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. 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. 
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), 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. According to family records, his unit met Union forces November 1 at Cross Hollow. Pleasant was killed in a skirmish on November 29. 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.
Get your copy of Murder in the County at Amazon.com
 More on the Jones family in Appendix of Selected Family Histories, Jones, p 394
 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.
 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.
 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.
One wonderful result of writing books is hearing from people who read them. Recently I heard from Jim Terry who was reading my collection of stories about 19th century murders in Washington County, Arkansas – Murder in the County. He wanted to know why a murder involving one of his ancestors wasn’t in the book. Once he gave me more information, it became clear that the murder involved members of the Cherokee tribe. That’s why it wasn’t in my book.
During those early years of Washington County, a steady traffic of bad actors flowed back and forth across the Arkansas-Indian Territory border. Cherokee lawmen attempting to make arrests in Indian Territory had no jurisdiction if the outlaw stood on the Arkansas side of the line. Similarly, federal marshals authorized out of Fort Smith were the only whites who had any jurisdiction in Indian Territory. Local lawmen like the Washington County sheriff couldn’t arrest anyone on Indian land. This made Evansville, Cane Hill, and other Washington County border towns hot spots for outlaw activity.
Jim’s ancestry includes a Cherokee outlaw named Isaac Gann, brother to a woman in Jim’s direct lineage. Not only that, Jim is directly descended from Susannah Harnage, an adopted child of the Harnage family, one of Washington County’s earliest settlers who was subsequently murdered. There’s an irony here and an interesting little story.
The earliest days of our county were fraught with the crisis of the Cherokee people, a powerful detached tribe of the Iroquoian family, formerly holding the whole mountain region of the south Alleghenies, in southwest Virginia, western North Carolina and South Carolina, north Georgia, east Tennessee, and northeast Alabama, and claiming even to the Ohio River. By the turn of the 19th century, increasing pressure by white settlers led to efforts by the federal government to force their move. Despite winning a case in the U. S. Supreme Court confirming they held an inalienable right to their lands, the Cherokee were forced to leave by President Andrew Jackson.
Previous to their removal, Cherokee had adopted much of the cultural amenities of the whites and intermarried with European settlers. This was the case of Ambrose Harnage, later a Washington County resident in the area near Cane Hill. Harnage, an ambitious, educated Englishman with clear leadership skills, married a Cherokee woman and built a large dwelling that served as a residence, public inn, and tavern. Located on the north Georgia federal road, the inn was built around 1805 and was designated a federal post office in 1819, earning the location its name of Harnageville.
After the Indian Removal Act of 1830, Harnage and others faced increasing pressure to abandon their property. He and other white men who had intermarried with Cherokee women negotiated for the best possible terms and made the move to new land in what is now Oklahoma. Upon their departure, Georgia passed a law to establish Cherokee County where Harnage’s tavern was chosen as a meeting place to conduct the business of court and county government.
In 1815, another white man, William H. Hendricks, had built his homestead near the Harnage home and married a full-blood Cherokee woman named Sokinny. She and her brother Youngdeer were orphaned at an early age and Sokinny was later adopted by the Harnage family where she was given the name Susannah Harnage. Whether this is the same Harnage family as Ambrose is not proven.
In 1832, William and Susannah/Sokinny Hendricks and the Ambrose Harnage family moved west, part of the first wave of Cherokee accepting the government’s offer to relocate in exchange for logistical and financial assistance for the move. Typically, extended families and neighbors moved to new territories as a group suggesting a close connection between the Ambrose Harnage family and Susannah/Sokinny. After 1836, the Cherokee who had initially refused the removal order (Indian Removal Act of 1830) were forced west on the so-called Trail of Tears.
Also among Jim Terry’s ancestors was a woman named Ruth Gambold Gann, sister to Isaac Gann and two other siblings. Thanks to Jim’s research into his heritage, the rest of this odd irony comes to light.
In June 1847, twenty-year-old Isaac Ferguson Gann mustered in as private to Captain Enyart’s Company, Arkansas Mounted Infantry, at Fort Smith. Military service provided a small monthly stipend as well as regular meals, and was the fallback option for many young men without other opportunities. His military records include one from January 12, 1848, that states “deserted from camp near Mier, Mexico, taking holsters and pistols belonging to the government.” Also, the muster roll for June 23, 1848, at Camargo, Mexico, lists him as “deserted.”
Thereafter, Isaac became an outlaw, partnering with a man named Ellis “Creek” Starr. They were active in the Cherokee Nation and Washington County, Arkansas.
Creek was among several members of the Starr clan, a Cherokee family notorious for whiskey, cattle, and horse thievery in the Indian Territory. If the “Starr” name sounds familiar, it’s because by the late 1800s, the family name had become famous for its association with Belle Starr, originally Maybelle Shirley.
In 1880 [after the death of her first husband Jim Reed], she [married] a Cherokee man named Sam Starr and settled with the Starr family in the Indian Territory. There, she learned ways of organizing, planning and fencing for the rustlers, horse thieves and bootleggers, as well as harboring them from the law. Belle’s illegal enterprises proved lucrative enough for her to employ bribery to free her cohorts from the law whenever they were caught.
In 1883, Belle and Sam were arrested by Bass Reeves, charged with horse theft and tried before “The Hanging Judge” Isaac Parker’s Federal District Court in Fort Smith, Arkansas; the prosecutor was United States Attorney W. H. H. Clayton. She was found guilty and served nine months at the Detroit House of Corrections in Detroit, Michigan. Belle proved to be a model prisoner and during her time in jail she won the respect of the prison matron, while Sam was more incorrigible and was assigned to hard labor.
In 1886, she escaped conviction on another theft charge, but on December 17, Sam Starr was involved in a gunfight with Officer Frank West. Both men were killed, while Belle’s life as an outlaw queen—and what had been the happiest relationship of her life—abruptly ended with her husband’s death.
Belle’s first husband Jim Reed was killed in Texas in the aftermath of the Civil War. Reed was friends with the Starrs which was how Belle became acquainted with them. After Belle’s murder in 1889, her daughter Rosie “Pearl” Reed-Starr built a tidy little home at Winslow where she sojourned in between stints at operating her houses of ill repute in Van Buren and Fort Smith.
Long before the heyday of Belle or Pearl Starr, Ellis “Creek” Starr alongside Isaac Gann pursued their own outlaw ways. An 1848 write-up in the Cherokee Advocate, Tahlequah, provides more insight into the efforts of the Cherokee Nation to address such criminal gangs:
We learn that a meeting composed of the persons engaged in the recent killing in Flint District, and a numbers of others, was held at the Court House of said district, some days since, for the purpose of adopting certain measures in relation to that affair.
A series of resolutions, commendatory of what has already been done, and urging the importance of freeing the country of the following persons, to wit: — Thos. Starr, Jas. Starr, Creek Starr, Wm. Starr, Ezekiel Rider, Shadrach Cordery, Isaac Gann, and Tre-gi-ske and Ult-tees-kee, were passed.
Writs have been taken out for the above-named persons. Several companies were organized to cooperate with the whites. These companies are actively engaged in scouting the country. We learn that a deputation was sent down, on last Tuesday, to advise the Executive upon the late proceedings, also with a reply to his protest. A second meeting has been held since this interview with the Executive, and we learn that the whole matter will soon be laid before the public.
From the evidence before us, we are under the necessity of disapproving, heartily, a part of the proceedings of our fellow citizens. Ellis Starr, Wash Starr, and John Rider, it is true, were once engaged openly in the most fiendish deeds that ever characterized any set of men, but by the treaty of 1846, though out-laws, they were pardoned—and by that act were again placed upon an equality with other citizens. And if they have since been guilty of misdemeanor, the law should be pushed against them, — and if, after the most ample opportunity has been afforded to test its efficacy, it should prove inadequate, then, though extremely humiliating to a regularly organized Government, the people may take upon themselves the management of affairs.
We learn that one of the companies above named surprised Creek Starr and Isaac Gann, the supposed murderers of the woman who was killed near Evansville [Washington County, Arkansas] on the 27th ult., at a dance in Washington Cove [probably a misprint of Washington County], Ark., some days since. Gann was killed in the attempt to arrest him. Creek Starr was made prisoner. On the return of the party with him, to the Nation, he made his escape—was fired upon, but supposed, only slightly wounded.
Another source, the Van Buren newspaper Arkansas Intelligencer, reports on this murder in their June 12, 1848, edition.
Foul Murder – Creek Starr and Isaac Gann, half-blood Cherokees, killed a Cherokee woman near Evansville, on the 27th. Gann is a deserter from Capt. Enyart’s company of volunteers, now in Mexico.
This was the murder not included in my book.
This is where the murder of Ambrose Harnage joins the story. Evidently with a history of seeing himself as a liaison between the Cherokee nation and whites, Harnage gave incriminating evidence against men accused of participating in the notorious 1839 Wright family murders at Cane Hill where a nighttime assault killed the father and several children and burned the family cabin to the ground. Initially, these murders were blamed on Indians. But Harnage overheard conversations between white neighbors that he reported to a committee investigating the murders. Several white men some believed innocent were subsequently hanged.
Whether Harnage’s report led to his murder is not known. No one saw his murder and all “evidence” was based on supposition leading to the accusation of a Cherokee named John Work for the crime. Many loose ends about Work’s supposed guilt for Harnage’s murder remain unresolved.
Harnage was also a close friend to Major John Ridge, a Cherokee leader who had signed the federal agreement to remove to new lands in Indian Territory, thereby earning the enmity of those in the tribe who didn’t agree with the removal act. In June 1839, Ridge spent the night at Harnage’s home before traveling south along the Line Road. En route, Ridge was assassinated.
Harnage’s friendship and influence on Ridge may have earned him a death warrant among the Cherokee. In the investigation of Harnage’s murder, which occurred in 1841, one line of inquiry yielded possible evidence of Gann’s involvement.
[John] Work wished to kill Dr. F. and John [George Ambrose] Harnage and leave the country. In watching the movements of Dr. F., he learned that he fed a lot of hogs near a thicket once every day about the same hour. He told Jake to steal the doctor’s fine mare and a bridle and saddle and to bring them to him a certain night, that he would kill the Dr. the next day and leave the country, leaving Harnage to Mat Feating or Isaac Gann.
Whether it was Gann or the man ultimately arrested for the offense, John Work, who killed Harnage, the point is the peculiar heritage of Jim Terry. In his person, he juxtaposes the lineages of Gann and the adopted daughter of Harnage.
Was Ambrose Harnage’s murder a result of his close involvement with the Cherokee chief John Ridge or revenge for the Wright family murder hangings? Was Gann his killer?
Because Gann and Starr’s murder of the Cherokee woman fell under tribal jurisdiction, the records never appear in Washington County archives. No one can say how many other similar murders there might have been. This is just one of many stories whose tangled details have forever vanished with the passage of time. My thanks to Jim Terry for bringing this particular episode to light.
[Special shout-out to Legends of the Old West for their tireless work in collecting and preserving information about our past.]
On Saturday December 19, 1868, young Maurice K. Shannon joined a card game at one of Evansville’s taverns. The bustling town in the extreme southwest corner of Washington County sat nearly astride the border between Arkansas and Indian Territory and suffered a rough traffic of traders, cattle rustlers, whiskey smugglers, and other desperadoes who came and went alongside established local farmers and hopeful merchants who enjoyed a thriving commercial trade of everything from guns to gingham. Maurice grew up here, the eighth of twelve children in a thriving pioneer family. Like most young men, he was itching to prove himself.
Around the table betting alongside the eager eighteen-year-old were men experienced in games of chance including one known as Major Fisher. As might have been predicted by any worldly-wise onlooker, Maurice suffered a distinct disadvantage in this company and soon exhausted his betting purse. Eager to redeem himself and undoubtedly encouraged by Fisher and company to further his embarrassment, Shannon wagered his horse and its saddle on the next hand.
Shamefaced, the boy returned home to suffer the wrath of his father Granville Shannon whose fine personal mount and prized saddle had been the property so casually lost to a game of cards. History fails to describe what punishment might have befallen young Maurice. His father had endured hardship for all of his nearly seventy years and didn’t suffer fools lightly.
Soon after his son’s ignominious blunder, Granville rode into Evansville to settle the value of his loss. He demanded Fisher pay him thirty dollars. Bemused, Fisher paid up then put out the word that he wanted full reimbursement from Maurice.
Maurice met with Fisher about a week later on December 26th and tried to make his case. He flat didn’t have thirty dollars, an equivalent of $500 in the present day. Exactly what he said to Fisher, whether he offered terms for settlement or accused Fisher of cheating, is not known. Maurice stood at the bar debating his options of which he had few. The older man had no intention of letting him off the hook.
Finis Shannon, seven years older than Maurice and concerned about his younger brother’s welfare among these hardened tinhorns, had trailed him into town. Now standing in the tavern doorway, he sized up Fisher where he stood some distance from Maurice. Fisher turned and Finis thought he saw the man draw a gun. Quick to defend his brother, Finis fired and shot Fisher through the head, killing him instantly.
Finis Shannon made no effort to escape as people reacted to the shooting. He stood judgment in a hastily called court session before the township’s justice of the peace. After hearing multiple witnesses give evidence for and against and taking into consideration the history of the conflict, the justice found Shannon’s act to be justifiable and he was set free. Thus began a drawn-out affair that would span more than a year of bloody retribution.
According to the story passed down since the time, John K. Fisher, brother of Major Fisher, had been away at the time of the shooting. He and a friend, Calvin Carter, had been ‘south’ to attend some horse races. On his return, John learned of his brother’s death and became outraged that Finis Shannon had gone free. Demanding a higher court of justice, John K. Fisher quickly saw to Shannon’s re-arrest and had him brought to Fayetteville. There, contrary to John’s expectations, the higher court also found Shannon’s act to be justified and set him free.
John Fisher vowed revenge.
Much of the lore surrounding the Shannon-Fisher feud had to do with the so-called Fisher Gang led by John King Fisher. His right hand men in this gang were Calvin H. Carter, James “Jim” Reed, Charlie Bush, and James Black. In particular, Jim Reed’s involvement has spilled a gallon of printer’s ink due to the fact that he was married to Belle Starr, a woman whose notoriety far exceeded the reality.
One account claims that the only reason Reed came into the picture was that his brother William Scott Reed had been killed in one of the original shootouts with the Shannons, and Reed wanted revenge. Scott Reed did die in the upcoming Evansville gun battle, but that’s beside the point.
This excuse, promoted by Glenn Shirley who was a kinsman of Belle and a Western writer of the mid-20th century, may have been part of his effort to show Jim Reed as a man brought into the fight against his will. But months before the shoot-out over a card game, Jim Reed, John K. Fisher, Calvin Carter, and Charlie Bush were indicted on a federal charge of selling liquor in the Indian Nations. One of the witnesses was Finis Shannon.,
After his failed attempt to put Finis Shannon behind bars for the death of Jarrett Fisher, John K. Fisher made it known around Evansville that he planned to kill Finis. His threat hung in the air as he and his friends lay low. Meanwhile, those close to the Shannon family had risen to Finis’ defense in court as well as in the community and made no effort to hide their disgust with the vigilante justice promised by Fisher.
In particular, Finis Shannon’s father-in-law, Dr. J. C. McKinney, had taken it upon himself to advocate for Finis, no doubt in an effort to ease the mind of his distraught daughter who lived in daily fear of Fisher’s promised retribution. The couple’s daughters Laura Alice and Sophie were only three years and one year old.
A month after Finis shot Major Fisher, on January 21, 1869, Dr. McKinney made his way along Evansville’s main street to George W. McClure’s store for a few purchases. John K. Fisher spotted him outside, followed him into the store, and after exchanging a few words, shot McKinney through the heart. He walked out as McKinney lay dying in the shopkeeper’s arms.
Do you have any information about this feud or the Shannons and Fishers? Please let me know–this is still an active investigation.
These pieces of the story are excerpted from Chapter 17, Murder in the County: Fifty True Stories of the Old West, by Denele Campbell. The Shannon-Fisher Feud winds on for over a year leaving dead bodies in its wake. For the full account and the collection of all the 19th century murders in Washington County Arkansas, obtain your copy of the book at Nightbird Books in Fayetteville or order from Amazon.com
 One court record names him as Major Jarrett Fisher.
 A corruption of Phineas, ‘Finis’ is but one of several spellings found in historical records for this man. Also found is Fins, Finas, Finias, Finius, Finies, and Fines.
 Shirley, Glenn. Belle Starr and Her Times: The Literature, the Facts, and the Legends. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1982. Pages 86-93
 Jacket 68, pp 570-578 and p 241. Defendant Jacket Files for U. S. District Court Western Division of Arkansas, Fort Smith Division, 1866-1900. Records of District Courts of the United States 1685-2004, ARC ID: 201532. Record Group Number 21. The National Archives at Fort Worth, Fort Worth, Texas, U.S.A.
 Glenn Shirley’s account states that “On February 12, 1869, Finnis M. Shannon swore a writ against Fisher, Carter, Bush, and Black for introducing spirituous liquors into the Indian country, a crime for which Shannon had been arrested many times by Fort Smith federal marshals. In response to this capias, Deputy Marshal B. F. Little ‘proceeded to the Indian Nation’ with a posse of four men and ‘was gone in constant and active search for thirty-six days’ without finding his quarry.” Shirley has it wrong. Up until this time, Shannon had never been arrested.
***History of Evansville from the 1889 Goodspeed History of Washington County, Arkansas:
This village was named in honor of Capt. Lewis Evans, who opened a store there about 1830. He was succeeded by Charles McClellan, and about 1838 a flood of merchants came in, bringing large stocks of goods to sell to the immigrant Cherokees, to whom large sums of money were due from the Government. As payment was delayed for fifteen years, many of these merchants failed, and the business interests of the town were seriously impaired. Soon after the town was laid off, Leonard Schuler established a tan-yard, the most extensive ever in the county. A horse-mill was built by Evans soon after he opened his store, and for a short time it supplied nearly the whole county with meal. There are now in the town two steam saw and grist mills, with cotton gins attached. The first was erected by C. E. Rose, in 1870, and the other by Littlejohn & McCormick, about five years ago.
The first schools in Evansville were taught by Allen M. Scott, who was succeeded by Mrs. Dr. Bartlett. For four years, from about 1874 to 1878, a graded school was maintained, but it has since been abandoned.
The business interests of the town are now represented by the following firms: J. A. Bacon, Basham & Goodrich, J. M. Chandler, J. R. Flinn, F. N. & N. B. Littlejohn and G. W. McClure, general stores; L. W. Rosser, cabinet maker; W. L. Childress, cabinet and wagon maker, and J. C. Ferguson, wagon maker. About one mile north of Evansville is a little village known as Greersburg, containing a store, a blacksmith shop, carpenter shop, a Masonic lodge and a school-house.
Shameless self promotion can’t be avoided when authors have books to sell. While you’ve still got time to receive an Amazon order — or for that matter, time to order through your local bookstore and give them a piece of the pie, here are a few for your consideration.
Shown above: 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, aims his Spencer rifle, and sends Bud to a well-earned grave.
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.
Serving everything from pita to peach cobbler, Trailside Café and Tea Room became a favorite destination for the few years of its existence. Plate lunches of Pot Roast or Ribs ‘n’ Kraut became overnight hits. Now with a new section on Sandwiches, and a greatly expanded last chapter including many more family recipes sure to be a hit in anyone’s kitchen, Recipes of Trailside Café and Tea Room offers the ‘how-to’ for delicious soups like Split Pea or Potato Leek, hearty salads including Wilted Lettuce, and scrumptious desserts like Lime Pie and the famous Brown Butter Cookies. Over 200 recipes for easy, down home food.
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. A thorough compendium of the county’s 19th century years.
I’m enjoying reading posts on a Facebook group page I’ve discovered, Legends of the Old West. Stories on just about everything the Old West had to offer, most recently a piece on George Maledon, the “Prince of Hangmen.” Reportedly holding the record for executing the most men, Maledon worked for Hanging Judge Parker at Fort Smith from the mid 1870s to the 1890s. Lots of fascinating details in the article.
The photo posted here is also from the Legends page. It’s the Crystal Palace Saloon, Tombstone, 1880.
There are over 8000 members in this Facebook group and you do have to ask permission to join. Of course not all those folks post to the group. They have strict rules banning advertisements or even bits from Western movies–just the real stuff, ma’am. Here’s the address: https://www.facebook.com/groups/724363704322984/
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
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. 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.
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.
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.
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 “White Wings alias Duncan” 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.
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 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.”
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.”
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 $12,000 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 gambling establishment and Bill could keep an eye on the gaming 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 away 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 contribution to the city budget on March 15, 1895, when “Jess” had to pay $10.15. But the April 1895 bust of 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 local infamy ended.
Maybe Jess couldn’t bear to continue in a place where she had enjoyed such a happy run of Bill’s attention. 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, preachers and churches took over. Like many women of the night, Jessie may have found a new location 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. That may be true. 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 Jessie worked at Mollie’s establishment and they 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 traffic 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 Harper’s Weekly 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.”
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 (shown above) 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 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 four films, the most famous 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.”
Tilghman managed to keep his illicit activities out of the media, or at least a secret from his second wife Zoe. The standards of the day permitted men such liberties while at the same time stringently condemning the women they solicited. 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 or publicity about his arrests for operating a gaming establishment would have tarnished his desired reputation.
In the completion of my recent book, Murder in the County: 50 True Stories of the Old West, I discovered 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.
Christmas Day horse races 1872, Middle Fork Valley. Young Bud Gilliland waits, eager for another chance at his neighbor Newton Jones. Only this time, after two years of sparring, Newton gallops up in a cloud of dust, aims his Spencer rifle, and sends Bud to a well-earned grave.
The death of Bud surely grieved his father. But before the curtains closed on these descendants of J. C. and Rebecca Gilliland in 1891, two other sons and a grandson would die a violent death while yet another grandson served 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 now available for only $9.95 at. Don’t miss it!
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.