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The Crittenden Brothers












Shortly after his capture, Cherokee Bill posed with his captors at Wagoner, I.T. Left to right: (5)Zeke Crittenden, (4)Dick Crittenden, Bill, (2)Clint Scales, (1)Ike Rogers, and (3)Bill Smith.
(Copyright: Western History Collections, University of Oklahoma Library)

Zeke and Dick Crittenden were variously lawmen and outlaws around the town of Wagoner, Oklahoma in the latter years of the 19th century. They were both killed in gunfights on 24 October 1895 at Wagoner.


[Indian Pioneer History Project for Oklahoma; April 12, 1937, James Andrew Branstetter]


The Killing of Dick and Zeak Crittenden


I knew the Crittenden brothers for years, and Zeak and I were good friends. There were no ill feelings between Dick and I, but Zeak and I through circumstances, just became better friends and were closer together. I never did know just exactly the beginning of the trouble, or the cause that lead to the killing of Crittendens by Ed Reed, who was a deputy United States Marshal stationed at Wagoner, but there was bad blood between them for a long time. On the day of the killing the Crittendens were in Wagoner and Reed claimed the Crittenden brothers had made threats to kill him, or at least that was the evidence at the trial when he was exonerated of the killing. When the killing occurred, Zeak and Dick were riding down the street at Wagoner on their horses when Ed Reed stepped out of a store door and begin shooting, killing Zeak first and then Dick. There was quite a bit of ill feeling against Reed about the affair.

About two weeks later, after the killing of the Crittendens, Ed Reed was in Claremore and got into a difficulty with a man that ran a pool hall at that place, I can't recall the fellow's name, but Reed did not have his gun on him and he asked the fellow to wait there until he returned, and the supposition was he was going after his gun, and in just a few minutes he returned and as he walked into the door the fellow shot him, killing him instantly and was later acquitted of the killing.


[A History of Wagoner, Oklahoma from Samuel Sylvester Cobb by L.W. Wilson, 1938.]

Two outlaws well known to the pioneers of Eastern Indian Territory were the Crittendon brothers, Zeke and Dick. All kinds of depredations were committed by them, from robbing a smokehouse to high-jacking, horse stealing and cattle rustling. 

One day at noon these two brothers rode into Wagoner horseback, shooting up the town. Shots which rang out along their line of travel, put the people to cover. Window panes broken from the shots fired by them clattered and fell to the sidewalks. They knew Ed Reed would be at dinner and thus took this advantage. When he arrived on the scene every merchant and citizen was armed and ready for action. Not one of the citizens, however, had as yet fired a shot at the outlaws. All at once like a bolt of lightning out of a clear sky, they came galloping around the corner near Ed Reed and, with a flash, the play of death had begun. The two outlaws and Ed Reed, in close quarters, shot it out. Zeke fell from his horse dead on the street. Dick continued the battle and circled back to his dead brother and as he did so Ed killed the horse on which Dick rode, and then killed Dick before he could get his feet out of the stirrups. 


[From The McAlester Capital - a newspaper of the time.]

October 31, 1895—The McAlester Capital—Ed Reed, son of the noted Belle Starr, killed two brothers, Zeke and Dick Crittenden, at Wagoner last Thursday evening. Reed had a special commission as deputy marshal to arrest Zeke Crittenden. He resisted and shot at him. Reed returned the fire killing him. He then stepped into the telegraph office and wrote a message to Marshal Crump, when Dick shot at him through the window. He ran to the door and fired twice killing him the second shot. Some months ago it was thought that Reed would develop into an outlaw, but he has been a tolerable quiet citizen.


[Outlaws and Lawmen of the Cherokee Nation by Dee Cordry]

Payments were made in each of the nine districts composing the Cherokee Nation, beginning in Tahlequah in June of 1894. Outlaws Jim and William Cook were Cherokee citizens, but the "Cook gang" which included Crawford Goldsby was wanted for various crimes across the Indian Territory. Unable to collect their share of the payment in person in Tahlequah, on June 16th the Cook brothers went to the "Half-way House" on Fourteen Mile Creek (near present day Hulbert) operated by Mrs. Effie Crittenden. Effie was the wife of Cherokee lawman Dick Crittenden but they had separated and were on unfriendly terms. The cook in her establishment was Bob Hardin, a brother-in-law of the Cook brothers. The Cooks sent Mrs. Crittenden to Tahlequah with a written order to the Treasurer allowing her to pick up their money.

Leonard Williams, sheriff of the Tahlequah District, discovered the location of the Cook brothers. A posse was sent to Fourteen Mile Creek to capture the Cook gang and on June 17, 1894 a gunfight broke out. Lawman Sequoyah Houston was killed in the fight, and the outlaws wounded Dick and Zeke Crittenden.

The Cook brothers and Crawford Goldsby, alias Cherokee Bill, escaped. Jim Cook had been badly wounded and the gang took him to Fort Gibson. They were forced to leave him there and he was captured by lawmen. Some reports concerning the battle at the Half-way House claim that two other members of the Cook gang, Jess Cochran (not Jesse ) and Jim French, were present at the gunfight.

Others included in the posse were reported to be Ellis Rattling Gourd and Bill McKee. A different version of the story lists the members of the posse as "Sequoyah Houston, the Crittenden brothers, Bill Nickel, Isaac Greece, Hicks, and Brackett." And Jim Cook had described the lawmen as "the Cherokee guards" giving the impression that the posse were members of the force of guards under the direction of Captain Jesse Cochran escorting the treasurer with the "strip money." However, this was not the case, as the treasurer had left Tahlequah under heavy guard on June 16th (the day before the gun battle) enroute to Vinita. Sequoyah Houston was buried in the Blue Springs cemetery.

Cherokee Bill was eventually captured and taken to the Fort Smith court, where he was found guilty of the 1894 murder of Ernest Melton. While in jail awaiting execution, Cherokee Bill somehow obtained a loaded pistol and used it to kill guard Lawrence Keating on July 10th, 1895 during an escape attempt. Upon hearing the gunshots, Fort Smith lawmen rushed to the jail. Deputy U.S. marshal Heck Bruner returned fire with a shotgun. Over 100 shots were fired in the battle. Finally, jail inmate Henry Starr was able to convince Cherokee Bill to surrender the gun and order was restored to the jail. Cherokee Bill was executed on the gallows in Fort Smith on March 17, 1896.

Deputy U.S. marshal Ed Reed, living in Wagoner, was called on to deal with with two drunks who were shooting up the town on October 24th (or 25th), 1895. The two law-breakers were Dick and his brother Zeke Crittenden, former lawmen and survivors of the shootout at Fourteen Mile Creek in 1894. The two brothers had wounded a Wagoner resident named Burns in their drunken shooting spree.


One version of the story describes Reed encountering Zeke Crittenden on the street and telling him to surrender his gun. Zeke fired at Reed and was killed with return gunshots from Reed. Dick, at the other end of town, learned of his brothers death and rode to the scene of the shooting. Upon seeing Ed Reed, Dick opened fire. Reed returned fire, mortally wounding Dick Crittenden, who died the next morning. The brothers were buried under one headstone in a small cemetery near Hulbert, only a short distance from the site of the Half-way House on Fourteen Mile Creek.


Cherokee Bill

[Juliet Galonska - Referring to when The Crittenden brothers met Cherokee Bill, 1995.]

En route, Cherokee Bill actually broke his handcuffs, and it was only with some fast thinking that Scales was able to leap off the wagon to avoid losing his pistol. Rogers, on horseback riding alongside the wagon, kept the outlaw covered with his double-barreled shotgun. At Nowata, Bill was chained and placed in an Arkansas Valley railway cattle car. When the train stopped at Wagoner, Deputies Dick and Zeke Crittenden joined Smith and Lawson. A photographer was present and asked to take a picture. Bill threw his right arm around Dick Crittenden, reaching for the deputy's revolver at the same time. The outlaw did not obtain the gun but said afterward that if he had some of the officers "would have worn away wooden overcoats."

The group reached Fort Smith shortly and Bill was lodged in the federal jail there.


[Harold Sayre. Researcher and History Interpreter (Numerous Interviews). Fort Davis, Texas.]


During the summer of 1894, the government purchased from the Cherokees their rights to land called the Cherokee Strip. A certain portion of the payment was reserved for the Cherokee tribal treasury and over six million dollars was to be paid out to all who could make legitimate claim as to having the required one-eight Cherokee blood. Each individual was to receive $265.70. Goldsby and the Cook brothers, while traveling to Tahlequah to obtain their share of the money stopped at a hotel and restaurant on Fourteen Mile Creek operated by Effie Crittenden. Effie employed a brother-in-law of the Cooks as a cook. The gang ordered Effie to proceed to Tahlequah to obtain their money because they did not want to be seen in the area. Goldsby was wanted for the shooting of Jake Lewis and Jim Cook was wanted for larceny.

Effie Crittenden drew the payments on behalf of Goldsby and the Cooks on the treasurer's last day at Tahlequah. As Effie proceeded back to her establishment she was followed by Sheriff Ellis Rattling Gourd with the intentions of capturing Goldsby and the Cooks.

On the evening of July 18, 1894, a gunfight occurred between the Sheriff and a posse of seven men on one side and the Cooks and Goldsby on the other. In the Sheriff's posse was brothers Dick and Zeke Crittenden who was commissioned as Deputy U.S. Marshall. Effie was the separated wife of Dick Crittenden and it was alleged that Dick planned the shootout in the hopes that Effie would be killed.

During the gunfight, posse Sequoyah Houston was killed and Jim Cook was wounded. The Sheriff and four of his posse fled. Shortly afterward the Crittenden brothers escaped in the dark.

It was after this incident that Crawford Goldsby gain the alias "Cherokee Bill." While Effie Crittenden was being questioned about the murder of Sequoyah Houston, she was asked if Crawford was involved in the gunfight and she said, "No it was not Crawford Goldsby, but it was Cherokee Bill."

© Ian Cruttenden 2005

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