Published: Sept/Oct 2003

Before You Go
• Oklahoma Travel and Tourism, 1-800-652-6552 or www.travelok.com
• Guthrie Chamber of Commerce, 1-800-299-1889 or www.guthrieok.com
• Washington Irving Trail Museum (for information on Ingalls), (405) 624-9130
• Muskogee Convention and Tourism, 1-888-687-6137 or www.muskogee.org.
• Three Rivers Museum, (918) 686-6624, www.3riversmuseum.com.

Travel Assistance
Visit your nearest AAA service office for maps, TripTiks and TourBook guides.
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The good
the bad    
and the ugly
Trailing outlaws and lawmen in Oklahoma

U.S. Deputy Marshal Wiley G. Haines (above in title) was wounded in a battle with Sam and Will Martin (above in title) south of Pawhuska in 1903. /Photos provided by J.D. Haines
In Muskogee, the Three Rivers Museum (above) has exhibits pertaining to local history, including lawmen like U.S. Deputy Marshal Bud Ledbetter (inset photo). /Three Rivers Museum photos
By J.D. Haines

The Old West died hard in the territory that became the state of Oklahoma in 1907. A handful of lawmen battled the outlaws who preyed upon one of America’s last frontiers.

Today, Oklahoma’s wild and woolly days can be discovered by tracing the old outlaw trails.

Gunfights in Guthrie

Choosing a beginning point into Oklahoma’s past is not an easy task. However, one logical site is the final resting place for several of the territory’s more notable bad men. Guthrie, Oklahoma Territory’s first capital, is the location for an authentic boot hill, contained in the Summit View Cemetery.

Guthrie’s Boot Hill is the genuine article. One of Oklahoma’s most infamous outlaws, Bill Doolin, is buried there, along with several of his gang members.

Doolin was a colorful character who once led 13 prisoners in a jailbreak in Guthrie in 1896. He was shot to death later that year by U.S. Deputy Marshal Heck Thomas and his posse at Lawson. A large granite tombstone marks Doolin’s grave in Summit View.

Smaller gravestones mark the resting places of Charlie Pierce, Bitter Creek Newcomb and Little Dick West. The Martin Brothers–Sam and Will–lie in unmarked graves along with a host of lesser outlaws.

Occupying the grave immediately next to Doolin are the remains of Elmer McCurdy. In life, McCurdy could hardly have been considered the equal of Doolin. But McCurdy’s earned a lasting place in the annals of outlaw history.

McCurdy was a small-time thief and train robber who was shot to death in a gunfight with officers in 1911. His body was taken to the undertaker in Pawhuska, where it was embalmed and kept waiting for relatives to claim it. Several years later, a man, claiming to be a relative, appeared to pay for the embalming and storage of the body. McCurdy’s corpse then began an odyssey as a sideshow attraction. He eventually wound up as a wax dummy in a Long Beach, Calif., fun house.

McCurdy’s body eventually was identified, returned to Oklahoma, and buried–66 years after his death–next to the infamous Doolin.
After viewing Guthrie’s Boot Hill, a visit to the nearby Oklahoma Territorial Museum is well worth the time. Popular exhibits include some of the territory’s early lawmen.

Traveling north from Guthrie on Interstate 35, then east on state Highway 51, the small settlement of Ingalls lies 10 miles east of Stillwater. Ingalls was a favorite hideout for Doolin’s gang. It was also the scene of one of the most famous gunfights in Oklahoma Territory.

A battle in Ingalls

The shoot-out occurred on Sept. 1, 1893. In an ill-advised mission, two covered wagons carrying federal officers tried to catch the Bill Doolin gang by surprise. When officer Dick Speed left the wagon to investigate, Bitter Creek Newcomb recognized him. The two exchanged shots. Newcomb was wounded and outlaw Arkansas Tom Jones, who had opened fire from an upper window of the OK Hotel, killed Speed.

In the wild, running gun battle that followed, Doolin, Bill Dalton, Dynamite Dick Clifton, Tulsa Jack Blake and Red Buck Waightman all escaped. Only Arkansas Tom, who shot and killed three of the officers, was apprehended after he surrendered from his perch in the hotel.

Ingalls built a rock monument to the slain officers in 1938. The monument was destroyed when an oil truck backed into it in 1982; it was rebuilt in the early 1990s. A wooden sign shows a map of the town as it was in the 1890s and explains the details of the shoot-out.

Continuing west and then north on state Highway 99, the outlaw trail enters the Osage Indian Nation. Three miles north of Wynona and seven miles south of Pawhuska lies Wooster Mound, where a granite marker commemorates a 1903 gun battle that ended the Martin Brothers Gang.

Sam and Will Martin were hell-raising farm boys from Mulhall (just north of Guthrie) who terrorized a five-state area. Their crimes included several murders, including the city marshal of Geary, John Cross.

U.S. Deputy Marshal Wiley G. Haines and his posse shot it out with the murdering Martins on Aug. 3, 1903. Sam and Will were killed, but the third member of the gang, Clarence Simmons, escaped. Marshal Haines was seriously wounded, but survived.

The Washington Irving Trail Museum, six miles east of Stillwater off Highway 51, has an extensive collection of area history–including the gunfight at Ingalls–plus American Indian artifacts.

The Osage County Historical Society Museum in nearby Pawhuska explores the region’s history and is well worth a visit.

Miraculous Marshal Ledbetter

The last stop on this tour is Muskogee, site of one of the most remarkable gunfights in Western history. During the 1907 shootout, U.S. Deputy Marshal Bud Ledbetter proved himself one of the coolest officers that ever wore the star.

Ledbetter and two deputies were called upon to arrest several illegal occupants of a house on Fon Du Lac Street. When a constable attempted to serve an order, the occupants shot Ledbetter, leaving his clothes riddled with bullet holes. Miraculously, he was unwounded. When questioned by the newspaper editor whether or not he was excited or nervous by the men shooting at him, Ledbetter gave the classic understatement, “I was a little fretted.”

Three Rivers Museum on Elgin Street in Muskogee’s depot district is a local history museum with an exhibit about the area’s lawmen–including Ledbetter–and outlaws. In addition, the museum’s History Explorers Club in October will visit area sites relating to Belle Starr, including her gravesite.

These are just four of the sites and events which represent Oklahoma’s wild and woolly past. For those willing to venture off the beaten track, they will be rewarded with some of the most fascinating history our country offers.

J.D. Haines is a contributor from Stillwater, Okla.

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