.” [X-rays]

Thuggee:

“When England’s work in India is reviewed in the time to come, full credit must be given to the humane administration which sternly suppressed the atrocious malpractices that so long afflicted the land, such as “Suttee,” or the burning of widows on the funeral pyre; the human sacrifices to the bloodthirsty idol of Jagannath; “Thuggee,” that vile organisation for secret murder which devastated the entire continent and killed so many unsuspecting victims. … It was fostered by the prevailing conditions in a vast extent of territory, divided among many princes and powers, each ruling independently and irresponsibly, with many kinds of governments, and with their hands one against the other, having no common interests, no desire for combination, no united police, no uniform action in the repression of determined wrong-doing. Everything conspired to favour the growth of these daring and unscrupulous land pirates.

“There were no roads in those early days, no public conveyances, no means of protection for travellers. The longest journeys from one end of the continent to the other were undertaken of necessity on foot or on horseback; parties hitherto complete strangers banded together for common security, and mixed unreservedly with one another. … it was possible to wander into by-paths and get lost among the forests, jungles, mountains and uncultivated tracts where but few sparsely inhabited villages were scattered. Direct encouragement was thus afforded to freebooters and highwaymen to make all travellers their prey, and many classes of robbers existed and flourished. Of these the most numerous, the most united, the most secret in their horrible operations, the most dangerous and destructive were the Thugs.

“The origin of Thuggee, as it was commonly called, is lost in fable and obscurity. Mr. James Hutton, in his popular account of the Thugs, thinks that they are of very ancient date and says they are “reputed to have sprung from the Sagartii who contributed eight thousand horse to the army of Xerxes and are mentioned by Herodotus in his history. These people led a pastoral life, were originally of Persian descent and use the Persian language; their dress is something betwixt a Persian and a Pactyan; they have no offensive weapons, either of iron or brass, except their daggers; their principal dependence in action is on cords made of twisted leather which they use in this manner. When they engage an enemy they throw out this cord having a noose at the extremity; if they entangle in this either horse or man, they without difficulty put them to death.” …

“In the latter part of the seventeenth century Thevenot speaks of a strange denomination of robbers who infest the road between Delhi and Agra and who use “a certain rope with a running noose which they could cast with so much sleight about a man’s neck when they are within reach of 50 him, that they never fail; so that they strangle him in a trice.” These robbers were divided into seven principal classes or families from which the innumerable smaller bands sprang.”

EvX: According to Wikipedia, Thugs have been known as organized bands of criminals in India for at least 600 years. The earliest known reference to their activities dates from 1356, in Ziyā-ud-Dīn Baranī‘s History of Fīrūz Shāh:

In the reign of that sultan [about 1290], some Thugs were taken in Delhi, and a man belonging to that fraternity was the means of about a thousand being captured. But not one of these did the sultan have killed. He gave orders for them to be put into boats and to be conveyed into the lower country, to the neighbourhood of Lakhnauti, where they were to be set free. The Thugs would thus have to dwell about Lakhnauti and would not trouble the neighbourhood of Delhi any more.

The strangest part about the story of the Thugs is that it is basically, as far as I know, true. There really was a secret cult, probably descended from Muslims who’d started worshipping Kali (somehow) and went around murdering people as part of their “religion” and more-or-less way of life. Wikipedia recounts:

Membership was sometimes passed from father to son, as part of a criminal underclass. The leadership of established Thug groups tended to be hereditary, as the group evolved into a criminal tribe. Other men would become acquainted with a Thug band and hope to be recruited, as Thugs were respected by the criminal community and had a camaraderie of numbers and shared experience. Robbery became less a question of solving problems associated with poverty and more a profession.

Back to Griffiths:

“At all times many hundreds of predatory castes existed in India, chiefly among the marauding hill and forest people, and some of them are still recorded by name in the census papers. These people lived openly by plunder, and were organised for crime, and for determined gang-robbery and murder. There was no established police in those days equal to coping with these gangs, and the government of the East India Company had recourse to the savage criminal code of the Mohammedan law.

“When Warren Hastings was governor-general, he decreed that every convicted gang-robber should be publicly executed in full view of his village, and that all of the villagers should be fined. The miscreants retaliated by incendiarism on a large scale. One conflagration in Calcutta in 1780 burned fifteen thousand houses, and some two thousand souls perished in the flames. A special civil department was created to deal with this wholesale crime, the character of which is described in a state paper dated 1772. “The gang-robbers of Bengal,” it says, “are not like the robbers in England, individuals driven to such desperate courses by want or greed. They are robbers by profession and even by birth. They are formed into regular communities, and their families subsist on the supplies they bring home to them. These spoils come from great distances, and peaceful villages three hundred miles up the Ganges are supported by housebreaking in Calcutta.”

EvX: Here is a version of the origin myth of the Thugs:

Once on a time the world was infested with a monstrous demon… who devoured mankind as fast as they were created… Kali cut the demon with her sword… but from every drop of blood that fell to the ground there sprang a new demon. She paused for a while, and from the sweat, brushed off one of her arms, she created two men, to whom she gave a rumal, or handkerchief, and commanded them to strangle the demons. When they had slain them all, they offered to return the rumal, but the goddess bade them keep it and transmit it to their posterity, with the injunction to destroy all men who were not of their kindred.

She condescended to present them with one of her teeth for a pickaxe, a rib for a knife, and the hem of her skirt for a noose, and ordered them, fo the futuer, to cut and bury the dbodies of whom they destoryed.

“In the early part of the nineteenth century the audacity and murderous activity of the Thugs increased to such a fearful extent that the British government was roused to serious consideration. … Mr. Brown, when engaged in his inquiry at a village named Sujuna, on the road to Hatta, heard a horrible story of a gang-robbery in the neighbourhood. A party of two hundred Thugs had encamped in a grove in the early morning of the cold season of 1814, when seven men, well-armed with swords and matchlocks, passed, conveying treasure from a bank in Jubbulpore to its correspondent in Banda. The treasure was ascertained to be of the value of 4,500 rupees, and a number of Thugs, well-mounted, gave chase. Coming up with their prey at a distance of seven miles, in a water course half a mile from Sujuna, they attacked the treasure-bearers with their swords, contrary to their common practice of strangling their victims, the latter plan being possible only when the objects of their desire were taken unawares. Moreover, the robbers left the bodies where they lay, unburied and exposed, which was also an unusual proceeding. A passing traveller, who had seen the murderers at work, was also put to death to prevent his giving the alarm. As much rain fell that day, none of the villagers approached the spot till the following morning, when the bodies were discovered and a large crowd came to gaze at them.

“Great difficulty was experienced in bringing home the crime to its perpetrators. This often happened in such cases from the strong reluctance of people to give evidence and appear in court for the purpose; even the banker who had lost his cash hesitated to come forward and prove his loss, and this was no isolated case. …

“Sir William Sleeman has left a personal record of his own achievements. “While I was in the civil charge of the district of Nursingpoor, in the valley of the Nurbudda, in the years 1822, 1823 and 1824,” he tells us, “no ordinary robbery or theft could be committed without my becoming acquainted with it; nor was there a robber or a thief of the ordinary kind in the district, with whose character I had not become acquainted in the discharge of my duty as magistrate; and if any man had then told me that a gang of assassins by profession resided in the village of Kundelee, not four hundred yards from my court, and that the extensive groves of the village of Mundesur, only one stage from me, on the road to Saugor and Bhopaul, were one of the greatest beles, or places of murder, in all India; and that large gangs from Hindustan and the Dukhun used to rendezvous in these groves, remain in them for days together every year, and carry on their dreadful trade along all the lines of road that pass by and branch off from them, with the knowledge and connivance of the two landholders by whose ancestors these groves had been planted, I should have thought him a fool or a madman; and yet nothing could have been more true. The bodies of a hundred travellers lie buried in and around the groves of Mundesur; and a gang of assassins lived in and about the village of Kundelee while I was magistrate of the district, and extended their depredations to the cities of Poona and Hyderabad.”

“…in the cantonment of Hingolee, the leader of the Thugs of that district, Hurree Singh, was a respectable merchant of the place, with whom Captain Sleeman, in common with many other English officers, had constant dealings. On one occasion this man applied to the officer in civil charge of the district, Captain Reynolds, for a pass to bring some cloths from Bombay, which he knew were on their way accompanied by their owner, a merchant of a town not far from Hingolee. He murdered this person, his attendants and cattle-drivers, brought the merchandise up to Hingolee under the pass he had obtained and sold it openly in the cantonment; nor would this ever have been discovered had he not confessed it after his apprehension, and gloried in it as a good joke.”

EvX: This is why market-dominant minorities evolved. You’re going to have a hard time shipping goods from place to place if your business contacts keep murdering you for not being part of their ethnic group.

“Many persons were murdered in the very bazaar of the cantonment, within one hundred yards from the main guard, by Hurree Singh and his gang, and were buried hardly five hundred yards from the line of sentries. Captain Sleeman was himself present at the opening of several of these unblessed graves (each containing several bodies), which were pointed out by the “approvers,” one by one, in the coolest possible manner, to those who were assembled, until the spectators were sickened and gave up further search in disgust. The place was the dry channel of a small water course, communicating with the river, no broader or deeper than a ditch; it was near the road to a neighbouring village, and one of the main outlets from the cantonment to the country….

“Accounts of such affairs, as found in contemporary records, might be multiplied indefinitely. Colonel Sleeman’s report of the Thug depredations for a year or two when they were most virulent—1836-37—fills one large volume. On a map which he made of a portion of the kingdom of Oude, showing a territory one hundred miles wide from north to south, and one hundred and seventy miles from east to west, are marked an endless number of spots between Lucknow, Cawnpore, Manickpur, Pertabgurh and Fyzabad, all of them indicating beles or scenes of murders perpetrated.”

EvX: The photo is fuzzy, but I believe the map in this slideshow, or one very like it, is the one Griffiths is referencing. The rest of the slide show is interesting and relevant.

Since Thugs tended to be related to each other, Sleeman also constructed genealogical trees of thuggee families, like the one above.

Back to the book:

Behram, Thug leader responsible for the murder of 931 people, 125 of them personally.

“These places were pointed out by captured Thugs and “approvers” who had been actively present and taken part in the murders. There were some 274 beles in all, or one for about every five miles; the fact was proved by the continual disinterment of skulls and skeletons of the often nameless victims. Each recorded great atrocities and many wholesale murders. The number of deaths for which each Thug miscreant was personally responsible seems incredible. One man, Buhran by name, killed 931 victims in forty years of active Thuggee, and another, Futteh Khan, killed 508 persons in twenty years, making an average of two monthly for each assassin. …

“When and how Thuggee began may not be definitely known, but it is certain that its votaries always attributed a divine origin to the practice. They esteemed the wholesale taking of life to which they were vowed a pious act, performed under the immediate orders and protection of the Hindu goddess, indifferently called Devee or Durga, Kali or Bhowanee. Murder was in fact a religious rite, the victim being a sacrifice to the deity. The strangler was troubled with no remorse; on the contrary, he gloried in his deed as the pious act of a devout worshipper. He prepared his murders without misgiving, perpetrated them without emotions of pity, and looked back upon them with satisfaction, not regret.

“The Thugs gave free vent to some of the worst passions of perverse humanity; they were treacherous, underhanded, pitiless to those they deemed their legitimate prey. But yet they were seldom guilty of wanton cruelty; the pain they inflicted was only that caused by depriving a human being of life. It was a rule with them never to murder women, and they generally spared infant children whom they adopted, bringing them up in their traditions. Even if a woman was doomed to suffer she was most scrupulously preserved from insult beforehand, either by act or word. In private life they were patterns of domestic virtue, affectionate to their own families, fond of their homes; well conducted, law abiding subjects of the state that gave them shelter.”

EvX: To be fair, so are Mafia dons.

The HBD Question:

“General Hervey quotes a curious instance of the heredity of the criminal instinct which showed itself in the descendants of the old Thugs settled at Jubbulpore, in the days of the active pursuit of these murderers by Sir William Sleeman. A generation of young Thugs had grown up around the School of Industry, a kind of reformatory for the offspring of the captured criminals, and the careers of some of these have been followed. Many of the youths found employment with European gentlemen as private servants, and in one particular instance the inherited propensity was curiously illustrated.

“A railway engineer, Mr. Upham, employed in the construction of the Indian Peninsula Railway, was stationed at Sleemanabad near Jubbulpore. Returning home one evening, much fatigued after a long tour of inspection, he lay down to rest on his bed and from his tent, the curtain of which was raised for ventilation, he saw two of his table servants—both of them lads from the reformatory—engaged in cooking his dinner. He presently noticed that they squeezed into the pot on the fire certain green pods they had plucked from a neighbouring bush, and presuming they were herbs of some sort added for flavour, he said nothing, but he was curious and having little appetite he dined very lightly, chiefly on rice and milk. He picked some of the pods, however, and put them in his pocket, where they remained till next day, when he became ill and rode over to see the doctor. He fainted when he reached the doctor’s office. Restoratives being promptly applied, he so far recovered as to be able to produce the pods which the doctor at once pronounced to be of datura. Suspicion thus aroused, the two servants were arrested and brought to trial, when the head cook was convicted and sentenced to six years’ imprisonment. This boy was of the old Thug stock, and obviously the desire to destroy human life was in his blood, brought out by greed; for the object was, of course, to rob Mr. Upham while he was unconscious.

“They were apparently irreclaimable, these Thug children. One boy was detained in prison until grown up in the hope that he would prove well-conducted. All his relations had been Thugs; his father (who had been executed), his uncles, brothers and forebears for several generations, and numbers of them had suffered the extreme penalty. He was cognisant of their misdeeds and the retribution that overtook them, but his own inclinations lay the same way, and no sooner was he at large than he embraced the evil trade and was soon known as a jemadar with an increasing reputation as a daring leader of Dacoits. Eventually he was won over to the side of justice and did good service as an “approver.” ”

EvX: “Dacoit” is Indian for bandit; I do not know if it has any other connotations. Among the list of “famous dacoits” on wikipedia is Phoolan Devi, the “bandit queen” and later a member of the Indian Parliament:

Born into a low caste family in rural Uttar Pradesh, Phoolan endured poverty as a child and had an unsuccessful marriage before taking to a life of crime. … She was the only woman in that gang, and her relationship with one gang member, coupled with other minor factors, caused a gunfight between gang members. Phoolan’s lover was killed in that gunfight. The victorious rival faction, who were upper-caste Rajputs, took Phoolan to their village of Behmai, confined her in a room, and took turns to rape her repeatedly over several days. After escaping (or being let off), Phoolan rejoined the remnants of her dead lover’s faction, took another lover from among those men, and continued with banditry. A few months later, her new gang descended upon the village of Behmai to exact revenge for what she had suffered.[2][3] As many as twenty-two Rajput men belonging to that village were lined up in a row and shot dead by Phoolan’s gang.

Since Phoolan was a low-caste woman, and her victims were high-caste men, the press portrayed the Behmai massacre as an act of righteous lower-caste rebellion. The respectful sobriquet ‘Devi’ was conferred upon her by the media and public at this point.[4]

Phoolan evaded capture for two years after the Behmai massacre before she and her few surviving gang-members surrendered to the police in 1983. She was charged with forty-eight major crimes, including multiple murders, plunder, arson and kidnapping for ransom.[5] Phoolan spent the next eleven years in jail… In 1994, the state government headed by Mulayam Singh Yadav of the Samajwadi Party summarily withdrew all charges against her, and Phoolan was released.[5] She then stood for election to parliament as a candidate of the Samajwadi Party and was twice elected to the Lok Sabha as the member for Mirzapur. In 2001, she was shot dead at the gates of her official bungalow (allotted to her as MP) in New Delhi by former rival bandits whose kinsmen had been slaughtered at Behmai by her gang.

That’s enough for today. Remember, Hobbes was right. See you next Friday for the next installment.

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Anthropology Friday: Outlaws on Horseback: Henry Starr, Gentleman Bandit

Welcome back to Anthropology Friday. Today we’re finishing up Harry Dago’s Outlaws on Horseback: The Organized Bands of Bank and Train Robbers Who Terrorized the Prairie Towns of Missouri, Kansas, Indian Territory, and Oklahoma for Half a Century.

I don’t normally read (or watch) Westerns, but I thought this was a great book. If the excerpts I’ve highlighted here pique your interest, I recommend you pick it up.

Since this is our last day, I have a series of short but interesting vignettes, ending with the story of Henry Starr, gentleman outlaw. As usual, quotes will be in “” instead of blocks for readability.

Ned Christie:

“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.”

EvX: I’m going to skip most of Christie’s story, though it’s interesting. He became an outlaw, was hunted by the marshals, and eventually he and his gang built a fort for themselves out in Indian Territory. The marshals tracked him down and began a dramatic battle involving dynamite and a cannon they had hauled through the wilderness.

“…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 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.”

EvX: Local support for bandits/criminals/outlaws/pirates is a common theme running through these books–drug lord Pablo Escobar was popular among poor Colombians, pirate Jean Lafitte was popular among Louisianans, 450 men followed the outlaw Quantrill into Kansas, and even folks like Jesse James appear to have had some locals willing to protect and look out for them.

These are all cases where the bandits provided some services to the locals (such as smuggled goods) or at least weren’t targeting the locals. The next story is notably not one of these cases:

“There was nothing of Robin Hood in Rufus Buck, the young Yuchi (non-Muskhogean Creek) fullblood who, in his small way, was as vicious as Cherokee Bill and coupled with it a depravity rare even among Indian outlaws. He was born and raised near Okmulgee, in the Creek Nation. It was in that country that he committed his first robbery, minor crimes but so successfully carried out that three young Creeks… were attracted to him. A fourth man, Lukey Davis, by name, a Creek Negro mixblood, accepted his leadership.

“It was commonly believed that a mixture of Creek and Negro blood was a dangerous cross, and that the offspring of such a union was sure to be ‘mean.’ It was true enough in the case of Lukey Davis, but there would seem to be little reason to accept it as generally so. For several hundred years there had been a strong infiltration of Negro blood into the Creek tribe, more so than with the Cherokee, Choctaw and Chickasaw. Few Creeks were a hundred per cent Indian. Undoubtedly intermarriage had some effect on Creek culture. That it worked any tribal character change or was responsible for the inflamed criminal instincts of some Creeks, such as those with whom Rufus Buck surrounded himself, must be dismissed as absurd.”

Members of the Creek (Muscogee) Nation in OK around 1877. They included men of mixed Creek, European and African ancestry.

EvX: These are two interesting claims: first, that Creeks are heavily mixed, and second, that some people believe this an inauspicious mix. (Our author makes numerous statements throughout the book to the effect of not believing that criminality runs in families.) This leads us down a long tangent that I’m going to save for Monday.

Back to Dago:

“U.S. marshal S. Morton Rutherford came out from Fort Smith with a brigade of deputies… It took them weeks to track down the gang. The outlaws were camped in a motte of live oaks, three miles south of Muskogee, when Rutherford and his deputies surprised them. A furious battle, in which several hundred shots were fired, began at once. There was a hill behind the camp. Rufus Buck and his companions retreated to its highest point and held off the attackers for hours. When their ammunition was exhausted, they had no choice but to surrender.

The Rufus Buck Gang, 1895

“Hands manacled and in leg irons, the prisoners were put in a wagon and taken to Muskogee. … news of the capture of the Buck Gang preceded their arrival in town, and when the wagon bearing them turned up North Third Street, an angry mob of several hundred armed men made a rush for it and tried to drag the cowering wretches away from the officers and string them up at once. It was a Creek mob, ninety-five percent or so. As it surged about them, held off only by the pistols of Rutherford and his deputies, Rufus Buck, Lukey Davis and the others knew only too well that their crimes had outraged their own people and that they could expect less mercy from them than from white men.”

EvX: This is quite something! Even mafia bosses and drug lords have little to fear from spontaneous violent lynch mobs. But the Buck Gang had gone beyond mere robbery, murdering innocent people just because they felt like it. At least two women died from their injuries after being raped by the gang. Quieting the mob took a speech from the Creek chief himself and Rutherford threatening to shoot them if they rushed the jail.

The gang went before Judge Parker, the “hanging” judge who’d vowed to clean up Indian Territory, and were sentenced to death. The case was appealed to the Supreme Court, failed, and they were finally hanged on July 1st, 1896.

An interesting story about Bill Dalton of the Dalton Gang:

“Bill Dalton… left Kansas to seek his fortune in the gold fields of Montana, possibly as early as 1885… he went on to California and established himself on a small ranch near the town of Livingston, in Merced County… and became active in “politics”–which meant throwing himself into the fight the ranchers of the San Joaquin Valley were waging against “The Octopus,” the Southern Pacific Railroad Corporation, and its avowed policy of creating and maintaining a monopoly of transportation in California, and of exacting “from that monopoly the utmost possible profit.”

“Footnote: This was the struggle that was to last for a decade and a half, snuff out the lives of a score of men, cover the Southern Pacific with such obloquy that the passing years have never completely erased it, and make the names of John Sontag and Chris Evans household words in California to this day.”

EvX: I have never heard of “The Octopus” but then, I don’t live in California. Can any of my California readers confirm if this is still a household story?

If you want the story of the Southern Pacific, Wikipedia has a page full of interesting information, including a great illustration of the “Octopus.” Leland Stanford–yes, the Stanford who founded Stanford University–was president of the Southern Pacific in 1885. (Leland Stanford also drove the golden spike that completed the transcontinental railroad and is the bearded fellow shaking hands on the left in this photo of the celebration.)

Worth in the Future:

In the Condon Bank the robbery was not proceeding as planned. There was $18,000 in the safe, but cashier Ball informed Grat and his companions that the time lock on it was set for 9:45 and that it could not be opened before then. It meant waiting three minutes. That could not have seemed like much of await to Grat. But those lost three minutes sealed the fate of the Dalton Gang. Had Grat known it, the safe had been open since eight o’clock. If he had given the steel door a tug, it would have swung free in his hand. …

EvX: In one of his papers Leeson argues that promising delivery of the goods in the future (“Yes, Mister Pirate, we can get those sheep for you down from the mountain next week,”) lets an otherwise helpless group switch mobile bandits to traders. This is a very short version of this strategy.

On the Town of Ingalls:

“I have before me a plan of Ingalls as it was on September 1, 1893, the day of the fight. it was on a surveyed townsite, with a population of about one hundred and fifty men, women and children, and among its places of business, in addition to the saloons, were Bradley’s general store, Perry’s grocery, Nix’s restaurant, two blacksmith shops, two livery barns, a shoe shop, a drug store, a third grocery, Mary Pierce’s hotel and around the corner on Second Street, George Ransom’s O.K. hotel, where, according to Dr. Pickering’s diary, the bandits “boarded” when they were in town. …

“It is also worthy of note that Ingalls had a new schoolhouse, costing twelve hundred dollars–no trifling sum for so small a community in those days. On the same street with the schoolhouse was the Methodist Episcopal Church, North. … And there was the post office–the first post office established in Oklahoma Territory.

“Three doctors cared for the health of the town; Dr. J. H. Pickering, Dr. Selph and Dr. Call, the latter the stepfather of Rose Dunn, the fifteen-year-old girl who became the mythical “Cimarron Rose.”

EvX: A town of 150 people is about the same size as my immediate suburban neighborhood, though we are surrounded, on all sides, by more neighborhoods… And how many of us own a business at all? In Ingalls, most men likely worked for themselves; here most of us work for large corporations.

The Oklahoma Land Run:

“…in the spring of 1896, as has been stated, Perry was the rawest, toughest town of any size in the Territory, born on the first day of the great “run.” On the townsite, where there had been nothing at dawn, eight thousand frenzied men and women were crowded together by nightfall. A mile away to the north at Wharton station, where the Dalton Gang had staged their first holdup, the late trains were disgorging additional thousands. To establish some semblance of law and order in that seething madhouse where food and water were not procurable and fifty tent saloons were doing a roaring business, Marshals Tilghman, Thomas and Madsen were rushed up from Guthrie.”

Rose Dunn and Outlaw Women:

“Who was it that testified against Rose Dunn? They have never been identified. … And what was it they could have said against her? It must have been very damaging to have drawn from Judge Bierer that same sentence he had previously handed out to those two little she-wildcats, Cattle Annie (Annie McDougall) and Little Breeches (Jennie Metcalf) who were guilty of selling whisky to the Osages, stealing cattle and unmistakably acting as spies and lookouts for the Doolin Gang. They were no older than Rose, but the were range waifs, hard, vicious, ignorant, and always went armed with rifle and six-gun. When marshals Tilghman and Steve Burke finally cornered them at a ranch near Pawnee, they did their best to kill the two men. Even after they were disarmed, they fought with tooth and nail until they were subdued. Rose Dunn was none of those things. The worst that can be said against her is that she was the sister of Dal, George, and Bee Dunn, and the cousin of Will Dunn–all hard cases and suspected horse thieves.”

The Jennings Gang:

“Instead of returning to their old haunts, the [Jennings] gang headed south. Far down in the Chickasaw Nation, at a place named Berwyn, ten miles north of Ardmore, they had a try at another Santa Fe Train… Jennings always claimed that they got $35,000. Discounting his usual propensity for exagertion, one may estimate that it likely amounted to no more than $20,000. But it was a stake. They cut up the loot and scattered for a few months. Al [Jennings] and his brother Frank got passage on a tramp steamer at Galveston and landed in Honduras, from which there was no extradition.

“In the cantinas of Puerto Barrios they fell in with a shabby, overweight and congenial refugee from Texas who had fled his native country to escape an indictment for embezzling funds from an Austin bank. With pseudo-histrionic dignity, he informed them that he was William Sydney Porter. … The three of them embarked on a drunken carouse, lasting for weeks, and ending only when they ran out of funds.

“Penniless when they sobered up, Al says he suggested robbing the Puerto Barrios bank. Porter refused to have a hand in it. He was going back to Texas, he said, and face the embezzlement charge that he claimed had been brought against him to cover the speculations of the bank’ officers…. He was found guilty, however, and sentenced to five years in the Ohio State Penitentiary, where, under the pen name of O. Henry he began writing the short stories that were to make him world-famous.

[Eventually the Jennings Gang was arrested]

“All four served five-year sentences at Columbus, Ohio. Al had been sentenced to life imprisonment, but he came out with the others, freed on a presidential pardon. At Columbus, he was assigned to the dispensary, and there he met his friend from Honduras, William Sydney Porter …

“Whatever else he was, [Al] was an excellent storyteller, and his tales were seldom about himself. It has been said that O. Henry got some of his short stories from him. I know that I did–many of them. …

“Al was in his middle fifties when I became acquainted with him–a lean, wiry little man, with twinkling blue eyes in a grizzled face, and dyed red hair. He passed away in 1962, aged ninety-eight by his reckoning, projecting to the end the illusory image of himself that he had used for half a century and more to cancel out his frustrations.”

EvX: 1962! (Wikipedia claims 1961.) It is amazing to think of all the decades a man’s life might encompass–a man born during the civil war, a train robber and bandit, who witnessed the rise of cars, highways, and airplanes, World Wars I and II, industrialization, electricity, television, and the first man in space.

Henry Starr, Gentleman Outlaw:

Henry Starr

“Though perhaps not justified, I have always entertained a sentimental regard for Henry Starr. To me, he is the classic example of the man lost to outlawry who should have been saved for something better. He had the intelligence and personal charm to have taken him a long way. …

“He was born at Fort Gibson on December 2, 1873, and attended the Indian school at Tahlequah. He was remarkably abstemious, never using liquor, tobacco, tea or coffee. He made friends easily, many of whom remained loyal to him after he was steeped in banditry. Everybody seems to have liked handsome, soft-spoken Henry Starr. The U.S. marshals, whose business it was to run him down, respected him, even befriended him at times. They knew he was “absolutely without fear, that he would fight like a wildcat if cornered.” …

“Though Henry Starr robbed a score of banks and faced the gunfire of marshals and irate citizens many times, it is a tribute to his coolness when the chips were down that only one killing appears on his record.”

EvX: Like many outlaws and criminals, Henry Starr was married, to a girl named Mary Jones, a mixed-race Cherokee.

But Starr was caught:

“Henry Starr faced a number of indictments, one of them for the slaying of Deputy Marshal Floyd Wilson. It was on the murder charge that prosecutor Clayton brought him to trial.

“It was the only time he faced the famous Hanging Judge. He was convicted and sentenced to die on the gallows. …

“The date set for Starr’s execution was February 20, 1895. He was still very much alive when the day passed. His lawyer had appealed to the Supreme Court, which then was possible, to set aside the verdict. … In the meantime, Henry Starr remained caged in the overcrowded, vermin-infested hell-hole that was the Fort Smith court’s prison. He was still there on the evening of July 26, when Cherokee Bill killed Turnkey Eoff and set off the riot. For his bravery in going into Cherokee Bill’s cell and disarming him, the charge against him was reduced to manslaughter, and he was sentenced to fifteen years in the Ohio State Penitentiary.

“At Columbus, with fifteen years of confinement ahead of him, he began the self-education that he was to pursue for the est of his life. In his thirst of learning, his reading took him into widely unrelated fields–political science, ancient history, criminology and the science of firearms, phases of the last, such as the velocity of discharged missiles, windage and trajectory, requiring some knowledge of mathematics to be understandable. …

“When he had served five years, the warden was convinced that Starr could safely be returnee to society. He instituted proceedings for his pardon. President Theodore Roosevelt Granted it.

“On his return to the Territory, Starr found his wife and embarked in the real estate and insurance business… His son was born, and he named him Roosevelt for the man who had pardoned him. …

[Some technical stuff happens and he gets pulled up on an old robbery charge, so he decides to flee to California]

“On the way, he passed through the little town of Amity, Colorado… Its one bank, patronized almost exclusively by farmers, looked so easy to rob that, in his words, it seemed a shame to pass it up.

“He collected several thousand dollars and continued on his way, but was captured by a sheriff’ posse east of Lamar and sent to the Canon City penitentiary for twenty-five years. …

“At Canon City, Henry Star was once more an exemplar prisoner. He was made a trusty and put in charge of a road gang of a hundred convicts. At the end of the prescribed five years, the warden signed his application for parole. It was granted, with the provision that he was to report to the parole board once a month and was not to leave the state of Colorado He was no sooner at liberty than he hurried back to Tulsa to find his wife. [She had meanwhile divorced him.]

“It was at this time that a wealthy stockman, who still had faith in him and believed he could get straightened out if he got away from his Oklahoma environment, took him up to St. Louis, bought him expensive raiment and got him a job. All went well for a time, until Starr was invited to a party in Webster Groves, a suburb. By chance, he got off the trolley car in front of the bank. Once again it was a case of a bank looking easy to rob. A week or so later it was held up by a lone bandit in typical border fashion. Starr disappeared from St. Louis.”

EvX: Some men “fall off the wagon” into alcohol. Starr fell off the wagon into bank robbery.

“In the course of the two years that followed, a score of small banks were robbed, all daylight jobs, and always by a lone bandit. The cry went up that Henry Starr was responsible. At Stroud, Oklahoma… on March 27, 1915, its two banks were robbed in spectacular fashion, the twin robberies being accomplished in less than a quarter of an hour. …

“Henry Starr jogged into Stroud with five armed companions whom he had recruited in the Verdigris Valley and the Osage Hills, the breeding ground of outlaw and horse thieves for half a century. They were “unknowns” in the world of banditry at the time: Lewis Estes, Bud Maxfield, Claude Sawyer and Al Spencer, an undersized young punk who survived to become one of the F.B.I.’s mot wanted Public Enemies in the era of “automobiles and automatics” that was soon to follow. Very likely the fifth man who rode into Stroud that day was Spencer’s borther-in-law, Grover Durrell, a future Spencer mobster. …

[Everyone gets away except for Starr, who has been shot. He is captured and Marshal Tilghman arrives:]

“‘Henry, I’m becoming convinced that you are going to live and die a criminal,’ Tilghman recalled having told him. ‘You’ve broken every promise you ever made me. You told me you were through robbing banks, and here I find you pulling a double-header.’

“‘Mr. Tilghman'” he said, ‘when I came to Stroud to look thing over, I saw it was just as easy to rob two banks as one, so I decided to kill two bird with one stone.” …

“When Starr was able to stand trial, he was found guilty and was sentenced to twenty-five years at McAlester. …

“McAlester was reputed to be a tough prison, but Starr had no trouble there. He behaved himself and soon was given many privileges. Friends on the outside worked for his release. He appeared to be Contrite. He was forty-seven, his health broken. in December 1920, he was released on parole, having served only five years and six months.

“In all, he had been sentenced to sixty-five years in prison, but he served only slightly more than fifteen.

“He returned to Tulsa but had no luck finding a job. … Oklahoma was booming, and he was a relic of the past who had outlived his time. Automobiles were everywhere, and hard-surfaced roads were shooting out across the prairies in every direction. Oil was making millionaires of dirt farmers almost overnight. ….

“And then on February 18, 1921, he was back in the headlines. Accompanied by two armed men, he walked into the bank at Harrison, Arkansas, a hundred mile east of Bentonville, where he had cracked his first bank, and informed William J. Myers, the cashier, and a bookkeeper that it was holdup.

“Myers was prepared for just an emergency. When Star ordered him and his bookkeeper to back into the vault, he consented readily enough, for just inside the vault door was a double-barreled shotgun… as he followed Myer into the vault, the shotgun roared and Starr crumpled to the floor. …

“Henry Star, who had been among the first, and certainly was the last, of the noted horseback outlaws was dead. Waiting in the wings, ready to take over, was a new crop of bandits of a deadlier breed, mad dogs who killed without compunction. Armed with automatics, submachine guns and bombs, using speeding automobiles to make their getaways, they were to terrorize the country as the James-Youngrs, the Daltons, the Doolins and the Henry Starrs never had. …

“Starr’s body was brought to Tulsa and given a Christian funeral and burial.

“It was the end of the era of the outlaw on horseback.”

EvX: I find this transition, both from horseback outlaws to car-driving mobsters and from basically pre-industrial to industrial society, absolutely fascinating. What was it like for the people who lived through it?

We won’t be reading about Prohibition Era mobsters, interesting though they are, though we will be reading about outlaw bikers (who feel more like the spiritual heirs of the horseback outlaws) next and Donnie Brasco’s The Way of the Wiseguy about the Mafia after that.

I hope you have enjoyed this series. I sure have.

Anthropology Friday: Outlaws on Horseback: The Starr Clan, Bill Cook, and Cherokee Bill

Welcome back to Anthropology Friday. Today we’re continuing with Harry Dago’s Outlaws on Horseback, beginning with an interesting description of Texas post Civil War:

“Texas was rapidly recovering from the poverty and prostration of years of carpetbag rule and the dislocations of the Civil War… When peace came, there was no “hard” money in the state. In east Texas, the Negroes, no longer slaves, refused to work cotton. Out on the plains and down in the brush country of south Texas, millions of unbranded Longhorns were running wild. … It was not until Joseph G. McCoy opened his cattle market at Abilene, Kansas, and the great trail herds began moving north that the economy of Texas began to revive. By the early seventies, millions of dollars of Yankee money were flowing back into Texas. Banditry became more profitable.

Jim Reed, looking for bigger game than could be bagged on the cattle trails, left Texas … for the cabin of Watt Grayson, in the Creek country, some miles west of Tom Starr’s stronghold. Old Watt was one of the three subchiefs of the Creek Nation and had become rich by subverting United States government funds from the tribal treasury. Reed had spent so much time in the Territory, often disposing of stolen Cherokee horses in Kansas for Tom Starr, that he was familiar with the tale of Watt Grayson’ hoard.

“On the night of November 19, 1873, the three men broke into the Grayson cabin… The bandits strung up the old couple by the thumbs, burned their feet and otherwise tortured them until they were willing to talk. A cache beneath the floor yielded $30,000 in gold and notes, some of it in Confederate currency.”

Yamacraw Creek Native Americans meet with the trustee of the colony of Georgia in England, July 1734.

EvX: The Creek, one of the “Five Civilized Tribes,” moved along with the Cherokee to “Indian Territory” in modern Oklahoma. Today they are known as the Muscogee. , because it is of course our custom in English to refer to other people by their own autonyms, just like we now call the Germans the Deutsche, the Japanese the Nihonjin, and the Finns the Suomalaiset–no wait we don’t do that. We don’t do that at all. We only bother changing the customary names of small, obscure groups so that elites can show off how much better they are than all of the confused, low-class people who don’t have the spare time to keep up with the latest PC names.

Creek it is.

William Bowles aka Estajoca, 1763-1805

Anyway, the Creek are an interesting people with a relatively advanced pre-Columbian culture. They’re most likely descended from the local Mound-Builders, who built cities and monumental architecture throughout the Mississippi valley prior to the arrival of European diseases (and horses) with the Spanish, (which decimated their numbers and upset the balance of power in local Indian communities by making nomadic raiding more profitable.)

I don’t want to digress too far, but you should read the story of the State of Muskogee, founded by William Bowles aka Estajoca. The tale is pure, great frontier history.

But back to Dago and the notorious Starr Clan of the Cherokees:

“Though the blood-stained feud which the Starr clan had waged against the John Ross faction for several decade in retaliation for the murder of James Starr, Tom Starr’s father, was now quiescent, the Starrs were still stealing horses from their fellow Cherokees. …

“Stories of Tom Starr’s cruelty are legion. He stood six feet six in his socks, and despite his years was as straight as the proverbial arrow. … for twenty years he had been the clan elder, and the Starrs had slit the throats of countless followers of John Ross, the principal chief of the Cherokee Nation.

The Tribal Council, dominated by the Ross faction, had outlawed them and deprived them of all their tribal rights. But the killings had continued, and in desperation the council had offered to rescind it edict, grant them amnesty and restore their rights.

“Tom Starr had said no; he wanted more than that–namely the allotment money the clan had not received for years–and he got it. …

“Usually when a railroad was built into new country in the 1870s, new towns sprang up and civilization (at least of a kind) followed. Nothing of the sort happened when the rambunctious “Katy” Railroad, undeterred by hell and high water, slashed and slopped its way down through the Nations to Texas. Indian Territory remained a wilderness. … The only attempt at law enforcement came from the roving deputy marshal working out of the U.S. District Court at Fort Smith, Arkansas, and the Indian police and tribal courts. Thievery and crimes of violence continued to occur with grisly frequency.

“This was in July, 1886. Sam [Starr] had been on the scout almost continually for two years. [“On the scout” means hiding out in the wilderness to avoid the police.] Late in September Chief Bill Vann, of the Cherokee police, [plus several others, including Frank West, whose testimony had previously convicted Sam and Belle and put them in prison for nine months] … caught him as he was riding through a cornfield.

“Chief Vann called on him to surrender. When Sam raked his hose with his spurs, … Vann emptied his pistol at him. Two of the slugs unseated Starr and another killed the mare. Sam was disarmed and taken to a farmhouse to have his wound treated.”

EvX: Interestingly, in the 1800s, not surrendering immediately when the police told you to was grounds for them to try their best to kill you. Today we hold our police to a much more difficult (and dangerous) standard: they are supposed to capture suspected criminals, even ones who’ve led them on high-speed chases, without killing them.

The flip-side to this bullet-ridden coin is that when outlaws turned themselves in voluntarily, they were generally assumed to be acting in good faith, and often got quite light sentences by modern standards.

Back to Sam Starr:

“News of Sam’s capture and where he was being held went winging along the Starr clan’s grapevine… Shortly before midnight, a score of Sam’s brothers and relative broke into the farmhouse… and carried Sam away to his father’s stronghold. Two weeks later he was sufficiently recovered to visit Belle. …

Belle Starr, “outlaw queen”

“Belle demonstrated her sagacity by urging him to surrender himself to the District Court at Fort Smith, where with good Counsel (J. Warren Reed) he would have a much better chance of defending himself than in one of the tribal courts. The Choctaw and Creek chiefs hated Tom Starr and his sons, holding them responsible for numerous thefts and robberies. With the Ross faction in command of the Cherokee Tribal Council, his chances of escaping the death penalty in a Cherokee court wold be slim. … Once he was in the custody of the federal government, the Indian police could not touch him. …

“Sam was indicted and promptly released on bond… [The lawyer’s] advice to Sam was to go home to Younger’s Bend and keep out of trouble.”

EvX: Released on bond! Sam is a wanted man, a fugitive, a murderer and outlaw, and they’ve just released him on bond and told him to behave! The thinking, as I mentioned, is that a man who has turned himself in has shown some kind of contrition for his acts and so is less likely to commit more.

“Sam followed [this advice] until the evening of December 21, when the neighborhood was invited to a “stomp” dance at “Auntie” Lucy Suratt’s place… The dance was in progress when [Sam, Belle, and Belle’s daughter] arrived. The night was cold and a bonfire was blazing in the yard. …

“Belle was surprised to see Frank West squatting on the ground on the opposite side of the bonfire. Sam saw West and pushed her aside. He was half-drunk and in an ugly mood. He accused West of wounding him and killing [his horse]. … Whipping out his pistol, he shot [West] through the neck. As West went down, he managed to get a revolver out of his overcoat pocket and send a bullet crashing through Sam’s side. Both men were mortally wounded. Sam staggered to a cottonwood and wrapped his arms around it to keep from falling. Life was running out of him, however, and he slid to the ground.

EvX: So ended the lives of both Sam Starr and Frank West, whose testimony had previously put Sam in prison for a short while. Belle Starr was left a widow, but quickly found a new outlaw paramour, as she always did:

“[Belle Starr’s daughter, Pearl] and Cole Younger share the dubious distinction of being the only ones among Belle Starr’s intimates, through either blood or sex, to die of natural causes. The others–her brothers Preston and Bud, her son Eddie, her “husbands” and lovers (Jim Reed, Sam Starr, John Middleton, Blue Duck, Jack Spaniard, Jim French, Jim July)–all met violent death, a fate which she herself did not escape. Today, more than seventy yeas later, her name endures.”

EvX: How times change. Belle might have been a well-known person in Dago’s day, but I’d never heard of her before this book. (There are many characters in the book whose fame, Dago claims, well long endure but whom I have never heard of.) I suspect this is largely due to the massive decrease in interest in Westerns and the history of the “Wild West” during my lifetime.

Bill Cook, leader of the Bill Cook gang, only 1/8th Cherokee

“Though it is largely unknown, the Bill Cook Gang played an important role in the history of horseback outlawry in what is now eastern Oklahoma. If its life as an organized gang under the leadership of Bill Cook was brief, it was spectacular. In one week short of three months, they successfully committed ten assorted stagecoach, store, bank and railroad holdups. It i a record un-matched by the James-Younger Gang or any other. In the course of it, they killed only one man, which is another record.”

EvX: Bill Cook does not appear to have a Wikipedia page, but according to Old West Legends:

Growing up to become one of the outlaw leaders of the Cook Gang, William “Bill” Tuttle Cook was born near Fort Gibson in 1873 in the Cherokee Nation, but was left homeless at the age fourteen when his mother died in 1887.

Starting out as an honest young man, he served as a scout for the U.S. Marshals from Fort Smith, Arkansas, guiding them through Indian Territory. However, he soon started running whiskey to the Indians and in 1893 was sentenced to 40 days in jail by Judge Isaac Parker. During his incarceration he vowed he would put together an outlaw gang when he was released and the following year he did.

If you don’t want to incarcerate or or execute large numbers of criminals, then one of the fastest ways to decrease crime is to eliminate the profits/potential for violence by making the activity legal. For example, lots of people want to gamble. Goodness knows why, but they want to. Illegal gambling has long been an easy way for criminals to make lots of money. If people are going to do it anyway, perhaps it would just be better to let them do it without funding criminals in the process.

But back to Dago:

“[Bill Cook] was the son of Jim Cook, a Southerner from Tennessee who had fought in the Union army. Like so many others, he drifted into Indian Territory after the war and married a quarter-blood Cherokee woman, which enabled him to acquire a headright near Fort Bigson. They had two sons, Bill… and James… The boys were orphaned when they were in their teens. They were placed in an Indian orphanage, from which Bill ran away in 1887. He was then barely fourteen. …

The Cook Gang and the Cherokee Strip:

“One thing remains to to be said about the Cooks and that concerns the circumstances that put young Jim Cook into the Cherokee prison for eight years. So turn back to the spring of 1894, when after endless negotiations, the federal government purchased the so-called Cherokee Strip from the Cherokee Nation. … the Cherokee Nation had definite treaty rights to the “outlet” which, as usual where Indians were concerned, had been ignored when it was thrown open to white settlement on September 16 of the previous year, resulting in the sensational Cherokee Strip “run” that brought thousands of whites racing across the Kansas line to claim free land and make new homes in today’s Oklahoma. It was to “quiet” all Cherokee claims to it that the purchase was made. Of the total amount paid, a third went into the Cherokee National Treasury. It left $6,640,000 to be divided individually among all who could make legitimate claim to being at least one-eight Cherokee. After a lengthy checking of tribal roles, the figure arrived at was $265.70 per person.

“It is remarkable that in outlaw-infested Indian Territory six million dollars could be distributed without a major robbery taking place. This was accomplished, however. Thousands of Cherokee were begowked, robbed, cheated, but only after they received their share of the “Strip” money. … A blind man could have foreseen that putting such a huge sum of money in the hands of largely ignorant Indians was bound to result in their being ruthlessly exploited by white sharpers. Nothing was done to prevent it. The results were often tragic and often ludicrous.

“In the weeks before the distribution was made, a horde of unscrupulous agents and racketeers crisscrossed the Cherokee country, selling the Indians things they did not need and did not know how to operate, all at extravagant prices, and on credit against their Strip Money, taking notes in payment. A carload of cheap sewing machines and washing machines was unloaded at Gibson Station. On the “luxury” side came musical instruments, which the Cherokees could not play, and an endless variety of feminine finery.

“When a distribution point was set up, the Cherokees flocked in by the hundreds to find a carnival atmosphere prevailing. Gamblers and bootleggers operated openly, along with thugs and pick-pockets. At Tahlequah, the Cherokee capital, there were tent shows, a mery-go-round, every device for extracting money from the Indians. And the agents with their notes were there, too. They got their money before the man who had bought on credit got his.

“Cherokee” Bill, also only 1/8th Cherokee

Young Jim Cook had the necessary Cherokee blood in his veins to qualify for his $256.70, and he wanted it, as did his brother Bill and Cherokee Bill. Their names were on the Tahlequah roles, but since they were wanted by both the Indian police and the U.S. deputy marshals, they knew it would not be safe for them to appear… To get their money, they hit upon the device of getting someone to go in and collect it for them. …

“She had no difficulty getting it, but when Ellis Rattling Gourd, chief of the Cherokee police, read the names on the letter she presented to the treasurer, he realized at once that the three men were in the neighborhood…

“Ellis Rattling Gourd was back in the morning with a posse of seven men, including Sequoyah Houston… Jim Cook, peering around a corner of the building, was seriously wounded by a slug… He tossed away his Winchester a he went down and lying on the ground was struck several times more. A few moments later, Cherokee Bill stepped out boldly and killed Sequoyah Houston. …

“Jim Cook’s condition was grave. Desperate as the chance was, his brother insisted on getting him to a doctor at Fort Gibson. … When Jim recovered from his wound he was convicted of being a party to the killing of Sequoyah Houston and sentenced to eight years in the Cherokee prison. He escaped once, but was recaptured and served his full sentence. When he came out it was to find that life in the Territory had changed drastically; the Cook Gang was just a fading memory.”

Henry Starr, actual Cherokee

“Ironically enough, two members of his gang were destined to become far better known in their time than he. One was Henry Starr, the gentleman bandit and bank robbery, by marriage the nephew of Belle Starr. The other was Crawford Goldsby, Alias Cherokee Bill, the bloodthirsty mad dog who killed for the love of killing and was accounted the most vicious of all Indian Teritory-Oklahoma outlaws. Both organized gangs of their own when the U.S. deputy marshals and Indian police scattered and destroyed the Cook Gang. That was normal gang procedure. They were constantly being broken up and re-forming.”

EvX: This is an important point. I was reading recently about (recent) government attempts to fight gang violence/activity by going after the gang leaders, on the assumption that with no one to direct operations, the gangs would fall apart. (The difficulty with this approach, as we’ll see later, is that gang leaders often insulate themselves with several layers of plausible deniability from the gang’s day-to-day criminal operations.)

But it appears that gangs operate more the way Dago describes: splitting and merging as needs and opportunities present themselves. According to the article, the government had therefore recently switched to mass-arresting hundreds (thousands?) of gang members.

The law came down hard on the Cook Gang:

“Not one had escaped. The guns of the U.S. marshals and the Indian police had snuffed out the lives of Lon Gordon, Hank Munson, George Sanders, the Verdigris Kid and Sam Butler, Bill and Jim Cook, Jess Snyder, Will Farri, Chicken Lucas, Curt Dayson and Skeeter Baldwin were behind bars.”

Cherokee Bill and Henry Starr, however, were not through:

“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 eight 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 a a Negro, but in late years he claimed to be of mixed white, Mexican, and Sioux 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.”

EvX: Theory: it’s not so much that different “bloods” were incompatible as that certain kinds of people were more likely to cross racial lines in the 1800s, including criminals trying to evade capture in their hometowns by heading across state lines into Indian Territory.

“[Bill] was not much over thirteen when she packed him off to the Indian School at Cherokee, Kansas, and she 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 youth… 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. …

“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.”

EvX: The full story of Judge Parker and J. Warren Reed, esquire, is too long to recount in its entirety, but Parker had set it as his duty to rid Arkansas and neighboring Indian territory of outlaws and bandits, sometimes by less than Constitutional means. Reed, seeing the opportunity to defend lots of clients, made it his duty to stop Parker from packing juries and hanging criminals.

Eventually Reed succeeded so well, he got Parker’s court shut down and put himself out of a job.

But back to Cherokee Bill’s trial:

“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 … The jury was out only a few minute and returned with a verdict of guilty. …

The death sentence was pronounced and the day of execution named. His mother wept when she heard it. …

“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.

“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…

“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. …

“Cherokee Bill had entered his cell, and there was no confusion until Eoff and Keating [the guards] reached his cell door. [Cherokee Bill] 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 Keating staggered back, mortally wounded, his face a bloody smear.

“Eoff ran for the gate. Cherokee Bill, out into the corridor, blazed away at him. … Bedlam broke out all over the prison. Men who had not yet been locked up rushed from their cells, and full-scale riot was ready to erupt. Guards and other prison officers drove them back at gunpoint. …

“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 get his gun.”

“His offer was accepted… As the sounds of shooting died away, they heard hm 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 jut said, ‘Bill, your mother wouldn’t want you to do this. Give me your gun and call it quits.’…

“When [Judge Parker] 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. … His health was failing, but he came back to Fort Smith with a fresh burst of energy. At last he had such an iron-clad case against Cherokee Bill that even the learned judges in Washington would not dare dispute it. …

“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.”

Anthropology Friday: The James-Younger Gang

Welcome back to Anthropology Friday. Today we’re continuing with Dago’s account from Outlaws on Horseback of the James-Younger gang. Wikipedia has some background on the gang:

The James–Younger Gang had its origins in a group of Confederatebushwhackers that participated in the bitter partisan fighting that wracked Missouri during the American Civil War. After the war, the men continued to plunder and murder, though the motive shifted to personal profit rather than for the glory of the Confederacy. ..

For nearly a decade following the Civil War, the James–Younger Gang was among the most feared, most publicized, and most wanted confederations of outlaws on the American frontier. Though their crimes were reckless and brutal, many members of the gang commanded a notoriety in the public eye that earned the gang significant popular support and sympathy. The gang’s activities spanned much of the central part of the country; they are suspected of having robbed banks, trains, and stagecoaches in at least ten states: Missouri, Kentucky, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, Alabama, and West Virginia.

But back to Dago’s account. Here is some background on Cole Younger, and what prompted him to become an outlaw:

Cole Younger, 1889 (lived 1844 – 1916)

“A week after the battle at Lone Jack, Cole [Younger] risked coming to see his mother. He was caught in the house by Union militiamen… and escaped only through the connivance of Suse (short for Susan,) who had grown old as a Younger slave.

“Two months later, Union troops came to the house again in the middle of the night and searched it from cellar to garret for Cole. Infuriated by not finding him, they ordered Mrs. Younger to set fire to the place. She had her four youngest children with her. An early fall storm had put a few inches of snow on the ground. She pleaded that if the intruders were determined to make her burn her own home they wait until morning. …

“When she offered to cook them something to eat, they agreed to wait. At the crack of dawn, however, they hitched a horse to a wagon, tossed a mattress and some blankets into it. Some furniture having been gathered into a pile, they forced her to set it afire…

“In his autobiography, The story of Cole Younger, by Himself, published in 1903, he makes much of the burning of his old home and the treatment his mother and brothers and sisters received, though hundreds of other families were burned out in that fashion”

EvX: Dago quotes an excerpt from Kansas, a Guide to the Sunflower State about the state of things between Missouri and Kansas before the war:

For two years a state of open warfare existed. Armed bands of border ruffians from Missouri made forays into Kansas and were answered by retaliatory companies of Jayhawkers. Men were called out into the night and shot down for no other reason than they supported or were suspected of supporting the opposite cause…. Fields were laid waste and towns were sacked, all int he name of the cause, but more often to gratify personal revenge or avarice. …

Dago continues:

“While formal war was being waged between the North and the South, the old border warfare [between Kansas and Missouri] took on new dimensions, blazing up like a forest fire out of control as opposing bands of bushwhackers and guerrillas spread terror, death and destruction wherever they rode. As 1862 opened, a man could go to his door after nightfall only at the risk of being shot down. Every night in one direction or another, the sky was red as some farmer’s home went up in flames. It was murder, arson and robbery without hope of redress. The opposing factions pretended to have a quasi-military status. Actually, they had none. The flag under which they rode might be the stars and stripes of the North, or the stars and bars of the confederacy, but their real emblem would have been emblazoned with the skull and crossbones of piracy.

“Northern sympathizers were no safer from Red Legs and Jayhawkers than Southerners and vice versa. …

Jesse James:

Jesse and Frank James, 1872

“With the end of the war, families had begun streaming back to the Burnt District to begin life anew. … Dr. Samuel [Jesse James’s father] had the old home repaired and made livable… Between doctoring and farming, he was making a humble living, when Jesse catapulted the family into prominence by robbing the bank at nearby Liberty. After that, life was never the same for Zerelda [Jesse’s mother] and the doctor. Other robberies and train holdups followed, all attributed to the James-Younger Gang. The hunt for them was intensified, but dangerous as it was, they often slipped in out of the brush and spent the night at the Samuel house. It was not long before information to that effect was int he hand of the Pinkertons [a private detective agency.] What they did about it ended in stark tragedy. …

“For months, a score of the agency’s best operatives had been crisscrossing Missouri… the results were distinctly embarrassing… As the year of 1874 drew to a close, the score read: three detectives and only one outlaw, John Younger, killed… And trains continued to be held up and banks robbed with annoying frequency.

“However, on January 5, 1876, the agency got a break. Jack Lad, one of their best operatives, who had been working as a pseudo farmhand within several miles of the Samuel home, wired the Kansas City office that Frank and Jesse were visiting their mother…

The Pinkerton Detective Agency, founded in 1850, is still in operation

“There is some disagreement as to what followed, but it concerns only what one of the Pinkertons tossed through the window that he had opened. The only light within came from the fireplace. It was a bitter night, the temperature hovering around zero. The doctor, Zelda, their two young children–Archie, aged eight, and Fannie, aged five–and a Negro servant woman, who had come west from Kentucky with Zelda and her husband, had retired for the night. Whatever it was that came sailing into the room, it exploded, and the effect was ghastly. Zelda’s right arm was torn off at the elbow. Archie was disemboweled and died almost at once. Dr. Samuel and the Negro woman were seriously injured… The irony of it was that Frank and Jesse were a hundred miles away.

“A feeling of revulsion against the Pinkertons swept the state. …

“Wellman is one of the few [writers who do not think it was a grenade]… I can only ask: why not? I recall the part played by Pinkerton men in the bloody strike at the McCormick Reaper Company Works, in Chicago, and again in the revolt of the steelworkers at the Homestead Mills, in Pittsburgh. The Pinkertons of that era are not sacrosanct with me.”

EvX: Wikipedia gives an interesting account of this incident and its aftermath:

In 1874, the Adams Express Company turned to the Pinkerton National Detective Agency to stop the James–Younger Gang. The Chicago-based agency worked primarily against urban professional criminals, as well as providing industrial security, such as strike breaking. Because the gang received support by many former Confederate soldiers in Missouri, they eluded the Pinkertons. …

Allan Pinkerton, the agency’s founder and leader, took on the case as a personal vendetta. … On the night of January 25, 1875, he staged a raid on the homestead. Detectives threw an incendiary device into the house; it exploded …

Many residents were outraged by the raid on the family home. The Missouri state legislature narrowly defeated a bill that praised the James and Younger brothers and offered them amnesty.[10] Allowed to vote and hold office again, former Confederates in the legislature voted to limit the size of rewards which the governor could make for fugitives. This extended a measure of protection over the James–Younger gang by minimizing the incentive for attempting to capture them.

One man’s outlaw is another man’s, er, freedom fighter?

Interestingly, the Pinkerton Detective Agency is still around:

Pinkerton, founded … by Allan Pinkerton in 1850 and currently a subsidiary of Securitas AB.[1] Pinkerton became famous when he claimed to have foiled a plot to assassinate president-elect Abraham Lincoln, who later hired Pinkerton agents for his personal security during the Civil War.[2] … Pinkerton was the largest private law enforcement organization in the world at the height of its power.[3]

During the labor strikes of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, businessmen hired the Pinkerton Agency to infiltrate unions, supply guards, keep strikers and suspected unionists out of factories, and recruit goon squads to intimidate workers. One such confrontation was the Homestead Strike of 1892, in which Pinkerton agents were called in to reinforce the strikebreaking measures of industrialist Henry Clay Frick, acting on behalf of Andrew Carnegie.[4] The ensuing battle between Pinkerton agents and striking workers led to the deaths of seven Pinkerton agents and nine steelworkers.[5] The Pinkertons were also used as guards in coal, iron, and lumber disputes in Illinois, Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia as well as the Great Railroad Strike of 1877 and the Battle of Blair Mountain in 1921.

But let’s get back to Dago. How well did outlawry pay?

“After the robbery at Liberty, in February, the James-Younger Gang did not strike again until October 30, more than eight months later, when they looted the bank at Lexington, Missouri. …

“three, possibly four, stagecoach robberies can be rightly charged up to them over the decade and a half of their spectacular banditry. In all that time, however, they entered only a dozen banks (counting their misadventure at Northfield) and held up only seven trains. Add to that the Kansas City Fairgrounds robbery and you have the complete score of their major undertakings–twenty in all…

“Many estimates have been made of how much money they got away with. The popular reckoning is half a million dollars. Cole Younger, who was the only one of the bandits to say anything about it, claimed that they never got half of what they wee supposed to have taken. … The best answer as to what became of the money is that it was spent. A little simple arithmetic is all that is required to arrive at that conclusion. If in fifteen years the loot totaled half a million dollars,t he yearly take was less than $35,000. Divided among eight to ten men, all it amounted to was handsome wages. Cole Younger says they got nothing like half a million dollars. ..

“Turn back to the robbing of the bank at Liberty. Greenup Bird, the cashier, in a sworn statement, says the outlaws rode off with $57,072, of which $40,000 was in bonds, $15,000 in gold coin an the balance, scarcely more than $2,000, in silver and greenbacks. The bonds were nonnegotiable, hence worthless to the bandits. The gold was an even more tantalizing problem, since there was so little of it in circulation that to start spending it was certain to fasten suspicion on whoever possessed ti as a member of the robber gang. The only way out of the dilemma was to dispose of the gold to a “fence”…

“all commentators agree that they got $9,000 for their $15,000 in gold. …

“If, as claimed, twelve men took part in the Liberty bank robbery, a little more arithmetic reveals that each man netted only a little over a thousand dollars.”

EvX: I note that this is the exact same problem many pirates had. It’s one thing to capture a galleon, and quite another to walk into town and buy a farm using a chest full of stolen doubloons without getting noticed.

“Though the proceeds of the Gallatin robbery added up to very little, it unleashed a veritable hornet’ nest of trouble on the James-Younger Gang. … It was high time t get out of Missouri again. By twos and threes, they crossed the line into Indian Territory and holed up in old Tom Starr’s domain, east of Eufala. They knew old Tom from guerrilla days. He had ten brothers, several sons and daughters. With all of his progeny and kinsfolk, he was the head of perhaps the largest of all Cherokee clans, and he ruled it with a cruel, iron hand. The “Starr country” was wild, desolate, without roads, and no one attempted to cross it who was not known to be friendly with its overlord. Its limestone cave were a perfect refuge for men on the scout. Then, too, a man could turn a dollar by stealing horse and cattle for Tom Starr.

An Amusing Incident:

“On June 3, 1871, the world heard from the James-Younger Gang again. This time it was the prosperous town of Corydon, Iowa… Several blocks from the Ocobock Brothers Bank, their objective, a political rally was in full swing. … When they walked out, the grain sack was bulging with $45,000 in assorted bonds, gold and paper currency.

“It was one of the gang’ richest hauls. Jesse felt so good about it that as they passed the meeting on their way out of town, he stopped and interrupted the speaker.

“‘What is it?’ the Great Man demanded with understandable annoyance…

“I’m sorry to interrupt,” Jesse called back, “But there’s something wrong down at the bank. In fact, it’s just been robbed. Maybe you better look into it, sir.”

“With a mocking laugh, he and his fellow conspirators put spurs to their horses and dashed away.”

Jesse’s First Train Robbery:

“…on July 21, Jesse had his way about it and they did the “spectacular”–their first train robbery. … Securing a spike bar and a sledge hammer, they went east of town a short distance, to a curve, pried off a fishplate, removed the spike and attached a rope to the loosened rail so that it could be pulled out of alignment. Hiding behind an embankment, they had nothing to do but wait until the express came panting around the bend.

“It was after midnight when it hove into view. Years later, Cole Younger said that they expected the train would stop when the locomotive left the tracks. Instead it plowed ahead a few feet and toppled over… the engineer was caught in the cab and scalded t death. …

“The express car yielded less than $3,000. … “Railroad records show,” says Croy, “that $75,000 went through the following night.” The gang had missed the jackpot by only twenty-four hours. …

“In the four weeks following the Gads Hill holdup, the Pinkertons sent their best men into Missouri. But no arrests were made. They complained to their superiors that they could get no cooperation from the inhabitants of the border counties of western Missouri, where the outlaws had a number of hiding places, that the James-Younger Gang had friends in every crossroads village and on every farm. It is true that there were many who, for one reason or another, were sympathetic to Jesse and his men, but the overwhelming majority kept silent because they were afraid to inform on them.

“What was more to the point, Jesse had perfected a secret intelligence system that worked so well that whenever a stranger appeared in Clay County word of his presence was quickly conveyed to him by his hangers-on.”

Frank and Jesse’s Weddings:

Zerelda Mimms, wife (and cousin) of Jesse James, not to be confused with Jesse’s mom who was also named Zerelda

“Jesse and Frank were back in Missouri in April. It was marriage, not robbery, they had on their minds this time. Not too much is known about Frank’s marriage in 1874 to Annie Ralson, the daughter of a respectable Clay County family, other than that her people objected so strenuously to her marrying Frank that she had to elope with him. On April 24, 1874, Jesse married Zerelda Mimms, who had been waiting for him for eight years. No elopement for him. Dressed in the finest raiment money could buy, he boldly came into Kansas City and was married by a minister.

“What kind of women were these who married famous outlaws, men with a price on their heads, wanted dead or alive? They were a far cry from what today we call “gun molls.” They lived on “outlaw” money, but on no other count can they be faulted. They took no part in the lawless deeds of their husbands … They were loyal to the men they married, and Frank and Jesse were true and loyal to them. If there is one untarnished page in the life of the James brothers, it is to be found in their marital relation with Annie and Zerelda.”

 

EvX: Things went pretty well for the James-Younger Gang until they decided to head north to Minnesota. They thought the Swedes would be easily-robbed pushovers, but instead they fought back. Of the 8 outlaws who walked into town that day, only two escaped. The three Younger brothers, Jim, Cole, and Bob, were captured and sent to prison, and three other men were killed.

Jesse and Frank went into hiding. Frank appears to have adjusted to settled life, but Jesse soon attracted a new gang of followers.

Jesse’s downfall:

“…Tucker Basham, well-heeled with his share of the Glendale lot, did some foolish bragging that led to his arrest. William H. Wallace, the newly elected and vigorous prosecuting attorney of Jackson County, put the screws on young Basham and got a full confession from him. …

“[Outlaw] Bill Ryan was picked up near Nashville, Tennessee, in the course of a week-long carouse… The description of him that was sent out caught the eye of Deputy U.S. Marshal Whig Keshlaer. … Ryan was brought back to face trial in Missouri.

People shook their heads in consternation–not over the outcome, which they regarded as certain, but at the prosecutor’s audacity in pushing through an indictment of Ryan. Never before had a member of the gang been brought to trial in Jackson County. There was not a chance in a million, they said, that he could impanel a jury that would bring in a verdict of guilty.

“Wallace’s life was threatened. …

[Jesse James then robbed a train and killed its conductor, Westphal.]

“In Independence, Wallace proceeded with the trial of Bill Ryan. Basham’s confession was introduced, and it created a sensation. … That night Tucker Basham’s home was burned to the ground. And now, unexpectedly, a remarkable thing happened. A score of men who had fought for the Confederacy, many under Quantrill, and who in their hearts were still as “unreconstructed” as on the day Lee surrendered at Appomattox, rallied behind Wallace. … The wavering jury took courage and stood firm. The evidence against Ryan piled up and he was sentenced to twenty-five years in the Missouri Penitentiary. …

“Frank was the only one Jesse had left… Of the men who had ridden with him since Northfield, four were in prison… Two were dead–Ed Miller and Wood Hite. Why he didn’t call it a day and get out of Missouri, even out of the United States, no one will ever know. …

“It happened on the morning of April 3, in the modest house in St. Joe in which Jesse was living with his wife and children, under the alias of J.D. Howard. A single shot was heard by the neighbors. They ran in and found the bearded man, whom they knew as Mr. Howard, lying dead on the floor.

“Bob Ford says in his sworn statement:

Jesse and I had a talk yesterday about robbing the bank at Platte City, and which Charley and I both agreed to assist.

“Between eight and nine o’clock this morning while the three of us were in a room in Jesse’s house, Jesse pulled off his coat and also his pistols, two of which he constantly wore, and then got up onto a chair for the purpose of brushing dust off a picture. …

“So as quickly as possible, I drew my pistol and aiming at Jesse’s head, which was no more than four feet from the muzzle of my weapon, I firered, and Jesse tumbled headlong from the chair on which he was standing and fell on his face.

“Bob Ford’s moment of glory was brief. A wave of revulsion at the cowardly manner in which the treacherous asssassination had been accomplished swept over Missouri. In the outburst of feeling Jesse’s crimes were temporarily forgotten, and men and women spoke of him as “our Jesse” … Bob Ford fled the state, only to be reviled wherever he went. … Four years after the slaying of Jesse, Charly Ford, in ill health and worn down by the stigma attached to him, committed suicide with a pistol in a clump of underbrush near his home in Richmond, Missouri.”

EvX: After Jesse’s death, Frank James turned himself in to the authorities, was tried, and acquitted.

Cole Younger was later pardoned and released from prison–a fascinating story, but too long to recount here. I urge you to read the book if you want to hear it.

Anthropology Friday: American Outlaws, Bandits, and Stand Watie

Welcome back to anthropology-ish Friday. Today we’re reading Outlaws on Horseback: The Organized Bands of Bank and Train Robbers who Terrorized the Middle West for Half a Century by Harry Sinclair Drago. From the Amazon blurb:

Outlaws on Horseback concentrates on the long, unbroken chain of crime that began in the late 1850s with the Missouri-Kansas border warfare and ended in Arkansas in 1921 with the killing of Henry Starr, the last of the authentic desperadoes. Harry Sinclair Drago shows links among the men and women who terrorized the Midwest while he squelches the most outlandish tales about them.

The guerrilla warfare led by the evil William Quantrill was training for Frank and Jesse James and Cole and Jim Younger. Drago puts their bloody careers in perspective and tracks down the truth about Belle Starr the Bandit Queen, Cherokee Bill, Rose of the Cimarron, and the gangs, including the Daltons and Doolins, that infested the Oklahoma hills. The action moves from the sacking of Lawrence to the raid on Northfield to the shootout at Coffeyville.

The introduction and first chapter have so far been really good, so let’s jump right in (as usual, I’ll be using “” instead of blockquotes for readability):

“I have always treasured my chance meeting with Marshal Nix. It quickened my interest in that controversial chapter of American history dealing with the horseback outlaws of Indian and Oklahoma territories and the little army of U.S. marshals and deputy marshals who hunted them down and finally eliminated them in the most prolonged and sanguinary game of cops and robbers this country or any other ever had known. Roughly speaking, it began soon after the forced removal of the Five Civilized Tribes from their homeland in the Carolinas, Georgia, Florida, Alabama and Mississippi to reservations in the uninhabited wilderness to the west of the state of Arkansas, comprising the eastern third of present-day Oklahoma.”

Sequoyah, inventor of the Cherokee syllabary

EvX: The “Five Civilized Tribes” are the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek (Muscogee), and Seminole. According to Wikipedia:

These are the first five tribes that Anglo-European settlers generally considered to be “civilized” according to their own worldview, because these five tribes adopted attributes of the colonists’ culture,[2] for example, Christianity, centralized governments, literacy, market participation, written constitutions, intermarriage with white Americans, and plantation slavery practices. The Five Civilized Tribes tended to maintain stable political relations with the Europeans.

The Cherokee, thanks to the brilliant Sequoyah, had their own syllabary (similar to alphabet) and thus their own Cherokee-language printing industry.

The Seminoles of Florida are notable for never having surrendered to the US government, which could not effectively track and fight them in the Everglades Swamp.

But back to Drago:

It was a land without law, other than the tribal law and courts of the Five Tribes. The only police were Indian police. There were a number of military posts between Fort Smith, Arkansas, and Red River, to the south and west, of which Fort Gibson, some sixty miles up the Arkansas River, at the confluence of the Grand and Verdigris, was the only one of real consequence. The military had no authority to interfere in criminal and civil cases arising among the Indians. In fact, they were expressly forbidden to do so, and this proscription covered mixed bloods of all degree.

“What had become Indian Territory had been known to the criminal element of a dozen Southern and Midwestern states for years. Though it offered a safe refuge for wanted men, few appear to have taken advantage of it. But now, with thousands of “civilized” Indians with their government allotments to prey on, they came from far and near, got themselves adopted into the tribes by marriage and not only proceeded to debauch their benefactors with the wildcat whiskey they brewed in their illicit stills, but plundered and killed with a merciless abandon equaled elsewhere only by the pirates of the lower Mississippi and and the white savages of the Natchez Trace. It was, of course, from those very depth of criminal viciousness that a substantial number of the lawless characters infesting the Territory had come.”

Part of the Natchez Trace

EvX: The Natchez Trace:

is a historic forest trail within the United States which extends roughly 440 miles (710 km) from Natchez, Mississippi, to Nashville, Tennessee, linking the Cumberland, Tennessee, and Mississippi Rivers. The trail was created and used for centuries by Native Americans, and was later used by early European and American explorers, traders, and emigrants in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. …

Largely following a geologic ridge line, prehistoric animals followed the dry ground of the Trace to distant grazing lands, the salt licks of today’s central Tennessee, and to the Mississippi River. … In the case of the Trace, bison traveled north to find salt licks in the Nashville area.[2] … Numerous prehistoric indigenous settlements in Mississippi were established along the Natchez Trace. Among them were the 2000-year-old Pharr Mounds of the Middle Woodland period, located near present-day Tupelo, Mississippi. …

The U.S. signed treaties with the Chickasaw and Choctaw tribes to maintain peace, as European Americans entered the area in greater numbers. In 1801 the United States Army began the trail blazing along the Trace, performing major work to prepare it as a thoroughfare. The work was first done by soldiers reassigned from Tennessee and later by civilian contractors. To emphasize American sovereignty in the area, he called it the “Columbian Highway.” The people who used it, however, dubbed the road “The Devil’s Backbone” due to its remoteness, rough conditions, and the often encountered highwaymen found along the new road.[1]

By 1809, the trail was fully navigable by wagon, with the northward journey taking two to three weeks. Critical to the success of the Trace as a trade route was the development of inns and trading posts, referred to at the time as “stands.” …

The Trace was the only reliable land link between the eastern states and the trading ports of Mississippi and Louisiana. This brought all sorts of people down the Trace: itinerant preachers, highwaymen, traders, and peddlers among them.[1]

As with much of the unsettled frontier, banditry regularly occurred along the Trace. Much of it centered around the river landing Natchez Under-The-Hill, (as compared with the rest of the town) atop the river bluff. Under-the-Hill, where barges and keelboats put in with goods from northern ports, was a hotbed of gamblers, prostitutes, and drunkards. Many of the rowdies, referred to as “Kaintucks,” were rough Kentucky frontiersmen who operated flatboats down the river.[1]

Other dangers lurked on the Trace in the areas outside city boundaries. Highwaymen (such as John Murrell and Samuel Mason) terrorized travelers along the road. They operated large gangs of organized brigands in one of the first examples of land-based organized crime in the United States.[5][6]

Back to Drago:

“The seeds of lawlessness had been planted, and it remained only for the passing years to bring them to flower. The half-breed sons of the white renegades grew to manhood with contempt for tribal laws, which among the Choctaws and Cherokees were strict and severe in their punishments. The invariable aftermath to a quarrel was murder. Usually the killings went unexplained, or, in the Cherokee Nation, were charged to the implacable feud between the No Treaty Party and the Treaty Party that took the lives of so many. …

“The internecine strife that divided the Cherokees was waged up to and through the yeas of the Civil War, and it was responsible for the defeat of the adherents of the Confederacy among the Five Tribes. It also helped to provide the climate for the day of the horseback outlaws.

“The strife that divided the Cherokee Nation went back to the treaty signed with the federal government that resulted in their removal from their ancestral homeland. Principal Chief John Ross, titular head of the tribe for almost forty years, had refused to sign it, and he and his faction held that those chiefs who had–Stand Watie; Elias Boudinot, his brother; and Major John Ridge–were traitors. Boudinot, Major Ridge and his son, John, were assassinated following the removal. Only death could heal that breach.”

Chief John Ross of the Cherokee, born 1790, photographed near his death in 1866

EvX: For my non-American readers, Drago is referring to the infamous removal of the Cherokee (and other “civilized tribes”) under President Andrew Jackson, memorialized as the “Trail of Tears.” The forced march from their ancestral lands in the southeast US to what is now Oklahoma (formerly, “Indian Territory”) resulted in 13,000-16,500 deaths. According to Wikipedia:

The Cherokee Trail of Tears resulted from the enforcement of the Treaty of New Echota, an agreement signed under the provisions of the Indian Removal Act of 1830, which exchanged Indian land in the East for lands west of the Mississippi River, but which was never accepted by the elected tribal leadership or a majority of the Cherokee people.

Interestingly, Chief John Ross was (according to Wikipedia) only 1/8th Cherokee, the rest of his family being of Scottish ancestry:

As a result, young John… grew up bilingual and bicultural, an experience that served him well when his parents decided to send him to schools that served other mixed race Cherokee. … During the War of 1812, he served as adjutant of a Cherokee regiment under the command of Andrew Jackson. After the Red Stick War ended, Ross demonstrated his business acumen by starting a tobacco farm in Tennessee. In 1816, he built a warehouse and trading post on the Tennessee River north of the mouth of Chattanooga Creek, and started a ferry service that carried passengers from the south side of the river (Cherokee Nation) to the north side (USA). …

Ross first went to Washington, D.C. in 1816 as part of a Cherokee delegation to negotiate issues of national boundaries, land ownership and white encroachment. As the only delegate fluent in English, Ross became the principal negotiator, despite his relative youth. When he returned to the Cherokee Nation in 1817, he was elected to the National Council. …

The majority of the council were men like Ross, who were wealthy, educated, English-speaking and of mixed blood. Even the traditionalist full-blood Cherokee perceived that he had the skills necessary to contest the whites’ demands that the Cherokee cede their land and move beyond the Mississippi River.

Meanwhile:

When Georgia moved to extend state laws over Cherokee lands in 1830, the matter went to the U.S. Supreme Court. In Cherokee Nation v. Georgia (1831), the Marshall court ruled that the Cherokee Nation was not a sovereign and independent nation, and therefore refused to hear the case. However, in Worcester v. Georgia (1832), the Court ruled that Georgia could not impose laws in Cherokee territory, since only the national government — not state governments — had authority in Indian affairs.

I mention Cherokee Nation v. Georgia because it really is a testament to the Cherokees’ level of literacy and sophistication that they knew how to use the American legal system well enough to bring a case before the Supreme Court. But Jackson had enough problems on his hands (the nullification crisis in South Carolina) and decided he didn’t want to simultaneously face down the Georgia militia, so removal proceeded.

The Cherokee themselves were split on what to do. Some Cherokee (the “Treaty Party,” including Stand Watie,) thought they should just cut their losses, sign the treaty, take the $200,000 and leave. Other Cherokee, (the “No Treaty Party,” lead by John Ross,) wanted to stand their ground and use the legal system to defend their rights.

Back to Drago:

Stand Watie, interestingly more Cherokee by DNA% than John Ross

“It followed that when the conflict between North and South began, those two old enemies took sides, John Ross declaring for the Union, and Stand Watie taking the field for the Confederacy. The latter, a redoubtable man and something of a military genius, as made a brigadier general before the struggle was over, and when he surrendered at Fort Towson, in June 1865, he was the lat of the Confederate commanders to lay down his arms. …

“The absurd statement has been made that there were five thousand outlaws running wild in the two territories. There may have been as many as five thousand criminals unapprehended in the country between the Kansas line and the Red River, at one time or another. I believe there were. That would include petty thieves, safe-crackers, murderers, a few rapists and the several thousand who were engaged in the manufacture and sale of whiskey to the Indians, plus the fluctuating and ever-changing number of “wanted” men who regarded that lawless country as only a temporary refuge. Of the genuine horseback outlaws, who did their marauding in gangs, robbing banks and express offices and holding up trains, the acknowledged elite of their lawless world, the like of whom America had never seen before and was never to see again, I can account for fewer than two hundred.

“The argument has been advanced in their favor that they were cowboys… This is sheer nonsense. … Frank and Jesse James and the members of their gang had never punched cattle for a living. That is equally true of Cole Younger and his brothers…

“It has been said many times that it was the lure of easy money, the chance to make a big stake in a hurry, that took so many men into outlawry. Unquestionably the prospect of the rich pickings to be gleaned was of the first importance with them. But only in the beginning. After a few successful forays, the thrill and excitement of sweeping into a town and cowing it with their guns became almost as important to them as money. No one ever put it better than handsome Henry Starr, the most gentlemanly and to me the most intelligent of all horseback outlaws, when he said, after thirty years of robbing banks and being in and out of prison: “Of course I’m interested in the money and the chance that I’ll make a big haul that will make me rich, but I must admit that there’s the lure of the life in the open, the rides at night, the spice of danger, the mastery over men, the pride of being able to hold a mob at bay–it tingles in my veins. I love it. It is a wild adventure. I feel as I imagine the old buccaneers felt when they roved the seas with the black flag at the masthead.

EvX: According to Old West Legends: Henry Starr–The Cherokee Bad Boy:

During his 32 years in crime Henry Starr robbed more banks than both the James-Younger Gang and the Doolin-Dalton Gang put together. He started robbing banks on horseback in 1893 and ended up robbing his last in a car in 1921. The Cherokee Badman netted over $60,000 from more than 21 bank robberies.

Henry Starr was born near Fort Gibson in Indian Territory on December 2, 1873 to George “Hop” Starr, a half-breed Cherokee, and Mary Scot Starr, a woman of Irish decent and one-quarter Cherokee. Mary came from an educated and respectable family, but the Starr side of the family was rife with outlaws. Henry’s grandfather was Tom Starr, an outlaw in his own right. Henry would later say that his grandfather “was known far and wide as the Devil’s own. In all matters where law and order was on one side, Tom Starr was on the other.” …

Back to Drago:

“[Starr’s account] is important only because it partially explains why the confirmed outlaw stuck to his trade until his career ended in a blast of gunfire or the hangman’s noose.

“… none of their predecessors in the game they were playing had succeeded in piling up a fortune and getting away to Mexico or South America to enjoy it. (A few got away, but they always returned, and that was their undoing.) Knowing what the score was, why did they persist in their banditry until they arrived at the inevitable end?

“For several reasons. Not only did they believe they were smart enough to avoid the mistakes that had been the downfall of others, but they held their lives cheaply, which is not difficult to understand. Many of the hailed from Missouri, the cradle of outlawry. Either as children or as grown men, they were products of the bitter, cruel years of border warfare between the proslavery and antislavery factions of Kansas and Missouri, followed by the even bloodier years of guerrilla warfare between Union and Confederate forces… Lee’s surrender at Appomattox did not end the internecine strife in war-torn Kansas and Missouri. It went on for years, and a decade and more passed before it burned itself out.”

EvX: Here we skip forward to matters dealing incidentally with Quantrill, an outlaw. We’ll talk more about Quantrill next Friday:

“[Quantrill] led his men across the line into Indian Territory. This was more or less just a pleasant excursion, its only purpose being to raid the villages of the Upper Cherokees (the [John] Ross faction) and help themselves to the best horseflesh they could find. Preferably that meant tough, wiry animals of pure mesteno strain, and next best, crossbred mustangs which could go and go and go, and which, due to the incessant raiding among the tribes, had changed owners many times since originally being stolen out of Texas. A generation of Cherokees, born in the Territory, had become as adept at stealing horses a the so-called Wild Indians of the Plains. They tried to secrete their extensive herd, but the white invader from Missouri found the and, in the process of taking what they wanted, left a trail of dead Indians in their wake…

“Quantrill and his men had little to fear from Union reprisals. The War Department [this was during the Civil War] had withdrawn its troops from the posts in Texas and Indian Territory soon after the outbreak of hostilities, the announced reason being that it wold be impossible to supply them. It was a mistake; among the Five Civilized Tribes, the faction loyal to the Union felt they had been abandoned. Stand Watie and his Rebel army moved into Fort Gibson and wrought havoc up and down the Texas Road, the main north-south route through the Nations, parts of which were variously known as the Osage Trace, the Shawnee Trail and the Sedalia Trail, until Secretary of War Stanton reversed himself and gathered a force of several regiments of Kansas volunteers and a Missouri battery, accompanied by several hundred Osage tribesmen… and ordered them to retake Fort Gibson.

“Stand Watie, in the face of superior numbers, retired from Gibson without a struggle, but for the rest of the war years, he raided up and down the Texas Road, waylaying wagon trains from Fort Scott, Kansas, from which Fort Gibson had to be supplied. On one occasion… he captured a supply train valued at $1,500,000. …

“The scorched-earth policy Stand Watie pursued devastated the country and resulted in starvation and near-starvation for thousands of Indians. The confederacy strengthened the Cherokee Mounted Rifles, renaming it the Indian Brigade by reinforcing it with several regiment of white Texan volunteers.

“But it is not with the four bitter years of the war itself that this narrative is principally concerned; it is with the poverty, the starvation, the memory of the wanton killing and cruelty it left behind, all of which unmistakably made the ground fertile for the generation of outlaws who were to follow, such a Henry Star, Sam Starr, Rufus Buck, Cherokee Bill, his brother Clarence and a score of others. ”

EvX: Note that Drago generally favors environmental explanations for the emergence of outlawry in the post-Civil War period.

Coincidentally, I first heard about Stand Watie–a rather obscure historical figure–the day before I picked up this book. There is a movement afoot in Oklahoma, inspired by the recent vogue for tearing down Confederate monuments, to rename Stand Watie Elementary.

Regardless of which side you favored in the War Between the States, Stand Watie sounds like an unpleasant person who killed or almost killed thousands of his own people. But Oklahoma, in a rare display of sanity, has noted that renaming schools costs money, and Oklahoma’s education budget is pretty tight.

See you next Friday for a full discussion of Quantrell’s Civil War depredations.

Piracy, Bandits, and Civilization

While reading The Pirates Own Book, I was struck by how much of history has been warfare and banditry:

Piracy has been known from the remotest antiquity; for in the early ages every small maritime state was addicted to piracy, and navigation was perilous. This habit was so general, that it was regarded with indifference, and, whether merchant, traveller, or pirate, the stranger was received with the rights of hospitality. Thus Nestor, having given Mentor and Telemachus a plenteous repast, remarks, that the banquet being finished, it was time to ask his guests to their business. “Are you,” demands the aged prince, “merchants destined to any port, or are you merely adventurers and pirates, who roam the seas without any place of destination, and live by rapine and ruin.”

Where men can make a living through violence and predation, they do. The only thing that stops them is other men strong enough to kill them:

The Danes, Norwegians, and Swedes, from their superior knowledge of navigation, gave into it most; and on whatever coast the winds carried them, they made free with all that came in their way. Canute the Fourth endeavored in vain to repress these lawless disorders among his subjects; but they felt so galled by his restrictions, that they assassinated him. On the king of Sweden being taken by the Danes, permission was given to such of his subjects as chose, to arm themselves against the enemy, pillage his possessions, and sell their prizes at Ribnitz and Golnitz. This proved a fertile nursery of pirates, who became so formidable under the name of “Victalien Broders,” that several princes were obliged to arm against them, and hang some of their chiefs. …

Charles the Bald, not having the power to expel him, engaged the freebooter, for 500 pounds of silver, to dislodge his countrymen, who were harassing the vicinity of Paris. In consequence of this subsidy, Wailand, with a fleet of 260 sail, went up the Seine, and attacked the Normans in the isle of Oiselle: after a long and obstinate resistance, they were obliged to capitulate; and having paid 6000 pounds of gold and silver, by way of ransom, had leave to join their victors. The riches thus acquired rendered a predatory life so popular, that the pirates were continually increasing in number, so that under a “sea-king” called Eric, they made a descent in the Elbe and the Weser, pillaged Hamburg, penetrated far into Germany, and after gaining two battles, retreated with immense booty. The pirates, thus reinforced on all sides, long continued to devastate Germany, France, and England; some penetrated into Andalusia and Hetruria, where they destroyed the flourishing town of Luni; whilst others, descending the Dnieper, penetrated even into Russia.

The text goes on in this manner, and it is just striking how, for so many centuries after the fall of Rome, Europeans lived in constant fear of bandits, with no force strong enough to secure the sea lanes and borders. And even the rulers themselves are, in many cases, ex-bandits themselves: barbarian conquerors .

Genghis Khan

Once a group of bandits becomes strong enough to kill all the other bandits in the area, it settles in and starts taxing instead of stealing.

Even Genghis Khan, once finished conquering, began executing bandits, encouraging trade, and securing the safety of his tax-payers. It is said that a woman carrying a bag of gold could walk, alone, from one end to the other of the Mongol Empire without fear or molestation–an exaggeration, I’m sure, but I know I wouldn’t want to incur the Great Khan’s wrath by robbing one of his subjects.

(In Power and Prosperity, economist Mancur Olson argues that, “under anarchy, a “roving bandit” only has the incentive to steal and destroy, whilst a “stationary bandit”—a tyrant—has an incentive to encourage some degree of economic success as he expects to remain in power long enough to benefit from that success. A stationary bandit thereby begins to take on the governmental function of protecting citizens and their property against roving bandits. In the move from roving to stationary bandits, Olson sees the seeds of civilization, paving the way, eventually for democracy, which by giving power to those who align with the wishes of the population, improves incentives for good government.[5]” )

We can even see this process occurring with ISIS (h/t Will @Evolving_Moloch):

From Brookings: Experts Weigh in: Is ISIS good at Governing?

Humans once hunted goats; today we feed them, give them shelter, and kill their other predators. As a result, there are far more goats than there would be otherwise. We still eat them, of course.

A government of sedentary bandits is still bandits, but at least they’re bandits who want the community to thrive. (Yes, taxation IS theft, but you should see the alternative.)
As a result, we take for granted a level of peace and safety that most of the world has never experienced.

Chimps fight wars. Neanderthals were cannibals. Homicide in primitive tribes was sky-high. You have twice as many female as male ancestors because the majority of men never reproduced.

Western society didn’t become peaceful by singing kumbaya, but by 1. top-down banning cousin marriage, which ended tribalism,

and 2. Becoming powerful enough to catch and execute the bandits.

We forget this at our own peril.