When considering the reputations of Indian Territory's most famous outlaws, one name always seems to surface: Ned Christie. Controversy remains over whether or not Ned actually committed the crime of which he was accused, but if he was not the most violent of offenders, he certainly was one of the more elusive.
Christie was born on December 14, 1852 in the Cherokee Nation and into a family of Keetoowah Indians, the most traditional of the Cherokee. Ned became a blacksmith and gunsmith, and was an impressive man at six feet, four inches tall with black hair to his shoulders. In 1885, he was elected a representative of National Council from the Going Snake District of Cherokee Nation.
Two years later, Ned became embroiled in what would become the fight of his life. It began on May 4, 1887 with the murder of Deputy Daniel Maples in the Cherokee Nation. Maples, a deputy who worked for Judge Parker out of Bentonville, had taken five men with him to Tahlequah to apprehend a wanted criminal. During the trip, Maples and one of his men were ambushed as they went from the Tahlequah to their camp. The deputy was shot several times and died the next morning.
Suspicion fell on Ned Christie when a companion of his, John Parris, was arrested for the murder, but Parris told the authorities that Ned had fired the gun that killed Maples. Although Ned had wanted to go to the lawmen and clear himself immediately, a friend convinced him to hide until he could establish an alibi or other proof of innocence. Ned then sent a messenger to Judge Parker stating that he was innocent and requesting the right of bail to give him and the authorities time to find the real killer. Parker was not in a position to do this, however, and Ned decided to surround himself with an army of men and set up a heavily armed barricade around his home. Sentries were posted for miles around to warn him of approaching trouble.
Ned was now a wanted man, with a reward for his capture, dead or alive, for a crime he swore he did not commit, but he would not surrender without a fight!
References: The Last Cherokee Warriors by Phillip Steele.
This sketch is part of a series, “Fort Smith Minutes,” originally developed by the park staff to provide one minute long public service announcements for local radio stations. These sketches provide a light and entertaining glimpse into the complex history of Fort Smith.