lived to be a little older than 20 years, but in that 20 years he developed a
reputation that most men need a lifetime of dissolution to attain. He is
virtually unknown today – except to historians – but in his own time, he was
as infamous as other, more noted outlaws, such as John Wesley Hardin and Bill
his time, he was known to most people as Cherokee Bill. As to his personality,
well….let’s just say you wouldn’t want your sister to date him. A paragon
of virtue he was not.
Bill’s real name was Crawford Goldsby, and he was born in 1876 at Fort Concho,
Texas. He was part white, part black, part Mexican, and, of course, part
Cherokee. Somewhere along the line he acquired the name Cherokee Bill because,
simply put, the name Crawford Goldsby is a name that most people would give to
an accountant, not a desperado.
criminal career didn’t really get off the ground until he was 18, but when it
got started, it started with a vengeance.
Cook brothers had started their criminal careers somewhat in advance of Cherokee
Bill’s, and with the shooting of Jake Lewis, Bill found that he had an instant
posse on his trail. The Cooks, you see, had been rather busy giving a whole new
meaning to the word “larceny”. If it wasn’t tied down, they took it.
became rapidly and intensely interested in chatting, at length, with all three.
forces of law and order became even more interested in June of 1894. During that
month a posse stumbled across the three desperadoes, and, as it turned out,
things didn’t go too well for the minions of the law.
a place called Fourteen Mile Creek near Tahlequah, Oklahoma, the good guys and
the bad guys, met quiet by accident. By all accounts, virtually everyone
concerned would’ve rather the situation hadn’t come up. But come up it did,
and the result sealed the fate of Cherokee Bill – he killed his first man that
the surprised lawmen confronted the equally surprised outlaws, the only one
really recognized was Jim Cook, who they knew was wanted for theft. Of course,
it didn’t take a rocket scientist to know that Cook’s two compadres were
probably not runaways from a seminary. Therefore, when one of the lawmen began
to announce to Jim that he was under arrest, it wasn’t a real big surprise
when Cherokee, along with both of the Cooks, went for their guns.
began shooting at once, horses began to bolt in fear, and dust and gunsmoke
obscured virtually all of the combatants from each other. When the gunsmoke
cleared, Cherokee Bill and both of the Cooks had galloped off.
Sequoyah Houston lay dead in the dust, and his fellow lawmen decided that it was
Cherokee Bill who fired the fatal shot. It was not to be his last killing.
say that even the worst of us have a few good points, Back in the 19th
century, most of the so-called “badmen” had a good point or two.
Bill’s “saving grace” was that he truly loved his family. Now, for most of
us who can say we truly love our families, the word “murder” is not usually
the first word that follows that phrase. In Cherokee Bill’s case, however, it
had a sister named Maude, and some time before her brother hit the outlaw trail,
she married a “gentleman” named George Brown. George was one of those low-lifes
who are, unfortunately, still prevalent today. He beat Maude regularly, and
while she tried to keep this fact from her lethal brother, her efforts were less
than successful and Cherokee Bill found out how George Brown had been treating
1894, at Fort Gibson, In Oklahoma (formerly known as the Indian Nations) Goldsby
ran afoul of a local man named Jake Lewis. When a fist fight erupted between the
two, it seemed to onlookers as though it would just be an entertaining little
match of fisticuffs. Which is exactly what it was until Goldsby, hereafter known
as Cherokee Bill, began to get the worst
a good loser was not in Cherokee Bill’s makeup. Consequently, he evened the
odds in his own favor by pulling a pistol and shooting Lewis with it. As Lewis
slumped to the ground, Cherokee Bill realized the full extent of what he had
done. Knowing full well what would happen to him if Lewis died – the local
citizenry would undoubtedly have gone out of their way to see him hanged –
Bill decided to seek his fortune elsewhere, in a big hurry.
it turned out, Jake Lewis didn’t die, but by the time the extent of
Lewis’ injuries was ascertained, Cherokee Bill was long gone.
forces with two other miscreants who also were in desperate need of some sort of
moral code, Cherokee Bill hit the outlaw trail full time. His two partners in
crime were the Cook brothers, Bill and Jim, and from that day onward, their
destinies were inexorably linked to Cherokee Bill’s.
is where the word “murder” comes into play. When Cherokee Bill got wind of
Brown’s behavior, he immediately sought him out for an in-depth discussion of
the matter. The two bandied a few words about and then Cherokee Bill awarded
Brown several new orifices in places that God had not intended. In other words,
after her brother finished discussing the situation with her husband, Maude
Goldsby Brown was a Widow.
in 1894 Cherokee Bill and the Cook brothers were extremely busy, particularly
Cherokee Bill. A station agent named Richard Richards got on Bill’s bad side
by having the effrontery to complain because Bill and the Cook brothers were
following their chosen profession – namely, they were robbing the place. Bill
killed him for it.
there was the railroad conductor, Samuel Collins. When the conductor attempted
to throw Cherokee Bill off the train, the outlaw killed him for his trouble.
Apparently Bill felt that because he planned on robbing the train, he didn’t
need a ticket to ride it.
Lenapah, Oklahoma, Bill and several other accomplices were busying themselves
robbing the Shufeldt and Son General Store. While they were occupied with this
endeavor, a man named Ernest Melton happened by, and, hearing a commotion inside
the place, stuck his head in to see what was going on.
of course, was precisely what he should not have done. Cherokee Bill jerked a
pistol and fatally shot Melton in the head.
thereafter, in early 1895, while Bill was visiting his sweetheart, alert lawmen
trapped and captured him. And it was for Melton’s death that Bill was
sentenced to hang by the legendary “Hanging Judge” Isaac Parker.
Bill managed to get himself into trouble wherever he went – even death row. On
July 26, 1896 in the jail at Fort Smith, Arkansas, Cherokee Bill somehow got
hold of a gun. Apparently thinking that he could escape from what would now be
called a maximum security prison, the deluded Cherokee Bill stuck the weapon in
the face of a guard named Lawrence Keating and demanded to be released. When
Keating, the father of four, tried to reason with the desperate outlaw, Cherokee
Bill shot him to death. Retreating back to his cell, he began taunting the
authorities, laughing dementedly and firing an occasional round into the cell
this point, the forces of law and order received some assistance from an
unexpected source. Also languishing in the Fort Smith jail was Henry Starr, a
more accomplished (and more humane) outlaw than Cherokee Bill had ever been.
told the guards – none of whom were eager to confront Cherokee Bill – that
he would be happy to go and disarm the crazed outlaw. The authorities, feeling
that they had nothing to lose by such a maneuver – except maybe Starr himself
Starr had been called many names, but “coward” was not among them. After
receiving permission to approach Cherokee Bill, Starr ambled casually down to
Bill’s cell and strolled in. A rather tense silence followed, and then, a few
minutes later, Starr emerged with Cherokee Bill’s weapon. Starr never did
divulge what had passed between them, and the authorities really didn’t care.
The main thing was that Cherokee Bill was back in irons.
that was where he remained, right up until the day of his execution.
Cherokee Bill mounted the 13 steps of the gallows, he was asked if he had any
last words. Looking around him, Cherokee Bill then said the words for which he
is best remembered today:
“I came here to die,” he said, “not to make a speech.”
Gomber – Lincoln Heritage Trust Historian
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