Thursday, July 14, 2011

Oklahombre Outlaw

Mr. Neal Higgins recalled another interesting encounter at Sloane's  store not long after he settled in Guthrie, and many years prior to his tragic Babbs Switch experience as the Undertaker.    While working alone one night in the furniture store he said the Deputy U.S. Marshals showed up.  They told him they had a man's body in the wagon outside which they had brought in from near Stillwater, a town about twelve miles away.  Higgins went out to the Marshal's wagon to retrieve the body and discovered the man was riddled with gun shots.    Higgins said he counted "21 buckshot wounds in his breast."   It turned out the dead man was a notorious outlaw that had terrorized banks, railroads, and stagecoaches in both Kansas and Oklahoma.  The body was that of the infamous outlaw Bill Doolin!   

Bill Doolin had not always been an outlaw.  Born to a sharecropper in Arkansas, he made his way to the Cimarron and Arkansas rivers area of Oklahoma Territory as a young man and was hired on as a cowboy by Texas ranchers.   There are many reports that he was a good and reliable cowhand.  

Ganging Up

On the Fourth of July, 1891, Doolin was in Coffeyville, Kansas when a shootout took place between lawmen, Doolin,  and his drinking buddies.  He escaped from town that day and was on the run as an outlaw ever since.  He took up with the legendary Dalton Gang robbing trains and  banks, but in 1892, while again in Coffeyville, most of the Dalton Gang was gunned down after a failed attempt to rob two banks in town. 

Members of the Dalton Gang in Coffeyville
Rumors are that Doolin was there in Coffeyville at the time of the gunfight, but escaped along with one of the Dalton boys. 

Wild Bunch

Bill Doolin then formed his own gang, the Wild Bunch,  which became one of the most notorious of the territorial West at that time.  The Wild Bunch gang, also known as The Oklahombres, traveled throughout Kansas, Arkansas, Missouri and Oklahoma Territory robbing banks and holding up trains and stagecoaches.   Doolin, himself, was well liked by many of the settlers in the Territory which probably accounted for his ability to escape capture for so long.  

Bill Doolin
Lawrence Block, in Gangsters, Swindlers, Killers and Thieves,  describes the Wild Bunch as having good relations with the homesteaders, and identifies two women, Annie McDoulet and Jennie Stevens, also known as "Cattle Annie" and "Little Breeches," who even acted as spies for the gang members.   Doolin, himself, was  known as a family man during this time since he had married and started a family with the daughter of a Methodist minister.  

In 1896 Doolin was tracked down in Kansas and captured  by Deputy U.S. Marshal Bill Tilghman who took him to Guthrie to be tried. Lawrence Block reports that Doolin was actually taken on a tour of the town of Guthrie and allowed to shake hands with the hundreds of citizens who had come out to see him before he was locked up in the jail.  There was a $5,000 reward for the capture and conviction of Bill Doolin.  Tilghman never collected on this, however, since Doolin and some the other prisoners managed to escape from the Guthrie jail before he could ever be tried.  

Doolin successfully hid out with his wife and son at their home near Lawson, Oklahoma for a while, but Deputy U.S. Marshal Henry "Heck" Thomas and his posse tracked him down and killed him in a gunfight just outside their home. 

Three Guardsmen: Bill Tilghman, "Heck" Thomas, and Chris Madsen
The Undertaker

Heck Thomas must have been the Deputy U.S. Marshal that brought Doolin's body to Neal Higgins in the store that night in Guthrie.  Higgins said that word of Bill Doolin's death spread fast and a mob of people rushed to the furniture store to see the outlaw.   He said "they climbed on tables or anything to get a view of the desperado."  To accomodate the viewing (and probably save the furniture, as well), Higgins said they moved the body to an empty building down the street.  Higgins was assigned to stay there with the body.  He remembered that not all of the viewers were curiosity seekers.  He had many friends and neighbors that also came by.   Doolin's wife and son still lived nearby and came to see him while he was on display.  Higgins said she wanted a picture of him, so they stood the body up and took a picture of his body for her.

A. Meier; cosmicautumn

He was buried three days later in Summit View Cemetery in the town of Guthrie, Oklahoma.  


Just Stuff From a Boomer said...

I've seen these types of photos before. Can you imagine trotting down to the Undertakers or elsewhere, to get a look at the outlaw? Good heavens, not much tops that for entertainment.

You wrote a great blog. I am a history fanatic so I was entralled.

mary said...

Thank you Kathy! I am not a writer (like I said in the blog, I majored in math at unc) so it is really hard for me to put the info into words. It is really time consuming too. So far, I have found it fun to be look at the places where I've been - and knew nothing about.

It seems to me that the full "circle of life" is hidden from us today. People don't depend on their neighbors as much as in the past, and old folks are shuffled off somewhere now. We really don't see death like they had to.

Nate Maas said...

What a great story! Thanks for posting it. Funny that on the tombstone it notes the name of the lawman who killed him. I wonder who payed for that. It's also curious that the man who got Doolin was named Heck Thomas. Although if my name was Henry, I think I might go by Heck too.

mary said...

"Heck" Thomas, who killed Doolin, was famous as an outlaw hunter. He teamed up with Bill Tilghman, who arrested Doolin, and a third man as "Oklahoma's Three Guardsmen." The trio were quite famous at the time as bounty hunters.