Oklahombres: Particularly the Wilder Ones

Oklahombres: Particularly the Wilder Ones

Oklahombres: Particularly the Wilder Ones

Oklahombres: Particularly the Wilder Ones


Gangs of outlaws were overrunning Oklahoma Territory when E. D. Nix was appointed U. S. marshal in 1893. His memoir evokes a time and place that brought criminals and merchants and cowpunchers and settlers together, often explosively. Oklahombres, originally published in 1929, is an authentic history of human wildness.

In these pages the Dalton brothers are shown in full career, as well as the Doolin gang, Bitter Creek Newcomb, Henry Starr, Cattle Annie, Rolla Kapp, Dick Yeager, the Jennings boys, and a large cast of cattle thieves, counterfeiters, and whiskey peddlers. Lawmen are no less memorable than the lawless: Bill Tilghman, Chris Madsen, and Heck Thomas are among the deputies who help Nix in his cleaning-up campaign. Adding to the richness of this account of early days in Oklahoma Territory are such personages as Judge Isaac Parker, Rose of Cimarron, and Chief Bacon Rind of the Osage Indians.

Nix himself emerges as a public official of great integrity. Because of his adherence to a code of honor, he could later say that during his administration "not a single man was killed who was not a notorious lawbreaker." Perhaps his proudest moment came when he fired the gun that sent homesteaders rushing into the Cherokee Strip on September 16, 1893. That scene, described with cinematic vividness, is one of many high points in Oklahombres.


When Oklahoma Territory was created in 1889, the new political entity inherited a legacy of violence. For many years, outlaws and others who lived on the fringe of the law had used the old Indian Territory as a refuge. The reasons were simple enough: the Indian nations, ostensibly sovereign in the region, were not permitted to enforce their laws against Anglo-American bandits. The combination of limited enforcement and unsettled land that provided many places to hide created a law enforcement vacuum only partially relieved by federal action.

From 1875 until the 1890s, the only legitimate authority in the region was Isaac Charles Parker, "the hanging judge" at Fort Smith, Arkansas, who administered justice in the region as the absolute authority in the war against the worst infestation of outlaws in the country. The United States marshal assigned to Parker's court had the largest force of deputies in the country at his disposal, and they generally had a free hand in their methods. Even so, their effectiveness was limited, and the criminal activities of some of them tainted the whole force. Despite a court docket that was phenomenal in its volume and a reputation for severity, lawlessness remained rampant in the Nations. Violence became systemic, with the non-criminal population of the region often aiding and abetting the outlaws. Judge Parker's efforts won him as much criticism as praise.

The opening of Oklahoma to white settlement in 1889 did not end Judge Parker's reign at Fort Smith immediately, but the introduction of a huge new population complicated the task of maintaining order in the region. The land rush itself generated an incredible tangle of conflicting land claims which, in turn, spawned both litigation and violence. Without common social norms, vigilantism, factional disputes, and public distrust compounded Oklahoma's pervasive lawlessness.

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