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.”