The West Fork Valley: Environs and Settlement before 1900

Rushing down the northern slopes of the Boston Mountains, for millions of years the West Fork of White River has carved its sinuous path northward. Caves, hollers, steep bluffs, and rich bottomland followed in its wake. Native people made their homes here, hunting buffalo and deer. Within a few years after the Louisiana Purchase, white settlers arrived to set up homesteads.

This book briefly describes how this valley formed over millions of years, how Native tribes lived and hunted here, and what the first white men saw when they arrived. Short biographies of the earliest pioneers portray a fascinating assortment of men and women determined to carve out a livelihood from this rugged land.

Subsequent chapters describe the mills, churches, and early roads as well as the neighbor-to-neighbor conflict of the Civil War. Stagecoaches hurtled down the valley roads, later supplanted by the iron horse in 1882 with the completion of the railroad tunnel at Winslow. A chapter on crime reveals shootouts, knife fights, and barn burning. Histories of Winslow, Brentwood, Woolsey, West Fork, and Greenland outline their origins and heydays.

A must read for any resident of the valley, but a fascinating chronicle of human endeavor for any reader.

Paperback $23.95, Amazon or $20 at Headquarters House, Washington County Historical Society, 118 West Dickson, Fayetteville AR

The Violent End of the Gilliland Boys

Christmas Day horse races 1872, Middle Fork Valley. Bud Gilliland waits, eager for another chance at Newton Jones. Only this time, after two years of sparring, Newton gallops up in a cloud of dust, lifts his Spencer rifle to his shoulder to find Bud in his sights, and pulls the trigger, sending Bud to a well-earned grave.

Determined to wreak vengeance on his little brother’s killer, William Jefferson “Jeff” Gilliland takes control of a posse meant to bring Newton Jones to justice. But Jeff’s plan for the posse to kill “every last son of a bitch” goes horribly wrong and brings indictments for murder against Jeff and the rest of his posse.

Before the curtains closed in 1890 on these descendants of West Fork pioneers J. C. and Rebecca Gilliland, two other sons and a grandson would die violent deaths while yet another grandson serves hard time for murder.

What was it about the Gillilands?

This recounting of the family tracks their ancestry, their pioneer years on untamed land, and the hard work that made them one of the wealthiest families in Washington County, Arkansas. A fascinating tale of brash ego, brave gallantry, and plain old bad luck.

Paperback, $ 9.95, Amazon

Murder in the County

Contrary to popular notion, Arkansas was part of the Old West along with Texas and the rest of those more familiar dusty southwestern places. Its western border joined up with the Indian Nations where many a weary marshal rode out with his bedroll and pistol carrying writs from the U. S. District Court at Fort Smith in a search for a steady stream of men rustling livestock, stealing horses, selling whiskey, or running from the law.

From its earliest days, Washington County, Arkansas, experienced some of the worst the Old West had to offer. At unexpected moments, county settlers faced their fellow man in acts of fatal violence. These murderous events not only ended hopeful lives but also forever changed those who survived them. Not to say that the murders in the county all stemmed from conflict along its western border—plenty of blood spilled within its communities and homesteads.

The fifty chapters of Murder in the County each focus on one violent incident. Through family histories, legal records, and newspaper accounts, the long-dead actors tell their shocking stories of rage, grief, retaliation, and despair.

Excerpt from Chapter 39 — The Death of Joe Rich

“A hint of fall had come into the air as September heralded the change of season. Blood stirred by cooler air and lubricated by alcohol rarely bodes well in a gathering of young men intent on proving themselves. On the evening of September 21, 1890, just such a scenario unfolded amid the busy streets of Prairie Grove.

“No doubt some wags later remarked they could have predicted violence between Mack Rollans and Joseph Rich. Both families had seen their share of trouble. Just a month earlier, on August 10, 1890, Joseph’s younger brother David Lee Rich was indicted for selling “ardent spirits” to a minor without a license. The previous year in June 1889, Mack Rollans had been indicted for wearing a pistol but later found not guilty…

“…That evening, Mack Rollans got in over his head. Some minor skirmish erupted within the gathered group, perhaps a question of the price, quality, or quantity of the liquor or a slurred insult about a woman, a family member, or some other trifling matter. In the ensuing fight, weapons entered the fray. Rollans pulled his knife. As such events have a tendency to develop, Rich soon fell dead.

Paperback, $23.95, Amazon

The Beginning of Guthrie, Oklahoma

Guthrie Land Office swarmed by people eager to register their claim.

“On April 22, 1889, the day of the Land Run, (sometimes referred to as Harrison’s Hoss Race), Guthrie had its first incarnation as a destination, becoming a city of 10,000 people by nightfall. Located in the Unassigned Lands of the Indian Territory, Guthrie had been chosen as a site for one of the Federal Land Offices where land seekers were required to file claim to their parcels.” [Guthrie Chamber of Commerce] 

The police docket records for the first decade of existence for Guthrie (Logan County, Oklahoma Territory) reveal that government operations depended heavily on fines levied against prostitutes, those who maintained houses of gambling, and those who disturbed the peace by cursing, fighting, loitering, or other minor offenses. Taxes and licenses supplemented the city’s income. Major crimes such as murder fell under the jurisdiction of the federal court at Fort Smith.

Despite the heavy and persistent fines, gambling and prostitution flourished in this new frontier town. As shown in the following yearly summary of offenses, these activities tapered off slowly. By 1900, less than a third of the number of fines were levied against gamblers and prostitutes than had occurred in the peak year of 1893.

As the city gained its footing, additional laws were passed. For example, in 1891 fines were instituted for failure to license a dog, suggesting that dogs running loose had become a problem. With a continuing influx of people from other more settled places around the nation, greater pressure fell upon town fathers to clean up. Hogs and cattle became the subject of complaints as did the proper maintenance of outdoor privies. However, even by 1900, the number of arrests by Guthrie police for prostitution and gambling still topped any other offense.

As other sections of the former Indian Nations (Oklahoma) opened to white settlement, the front lines of gamblers and prostitutes moved to the newest places where largely male populations could be counted on as eager customers. Further west, mining of precious metals in California, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, and other areas formed the last frontier of rough and ready places where gamblers and ladies of the night could earn a profitable income.

At the time, journalist Frederick Barde reported on the gambling scene at Guthrie for the Kansas City Star, as recorded by Michael J. Hightower in his 2013 book Banking in Oklahoma Before Statehood:

“Those who made it to Guthrie with their wallets intact might have visited the Reeves brothers’ gambling house operated by Dick and Bill Reeves. Opened on the day of the Run of ’89 in a big tent “where there was room enough for 1,500 men and women to gamble and drink and carouse,” the Reeves brothers ran their business in Guthrie for twenty years. Barde’s description of the famed honky-tonk confirms an image of the western saloon that has never yielded its place in our collective memory: ‘Gamblers from every State tackled the game that ran night and day in that sleepless place. Hundreds of thousands of dollars passed over its tables. The six-shooter and the dirk settled many a dispute, and the dead man was hauled away and the blood scrubbed from the floor as part of the day’s business. Outlaw gangs that infested Oklahoma in those days risked their loot against the faro bank and the roulette wheel—and usually lost.’”[1]

As late as 1898, the situation in Guthrie continued to outrage the city’s more upstanding citizenry, as reflected in this editorial in the Guthrie Daily Leader.

“Why is not some action taken toward driving out the hundreds of tramps, bums and tinhorn gamblers that infest the city? The streets and alleys fairly swarm with such vermin and with our present small police force the city is not safe. I hear daily of petty thieving done by this gentry. Such characters do a town no good and I think it high time to begin a crusade. Every night the joints on Second street are crowded with bums, who, after the lights go out, enter on a campaign of larceny. If the evil cannot be checked in any other way, then close the joints.”[2]

Laws passed in 1893 in Oklahoma Territory allowed cities to levy an occupation tax on gaming tables, among many other activities including but not limited to auctioneers, contractors, druggists, restaurants, butchers, taverns, hawkers, peddlers, bankers, brokers, pawnbrokers, merchants of all kinds, grocers, wagons, carts, furniture dealers, real estate agents, and all kinds of exhibitions for pay.[3] The same 1893 law allowed cities to prohibit houses of gambling as well as prostitution, tippling shops, billiard tables, bowling alleys, etc., and specifically prohibits the granting of license for gambling or prostitution.[4] Observers might conclude that Guthrie’s town fathers deemed these activities too lucrative to completely banish, allowing gambling and prostitution to flourish in order to make the most of the fines they produced.

Also passed that year, a law stated that any officer of the law found to be drinking or gambling could be removed from office upon complaint by any citizen. This law may have been the cause of Bill Tilghman’s sudden change of career. After being appointed deputy marshal in Spring 1893, he gave up ownership of his gambling house.[5] Yet these stringent laws, including those that penalized property owners if their tenants pursued any such forbidden activities, seem to have been largely ignored by boom towns of those lawless years, as Guthrie’s police docket reveals.

Guthrie’s arrests in the first decade were as follows:

1889 May thru Dec

Trespass 9

Trespass/Stealing 28

Assault/Fighting 8

Disturb Peace 14

Public Intoxication 1

Conduct Business w/o License 4

Fake Credentials 1 (doctor)

Maintain a House of Gambling 1 (Fine 10.00)

Maintain a Place for Prostitution 2 & Prostitution 46 (Range of fines: 8.50 – 36.00)

1890

Trespass 2

Assault/Fighting: 13

Failure to Pay Business Tax 7

Sell Beverage w/o License 1

Profane Language 6

Disturb Peace 5

Firearm 3

Public Intoxication 13

Maintain Public Nuisance 1

Maintain a House of Gambling 25 (Average fine amount: 10.75)

Maintain a Place for Prostitution 9 // Prostitution 43 (Average fine: 7.50)

1891

Assault 16 – 1 pitchfork, 1 w/ hoe

Disturb Peace/Fighting/Profanity 128

Discharge Firearm 3

Public Intoxication 30

Failure to Pay Business Tax 9

Maintain a House of Gambling 120 (Range of fines: 15.00 – 35.00)

Maintain a Place for Prostitution 9

Prostitution 148 (Range of fines: 7.50 – 10.00)

Unusual:

Unregistered dog: 3

On Street w/o visible means of support 1

Left on ground exposed cow 1

Saloon open on Sunday or after hours: 3

1892

Assault 7

Disturb Peace/Fighting 156

Public Intoxication 52

Failure to Pay Business Tax 14

Maintain Public Nuisance 2 (one charge for hogs)

Maintain a House of Gambling 142 (Range of fines: 10.00 – 40.00)

Prostitution 202 (Range of fines: 7.50 – 10.00)

Unusual:

Frequently found in house of prostitution, fined 46.55

Business open earlier than 5 am

Indecent exposure

Not burying dead pony

1893

Assault/Fighting 50

Disturb Peace 244 (many charges for “bad language”)

Loiter/Vagrant 24

Public Intoxication 84

Maintain a House of Gambling 29 (Range of fines: 8.50 – 40.00) (No arrests after March)

Prostitution 337 (Average fine: 10.15 – 13.65)

Unusual:

Riding horse on sidewalk

Keep hogs in filthy condition

1894

Assault/Fighting 25

Disturb Peace 96

Loiter/Vagrant 6

Public Intoxication 93

Maintain a House of Gambling 1 arrest* (16.65 only recorded charge/fine, June)

Prostitution 270 (Average fine: 10.15 – 13.65)

(Terms used in bookings for prostitution: Place of Assignation, Bawdy House, Keeper, Inmate, House of Ill Fame)

Unusual:

Allow horses to run at large

Carry on sexual intercourse at Arlington Hotel

Slaughter animals

Dress not belonging to his sex

* Mysteriously, arrests for gambling ceased entirely from April 1893 throughout 1894 and remained at a low rate in 1895. This was the same time period that Bill Tilghman ended his gambling operation and moved away.

1895

Assault 22

Disturb Peace 62

Loiter/Vagrant 16

Assault/Fighting 22

Public Intoxication 160

Maintain a House of Gambling 35 (Average fine: 16.65 – 31.65)

Prostitution 219 (Average fine: 11.65 – 31.65)

(Includes “occupy room for unlawful sexual activity”; “use room in restaurant for assignation”)

Unusual:

Appear on street in lewd manner

Garbage in streets and alley

Allow cow to run at large

Hogs in city

Cow in dirty pen

Fail to close saloon at 12 a.m.

Group assault on John ‘Chinaman’

1896

Assault 30

Disturb Peace 77

Loiter/Vagrant 1

Public Intoxication 66

Maintain a House of Gambling 52 (Average fine: 16.65 – 31.65

Prostitution 152 (Average fine: 11.65 – 31.65)

Unusual:

Leaving team of horses unattended

Keep meat market open after 9 a.m. Sunday

1897

Assault/Fighting 23

Disturb Peace 95

Loiter/Vagrant 27

Public Intoxication 147

Maintain a House of Gambling 61

Prostitution 207 (Three women filed physician certificates, assumed to verify state of health); arrests for cohabitation: 23

Unusual:

Appear on street in unbecoming dress (female)

1898

Assault/Fighting 21

Disturb Peace 78

Loiter/Vagrant 30

Public Intoxication 95

Maintain a House of Gambling 41

Prostitution 169 (Cohabit: 36)

Unusual:

Remove contents of privy without license

Sale of liquor on Sunday

1899

Assault/Fighting 34

Disturb Peace 55

Loiter/Vagrant 32

Public Intoxication 181

Maintain a House of Gambling 64 (Average fine $40)

Prostitution 136 (Cohabit: 28) (Average fine $10)

Unusual:

Maintain filthy condition injurious to public health

Overflowing privy vault

Steal 27 hen’s eggs

1900

Assault/Fighting 30

Disturb Peace 73

Loiter/Vagrant 14

Public Intoxication 243

Maintain a House of Gambling 33

Prostitution 142

Unusual:

Giving musical concert on the street without a license


[1] Hightower, Michael J. Banking in Oklahoma Before Statehood. University of Oklahoma Press, 2013. 198  For more on Barde, see http://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry.php?entry=BA019

[2] “Protest Against Bums,” The Guthrie Daily Leader (Guthrie, Oklahoma). March 3, 1898. 4

[3] The Compiled Laws of Oklahoma, 1909. Vol. I. Piper-Reed Book Company, 1909. Chapter 14, Article  3, Section 681

[4] Ibid, Section 683

[5] Ibid, Article 6, Section 753

Secrets of Famed Lawman William “Bill” Tilghman

Arrest records from Guthrie’s early days as Oklahoma Territorial capitol provide an interesting insight on famed lawman William “Bill” Tilghman, one of the Three Guardsmen (along with Chris Madsen and Heck Thomas) celebrated for their pursuit of the Dalton Gang and the Doolin Gang known as the ‘Wild Bunch.’ Little has been written about Tilghman’s adventures on the wrong side of the law or his likely relationships with a variety of fallen women. One such woman appears in the Guthrie arrest records as Jessie Bond, probably the same person later known as Jessie Whitewings. These records suggest an illicit relationship between Bill and Jessie Whitewings/Bond.[1]

As soon as Oklahoma Territory opened to white settlers in 1889, Bill Tilghman joined the land rush to stake a claim in the place that would, overnight, become Guthrie. He left his wife, ranch, and livelihood behind in Dodge City, Kansas. At this point, he was 35 years old and had pursued many activities so far in his life, including buffalo hunting, service as deputy sheriff under Bat Masterson in Ford County, Kansas, operator of a saloon in Dodge City, and then service as marshal in Dodge City. Most writers of his biographies focus on Tilghman’s illustrious and dedicated years of duty as a law officer in large part due to the efforts of his widow who wrote a book aggrandizing his career.

Not unlike other famous Western lawmen, Tilghman played both sides of the law. Newspaper accounts contemporary to his deputy service in Kansas with Masterson stated that:

Within a month of his appointment, Tilghman was charged with being an accessory to an attempted train robbery. On February 12, 1878, the charges against Tilghman were dropped for lack of evidence. Tilghman was again suspected of a crime only two months later, on April 16, 1878, when he was arrested by his boss, Masterson, on a charge of horse theft. Once again the charges were dismissed.[2]

Tilghman wasn’t so fortunate at Guthrie where surviving police dockets reveal a string of arrests and fines. Early on the scene in the land rush of 1889, Tilghman nabbed a prized corner lot on the main street of the suddenly-forming town and, according to one account, he later used the rent from this commercial location to fund his endeavors as a rancher. This source also states that he obtained his ranch site during another land rush in 1891.[3]

The woman of our inquiry, Jessie Bond, first appeared in the Guthrie, Oklahoma Territory police records in September 1890, detained on the 6th of that month and fined fourteen cents for prostitution. Similar subsequent arrests that year occurred October 11 (fined $7.50), November 1 (no fine recorded), and December 9 (fined $7.50).

Evidence of Tilghman’s associations with ladies of the night also involves Jessie Whitewings. There is no arrest record for a person by this name, but in later newspaper reports (1894) she was described as a “a flaxen-haired woman about twenty three years old and now quite fleshy… [who was a] “well known Oklahoma sport” [and who had] “lived in Guthrie in the early days and had been the mistress of a gambler.”

Was Jessie Bond the same person as Jessie Whitewings? Records support this theory. On October 15, 1891, a person named Duncan “alias White Wings” was arrested in Guthrie for being “intoxicated on [the] street.” This is the only mention of the name “White Wings” in the Guthrie arrest record between 1889 and 1897. If Jessie Whitewings was a ‘well-known sport’ in Guthrie’s early days, she would have had an arrest record. This leads to the assumption that while she may have had the nickname of ‘Whitewings,’ perhaps due to her relationship with Duncan, her real name was in fact Jessie Bond. Assuming Bond and Whitewings are the same person, at the time of her first Guthrie arrest in 1890, she was approximately nineteen years old.[4]

Within a month of Jessie’s first arrest in Guthrie, William “Bill” Tilghman appears on the Guthrie arrest record for maintaining a house of gambling. He was booked on October 10 (no fine recorded) and again in November, no date specified, with a fine of $10.75. The following year, in 1891, Jessie and Bill were arrested multiple times. Jessie was booked January 25 (fined $8.40) for residing in a house of prostitution, and again April 20 ($7.50), May 11 ($10), and June 13 ($7.50).

Bill’s arrests in 1891 were considerably more numerous, all pertaining to his gambling house on the main street of town. The docket shows arrests and fines of January 20 ($11.70), February 12 ($10.30); June 1 ($15); July 14 ($15); July 22 ($15); August 15 ($15), along with his brother Frank ($15); Frank again September 15 ($15); Bill November 14 ($25), Frank November 16 ($15), and Bill December 1 ($40).

In 1892, Jessie Bond’s arrests for prostitution occurred February 1 ($7.50), April 12 ($7.50), May 18 (fourteen cents), August 15 ($8.50); October 19 ($8.50); November 14 ($8.50); and December 26 ($8.50).  During the same year, Bill’s arrests for maintaining a house of gambling occurred January 21 ($40); February 15 ($50); March 30 ($25); April 26 ($20); May 15 ($40); June 15 ($20); July 15 ($15); and August 15 ($15). Frank Tilghman was arrested December 16 ($15).

The August 1892 docket listing was Bill Tilghman’s last arrest in Guthrie. His saloon/gambling house continued under his brother Frank’s direction. Frank’s arrests in 1893 were in January 25 ($15) and February 18 ($15). The last record of Frank Tilghman in Guthrie police dockets show four arrests in 1899 for running a gaming table/room.

Jessie Bond’s 1893 arrest record names the offense of “reside in house of prostitution,” with dates of January 16 ($11.50); February 16 ($11.50); March 15 ($8.50); April 15 ($11.50); May 15 ($11.50); June 19 ($11.50); July 17($10.15) (This arrest was recorded in mid-November.); and July 24 ($8.50). No further arrests of Jessie are recorded until December 30, 1893, at which time two arrests are documented with fines of $13.50 and $5.00.

Here’s where the story gets interesting. During the six-month period between July 24 and December 30, 1893 that Jessie Bond was not arrested in Guthrie, “Jessie Whitewings” was arrested in Perry. By Bill Tilghman. News accounts about the Perry arrest declared that this “well-known Oklahoma sport” had “lived in Guthrie in the early days and had been the mistress of a gambler.” Later, the article stated “Jessie had made her way to Fort Sill and El Reno, and at the opening of the Cherokee Strip, she was in Perry making the rounds of the saloons.”[5]

Jessie’s sojourn in Perry lasted only until November 1893, when she captured public attention in a drunken debacle which triggered her arrest by none other than her old buddy Bill Tilghman. After his move to Perry the previous year, he’d become the Perry marshal. No details have been found regarding the extent of this incident but after her arrest and quite mysteriously, Jessie made her escape from the Perry jail.

As reported, “after Tilghman jailed Whitewings, a fire broke out in the jail and it was first reported that she had set fire to her own bedclothes. Jess was taken from the jail and handed over to another police officer from whom she quickly escaped. … The next morning someone else confessed to setting the fire and was in turn placed in jail for that offense. By then Jess Whitewings was nowhere to be found.”[6]

Was Jessie Bond the same person as Jessie Whitewings? Further analysis suggests that they were. If Whitewings was a known gambler in Guthrie and closely associated with a prostitute as reports claim, the town’s arrest record would reflect that fact. A man named Bill Duncan was arrested on May 11, 1891, for maintaining a house of gambling. But there was only one Whitewings arrest, October 15, 1891, on a charge of public intoxication, listed as “Whitewings alias Duncan.” More likely is a scenario where Jessie became known in the early days by her association with Duncan/Whitewings and the nickname stuck after Duncan disappeared.

After the Perry incident, Jessie Bond again appears in Guthrie arrest records beginning December 30, 1893. Evidently she settled back into her by-now familiar routine of plying the sex trade, with the exception that she now had moved up the professional ladder a rung or two. Some of the charges in 1894 were not simply for prostitution or for residing in a house of prostitution, but for being the proprietor of such a house.

Her 1894 arrest record ran like a regular monthly tithe to the local constabulary: January 29 ($13.65); February 26 ($10.15); April 16 ($13.65); May 16 ($13.65); July 18 ($13.65); September 13 ($14.65); September 19 ($13.65); October 18 ($10.15); December 15 ($13.65). For April’s arrest her charge was “maintain bawdy house.” For July’s arrest, the charge was “maintain house of ill fame.” For September’s arrests and December’s, the charge was “keep a bawdy house.”

~~~

Records show that Tilghman and Jessie Bond hit the Guthrie police docket within a month of each other in the fall of 1890. He ran a saloon and gambling operation at Guthrie triggering a string of 19 arrests for which he paid fines totaling more than $450, a considerable amount in those days equivalent to about $14,677 today. His last recorded episode on the creative side of the law was August 1892. According to his wife’s posthumous biography of Bill, he was appointed deputy U. S. marshal in May 1892. If true, he continued to operate a gambling house for at least three months after taking up a job in law enforcement.

After the opening of the Cherokee Outlet September 16, 1893, and Bill’s relocation to Perry, his next appearance in the public record as a lawman is confirmed in part by his November 1893 arrest of Jessie Whitewings and her subsequent mysterious escape.

An interpretive view of the public record offers an expanded theory of Tilghman’s story. As previously stated, court records and newspaper accounts support the opinion that Jessie Bond was Jessie Whitewings. Further, it seems likely that she was Tilghman’s sometimes mistress during Tilghman’s days in Guthrie from late 1890 through the first half of 1892, both of them enjoying the rowdy frontier life where she could conduct her private enterprise in and around his establishment and Bill could keep an eye on the gambling tables. She would have seen Bill as a protector in the rough recreation of the boom town.

But by 1892 Bill’s fines had gone sky high and he was starting to see that the local authorities were coming to him for hefty allotments each month. Maybe some of the lawmen he had known in Kansas challenged him about the direction of his life in Guthrie or applied pressure which Bill felt gave him little choice but to clean up his act. Maybe his wife announced her plans to join Bill in the Territory. Likely, he saw a better future for himself in a paying job as a lawman.

For about one year from September 1892 until September 1893, Tilghman evidently traveled until ending up at Perry for the opening of the Outlet. He may have returned to his long-suffering wife and family in Kansas for part of that time and he may have traveled to Fort Sill and El Reno along with Jessie. When summoned to rambunctious Perry to employ his law enforcement expertise, Tilghman reportedly arrived there from Guthrie.

Jessie left Guthrie July 26, 1893, destined for the same town as Tilghman, suggesting she may have fallen for the big lout even though she knew he was married. She followed him to Perry when the Outlet opened for claims September 16, 1893.

But once she found Bill, she would have been bitterly disappointed when he let her know he had turned over a new leaf and was not interested in further dalliance. Trying to drown her sorrows in a bottle of whiskey, Jessie got soaked and went on a drunken rampage that resulted in a call for the marshal. It isn’t difficult to imagine that Bill still had a soft spot in his heart for her, so he took her off the street and locked her up until she could simmer down.

Jessie possessed plenty of incriminating information about him that he didn’t wish aired in his new town or before his wife and children. He could have easily arranged for Jessie to escape with the understanding she would leave town and allow him pursue his new life without her, possibly ensuring her exit with a monetary gift that helped her open her own brothel at Guthrie.

Jessie would have returned to Guthrie with a broken heart. But like many independent women of those times, she faced up to her limited options. Arrests of Jessie Bond continued through the following year (1894) and into 1895, when she was arrested January 2 for disturbing the peace, fined $11.65, and arrested again January 15 for keeping a bawdy house and fined $13.65. Another arrest for residing in a bawdy house occurred February 18, with a fine of $10.15.

Her girls were rounded up again for another monthly offering to the city budget on March 15, 1895, when “Jess” had to pay $10.15. But the April bust of the local prostitutes and gamblers did not include Jessie, nor did any subsequent month. For whatever reason, after five years on the public record, Jessie’s infamy ended.

Maybe Jess couldn’t bear to continue in a place where she had enjoyed such a happy run of Bill’s company. The town was getting too settled for the safe enjoyment of her profession. It’s no secret that once a frontier town aged a few years and the dust began to settle, ladies and churches took over. Like many women of the night, Jessie may have found a new settlement in which to set up trade farther west, maybe in a mining town. Or, like the luckier of her sisters, she may have found love and (or at least) marriage. The last known record of Jessie Bond is March 15, 1895.

Some researchers of Oklahoma’s frontier history claim a different Guthrie prostitute, Molly Morgan, was Tilghman’s mistress. Molly’s record in Guthrie begins with a June 25, 1889, arrest for prostitution, and includes four additional arrests that year. In 1890, the year that Jessie Bond and Bill Tilghman first appear on the arrest record, Molly had five arrests, two of which were for maintaining a house of prostitution. One of those arrests, on November 1, 1890, occurred simultaneously with Jessie Bond’s arrest, strongly suggesting that the two women worked at the same place and knew each other.

Molly chalked up eleven arrests in 1891, two for disturbing the peace and the rest for prostitution. In one incident, her arrest occurred on the same date as one of Frank Tilghman’s arrests. On May 11, 1891, her arrest occurred simultaneously with an arrest for Jessie Bond, both of them for residing in a house of prostitution. In total, eleven women were arrested that day on the same charge. Also on that date, nine men were charged with maintaining a house of gambling—including Bill Duncan.

In 1892, two early arrests of Molly Morgan for prostitution on January 20 and February 15 are followed by an arrest for disturbing the peace on June 29. Molly’s last arrest in Guthrie was July 16, 1892, for prostitution, and her booking is listed next to a charge against Wm. Tilghman July 15 for maintaining a house of gambling. Tilghman’s last arrest in Guthrie is the following month.

Even if Bill Tilghman considered Molly his primary mistress during his gambling house days at Guthrie, nothing kept him from dabbling with Jessie on the side. Already married with a family back in Kansas, Tilghman obviously did not consider that relationship a barrier to his involvement with other women. He may have overseen prostitution trafficking as a kind of pimp/protector for a slice of the profits. He may have whispered empty promises to Jessie at the appropriate times, leading the young girl to believe he loved her.

Once Jessie suffered his refusal in Perry and returned to Guthrie without him, it was little more than a year before she gave up in Oklahoma Territory and struck off for greener pastures. The 1900 census records do not show a Jessie Bond of the appropriate age, suggesting that by age 29, Jessie had died or become a bride.

As far as this less illustrious view of Tilghman, the record of his arrests and gambling operation are not as incongruous with his lawman reputation as it may seem. Many historians have remarked on the peculiar mindset among certain men of authority in those times. For example, William Howard recorded in his 1889 report on the Guthrie land rush that the best lots were preempted by deputies and others empowered to be on site before the bulk of eager claimants arrived. He provided the following exchange:

“I ran with the first of the crowd to get a good point of view from which to see the rush. When I had time to look about me I found that I was standing beside a tent, near which a man was leisurely chopping holes in the sod with a new axe.

“Where did you come from, that you have already pitched your tent?” I asked.

            “Oh, I was here,” said he.

  “How was that?”

            “Why, I was a deputy United States marshal.”

  “Did you resign?”

            “No; I’m a deputy still.”

 “But it is not legal for a deputy United States marshal, or any one in the employ of the government, to take up a town lot in this manner.”

            “That may all be true, stranger; but I’ve got two lots here, just the same; and about fifty other deputies have got lots in the same way. In fact, the deputy-marshals laid out the town.”[7]

~~~

Life in the Old West abounds in tales of painted ladies with hearts of gold and lawmen with tarnished reputations. Tilghman’s record of saloon ownership in Kansas foreshadows such activity at Guthrie, as do the activities in both locations of his brother Frank. Bill was certainly not the only man of those times to serve the law while pouring drink. A contemporary in Dodge City plying both trades was Charlie Bassett, also friends with others Tilghman admired. The 1882 opening of the railroad in Texas immediately attracted Roy Bean to set up a tent saloon. Later named to a justice position, Judge Roy Bean’s saloon served as his courtroom. Wyatt Earp worked in saloons when he was between jobs as a lawman, and Bat Masterson in advancing years retired from lawman to run a Colorado saloon.

The 1893 photograph of Tilghman reveals a man quite proud of himself. His first wife’s action for divorce in 1897 amid her struggles with tuberculosis suggests she had become disenchanted with his philandering. After her death, his 1903 marriage at age 48 to 22-year-old Zoe Stratton provides additional support to a theory that Tilghman enjoyed a certain celebrity among young women and did not hesitate to take advantage of that attraction. After his death, Zoe zealously scrubbed his reputation in her 1949 book, Marshal Of The Last Frontier: Life And Services Of William Matthew Bill, Tilghman, For Fifty Years One Of The Greatest Peace Officers Of The West.

Rather than writing a biography of himself, Tilghman took advantage of new technology in the film industry and formed a production company along with Evett Dumas Nix and Chris Madson. Their endeavor, named the Eagle Film Company, produced a film entitled “The Passing of the Oklahoma Outlaws,” which premiered on May 25, 1915. Tilghman, one of the film’s stars, promoted the film in person, taking it on tour for several years during which he appeared on stage to lecture about his experiences. Later critics panned the 95-minute film for its staged scenes, naming them “a major source of popular disinformation.”[8]

Tilghman no doubt kept his private illicit activities to himself, or at least a secret from his second wife Zoe. He was a man who wanted to be seen as a valuable and heroic public servant. In those times, even more than now, involvement with prostitutes would have tarnished his desired reputation.

Bill Tilghman posing with his Winchester rifle in a scene from 1915 movie “The Passing of the Oklahoma Outlaws” Wikipedia

[1]“Guthrie Police Docket for the City of East Guthrie, 1889-1890.” Logan County Outlaws and Lawmen, http://www.usgennet.org/usa/ok/county/logan/law/otherlaw.htm. Accessed 2005 and October 2017

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_Tilghman

[3] Ibid

[4] Daily Oklahoma State Capitol August 7, 1894

[5] Samuelson, Nancy. “Flora Quick aka Tom King, A Bad Gal,” OKOLHA No II, Vol 2, p 12. Samuelson cites the Perry Democrat November 21, 1893.

[6] Ibid

[7] Howard, William Willard. “The Rush to Oklahoma,” Harper’s Weekly 33 (May 18, 1889): 391-394

[8] Prassel, Frank Richard (1996). The Great American Outlaw: A Legacy of Fact and FictionUniversity of Oklahoma Press. pp. 187–188. ISBN 9780806128429.

Murder in the County: 50 True Stories of the Old West

The execution site perched on a low hill lying just east of the National Cemetery in south Fayetteville, about one mile from the county jail at the town square. Its position served well in accommodating large crowds of observers anxious to watch the hanging. The place later became known as Gallows Hill and remained in use for executions until the Civil War. After the war, in 1867, the site was taken over by the federal government and became part of the National Cemetery.

On a cold clear November day, the couple was brought by wagon to the wooden platform, a hood placed over their heads and then the noose, and last prayers uttered. It seemed the entire county’s population had turned out to witness the macabre event as the drop doors opened and Crawford and Lavinia fell into the arms of death.

Soon after the execution of his parents, John Burnett was arrested in southeast Missouri and brought back to Fayetteville. The testimony of Sharp quoted previously in this story was given by Sharp at John Burnett’s trial. On December 4, 1845, John Burnett was indicted and quickly sentenced to his fate. The same gallows awaited him. Despite his attorneys’ protestations of his innocence, of which they were fully convinced, thirty-four-year-old John Burnett was hung on the day after Christmas, December 26, 1845.

What unspeakable crime could have sent the Burnett family to their deaths?

Murder, it was alleged, planned by the aging parents and facilitated by their son John. Murder of an old man named Jonathan Selby, a recluse rumored to hoard wealth in his remote cabin, not an uncommon thread of gossip about someone who didn’t make himself known within social circles. His cash payment for his eighty acres contributed to this idea. He may have exhibited a degree of wealth by purchasing livestock or building materials for his home, outbuildings, or fences. Later court testimony revealed that he had made the mistake of allowing someone to see him place a quantity of money into his wallet.

Did the murderers find a money hoard? Did the Burnett’s daughter Minerva regret her role in her family’s execution? These are a few of the questions that linger after a crime like this, a crime that led to the first execution of a woman in the State of Arkansas.

~~~

Contrary to popular notion, Arkansas was part of the Old West along with Texas and the rest of those more familiar dusty southwestern places. Its western border joined up with the Indian Nations where many a weary marshal rode out with his bedroll and pistol carrying writs from the U. S. District Court at Fort Smith in a search for a steady stream of men rustling livestock, stealing horses, selling whiskey, or running from the law.

From its earliest days, Washington County, Arkansas, experienced some of the worst the Old West had to offer. At unexpected moments, county settlers faced their fellow man in acts of fatal violence. These murderous events not only ended hopeful lives but also forever changed those who survived them. Not to say that the murders in the county all stemmed from conflict along its western border—plenty of blood spilled within its communities and homesteads.

The fifty chapters of Murder in the County each focus on one violent incident. Through family histories, legal records, and newspaper accounts, the long-dead actors tell their shocking stories of rage, grief, retaliation, and despair. Now, for the first time, readers can discover the horrors and mysteries of those long lost days.

Available at Amazon.com

The Violent End of the Gilliland Boys

On Friday, Christmas Day 1874, and after more than two years of near-death tension, Calvin “Bud” Gilliland joined an energetic crowd at the Lewis Mills, a thriving Northwest Arkansas community along the Middle Fork of White River. In celebration of the season, proud horse owners lined up their snorting high-tempered steeds to compete in a favored recreation of those times, horse racing. The dusty race track stretched down the long valley. More than few friendly bets changed hands among the crowd as people craned their necks to see the red flag at the far end flapping in the stiff breeze.

Bud walked among the gathered horses, greeting people he’d known all his growing up years. He kept looking around, anxious to spot a particular face. If he saw Newton Jones, he knew what he’d do. He clapped his hand against the Colts pistol holstered at his hip. Hidden under his overcoat, the weapon wouldn’t provoke any outcry. At the right time, he’d put it to good use.

As it happened, lands around the Middle Fork of White River wasn’t a great place for someone feuding with a Jones. The valley was the heart of Jones family lands. All the more reason for Bud to attend—he was sure to encounter Newton here. He paced a distance from the crowd, squinting under the overcast sky as he searched, finally satisfied the younger man wasn’t here yet. Bud squared his shoulders and lifted his chin. He’d waited long enough for this lily liver.

Newton had already saddled up when he got wind of Bud’s presence at the races. He’d been lying low, afraid of what Bud might do next. But as the season of holiday gathering approached, he’d decided he had to confront Bud, knowing the likelihood of his appearance at the races and infuriated over the near miss he’d suffered in Bud’s sights two years earlier. Bud’s brief time in jail hadn’t subdued him any. Those damn Gillilands thought they could get away with anything. And they damn near had.

Newton knew what it would take. He had a wife now and a baby on the way. The time for dangerous tomfoolery had ended.

A cold breeze ripped through the crowd as a man on a horse galloped in from the roadway. Bystanders had no time to react as Newton pulled up in a cloud of dust, whipped his Spencer rifle from its saddle scabbard, and quickly centered Bud in his sights. He took a deep breath and squeezed the trigger.

In a mere second, the leaden ball found its target. Shocked, Bud looked up into the eyes of his foe. A few men shouted amid the collective gasp as the gunshot echoed up the hillside.

The event would set off a chain reaction that would forever resonate through the region and the Gilliland and Jones families. Not only Bud but his two brothers Jeff and Fine would face other men at the point of a gun, and the killing didn’t stop there.

What was it about the Gillilands?

This recounting of the family tracks their ancestry, their pioneer years on untamed land, and the hard work that made them one of the wealthiest families in Washington County, Arkansas. A fascinating tale of brash ego, brave gallantry, and bad luck. Grab your copy today and ENJOY!

A little murder with your lemonade?

What could be more interesting summer reading than murder stories from the 1800s? This collection of fifty stories cover the earliest years of Arkansas statehood, Civil War atrocities, and a shoot-out on Fayetteville’s town square. All the murders occurred in Washington County Arkansas, a mild-mannered place by any other account.

Here’s just one chapter:

On an icy Wednesday January 24, 1872, in a field on the Rev. Riley Jones’ place near Black Oak in eastern Washington County, two young men set about the task of feeding livestock, Riley’s 21-year-old son James Cornelius ‘Nealy’ Jones and Henry Durham, age unknown. Durham had been taken in by the Jones family and lived there as part of the family.

As young men often do, the two exchanged jokes, lies, and dares as they pitched hay off the wagon. According to later accounts, Jones was ribbing Durham pretty hard about some trivial matter.[1] Before either of them realized how or when, the mood changed. The jokes became insults and the dares became threats.  Biting cold set their teeth on edge as they faced each other. Tempers ignited and before anyone paused to think, Durham charged Jones with the pitchfork. One of the tines pierced his coat and went straight to his heart.

Suddenly young ‘Nealy’ Jones lay dying on the field as Henry stood over him watching in disbelief.

Despite Durham’s efforts to resuscitate him, Jones did not revive. Roused by Durham’s shouts, Riley Jones came running to his dying son. But it was too late. They carried the body inside while someone went for the township constable.

The Reverend Riley Jones and his wife Nancy had arrived in Washington County between 1850 and 1860 to settle near his three younger brothers Clairborne, Enoch, and James Jones, all natives of Hawkins County, Tennessee who had arrived in Washington County some years earlier. The descendants of all four brothers would mingle in county records forever after. [2]

Riley took up residence in the Middle Fork Valley near Carter’s Store. Age fifty-five in 1860, Riley and his wife Nancy Bailey had gained eleven children over the years of their marriage including nine daughters and two sons. The couple had suffered their share of tragedy. One daughter died in infancy. Another daughter Eliza Tabitha died unexpectedly June 21, 1861, six days after giving birth to her fifth child Benjamin Calhoun. Eliza’s husband, Pleasant Riley Jones (probably her first cousin),[3] remained to grieve with their children: Jesse 13, John 11, David 9, and William 7—as well as the newborn Benjamin.

With war breaking out all around, in the summer of 1862, Pleasant joined up with the 1st Cavalry Regiment Arkansas (C.S.A.), leaving his children in the care of Eliza’s parents Riley and Nancy.[4] According to family records, his unit met Union forces November 1 at Cross Hollow. Pleasant was killed in a skirmish on November 29.[5] Also lost that fateful year was Absolom Abraham Jones, the older of the two Jones sons, who died at age 27 while engaged in Civil War combat in Northwest Arkansas.

With the deaths of Eliza and now Pleasant, Eliza’s parents Riley and Nancy Jones became the caretakers of their four orphaned grandchildren. For the next five years, the family suffered the deprivations of continued guerrilla warfare that plagued north Arkansas even after the war ended. But in August 1871, they celebrated the promise of a new marriage when the baby of the family, James Cornelius “Nealy” Jones, joined with Matilda Lewis, the lovely young daughter of George Washington Lewis who operated the Lewis Mill on the Middle Fork of White River.

Now a freak encounter had ended Cornelius’ life. In disbelief, the Reverend Riley Jones controlled his rage and grief as he waited for the constable to remove Henry Durham from the premises.  At least with the murderer in custody, he would gain justice for his son’s premature and tragic death. Finally the constable arrived and took the shaken Henry Durham to the local lock-up.

Call it fate. Call it karma. What happened next would be the only semblance of justice in this case. The next morning, the constable left a young man named Lewis, probably a relative of Matilda, in charge of the prisoner while he went for his breakfast. Sensing an opportunity and facing possible execution by hanging, Henry Durham made a run for it. Ignoring Lewis’ demand to halt, Durham pursued his escape. Prepared with a loaded weapon, Lewis fired, striking Durham with a fatal gunshot.

Research has not discovered whether Henry Durham was in any way connected to the naming of the nearby community of Durham. In fact, the only record of this name other than the few facts noted so far is a listing of his name in the 1869 personal property tax records for Washington County. Of further note, a few versions of the story claim that Henry Durham killed Nealy Jones with a knife rather than a pitchfork. But dead is dead and both men found their end on back-to-back frigid January days.

‘Nealy’ Jones was buried beside his brother Absolom and his sister Eliza at Mt. Zion Cemetery. Henry Durham was buried at Reese Cemetery in an unmarked grave.

Finally, a post script about Matilda Lewis Jones. After only five happy months of married life, the young woman had become a widow. In August 1873, eighteen months after the death of Cornelius, Matilda married again, this time to Cornelius’ cousin William Newton Jones, the son of the Rev. Clairborne Jones, Riley  Jones’ brother. Newton Jones will figure prominently in another murder story in Chapter 21.

An interesting story about Matilda involved a recently freed slave named Mary Ann. At the end of the Civil War, slaveholders were required to release all slaves. The owner of Mary Ann wanted to sell her despite the new law. Seeing the value in a young mixed race girl of about fifteen years at the time, the owner expected to receive a thousand dollars for her.

Hearing of Mary Ann’s fervent wish not to be sold, Matilda’s father George Lewis offered Mary Ann work at his household if she wished to leave her former ‘owner.’ (Some rumors alleged the ‘owner’ was in fact her father. Begetting mixed race children upon slaves was a common practice among some slave owners. The act was seen as ‘bettering’ the negro race.) This intervention of Lewis in facilitating her ‘escape’ caused a permanent rift between him and the former slave’s ‘owner’.

Mary Ann eagerly accepted Mr. Lewis’ offer and the young woman flourished in her new home. About five years later, in January 1874, Mary Ann became sick and died. With travel impossible in the icy weather, Matilda contributed her twice-used wedding dress as a burial shroud for Mary Ann, who was then laid to rest in an unmarked grave at the east end of Reese Cemetery.[6]

Get your copy of Murder in the County at Amazon.com

~~~

[1] Fayetteville Democrat January 27, 1872

[2] More on the Jones family in Appendix of Selected Family Histories, Jones, p 394

[3] Pleasant’s father, John Jones, was born in 1789 at Hawkins County, Tennessee. Eliza’s father Riley Jones was born in 1805 in the same county.

[4] The 1st Cavalry Regiment, Arkansas State Troops (1861), was an Arkansas cavalry regiment during the American Civil War. The regiment was organized at Camp Walker near Harmony Springs, Benton County, Arkansas. The regiment was officially designated as the Third Regiment (Cavalry), Arkansas State Troops by the State Military Board but was designated as the 1st Arkansas Cavalry by Brigadier General Nicholas Bartlett Pearce, Commander, 1st Division, Provisional Army of Arkansas. The regiment is referred to as “Carroll’s Regiment” in contemporary accounts.

[5] Family records may be in error here. A large Confederate encampment at Cross Hollow was left in smoldering ruins before a Union advance in February 1862. With the Battle of Pea Ridge in early March 1862, Confederates retreated south from Benton County. With a death date of November 29, 1862, Pleasant Jones may have died in the run-up to the Battle of Prairie Grove, perhaps in the November 28 Battle of Cane Hill.

[6] Coley, Cheri. “The Rest of the Story…Sort of:” Washington County Arkansas Genealogical Society newsletter June 2005.  http://wcags.org/?page_id=784

Award Winning Article!

I am pleased to announce that I have been awarded the 2018 Walter J. Lemke prize by the Washington County Historical Society for my article on Jesse Gilstrap. The article will appear in the Fall edition of Flashback, the Society’s quarterly journal.

In 1852, Jesse Mumford Gilstrap settled in Washington County, Arkansas, with his wife and three children. He had ventured to the county earlier; his first child was born here in 1848. An adventurous and passionate young man, in 1850 Gilstrap had trekked westward to join the gold rush while his wife awaited him at her family home near Carthage, Missouri. Back from his adventure and a few dollars richer, he returned to Washington County where he immediately invested some of his earnings in a partnership in one of the county’s earliest mills. In 1856, took full ownership. Then as the winds of war heightened, Jesse spoke out on behalf the Union cause. In 1862, he gathered a company of fellow patriots to form the first company of the 1st Arkansas Cavalry. Jesse went on to serve in the state senate before his untimely death in 1869.

Jesse’s story tumbled out of my research for my new release, The West Fork Valley: Environs and Settlement Before 1900. As I studied early settlers, then the first mills, then the Civil War, Jesse’s name kept popping up. It was a pleasure to connect with a descendant who provided photographs and more details about this man and his family.

I consider Jesse the real winner of this award. I am only the messenger.

West Fork Valley — New Release!

Riverside Park, West Fork. Perfect display of how the river has shaped the land, creating high bluffs and rich bottom land.

I moved into the West Fork Valley in 1973. I had no previous experience here except, as a child, one train ride from Fort Smith to Fayetteville circa 1952 and then passing back and forth from Fort Smith to Fayetteville during the 1950s in our 1949 Chevy (and later our 1954 Chevy). Driving Highway 71 in those days provoked high tension whether we had to pull over to wait out a driving rainstorm or creep along due to impenetrable fog or shudder as big trucks zoomed past.

Mount Gayler provoked an outcry from me and my younger sister—could we stop and have pie at Burns Gables? Could we ride the train? Only one time that I remember did the journey involve stopping for a train ride, a thrilling dash along the tracks circling the pond, wind in my hair, grinning as the high-pitched whistle blew. Another time we sat around a table at Burns Gables to savor a slab of delicious pecan pie.

The landscape of high mountains and sheer cliffs made its mark in my memory. For years my amateur drawings portrayed hills of the same height marching off into the distance in ever faded color. I never understood why it seemed mountains should look that way until, as an adult, I took another look at the profile of the Boston Mountains framing the West Fork valley.

Passing through West Fork on our way north marked the last hurdle before finally reaching Fayetteville, but the only thing that lodged in my memory about the place was the rock “tourist court” along the highway. Then the green-and-white rotating light flashed through the sky at the Fayetteville airport, a magical sight in fog or rain. In those days on that two-lane narrow highway, the trip took nearly three hours.

Imagine my surprise when, in middle age, I discovered that I had ancestors buried at Brentwood and Woolsey! After the Civil War, my dad’s grandfather, Charles McDonald Pitts, moved from Johnson County, Arkansas, to the Brentwood area along with his mother Elizabeth and several brothers and their families. Charles’ mother and his first wife Easter (Parker) and newborn daughter Tennessee are buried at Brentwood as well as a young niece Eliza. Two brothers and some of their children are buried at Woolsey. Charles would remarry there, a local girl named Linnie Mae Rose who became my great-grandmother. The Pitts family moved away by 1900 to take up residence in the western part of the county.

Now, after nearly fifty years of living here, I can almost claim to be an old timer. But fifty years is nothing compared to the two hundred years of family heritage a few of the valley’s residents can claim. I wanted to know who came here first, who built these towns, what it was like to carve out a living in this rugged land. So I started digging.

The West Fork Valley, my new release, is what I found, a history of the watershed of the West Fork of White River, its natural wonders, its past, its people through 1900. It’s my great pleasure to announce this book to the world!

Visit the book page on this site for more information and purchase link.