Thursday, March 17, 2016


3/17/1896 - The brief, but murderous, criminal career of outlaw Crawford Goldsby, better known as Cherokee Bill (a girlfriend will give him the alias when she is questioned as to whether Goldsby was involved in a crime), comes to an abrupt end in Fort Smith, Arkansas, thanks to a length of hemp rope properly knotted around the badman's neck by representatives of U.S. District Judge Isaac Parker, "The Hanging Judge" (on sentencing, the judge will describe Goldsby as, "... a bloodthirsty mad dog who killed for the love of killing!").
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The Hanging Judge

Goldsby & Mother

Born to a Buffalo Soldier sergeant in the United States Cavalry and a mother of mixed African, Indian, and Anglo ancestry at Fort Concho, Texas (San Angelo is the nearby town), Goldsby grows up the frequent victim of racism, unwanted by any of the groups he shares blood with ... and with no grounding in morality, living with his parents, then with an elderly black lady named "Aunty" Amanda Foster (after his father goes AWOL, frightened he will be killed or arrested when he gets into a shooting scrape with a group of local cowboys and hunters before vanishing into history), on to an Indian school at Cherokee, Kansas, then to the Catholic Indian School at Carlisle, Pennsylvania (the one Jim Thorpe will one day make famous with his football, track, and baseball exploits), before being returned home to live with his mother again at age 12, and discovering he now has a step-father to obey.  The two males do not get along, and soon Goldsby is hanging out with local riff-raff, drinking, and rebelling against authority.  Leaving mom and step-dad, Goldsby moves in with his older sister, Georgia (Goldsby also has two brothers, Luther and Clarence), and her husband, Mose Brown, in Oklahoma next, but there is a problem there too ... Goldsby can't stand his sister's husband. Another relocation to Fort Gibson, Texas, and Goldsby is ready to begin his outlaw career at the age of 18.

Cherokee Bill - Center

A girl's affection (take a bow, 15-year-old Maggie Glass), a country dance, and defending family somehow all morph into Goldsby grabbing a gun and shooting a cowboy named Jake Lewis (who survives the encounter), and then thinking his antagonist is dead, fleeing into the vast wildness of the Indian Territory that will one day become Oklahoma.  There, Goldsby becomes Cherokee Bill and begins riding with mixed-blood outlaws, Jim and Bill Cook, and the mayhem begins!
Bill Cook
Bill Cook

Cherokee Bill

In June of 1894, in a shootout with a posse led by Sheriff Rattling Gourd (I'm not making this up!), Deputy Sequoyah Houston is killed.  A month later the gang robs a train near the town of Red Fork, followed 13 days later by taking a bank in Chandler, Oklahoma (in which J.B. Mitchell, the town's only barber is killed for sounding the alarm that the bank is being robbed).  The next murder is Nowata, Oklahoma railroad station agent Dick Richards. During this time period, Cherokee Bill also kills trainman Samuel Collins near Fort Gibson.  In September, returning to his sister's place, he arrives in time to see Mose Brown whipping Georgia with a leather strap over an argument involving the family's hogs ... a whipping he puts to an immediate end to by fatally placing bullets in Brown's chest.  More robberies follow, and in November, while hitting a general store in Lenepah, Oklahoma, Cherokee Bill guns down Ernest Melton when the man interrupts the heist by walking in the front door to make a few purchases (some historians number Cherokee Bill's killings at 13 and claim he began taking lives at the age of only 12).  Reward on his head upped to $1,300, Cherokee Bill is finally overpowered and placed in jail by Constables James McBride and Henry Connelly on January 30, 1895, when "friends" he is staying with rat out the killer for the reward money being offered for his arrest (he is subdued by being bashed over the head with a piece of firewood as he bends before the home's fireplace to light a cigarette).
Deputy Sheriff Sequoyah Houstan | United States Department of the Interior - Bureau of Indian Affairs - Division of Law Enforcement, U.S. Government
Sequoyah Houston

Wanted Poster

Brought to trial for the murder of Melton, Cherokee Bill is found guilty in Judge Parker's court, and is sentenced to be hung by the neck until dead.  Cherokee Bill has other plans in mind however. Turning on the charm, he becomes friends with a jail house trustee named Sherman Vann, who the outlaw talks into smuggling him a gun (the six-shooter is hidden in a bucket of lye in the jail's bathroom).  In the escape attempt that takes place on July 26, 1895, guards prevent Cherokee Bill from getting out of the cell block, but can't prevent the outlaw from killing one more time, shooting guard Lawrence Keating in the stomach and back.  More deaths probably coming (the killer taunts the guards incessantly and gobbles like a turkey each time he fires a round from his gun), the confrontation finally ends when fellow prisoner, robber, and murderer, Henry Starr, talks Cherokee Bill into surrendering (for his actions, Starr will be pardoned from a life sentence behind bars by President Theodore Roosevelt ... a big mistake, Starr will go back to robbing and murdering, finally being mortally wounded himself during a heist that takes place in February of 1921).
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Cherokee Bill
Henry Starr when younger
Henry Starr

After another trial (somehow the trial lasts three days), guilty verdict, hanging sentence, a stay, and a denied appeal to the Supreme Court (only they, or the President of the United States can overrule decisions coming out of Judge Parker's court), Cherokee Bill's end is scheduled for 3/17/1896.  Date set, the outlaw's last day on Earth consists of several cigarettes, eating a light breakfast sent over by a local hotel, some singing and whistling, and a visit with his mother, "Aunty" Amanda, and a local clergyman, Father Pius.  Ready to leave at the scheduled time of 11:00, the hanging is postponed slightly so that Cherokee Bill's sister can arrive by train ... first to 1:00 in the afternoon, then to 2:00 after Georgia finally arrives.  Mounting the scaffold, Cherokee Bill is asked if he has any final words before departing, to which the bandit responds, "I came here to die, not make a speech."  Trap sprung by Judge Parker's hangman, George Maledon (in 22 years serving the court, he will hang over 60 men, and send two to their maker during escape attempts with his revolver), there is no life left in the body removed from the gallows 12 minutes later.
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Fort Smith Gallows - Then
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Fort Smith Gallows - Now
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George Maledon

The "Terror of the Indian Territories" gone, Goldsby is only 20-years-old when he enters his eternity ... his mortal remains are buried at the Cherokee National Cemetery in Fort Gibson, Oklahoma.
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Cemetery Entrance
Cherokke Bill's Family Tombstone - his name is in upper right corner
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Crawford "Cherokee Bill" Goldsby

1 comment:

  1. This is true. Crawford is an ancestor from my maternal grandmother's side of the family. I discovered this about a decade ago.

    Poor guy. He should have had his own internal moral compass to guide him to a better path.