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Outlaws Steal the Headlines

March 14, 2001

Historian's Notes

Cherokee Bill was one of the most violent and vicious of the Oklahoma outlaws. His short life of crime was packed full of deceit, robbery and death. I don't mean to glorify such activity. My intention in including Bill in the Almanac was to show perhaps that the "good old days" were not always so rosy. I'm sure that when news of Cherokee Bill's deeds reached townspeople 106 years ago they shook their heads and stated, "This world's headed downhill fast. It wasn't like this when I was a kid!"

Resources

Shirley, G. (1994). Marauders of the Indian nations: The Bill Cook gang and Cherokee Bill. Stillwater, OK: Barbed Wire Press.

Almanac Transcript

Hello, I'm Steven Kite welcoming you to the Oklahoma Audio Almanac where we turn the pages of history to bring you the stories of our state's past.

Outlaws steal the headlines this week on the Almanac.

It was not that long ago that the infamous bad man Cherokee Bill plundered his way across Indian and Oklahoma Territories. Crawford Goldsby, alias "Cherokee Bill," when asked about his heritage once stated, “I’m half black, half white and half Indian.” His proficiency in mathematics not withstanding, Cherokee Bill turned to crime to pay his bills and fill his need for excitement.

Association with crime came early for Bill he allegedly committed his first murder at the age of twelve, though some sources cite eighteen as the correct age. In 1894 at the age of eighteen Crawford Goldsby with little avenues left for him and the law closing in fast, joined the notorious Cook Gang it was this group of criminals who gave Crawford Goldsby his well known moniker Cherokee Bill. It was in association with the Cook Gang that Bill committed most of the robberies and crimes attributed to him. Witnesses and lawmen alike reported that during hold-ups it was usually Cherokee Bill who did the shooting and killing. The Cook Gang was known for their violence and cruelty, and it is no small claim to infamy that Cherokee Bill soon became their most known member.

During the months of 1894, Nowata, Talala, Tahlequah, Coffeyville, Lenapah as well as other towns lay victim to Cherokee Bill’s plundering and killing. At Talala it is said that the gang simply walked from one store to the next as they made their way down the street taking nearly all of the cash in the town. Law officers, terrified, stood by helpless. It was well known in Indian Territory that Bill was fond of the ladies and vice-versa. At the home of one of his lady friends, lawmen set a trap for Cherokee Bill. While in the home, lawmen subdued Bill with a fireplace poker and placed him in handcuffs.

Awaiting death in prison at Fort Smith, Bill, in a thwarted escape attempt, added one final murder to his legacy. Lawyer’s appeals delayed the inevitable but it was on March 17th of 1895 that the nineteen-year-old Cherokee Bill stepped onto the gallows. With his mother and sister watching Bill, asked if he had any final words replied, “I came here to die, not make a speech,” and shortly afterwards he did just that. Crawford Goldsby, the feared and hated Cherokee Bill, is buried in the Cherokee National Cemetery in Fort Gibson, Oklahoma...and that's what happened this week in Oklahoma history.

I'm Steven Kite.

The Oklahoma Audio Almanac is a production of the OSU Library and Oklahoma's public radio.

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