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Pale Horse Revelations #43 - Cherokee Bill

Hello readers and welcome back to Pale Horse Revelations. where we explore significant people, places, and events in Old West history. While I make no promises, don't be surprised if some of these places, people, or events find their way into future Pale Rider adventures.

Like last week's entry featuring Mary Fields, this week's entry was also inspired by the Netflix film The Harder they Fall. If you will recall, the film depicts a number of historical figures but openly admits that the depictions themselves are not historically accurate. All of the characters managed to capture my imagination to one extent or another. As I watched the film, I found myself wondering which characters were based on real people and just how close to reality was the film's portrayal of them. What I found in my research was that while the film's portrayal of most of the characters was not particularly accurate, each person was just as interesting in real life as the fictional version from the film.

This is particularly true of the man featured in this week's entry of Pale Horse Revelations. Cherokee Bill was legitimately considered one of the roughest, toughest, and most dangerous outlaws of his time. Please read on to find out why.

As you probably guessed, Cherokee Bill was a nickname. He was born Crawford Goldsby on February 8, 1876. His father, George Goldsby, was a Buffalo Soldier with the Tenth United States Cavalry. His mother was a Cherokee freedman with mixed African, Native, and white ancestry.

Crawford was born at Fort Concho in San Angelo, Texas. In 1878, when Crawford was just two years old, serious trouble began brewing between the African American soldiers and the hunters and cowboys of San Angelo. The largest confrontation was the result of an earlier incident that occurred in Morris' saloon. A group of cowboys and hunters ripped the chevrons from the sleeves of a Company D sergeant. To add insult to injury they ripped the stripping from his pants as well.

Knowing he was outnumbered; the sergeant made his way back to post and enlisted the aid of his fellow soldiers. They returned to the saloon armed with carbines and engaged in a blazing gunfight that resulted in the deaths of one hunter and one soldier. Two hunters and another soldier were also wounded.

This all pertains to our topic today, because Crawford's father was suspected of providing the soldiers with the rifles used in the gunfight. As a result, a group of Texas Rangers soon arrived and attempted to arrest George Goldsby. The post commander refused to hand him over, insisting they had no authority in a federal fort. Goldsby, knowing his protection was limited to the post, chose to go AWOL, fleeing into Indian Territory. He left his family behind.

Ellen Goldsby moved her family to Fort Gibson, Indian Territory. For reasons unknown she chose to leave young Crowford in the care of an elderly woman known as "Aunty" Amanda Foster. He stayed in her care until the age of seven when he was sent to the Indian School at Cherokee, Kansas. Finally, at the age of twelve he rejoined the rest of his family at Fort Gibson.

Crawford arrived only to discover that his mother had remarried a private in K Troop of the 9th Cavalry named William Lynch. Crawford and Lynch did not get along at all. By the age of 15 Crawford had already started down the wrong path, drinking hard liquor, associating with unsavory characters, and rebelling against authority. He tried living with his sister and her husband, Mose Brown, but was unable to get along with Mose either. Crawford eventually returned to Fort Gibson.

It was there, at the age of 18, that Crawford's notorious career as an outlaw begin. Goldsby got into an altercation with a man named Jake Lewis over a dispute the other had with Crawford's brother. A few days later, Goldsby shot Lewis and, thinking he was dead, went on the run.

Goldsby took refuge at the Creek and Seminole Nations. There he met the mixed blood Cherokee outlaws Jim and Bill Cook. The three men learned that the United States Government had purchased a strip of Cherokee land and had agreed to pay each person with a legal claim to the land $265.70. Because all three were part Cherokee they headed to the capital of the Cherokee Nation to stake their claim.

They had just one little problem. Goldsby was wanted for shooting Lewis at Fort Gibson and Jim Cook was wanted for larceny. Not wanting to be seen by the authorities they coerced an acquaintance named Effie Crittendon to go get the money for them. On the way back Effie was followed by sheriff Ellis Rattling Gourd. On June 17, 1894, the sheriff and his posse engaged the Cook brothers and Goldsby in a hard-fought gun battle. During the gunfight a deputy was killed, and Jim Cook was wounded.

This is the incident that resulted in Crawford Goldsby becoming known as Cherokee Bill. After the gunfight Effie Crittendon was asked if Goldsby had been involved. She told the authorities that it was not Goldsby but rather Cherokee Bill who had been there. The name stuck and Goldsby was thereafter known as Cherokee Bill.

Shortly after this Bill and the Cook brothers, now collectively known as the Cook Gang, went on a crime spree that lasted from August until October. They robbed stagecoaches, banks, and stores, killing anyone who stood in the way. All told, Cherokee Bill was responsible for at least eight murders, including that of his own brother-in-law Mose Brown.

Bill's last murder occurred on November 8th, 1894, during the robbery of the Shufeldt and Son General Store. Unaware that a robbery was taking place, Ernest Melton, entered the store and was shot and killed for his trouble. This would be Bill's undoing.

After Melton's murder the authorities stepped up their efforts to capture Cherokee Bill. When they offered a $1300 reward for Bill's capture, several of his acquaintances came forward and offered to help. Cherokee Bill was taken into custody by Ike Rogers and Clint Scales. On April 13, 1895, Bill was sentenced to hang after being tried and convicted of Melton's murder. Bill's lawyer was able to get the sentence postponed and Bill was sent to Fort Smith for holding.

On July 26, 1895, Bill attempted a jail break using a pistol someone had snuck into his cell. During the attempt Bill shot a guard in the stomach and then again in the back. Additional guards showed up in time to cut off Bill's escape route. After a brief standoff Bill was persuaded by a fellow prisoner to surrender.

A second trial resulted in conviction and Bill was sentenced to be hung on September 10, 1895. A stay was granted pending the result of an appeal. The Supreme Court affirmed the lower court's decision, and the execution was scheduled for March 17, 1896. The execution was carried out at 2pm that afternoon. When asked if he had any final words Cherokee Bill famously said, "I came here to die, not make a speech." Twelve minutes later he had done what he came for.

This brings us to the end of another edition of Pale Horse Revelations. I hope you found it to be both interesting and entertaining. As usual, I have tried to provide some interesting historical information while trying not to bog the casual reader down with too much detail. I encourage anyone interested in learning more to dig in and do a little research of their own.

As a reminder, I would love to hear your suggestions for topics to focus on in future editions of Pale Horse Revelations. If there's a particular location, person, or event that you would like to know more about, please let me know. Just fill out the Contact form found near the bottom of my home page ( and indicate your desired topic in the message box at the bottom of the form. I look forward to hearing from you all.

Please be sure to check back next week for the next installment of Pale Horse Revelations and thank you for your continued interest and support.

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