“Cherokee Bill” was a name adopted by Crawford Goldsby, a youth born February 8, 1876 at Fort Concho in Texas. He was actively an outlaw for several years, mostly across the Red River in Indian Territory, before he was apprehended. His father was George Goldsby and his mother was Ellen Beck Goldsby. His father was of mixed blood, part black and part white, and was a Buffalo Soldier in the 10th U. S. Cavalry. His mother was also of mixed blood, part Cherokee, black and white. Crawford was probably named for his father’s brother, also known as Crawford Goldsby, who lived and died in Alabama.
Crawford’s father George was likely born a slave in Perry County, Alabama in 1843 to Thornton Boykin Goldsby and Hester King. Goldsby was a white landowner who was married to another woman and had a small family by her. King was either a slave or a free black who also bore Goldsby about seven children, most of whom lived to adulthood. George is thought to have served both with the Confederate Army and then later in the Union Army in the Civil War. After the end of the Civil War, George enlisted (or reinlisted) in the post war U. S. Army when he was still only about 24 years old. Crawford, or Cherokee Bill, was born when George was serving with the 10th Cavalry at Fort Concho in Texas. Concerning George’s exit from the U. S. Army, it is unclear as to whether he was discharged or he deserted. He apparently left his first wife Ellen, Crawford’s mother, around 1879. One record that can be downloaded is a United States military pension application in his name that lists two alternate names for him that are referenced in the document as aliases, William Scott and George Goosby, written in after the name George Goldsby. It appears that his first wife Ellen Goldsby made the application and the application was contested by his second wife Effie Scott. His last name apparently was changed to Scott after he married to Effie A. Henshaw, with whom he had a number of children while living in Oklahoma and operating a farm. George is thought to have died and been buried in Kansas in 1922.
Cherokee Bill’s parents had separated by the time he was seven years old. He moved with his mother to Fort Gibson in Indian Territory, now located a little northeast of Muskogee, Oklahoma. He had some education, as he attended two schools, including an Indian school in Pennsylvania for several years, but it is not thought that he acquired much more than basic reading and writing skills.
At age 12, he left school and returned to Fort Gibson and it was at this point that he is said to have committed his first murder although we could find no definitive record of it. Supposedly, a relative had instructed him to go feed some farm animals. He took exception to this and shot him dead. He was not prosecuted for it, for whatever reason. Another account states that his first crime was for shooting to death a black man named Jake Lewis, with whom the youth had gotten into a fight. For the next several years, things seemed to go well for him as he lived and worked on a relative’s ranch. All this came to an end when in 1894 at age 18, he shot a man for assaulting his brother. The victim survived, but Cherokee Bill fled the area.
Around this time, Cherokee Bill took up with two hoodlums named Jim and Bill Cook. A confrontation occurred when someone attempted to serve a warrant on one of the Cooks. The trio had recently robbed a shipment of money from the U. S. Government to the Cherokee Nation and hid out for a while. When they attempted to retrieve their loot at the home of an acquaintance, Effie Crittenden, a posse followed Effie back to the location. Cherokee Bill was sitting on the porch when the posse arrived. A gun battle ensued in which Jim Cook was wounded and Cherokee Bill killed a law officer. Cherokee Bill then escaped to the home of his sister Georgia where soon afterwards, he shot and killed his brother in law Moze Brown for physically assaulting his sister.
After this confrontation, Goldsby and Bill Cook appear to have started their own gang and gone around the Indian Territory stealing property, robbing stage coaches, post offices, stores and banks. They continued on for the rest of the year also robbing trains and banks until on January 30, 1895 Cherokee Bill was apprehended while trying to rob a train station in a solo attempt.
He was finally captured by a lawman using the lure of a woman. A deputy marshal named Isaac Rogers followed Cherokee Bill as he went to meet the outlaw’s girlfriend, Maggie Glass, in the Cherokee Nation. While he was there, Rogers and a neighbor named Clint Scales subdued Cherokee Bill and saw to it that he was transferred to the custody of Judge Isaac Parker in Fort Smith, Arkansas.
Judge Parker was a federal district judge in Arkansas for 21 years. He was known as a “hanging judge” because of the large number of convicts in his court who were sentenced to death. He is said to have pronounced around 160 death sentences, about half of which were to be hangings. Judge Parker is likely the basis for the fictionalized character of the same name in the books and films “True Grit” and “Rooster Cogburn.”
Cherokee Bill was tried a few months later and convicted of murder for the death of a passerby named Ernest Melton on November 8, 1894 during one of the robbery attempts. Cherokee Bill had reportedly seen Melton standing twenty feet away outside and observing the robbery. Cherokee Bill is said to have calmly taken his rifle, aimed and shot Melton.
While incarcerated, Cherokee Bill made an unsuccessful escape attempt during which he killed a guard at the jail, which was to be his final act of murder. Around 7 PM on July 24, 1895, just after the changing of the jail guards, Cherokee Bill had managed to acquire a pistol from another inmate named George Pierce who was serving as a trustee. As two guards named Lawrence Keating and R. C. Eoff were attempting to lock up the cells, Cherokee Bill yelled out for Keating to drop his gun. Keating instead reached for his own weapon and received a fatal bullet wound from Cherokee Bill. A marshal named George Lawson came on the scene, and more shots were fired until the outlaw was finally subdued. After this attempted escape, Cherokee Bill was kept shackled in his cell. Cherokee Bill was apparently tried and convicted for this murder as well. In all, he is thought to have killed seven to thirteen individuals. At the time of his final incarceration, two other murder cases were pending.
Accounts go on to say that Cherokee Bill capitalized on the failed escape attempt by covering his cell bars with a blanket and charging inmates to take a look. He used the money or script to fund his poker games, although as his execution date approached, he is said to have spent more time reading the Bible and less time playing poker.
Almost a year later on March 17, 1896, after several motions and appeals, at age 20, Cherokee Bill was hanged by authorities before a crowd of onlookers in Fort Smith, Arkansas. When asked if he had any last words, he is said to have replied that he came there to be hanged, not to make a speech. The Galveston Daily News carried the above drawing under the headlines “Exit Cherokee Bill” along with the sub heading “Cool on the Scaffold.” His body was taken back to the Cherokee Cemetery near Fort Gibson where he was buried.
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