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.

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Anthropology Friday: Outlaws of the Wild West pt 2, Quantrill

William Quantrill, 1837-1865

Whew. I have a lot of thoughts about Harry Drago’s Outlaws on Horseback: The History of the Organized Bands of Bank and Train Robbers Who Terrorized the Prairie Towns of Missouri, Kansas, Indian Territory, and Oklahoma for Half a Century. It was a very good book, and before I get into my own thoughts on it, (don’t worry, this will all relate back to anthropology eventually) I’m going to focus on some excerpts, bolding a few bits I’d like to highlight. (As usual, I’ll be using “” instead of blockquotes for readability). Today we’re reading about Quantrill:

“There can be little question that in the long, unbroken chain of outlawry which began in the Missouri-Kansas border warfare of the late fifties and ended with the killing of Henry Starr, the last of the authentic horseback outlaws, [in 1921] … the link with the most far-reaching effect was forged by William Clarke Quantrill.

“Something must be said about Quantrill, the spectacular and fearless guerrilla leader, if only because among the men who rode with him were some who were to write their names large on the pages of American outlawry long after he was hot down by alleged “Union” guerrillas, no better than himself, at Bloomfield, Kentucky, in 1865. At the end, he had scarcely a dozen followers left, which was a far cry from the little army of approximately four hundred and fifty gaunt, bearded, hate-ridden fanatics he had led into Kansas for the sacking and burning of Lawrence in 1863.

“Many of those four hundred and fifty were dead; others had drifted away to form their own bands. But for years he had dominated their thinking, molded them to a way of life that time could not change; and they responded with a blind loyalty such as no other man ever won from them. … Among the foremost were Frank James; his cousins Cole and Jim Younger; Clell and Ed Miller, brothers; Wood and Clarence Hite, Cousins; Charlie Pitts, Bill Ryan; and after the Lawrence raid, a newcomer, the youngest of them all Jesse Woodson James. …

“Beyond doubt Quantrill welcomed the fall of Fort Sumter and the beginning of hostilities between the North and the South. His actions prove that he was quick to see that he was now presented with a golden opportunity for advancing himself and widening the scope of his operations. To scurry across the border with his freebooters to burn farmhouses, ambush an unwary group of Jim Lane’s and Jim Montgomery’s Jayhawkers or Charlie Jennison‘s Red Legs and make off with whatever was movable, meaning horses, was one thing. But for it he had no backing, other than his own might and the support of his sympathizers. Formal war was something else. By attaching himself to the Confederacy, he would be fighting for a “cause” and a very popular one in southwestern Missouri and parts of Kansas. Without losing any time, he disappeared from his haunts in Jackson County, Missouri, and next appeared in Indian Territory, where he joined up with Stand Watie‘s Irregulars, the Cherokee Mounted Rifles.

“… It is a matter of record that he fought in the battles of Wilson’s Creek and Lexington, Missouri, in which he appears to have given a good account of himself. That he importuned General Sterling Price, the Confederate commander, to assist him in getting a commission as an officer is easy to believe. That Price, a good man, was not favorably impressed by Quantrill’s record is best attested by the fact that when he retread southward with his Rebel force, Quantrill slipped away and returned to Jackson County, where he reorganized his band, still small, … and began attacking small parties of Jayhawkers and Red Legs, … who had got possession of several Missouri hamlets. He became such a thorn in the side of the Union forces… that General James Totten, their commander, issued an order declaring that Quantrill and his men were in open opposition to the law and legitimate authorities of the United States, and “will be shot down by the military upon the spot where they are found perpetrating their foul acts.”

They were thus declared, officially, to be outlaws and denied all the legal processes. Death without quarter was what it meant. Totten’s order had the opposite effect of that intended. … bewhiskered, hard-faced men in butternut jeans flocked to Quantrill’s black flag. Presently he had several hundred recruits, anxious and ready to follow his leadership …

“Quantrill, on the way to the peak of his power, was still determined to win a colonel’s commission in the Amy of the Confederacy. … Certainly Quantrill had some reason to believe that as an officer of the Confederacy he would have to be treated as a prisoner of war, if captured, and that the status of his men would likewise be so affected.

“Late in 1862… Quantrill led his band into the caves and hills of friendly Bates County, where they were safe for the winter.”

EvX: Quantrill headed to Richmond to ask for a commission in the Confederate army:

“He seems to have had no difficulty in getting an interview with Secretary Seldon. From what little is known, it was a stormy one. Quantrill’s reputation had preceded him, and his truculent manner did not further hi cause. The bloodletting and barbarism, which passed for legitimate warfare with him, were, if we can believe the staff officers who were present, roundly condemned by the Secretary. With a finality that left him no hop, Quantrill’s request for a commission was denied, and he headed back to Missouri smarting with rage.

“…Somewhere along the way he seems to have convinced himself that he could bring Secretary Seldon off his high perch and down to earth with some bold, spectacular stroke… The burning and destruction of Lawrence, Kansas, was the answer. Lawrence was the focus of everything he and his followers and all Southern sympathizers in Missouri hated. …

“Lawrence was also the home of Jim Lane, who had been elected to the United States Senate with the admission of Kansas into the Union in 1861. Jim Lane, a infamous as Quantrill himself, more so in some ways, was a sadistic fanatic, condemned by his own governor and excoriated by General George B. McClellan as having done more to inure the Union cause than a full division of seasoned Confederate troops.”*

EvX: I don’t normally quote footnotes, but the one on Jim Lane is interesting:

“*Even those commentators most heavily biased in his favor have not been able to clear him of this charge. There is abundant evidence that he was a pronounced psychopath, the slave of a tortured ego that alternately filled him with a madman’s exhilaration or plunged him into the blackest depths of depression. Eventually he took his own life. In the days of his greatest prominence, he not only accepted responsibility for all of the deeds attributed to him but appropriated many in which he had not taken part, wanting, it seems, to stand alone as the Great Avenger of all the wrongs, real and fancied, that Kansas was suffering.”

Back to the story:

“Word of what was afoot was leaked to men who could be trusted. By the end of May, they began riding int Quantrill’s camp to join up. They came well armed and brought their own ammunition, but were poorly mounted… Day after day they came, until the outlaw leader had almost four hundred and fifty men ready to follow him into Kansas. …

“Summer was wearing on, but he was not ready to move on Lawrence. Instead, he led his men across the line into Indian Territory…. to raid the villages of the Upper Cherokees… A generation of Cherokees, born in t e Territory, had become as adept at stealing horses as the so-called Wild Indians of the Plains. They tried to secrete their extensive herds, but the white invaders from Missouri found them 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 had withdrawn its troops from the posts in Texas and Indian Territory soon after the outbreak of hostilities, the announced reason being that it would be impossible to supply them…

“It was the middle of August when Quantrill and his band returned to Missouri and dispersed to various hideouts… They were superbly mounted now, which was of the greatest importance–so much was to depend on the stamina of their horses. …

Quantrill’s Raiders reunion circa 1875

“…he was ready to move at last. When black night fell, they climbed into the saddle and headed for the Kansas line. … If they ran into trouble, there would be nowhere they culd turn for support. Once on Kansas soil, every hand would be raised against them. As the crow flies, it was something less than seventy miles to Lawrence. But they had to avoid the main0traveled roads and move with what secrecy they could. …They routed a farmer out of bed and impressed him to show them the way. They became suspicious of him when he became confused, and when they learned he was a former Missourian, turned Jayhawker, they killed him on the spot.

“How often that performance was repeated that night and the following day depends on whose account you are reading…

“Quantrill had thrown out scouts ahead of the column. In the hour before dawn, they ran into Union pickets. A few shots were exchanged. … This was the moment of decision–to turn back or go on… The Rebel yell was raised, and where the going would permit, the long column broke into a trot. …

“When the vedettes raced into the lines with word that a large guerrilla force was moving on the town, all was panic, and orders were shouted to evacuate their positions at once and, without wasting time, to inform the citizens of Lawrence that they were being deserted.

“Fire-eating Senator Jim Lane, who was directly responsible for the Lawrence aid, fled no less shamelessly. … In borrowed pants, astride a farm horse, he clubbed the heavy animal into a run and disappeared int Shawnee County, leaving his wife to face the guerrillas. They did not harm her, but fired the house…

The burning of Lawrence, Kansas

“The slaughter began. Men who had never harmed Missouri went down with those who had. Boys in their teens were killed… Liquor stores were broken into. Soon the whiskey-crazed rabble put the torch to the town, howling with glee a it burned. …

“In four hours the town was thoroughly gutted, the damage in property destroyed or stolen being estimated at $2,000,000. … The number killed? [Different sources report 185, 150, and 142]. …

“Quantrill had more than made good his sworn resolve to do something spectacular. … In the wave of revulsion that swept the land, he became the fiend incarnate… Because he still labeled himself a Confederate guerrilla, the South now both condemned and repudiated him. Instead of winning the pseudo respectability that would have been his on being recognized as an officer of the Army of the Confederacy, the Lawrence holocaust had cost him his last chance. …

George Caleb Bingham’s painting of General Order No. 11. “In this famous work General Thomas Ewing is seated on a horse watching the Red Legs.”

“The infamous Order No. 11… informing the inhabitants of Cass, Bates, Jackson and the northern half of Vernon counties that they had fifteen days in which to gather up what belongings they could carry with them and evacuate the proscribed area, in which all houses, buildings and crops were to be burned, was largely responsible for the disintegration of [Quantrill’s] geurilla force. … Order No. 11 was retaliation for the Lawrence massacre…

“It was cruel, inhuman, and if Missouri soil needed further fertilizing for the crop of outlaws it was to produce, Order No. 11 provided it.

“Quantrill got out of the Burnt District with perhaps a many as fifty men and headed for Indian Territory. Riding with him for the first time was a boy just turned sixteen. His name was Jesse Woodson James

“For several months they raided back and forth across the Texas counties lying between Fort Worth and the Red… Back in Missouri and Kansas their excuse for their crimes was that they were making war on the enemies of the Confederacy. In Texas, they could not use that subterfuge… the people they were robbing, plundering and killing were stanch friends of the South. …

Presumably, Quantrill hoped to find safety in the Kentucky mountains and recruit a new following… he and his men fought a score of minor skirmishes with Federal troops and Union guerrillas and, between times, plundered and looted wherever four years of war had left anything worth stealing. But though ravaged Kentucky was by now safely in the hands of the North, diehard Southern sympathizers were to be found on every hand, and they befriended and concealed Quantrill’s ragged band on numerous occasions.

The war’s end brought no peace to Kentucky. Bands of Northern renegades, still claiming to be “Union” guerrillas, and an equal number of so-called Rebel Irregulars, alternately hunted and chased one another from farm to farm, killing and stealing with lawless abandon. … With no more than a dozen men [Quantrill] holed up at the farm of a man named Wakefield … After hiding in Wakefield’s barn for two days, they were discovered by the enemy. In the fight that followed, Quantrill fell, mortally wounded… He was not yet twenty eight.

“It is easy to understand why those old grudges were kept alive, for in the aftermath of war it was the border counties of Missouri that stood ravaged and desolate, … Once-prosperous families returning to the Burnt District found only a cemetery of fire-blackened chimneys…

“If Missouri was to become the breeding ground of outlaws and outlawry, it hardly can be doubted that the blighted, impoverished homeland to which Quantrill’s fledglings returned had something to do with it. …

Jesse James

They had to keep on the dodge, because the general amnesty given all who had worn Confederate gray did not apply to ex-guerrillas who had been officially branded outlaws. Union cavalry units (hated Kansas Volunteers) were scouring the country for them. Young Jesse and five others came in under a white flag, only to be fired on… After that there was no talk of giving themselves up. … [They were] waiting to find a leader. They found one, second to none, in Jesse Woodson James. … This was the beginning of the famous James-Younger Gang, and on February 13, 1866, the day before St. Valentine’s Day, under the lowering skies of an impending blizzard, they cracked their first bank.”

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.