The Capture of Cherokee Bill

After the murder of Ernest Melton on November 9, 1894, Cherokee Bill eluded capture for another three months. It took a carefully laid scheme to finally bring the wanted outlaw in, one that involved a former deputy marshal and Bill's love for a girl.
Ike Rogers had been dismissed from the deputy force because of his tendency to harbor wanted fugitives at his home. In some financial trouble, he had recently asked for a reappointment as a deputy marshal and U.S. Marshal Crump assured Rogers that he would consider the request as long as Rogers cooperated in capturing Cherokee Bill.

Crump knew that Rogers was in an excellent position to assist as his cousin was Maggie Glass, the girl with whom Cherokee Bill was infatuated. On January 29, 1895, Maggie was celebrating her 17th birthday and Rogers decided to invite both her and Bill to his home. Both were suspicious of this arrangement, but when Maggie asked Bill to leave, he refused. All during that afternoon and evening Rogers tried to apprehend Cherokee Bill. Suggestions that the outlaw lay his weapon aside or drink some whiskey that Rogers had secretly laced with morphine were refused. Bill also slept lightly and was awakened anytime Rogers tried to get near.

It was not until the next morning, when it looked like Bill might escape, that Rogers met with success. While Bill was lighting a cigarette from the fire Rogers hit him across the back of the head with an iron poker. This knocked the outlaw to his knees. Rogers and his neighbor Clint Scales fought with Bill and finally subdued him enough to get the handcuffs on. Cherokee Bill pled with them for freedom, promising them horses and money. Refusing the offer, Rogers and his neighbor bound Bill's feet with baling wire and put him in a wagon to travel to Nowata.

En route, Cherokee Bill actually broke his handcuffs, and it was only with some fast thinking that Scales was able to leap off the wagon to avoid losing his pistol. Rogers, on horseback riding alongside the wagon, kept the outlaw covered with his double-barreled shotgun. At Nowata, Bill was chained and placed in an Arkansas Valley railway cattle car. When the train stopped at Wagoner, Deputies Dick and Zeke Crittenden joined Smith and Lawson. A photographer was present and asked to take a picture. Bill threw his right arm around Dick Crittenden, reaching for the deputy's revolver at the same time. The outlaw did not obtain the gun but said afterward that if he had some of the officers "would have worn away wooden overcoats."

The group reached Fort Smith shortly and Bill was lodged in the federal jail there. On February 8, 1895, Cherokee Bill was indicted for the murder of Ernest Melton. He pled not guilty at the arraignment before Judge Parker. The murder trial was to begin on February 26, 1895.

Juliet Galonska
February 1995

References: Marauders of the Indian Nations by Glenn Shirley.

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.

Last updated: April 10, 2015

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