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NATIVE AMERICAN LAW & OUTLAWS

After cattlemen and settlers came to Oklahoma and Indian territories, outlaws were attracted to this wild frontier country of the late 1800s. Law enforcement hadn't been firmly established in the territories and the landscape offered many places where outlaws and their gangs could hide, such as the rocks, caves and trees in what is now Robbers Cave State Park near Wilburton. Outlaws in Oklahoma robbed banks and trains, stole horses and cattle. Some were quite infamous and dangerous, achieving legendary status and making heroes out of the lawmen who brought the criminals to justice.

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Such was the fate of Bill Doolin, whose gang battled U.S. Marshals in one of the most historic shootouts in the West in 1893.  Marshal Heck Thomas tracked Doolin for three years, finally ambushing and killing Doolin on a quiet country road in northeastern Payne County.

Another famous lawman was Bass Reeves, believed to be the first African American deputy marshal west of the Mississippi River. A tough and fearless man, Reeves served for 35 years, longer than any lawman on record in Indian Territory.

Reeves was born into slavery in Texas but escaped to Indian Territory before the Civil War.  Reeves was one of 200 deputies commissioned by Judge Isaac C. Parker, the "Hanging Judge," after 1875 to track down criminals in lawless western Arkansas and Indian Territory.  Many Indians distrusted white deputies, so Parker believed blacks would be particularly effective lawmen in Indian Territory.

Associated with the Doolin Gang were a few female outlaws, including one of the most famous bad women of all times, Belle Starr.

Judge Parker sentenced Starr in 1882 to federal prison on a horse-stealing charge.  After her release, Starr lived quietly on her homestead near Eufaula, until she was murdered on a road one wintry day.  Starr's killer has never been brought to justice.

 

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BELLE STARR

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Folk Figure. She was born Myra Maybelle Shirley (parents called her Belle) on a farm near Carthage, Missouri one of six children but the only daughter of dirt farmer parents, John and Elizabeth (Hatfield) Shirley. Her parents moved into Carthage and her father became a prosperous innkeeper and slave holder. Frank and Jessie James and the Younger brothers were customers. Belle attended Carthage Female Academy then Cravens a private school and had a talent for music. At the start of the Civil War, her parents were southern sympathizers and supporters of Confederate troops in Missouri and continued with Raider William Clarke Quantrill. After burning and widespread destruction in Carthage during Civil War battles, the family migrated to Scyene, Texas again establishing a hotel and tavern. They soon had visitors. The wanted and pursued outlaws from Missouri, Cole, Jim, Bob and John Younger and Jesse James used the Shirley home as a hideout. Belle's life is an odyssey of many marriage's and affairs with felons, petty criminals and unsavory characters. There are no records that she was ever involved in murder, the robbery of trains, banks, stagecoaches or cattle rustling. However, she was a convicted horse thief. She married outlaw Jim Reed and lived in the Oklahoma Indian Territory at the home of outlaw Tom Star, a Cherokee. When he was charged with murder, they hid out in Los Angeles. After their return, Reed became involved with the Younger gang which killed and looted throughout Texas and Arkansas. Jim Reed was killed by a deputy sheriff at Paris, Texas. The grieving widow remarried. This time to Bruce Younger in a one month affair. The next in line was the Cherokee Sam Starr. Belle and Sam were charged with horse stealing and she received two six-month terms which was served at a correction center in Detroit, Michigan. Newspapers reporting on the story dubbed her "The Bandit Queen." During her incarceration, Sam Starr was killed by an Indian policeman on the Reservation. Belle lived up to her new name and quickly took several lovers, Jim Starr, Blue Duck, Jack Spaniard and Jim French. She survived all but two of these men. While living in the Choctaw Nation, near the Canadian River, an unknown assassin shot her from ambush with a shotgun. Many suspects were named, however, no one was ever charged nor convicted. Still alive, Belle was taken to her cabin where she expired an hour later two days short of her 41st birthday. The women in the area dressed her in her finest black velvet riding attire with boots and adorned her with her expensive jewelry. A pearl-handled Colt 45, which was a gift from Cole Younger was cradled in her hands. Placed in a homemade casket constructed of pine boards, she was conveyed to an open grave dug close to the front door by six Cherokee Indians. Neighbors then passed by the coffin while each Indian dropped a crumb of cornbread in the coffin in traditional tribal custom. Later the grave was robbed, the pistol and Jewelry were gone. Her daughter erected a headstone with an engraved bell, a star, a horse and a poignant poem. At the time of her death, Belle was virtually unknown outside of the Oklahoma Indian Territory. Then, The National Police Gazette published "Bella Starr, the Bandit Queen." a story of her supposed exploits. A paper flood resulted: embellished books, in the form of bibliography, biographies, many dime novels as well as featured magazine articles and then the ultimate in fiction, Hollywood movies. The big loop formed by the meandering Canadian River where Belle lived, was killed and buried was named Younger's Bend by her and the name has stuck. The Belle Star cabin where she lived and died consisted of three rooms. She had a piano and knew how to play. Her walls were covered with shelves full of books and her large mantel over the fireplace had trophies linked to her marksmanship. Alas, the Bell Starr cabin was razed in 1933. However, the nearby Younger Bend School stands today near Porum,Oklahoma and was constructed by Bell to ensure that her daughter and the Indians received an education. By paying a small fee, one can visit both the school and her grave located on private property. The many maple trees gracing the area were all planted by Belle Starr.

Specfic grave location/directions: Take Highway 9 from the Eufaula Dam (this would be on the north side of the dam). continue on east aproximately 1 mile and turn north on the dirt road. Continue on until road turns back to the east. This is aproximately 1 mile also. This is a rural area. A gate that looks like as if it is an old bedstead will be on the south side of the road. Park you car and climb over or around gate and walk on a path for about a half of a mile and this path will lead to Belle Starr's grave. The grave is fenced in to keep people from vandalizing. You can see her name on the grave stone. (bio by: Donald Greyfield)

Birth:   Feb. 5, 1848 Death:   Feb. 3, 1889

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BILL DOOLIN

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Outlaw. Member of the infamous Dalton Gang. He was shot and killed by Deputy Marshal Heck Thomas. 

Birth: 1858

Death: Aug. 24, 1896

Buried: Summit View Cemetery
Guthrie
Logan County
Oklahoma
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BASS REEVES

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Western Lawman. Born as a slave, after the Civil War he went west to engage in farming. In 1875 he began a new career, receiving his commission as a U.S. Deputy Marshal, under the direction of Judge Isaac C. Parker in Ft. Smith. He was the first African American to receive a commission as a U.S. Deputy Marshal west of the Mississippi. He acquired a reputation as one of the best deputy marshals to ever work out of the Fort Smith Federal Court. By 1901, he had arrested more than three thousand men and women in his service as a deputy marshal. But no manhunt was harder for him than the one involving his own son who was charged with murder. After he returned with son he was sent to Leavenworth Prison at the end of a trial. With a citizen's petition and an exemplary prison record, his son was pardoned and lived the rest of his life as a model citizen. In 35 years service as a Federal Lawman, his devotion to duty was beyond reproach, he had killed 14 man but only in self-defense. He was honored posthumously with the National Cowboy Hall of Fame's "Great Westerner Award".  (bio by: John "J-Cat" Griffith)

Birth: Jul., 1838
Lamar County
Texas, USA

Death: Jan. 12, 1910
Muskogee
Muskogee County
Oklahoma, USA

Buried: Agency Cemetery
Muskogee
Muskogee County
Oklahoma

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ISAAC CHARLES PARKER

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Western Law Figure. While serving as United States District Judge for the Western District of Arkansas from 1875 to 1896, his jurisdiction included the Indian Territory (now Oklahoma). Assisted by 200 Deputy United States Marshals, 65 of whom died in the line of duty, he encountered many of the most notorious outlaws of his era in his Fort Smith courtroom. He sentenced 160 men to die, and 79 of them were actually hanged. As a result, Parker became known as "The Hanging Judge." His courtroom and gallows are now part of the Fort Smith National Historic Site.

Birth: Oct. 15, 1838

Death: Nov. 17, 1896

Buried: Fort Smith National Cemetery
Fort Smith
Sebastian County
Arkansas, USA
Plot: Section 9, Grave 4000

 

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