Cherokee Bill – An Outlaw’s Story

It has been a while since I last posted anything, and people have began to ask what’s going on. Well, here is my pet project right now. I am working on a book about outlaws in the twin territories and I just finished my chapter on Crawford “Cherokee Bill” Goldsby. I find his story very interesting as most of the places in this chapter I have visited. I live only 30 minutes from Fort Gibson and just visited Coweta last week. I call Tahlequah my hometown, but in truth I live out in the country. It’s amazing to think that the land I walk on, he also once walked on and so did the brave lawmen that died trying to keep Indian Territory safe. I hope you enjoy the life of Cherokee Bill.

Crawford “Cherokee Bill” Goldsby

Crawford Goldsby was born February 8th, 1876 in Fort Concho, Texas, to George Goldsby and  Ellen Beck Goldsby. He was the second born and oldest son of 4 children by this couple. His father George was a mixed-race male his mother was a mulatto and his father was a white man. Ellen Beck was half African-American 1/4 white 1/4 Cherokee who lived in Fort Gibson Indian Territory. George and Ellen met when he was stationed at Fort Gibson and later was transferred to Fort Concho Texas where he became a first sergeant and Company D Buffalo Soldiers.

The civilian community of Santa Angela that bordered Fort Concho was where the soldiers went on their days off at the fort. It was in this town that change not only the life of George Goldsby but that of his wife and children as well. It was on a fateful day in February of 1878 when George was having a drink at Morris Saloon when a group of cowboys and buffalo hunters decided to approach him. The racial divide was large in Santa Angela and it came to a head as a man assaulted George, cutting his chevrons from his uniform and then making him leave the saloon.

Angry for being assaulted, George went back to Fort Concho and gathered some men and rifles. Together they went back to more Saloon and engaged in a gunfight with the men. Three civilians and one soldier were killed in the melee.  G.W. Arrington,  captain of the Texas Rangers, March through Fort Concho and stormed into Colonel Grierson’s office and demanded that goes to be arrested for murder. Grierson informed him he had no Authority on federal lands and had him removed from the fort.

Goldsby knew there would be a trial and knew he would be tried and convicted of murder, so on May 23rd, 1879, he went AWOL.  The other nine men that were a part of the Morris Saloon incident were indicted for murder, so in truth, George was not wrong of the outcome. Goldsby left Ellen and their four kids to face the aftermath of his desertion. She continued working as a laundress for Company D for a while before moving her kids back home to Fort Gibson.  Once they returned to Fort Gibson Ellen took her four kids and put them in homes of relatives. Crawford was given into the care of “Auntie” Amanda Foster, where he stayed until he was sent to an Indian school in Kansas.  After going to school in Kansas he was sent to a Catholic Indian School in Pennsylvania, school life wasn’t for him and he soon returned to Fort Gibson.

While Crawford was gone to school, and unbeknownst to him, his mother had remarried. Alan Beck Goldsby married William Lynch in 1889 and they settled in Fort Gibson, Indian Territory where Lynch became a barber.  The problem with this marriage was that Ellen was still legally married to Crawford’s father. At one point George Goldsby approached Ellen for a divorce but she denied him. At the same time George Goldsby, who by this time was known as William Scott also married.

George married a white woman by the name of Effie in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. Not only was George not free to marry, but it was also an illegal marriage due to the fact that George was a mulatto and Effie was white which was illegal in Arkansas at the time. Though she later claimed that they went to Kansas and remarried again where it was legal for mixed races to marry, that marriage was also illegal in the fact that George was still married to Ellen at the time.

It is not known whether Crawford or any of his siblings had anything else to do with their father once he deserve them at Fort Concho, but what we do know is when Crawford returned home to find his mother married to William Lynch it wasn’t to be a happy family. Crawford and his stepfather did not get along and Crawford began hanging out with the wrong sort of people, but it wasn’t until he was 18 that he began his life of crime.

In an Indian Pioneer paper interview of Alex Matheson lies the story of when Crawford Goldsby shot Jake Lewis multiple times. When Crawford was 18 he worked in the shop of Alex Matheson.  Matheson had no complaint of Crawford saying that he was a good boy and that he swept and kept the store clean for him.  At this time Crawford Goldsby was not known as Cherokee Bill but Matheson describes him like that as he relates his story:

 “One night he went to a dance and had a fight with a negro boy by the name of Bill Lewis. A negro deputy sheriff was there and held his gun on Cherokee Bill while Lewis beat him up. Lewis worked for Mr. Bowden at Garrison Hill. Early the next morning Cherokee Bill went to the Bowden Barn and hid in a manger and waited until Lewis showed up. When Lewis was inside the barn, Cherokee Bill stepped out of the manger and shot Lewis 3 or 4 times but did not kill him. Although he was shot up pretty bad, as Cherokee Bill was using a 45 six shooter, I lived about what would be termed 2 blocks from the Bowden home. After the shooting, Cherokee Bill went from the Bowden home to Frenchy Miller’s, a distance of about a quarter of a mile, as none of them were up he went to the barn and saddled up one of Miller’s horses and rode to where the Cook Gang was holed up on 14 Mile Creek; about where the town of Hulbert is now located and joined the gang. That was the beginning of his Outlaw career.”

According to Alex Matheson, Crawford Goldsby assumed he had killed Jake Lewis, but Lewis survived. He stated that Goldsby met up with the brothers on Fourteen Mile Creek while others say he met them in the Creek and Seminole Nation. Jim and Bill Cook were bad brothers but it wasn’t until Goldsby joined them that they became known as the Cook Gang, and though it was named after the brothers it has long been believed that Goldsby was the head of this gang.

Crawford Goldsby was not yet known as Cherokee Bill, but his name was whispered throughout the territories. It wasn’t until 1894 that he became known as “Cherokee Bill”. The U.S. Government had agreed to lease the land known as the Cherokee Strip from the Cherokees. All Cherokee citizens were entitled to payment from this land lease, including Crawford Goldsby and the Cook Brothers. The only problem was they couldn’t just ride into Tahlequah to receive their payments. They were well-known outlaws with prices on their heads. The only way to get the money due to them was to send someone they knew and trusted to collect it for them.

With that thought in mind, they headed to Fourteen Mile Creek to the home of Effie Critenden, known as the Halfway House. Her house was located halfway between Wagoner and Tahlequah, and the perfect location for the gang to wait while Effie went into Tahlequah to collect their money. When Effie returned with their money without any trouble they thought they were safe and decided to stay another day. 

It was that afternoon, while they were lounging under a shade tree that the U.S. Marshal and his posse arrived to arrest them. A gunfight ensued and the outlaws managed to kill one of the men in the posse, Sequoyah Houston.

Sequoyah Houston was a sheriff’s deputy out of Tahlequah. He was married to Mary Ann Wyrick. From their marriage, they had three boys, Mack, Alexander, and George. 

Sequoyah was killed on June 17th, 1894, by Crawford Goldsby, leaving his widow and three boys alone in the world.

When Houston went down they called a retreat and left the halfway house. Goldsby and the Cook brothers took to the hills and weren’t seen around for a long while. The next day, the lawmen returned and asked Effie if one of the outlaws had been Crawford Goldsby, she replied, “No it was not Crawford Goldsby, but it was Cherokee Bill.” From then on he was known only as Cherokee Bill.” 

In researching through stories and books for information on Cherokee Bill, a number of interesting stories were found in the interviews of the Indian Pioneer Papers. One such story was told by Burl Taylor in 1937. He recalled of the time when his horse had wandered and he was out looking for it. He ran across a man by the name of Bob Elliott, who asked him to accompany him while he went to warn Cherokee Bill and Bill Cook were. He had learned a man by the name of Bill Stout was headed to find a U.S. Marshal and tell them of the outlaws’ whereabouts. They were hid out behind some bushes where the Muskogee School for the Blind is now located.

Cherokee and Bill Cook rode down toward the crib, a man in the crib fired at Cherokee and killed his horse. Cherokee grabbed his Winchester and stood up where his horse was shot, firing at the officers. Cook kept telling him to come on and they would get him another horse; Cherokee answered, that he would go soon as he finished the round of shells in the Winchester. After he finished firing and he got on the horse behind Cook, they started south at a fast gait and Cherokee lost his hat in the strong wind. He jumped off the horse and start back after it. He had his Winchester gripped in both hands, raised over his head. He was running as fast as he could, letting out a loud whoopie and curses each step.The posse thought he was coming back after the, they all jumped on their horses and run for it. Cherokee had a good laugh over it,”

Posse’s went after Cherokee Bill numerous times, but the results were always the same. Cherokee and his friend’s would always manage to escape. One time a posse was waiting for them at a ferry and decided to wait for the gang at Rabbit Ford. The outlaws, being told of this plan, road on ahead and waited for the posse to arrive. 

When the posse arrived they rode their horses into the river for a drink before starting across. As soon as the outlaws saw the posse was in a vulnerable position they began firing. The posse didn’t raise a gun but turned tail and ran. Some time later, at the home of Frank Daniels, who lived near Ramonia on the Caney River, sixteen men led by Deputy U.S. Marshal Beck Thomas arrived saying that the outlaws were headed that way and for the family to take cover so they didn’t get hurt in the crossfire.

A gunfight ensued and the outlaws ran for the woods while bullets rained down on them. The posse wouldn’t follow them into the woods and finally gave up and left. One begins to wonder how the outlaws got their ammunition and other supplies, but in the Indian Pioneer Paper Interview with Clarence Warren, he solves this mystery. He informed the fieldworker taking the interview that he had an uncle by the name of Jim Egan, that owned a store in Sapulpa, the manager, another uncle of his by the name of Bert Gray was the manager. 

“They would come in usually when my uncle was alone, present their six guns, muzzles toward my uncle and tell him what they wanted and how much. So, of course, they got it, and on short order, for he was anxious to get rid of them as soon as possible. But they always asked how much the bill was, and for my uncle to keep account of it for they would return later and pay it; an the unusual thing about it, they always slipped in when they had money and paid their bill.”

During Cherokee Bill’s time as an outlaw he had done a number of crimes, including killing his brother-in-law for mistreating his sister to holding up a train at Red Fork. Other crimes laid at his door was a store hold up in Wetumpka and Okmulgee, a train in Coweta, the Express Office in Choteau, and the most famous, or infamous, of all, Schufelt’s store in Lenapah.

This last robbery was the beginning of the end for the outlaw known as Cherokee Bill. Mrs. E.H. Whitmire relates the story in her Indian Pioneer Paper interview of April 14th, 1937.

“The day that Cherokee Bill robbed Schufelt’s store, he and Jim French or ‘Verdigres Kid’ rode into town from the south and stopped in front of the store. They were dressed about like all other cowboys, who came there to trade so no one suspicioned them. They dismounted, dashed into the store, Winchesters in their hands, and said, ‘Everybody stick em up’. Cherokee Bill told his partner to keep watch on the outside while he made Schufelt open the safe for him. The safe was opened and the money and as many other articles as they thought they needed were taken. As he backed out of the store his pal whispered something to him and he returned into the store and took some cartridges from the shelf and as he came out, this time he looked across the street and saw Ernest Melton looking out the window to see what was going on and without any cause or reason, he raised his gun and shot Melton through the head. They left in haste, evading the officers for a time.”

The life of Ernest Melton was ended on November 8th, 1894, by his curiosity to see what was happening in the store across the road, but his death would be vindicated. Cherokee Bill may have escaped the law in Lenepah, but they would soon catch up to him.

Cherokee Bill had a special lady friend that he kept company with. Maggie Glass was a Cherokee girl who was the cousin of Isaac “Ike” Rogers. Ike was a lawman under Deputy Marshal W.C. Smith. Smith approached Ike with a plan to capture Cherokee Bill. Using his infatuation of Maggie, Ike encouraged Cherokee to come to his home and visit her, promising him a safe haven. His friend Clint Scales was there as well, to help Rogers capture Cherokee Bill.

Cherokee Bill was suspicious and on alert while there and even slept with his guns. Several attempts to capture him failed. Finally, the next morning Cherokee Bill was looking for a match, but not finding any he bent over the fireplace to light his cigarette. Rogers took his chance and clubbed him over the head. They had finally captured Cherokee Bill on January 30th, 1895.

The outlaw offered money and horses if they would let him go, but it was all to no avail. Cherokee Bill was taken to Fort Smith to stand trial for the murder of Ernest Melton.

This image of Crawford Goldsby was taken right before an attempted escape. In this picture, it looks more like a group of friends instead of an outlaw and his escorts.

Cherokee Bill’s trial would be handled by Judge Isaac Parker, better known as the “Hanging Judge”. Knowing who he was up against, his mother hired J. Warren Reed as his lawyer. Reed was not a favored lawyer of the judge, who termed him a “Scoundrel’s scoundrel.” Reed did not like Judge Parker’s “Log Cabin” ways. Reed was known for appeal the Judge’s rulings and getting the judgments overthrown, and that was exactly his plan for Cherokee Bill. 

The trial for Cherokee Bill lasted days, and they brought forth many witnesses for and against Cherokee Bill. According to the Cherokee Advocate on March 6th, 1895, they interviewed several persons on the stand. The first being the brother of the deceased, W.S. Melton. He was not a witness to the murder but brought forth evidence to be considered. He presented to the court the shell and ball that was removed from the scene of the crime.

Another witness that was brought forth was a man by the name of Ben Vann. Vann testified that he had been present at a dance at Ike Rogers’s house and that Cherokee Bill had been in attendance. While there the outlaw informed Vann that he had not intended to kill Melton. He had only shot to scare the man. 

Deputy Marshal W.C. Smith was one of the men who brought Cherokee Bill to Fort Smith after his capture, and in his testimony, he stated that Cherokee Bill argued on the way that he didn’t see how he could be charged with murder when he wasn’t the only one shooting. They had no proof that it was him that killed the man.

Next, they brought forth a man by the name of Charles Patton. Several deputies had stayed at his house in the hopes that Cherokee Bill would show up. They made him go to a place called Turners to look for the outlaw. He went through the hills until he found Cherokee Bill and the Verdigris Kid. He stayed at their camp for hours talking. While there Cherokee Bill said he got $164 in a hold-up in Lenepah and that he had to shoot a man. Vann then produced a locket he said “the Kid” gave him, which was stolen from Schufeldt’s store.

Cherokee Bill was convicted on April 13th, 1895, with the hanging to be conducted on June 25,th 1895, but with the help of his lawyer, they appealed the conviction and received a stay of execution. While sitting in jail under the sentence of death he planned a daring escape. While the night guardsmen made their evening rounds on July 25th, 1895, Cherokee Bill sat in wait. When they arrived at his cell to lock him in for the night he shoved the door at them and produced a pistol. It is not known who gave him the pistol and ammunition but according to the August 7th, 1895 Cherokee Advocate, he secured it from a man by the name of Ben Howell, a trusty that disappeared.

Cherokee Bill fired on the officers, striking Lawrence Keating in the side, from which he died minutes later. Guards began firing shots at Cherokee Bill and, seeing as his escape had failed, ran back to his cell. With some effort the deputies managed to get Cherokee Bill to hand over his revolver with the promise that they would not shoot him.

  

Lawrence Keating, born July 8th, 1849, in Wexford, Ireland. Married Adeline Miller. Died July 26th, 1895, Ft. smith, Arkansas.

Cherokee Bill was hanged for murder at 2:13 PM, on March 17th, 1896, as his mother stood by. When asked if he had any last words he spoke: “No, I came here to die; not to talk.” After he kissed his mother he walked up to his place on the gallows. His mother stood with bravery, not flinching or shedding a tear. Once the deed was done, she calmly collected his body to return home to Fort Gibson, to bury her oldest son.

Crawford Goldsby was buried in the Citizen’s Cemetery in Fort Gibson, Indian Territory. A troubled life gone from this world. His younger brother Clarence told Ike Rogers if he ever set foot in Fort Gibson that he would kill him for his part in the capture of his brother. In April 1897, Rogers disembarked from the train in Fort Gibson with little care in the world. Little to know that his world was fixing to end. Clarence Goldsby walked up behind him and shot him through the neck and after he fell, shot him multiple more times. 

Clarence was never arrested for the death of Rogers and it was said that he led the life of a model citizen except for that one day that he avenged his brother.

Published by Green Briar Girl

For 13 years I was a single mother until I married my handsome husband. Fast forward five years and we have added 3 sons and a daughter to our household. With all those kids I rarely have time to myself but my love of writing will always find a way. I have written books in the past. My range of genres is from romance novels to nonfiction historical, poetry, and children's books. I am currently working on a mystery book that should be a very exciting read I hope! I also love genealogy and have created my own forms which I will post later for people to download to use. I hope you enjoy my writings and recipes that I plan on sharing with you here.

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