On Friday, Christmas Day 1874, and after more than two years of near-death tension, 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, this 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.
 On Arkansas Highway 74 between Arnett and Sulphur City, sometimes marked as Hicks, Arkansas
In the completion of my recent book, Murder in the County: 50 True Stories of the Old West, it became apparent that three of the fifty murders profiled there were committed by members of the same family! Intrigued, I researched more about these folks and the result is now published under the title The Violent End of the Gilliland Boys. Fascinating and shocking, this story features more twists and turns than an Ozarks dirt road.
The death of Bud surely grieved his father. But before the curtains closed on these descendants of J. C. and Rebecca Gilliland in 1890, two other sons and a grandson would die a violent death 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 bad luck.
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.”
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.
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. 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. 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. 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 first decade of arrests were as follows:
1889 May thru Dec
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)
Failure to Pay Business Tax 7
Sell Beverage w/o License 1
Profane Language 6
Disturb Peace 5
Public Intoxication 13
Maintain Public Nuisance 1
Maintain a House of Gambling 25 (Average fines: 10.75)
Maintain a Place for Prostitution 9 & Prostitution 43 (Average fine: 7.50)
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
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
Not burying dead pony
Disturb Peace 244 (many charges for “bad language”)
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
Disturb Peace 96
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 booking: 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
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.
Disturb Peace 62
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’
Disturb Peace 77
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
Disturb Peace 95
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)
Disturb Peace 78
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
Disturb Peace 55
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
Disturb Peace 73
Public Intoxication 243
Maintain a House of Gambling 33
Unusual: Giving musical concert on the street without a license
Murder in the County: 50 True Stories of the Old West
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 this collection 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.