Muskogee County, Oklahoma Genealogy Trails

Crime News Articles


Silas Brown and Mat Craig Die on the Scaffold at Muskogee - Deaetils

Muskogee, August 25 - Silas Brown and Matthew Craig, the first white men to be hanged in the territory, were executed here this morning.

Both men met death without flinching.

The daughter of Marshal Heinrichs, Craig's victim, witnessed the execution and smiled when the drop fell.

Brown and Craig were the first white men to pay the death penalty under the administration of the federal government in the Indian territory.

The crime for which Silas Brown was executed was the murder of Jas. Cuthburth. Brown, who was a tramp, arrived at Webber's Falls, I. T. in 1896 and became acquainted with Cuthburth, a fisherman, aged 60. He shared the boathouse of Cuthburth on the Arkansas river, and was nursed through a serious illness by the old man.

A short time later he killed Cuthburth, weighted the body with stones and threw it in the river. He then disappeared with the boat. Later the body of the murdered man was washed ashore and an investigation was instituted. Brown was arrested at Ft. Smith, Ark.; brought here, tried, and sentenced to death. The date of the execution was December 8, 1897. The case was carried to the supreme court of the United States and was remanded back to the appellate court of the Indian Territory. This court affirmed the former decision and the date of execution was set for August 25, 1899.

Matthew Craig was hanged for the murder of Joseph Hendrick of Tahlequah last February. Hendrick was a United States Marshal and had arrested Craig for introducing whiskey near Tahlequah.

Hendrick took his prisoner to his home and both retired for the night in the same bed. During the night Craig shot the marshal and escaped. He was captured a short time later, tried and sentenced to hang. (The Guthrie Daily Leader, Friday Evening, August 25, 1899, front page)

Bob Hendrix Bootlegger is Released
All Charges Against Him Will Lay Dormant - He's an Old Offender - Captain Hunt Gives Opinion of Bootlegging Industry
Guthrie O. T., July 2 - Bob Hendrix, a fullblood Cherokee Indian, was released from custody here today by the federal officers upon his own recognizance. Hendrix has been a much wanted man, having been charged with selling liquor to Indians in 1900. He has served several sentences in the federal jail at Muskogee, I. T., and when his term expired a few weeks ago, he was brought here to answer the old charge. An attempt was made to bring him to trial, but it was discovered that the witnesses had either left the territory or could not be found. It is possible that the case will never come to trial. Hendrix has been a confirmed "bootlegger" and in spite of the many sentences he has served, continued at the business.
Captain C. B. Hunt of the United States marshal's office was asked today his opinion in regard to the decrease in the selling of liquor to Indians. He said "I fully believe that there is not as much selling of liquor to Indians as there was several years ago. We find one thing and that is, the fellow who served a term in the federal jail for disposing, does not relish the idea of being arrested and tried for a similar crime, for that means that he will have a term in the Kansas penitentiary. The laws in Oklahoma for selling liquor to Indians is very severe and the trial judge could impose a sentence of ninety-nine years in the penitentiary should he choose. If the judges ascertain that a man has served a jail sentence for selling to Indians, he usually gives the man a long term in the penitentiary and this is what the "bootlegger" is afraid of.
"The fellow who wants to commit crime would rather steal horses or cattle on the reservation and let the liquor business go, after he has had one trial at it. Once in awhile we get a new man for selling liquor to Indians, but the arrests are not as numerous as they have been. (The Wichita Daily Eagle, July 4, 1902)


W. H. Blanchard Killed in Cold Blood by Another Negro

A Shooting occurred at Boynton about noon yesterday which resulted in the death of W. H. Blanchard at the hands of another negro, M. C. Wilson by name. There were no witnesses and the cause of the trouble is not known, but it is thought to have been "in cold blood." A couple of deputy marshals were on the scene an hour later. Deputy Bud Ledbetter arrested the man, but not until after he had refused to halt, and was about to have the trigger of Bud's six shooter pulled on him. (The Guthrie Daily Leader, Guthrie, Ok, August 5, 1904)

The Result of Boozing - Indian Territory Man's Trial at Self-Murder

Second Attempt Fatal - Had Been off Water Wagon Since Christmas - Muskogee, I. T., Jan. 7 - Frustrated in his first attempt at suicide by taking carbolic acid Saturday, at eleven o'clock, Frank P. Kane, a drygoods salesman of this city died yesterday morning at seven o'clock from the effects of a second dose taken about four o'clock Saturday morning. Mr. Kane came here about a year ago from Kingfisher, Kansas and entered the employ of Pegram Dry Goods company. On account of his valuable services, Mr. Pegram made him a Christmas present of one hundred dollars. He has not been in the store since Christmas and has been drinking heavily until Saturday night when he became despondent, saying that he had disgraced his family and his employer and immediately began a campaign of self destruction.

Mr. Kane is a brother to Mr. T. Kane delegate to the constitutional convention from Kingfisher and is said to come from a fine family.

Mr. Kane left yesterday morning upon receipt of notice of his brothers rash act, for Muskogee. (The Guthrie Daily Leader, January 7,1907)

Mr. J. V. Fenner bought a piece of land from a negro some time before the restrictions were removed and took a deed, paying the negro at that time $500.00. He made arrangements to have the negro board conveniently near until the 9th of Aug. when he could make another deed, one that would hold good. Well everything went lovely the negro was getting his hash correct, three times a day and the energetic land man was dreaming of untold wealth in the near future, but lo! Another grafter appeared on the scene and in the “Wee Small” hours of the morning of the 8th by much display of gold the darky was lured away from the snug retreat that had been prepared for him and today Mr. Fenner is moving Heaven and Earth to find that coon, but up to the present time he has met with no success. This seems to be one instance were the "early bird failed to catch the worm."
[Source: Council Hill Eagle, August 8, 1907, page 1, submitted by Peggy Thompson]


During a fight at Muskogee, John Flannagan was stabbed four times with a pocket knife and later died of his wounds. One of the thrusts reached a vital spot over the heart. Walter C. Johnson has been arrested.
(Farmer’s Champion, Elgin, Okla., November 14, 1912, page 2 - Submitted by Peggy Thompson)


Two middle aged white men entered the farm home of Frank Herron, northeast of town, late Tuesday afternoon and made away with a gold watch belonging to Mrs. Herron and a small amount of money. The theft was discovered a short time after it occured and the local officers were notified. In the mean time the men had passed through town and were making their way south. A number of citizens took after them and they were apprehended about three miles west of town. In some unaccountable manner the burglars got the drop on their would be captors and after lining them up and relieving them of their guns, went on their way rejoicing. At last reports the burglars were still at large. (The Daily Ardmoreite, January 6, 1916)


B. D. rains, a Hitchita durggist was yesterday sentenced to ninety days in jail by Judge Ralph E. Campbell in the Federal Court.

Rains plead guilty to a charge of introducing. H. C. Frost who was formerly in the feed business at Hitchita, has served a ninety day sentence on a similar charge. It was shown that Rains and Frost had a unique method of introducing liquor. In a carload of feed consigned to Frost was contained forty gallons of alcohol and one case of whiskey. Government officers detected the ruse. Tuesday's Muskogee Phoenix (The Daily Ardmoreite, January 6, 1916)

McDarment Acquitted

Prof. Carroll McDarment, principal of the Wagoner high school was acquitted of the murder of Edgar Watts, Friday, at Muskogee.

McDarment had taken Watts and Clark Moss, two students, into the basement for punishment. Soon afterwards, shots were heard and McDarment rushed from the basement crying out “they tried to murder me.” Watts was found dead and Moss badly wounded. The later recovered and was the state’s star witness at the trial. It developed that the boys had double-teamed on the school teacher, and the fight that ensued guns carried by the boys did the killing and wounding. School teachers all over the state contributed to a fund to defend McDarment, Moman Pruitt being his chief attorney. (The Daily Transcript, Tuesday, June 20, 1916, front page)

Haskell Builder Shot – Charles Phillips a Carpenter, Murdered by A Negro Gambler, Sunday

Charles Phillips, a Carpenter, Murdered by a Negro Gambler, Sunday

Charles Phillips, a carpenter and contractor of this city, died instantly last Sunday afternoon as the result of a bullet wound he received during an altercation with Frank Ragsville, a negro. The affair took plce on the farm of M. L. McClellan, several miles south and east of Haskell, where the Phillips family had gone that morning to visit the McClellans. Reports vary, but it seems that after dinner Phillips and McClellan went out walk about the place and came upon some negroes in a crap game in which Phillips joined. After a few throws of the dice, as Phillips was ready to leave, Ragsville demanded a ten dollar bill which the other had, and which had figured in the stakes. Upon Phillips refusal Ragsville shot him with a 38 caliber revolver, the bullet entering the chest at the lower edge of the heart and coming out at his back.

The negro escaped into the woods of the river bottom and at this writing no report of his capture has come, although posses searched for him that night and the officers have been looking for him ever since. Mrs. Phillips says that when she reached the body of her husband after being notified that he was shot, no one else was in sight and his pockets were turned inside out, even his house keys being gone. The coroner’s jury finished their investigations Monday at Porter the killing having taken place in Wagoner county. Mr. Phillips had built a group of small tenant houses in the south part of town during the past few months and a funeral service was held at the home here Tuesday morning at 10:30 conducted by Rev. D. E. Gambrell of the Baptist Church, where the family had at times attended services. A large crowd was in attendance, many being unable to get into the house. Burial was made in the Haskell cemetery. Mr. Phillips was aged 45 years, 5 months and 25 days. Besides his wife he leaves six children. (The Haskell News, Thursday, March 14, 1918, front page)

Found Murdered – J. L. Jobe Killed by Stranger near Tahlequah

J. L. Jobe, one of our respected young farmers, living eight miles north of Haskell was found with his head blown off, lying in a pool in the Illinois river, near Tahlequah the latter part of last week.

Jobe was last seen here Monday morning when he cashed in on his cotton crop, paid his note at a local bank and left in company with a man named Smith of Arkansas to buy a load of apples. Very little is known of Smith. Tuesday night they camped near Tahlequah. Wednesday morning about 4 o’clock a shotgun was heard by neighbors near where they camped and towards evening Wednesday a mule was heard braying so much that the neighbors went to the camp site. There they found the wagon and a mule. Hasty search showed that Jobe was missing. Search was made for Jobe’s companion and he was caught near Vian riding the horse that Jobe had been driving with the mule. He was arrested and placed in jail at Tahlequah. He is said to have confessed to the crime.

Jobe’s body was found in the Illinois river at least 200 yards from where he was shot. Dogs traced it there by where it was dragged over the ground. The funeral was held in Haskell on Sunday by Rev. Gambrell.

J. L. Job was born at Barnett, Mo., January 23, 1870. He was a good husband and provided for his family. He leaves a wife and ten children, the youngest two months old. He was a good man and was liked by all who knew him. (The Haskell News, Thursday, October 24, 1918)

Muskogee, March 14 – One of the best organized gang of bootleggers and moonshiners in the state, according to officers, was broken up with the lodging in federal jail here of five men from the Sallisaw district by J. A. Wilson, deputy marshal, and R. D. Foster, prohibition enforcement officer. The gang kept the whisky going in a constant stream from the moon shine still to the consumer it is said. They gave their names as Guy Matthews, Elmer Matthews, Lit Turner, Verge Morris, and Jack Nottingham. None of them were able to give bond.
(Tulsa Daily World, Tulsa, OK, March 15, 1921 - Submitted by Venetta McKinney)

The annual field day of the anti-saloon forces was observed here Sunday with four eminent prohibitionist leaders occupying the pulpits about town. The quartet consisted of Dr. Ira Landrith of Chicago, Lewis R Horton of Spokane, Dr. G. M. Hammond of Kentucky, and Dr. C. F. Swift of Philadelphia.

(Tulsa Daily World, Tulsa, OK, March 15, 1921 - Submitted by Venetta McKinney)


Resigned to Fate, Two Men Decreed to Die Await the Toll of Midnnight

Listening to the Rustle of the Sable Wing Blakely and Ledbetter Ready for Current to Burn their Lives Away

McAlester, Okla., Feb. 24 – At ten minutes after midnight Thursday or early Friday morning, Robert W. Blakely and John Ledbetter, both condemned murderers from Muskogee county, will go to the electric chair in the Oklahoma State penitentiary.

On the dawn of their last day, Robert Blakely and John Ledbetter are spending their last hours before electrocution in entirely different manner. One in a prayer and the other sullen and unremorseful.

Ledbetter remains sullen in attitude and denounces the witnesses who he claims gave false testimony. When asked by the prison chaplain about his welfare he appeared very indifferent but finally yielded to having a Catholic priest visit him. When asked if he knew the Lords Prayer, it was learned that he had never heard it in his life. Ledbetter spent his last 80 cents for fruit which he ate with apparent relish, but which he declares stuck in his throat.

Blakely is resigned to his fate, tells the prison officials he is resigned to meet death because he realizes he is just reaping what he was sown. He stated that aside from the fact he must be buried in the prison farm, nothing is worrying him now, but that he gives thanks to God for having the opportunity to gain forgiveness before death.

For the second time since statehood a white man will meet death in the electric chair at the Oklahoma State penitentiary, when soon after Friday has its birth, John Ledbetter and Robert W. Blakely both white will pay the death penalty for their crimes.

Prison officials have received word from Governor Robertson that after carefully reviewing the findings of the criminal court of appeals he has found everything regular and will not interfere with the execution of these death penalties.

Jack Dempsey of Little Rock has arrived to take charge of the electrical appliances that operate the death chair.

Ledbetter, convicted of the murder of his rival, Robert Moreland, has maintained a rather sullen attitude and pinned his hopes to a petition on which his sister  obtain 4,000 names in Muskogee to present to the governor, asking for clemency. Since removal to the death cell, just a few steps from the chair Tuesday, Ledbetter has lost heart and refused food.

Blakeley, convicted of killing his stepdaughter, Effie May McAlfred, is resigned to his fate. His wife en route to her home in Fort Smith visited him Tuesday, informing him fully of her interview with Governor Robertson and Blakely assured her he has made peace with God, and will die without fear.

Mrs. Blakely left five children ill with measles and with her baby in arms made the trip from Fort Smith to Oklahoma City, where she met the refusal of the governor to interfere with the sentence of the Muskogee court. (typed as is in the Daily Ardmoreite, Thursday, February 24, 1921, front page)


Lives of Condemned Murderers Snuffed out by Seething Shocks When Fatal Switch is Closed

Muskogee, Okla., Feb. 25 – On a lonely hilltop in the little country cemetery at Frozen Rock is being prepared today the final resting place of John Ledbetter, who was executed in the Oklahoma state penitentiary at McAlester this morning. Besides the little white church that Ledbetter attended when a boy with his mother, a sexton toiled patiently in the bright sunlight, throwing aside the earth for the man whose love for a woman was stronger than the law. Just two feet from the grave that is being dug today is the grave of Ledbetter’s mother.

McAlester, Okla., Feb. 25 – The tense atmosphere of tragedy which has hung over the Oklahoma penitentiary since Tuesday, was checking this morning as preparations were made outside the prison walls for the burial of Robert W. Blakely and John G. Ledbetter, executed at the prison shortly after midnight.

Both men are to be buried by a group of Muskogee county church workers, who interested themselves in the condemned men. The party was headed by A. A. Taylor of Muskogee.

John Ledbetter was the first to die. He walked from the death cell to the chair at 12:15 o’clock escorted by prison officials, guards, Dr. J. W. Echols, prison physician and Mr. Taylor.

Asked if he had a final statement, Ledbetter replied in tones audible only to those nearest that he wanted Mr. Taylor and the Baptist young people who visited him in jail at Muskogee to take care of my body.

Quickly thereafter the cap was placed over his face, the electrical appliance adjusted and the current turned on.

He was pronounced dead by Dr. Echols two minutes later. The body was carried to a cot just outside the door of the chair room.

After a lapse of a few minutes, Blakely walked into the death room, accompanied by the same party of officers. He was likewise asked if he wished to make a last statement and in a clear voice, heard by all in the room, he said.

I feel I am paying the penalty I deserve. I am guilty. It was in a fit of passion I did the crime. It was the young people of Muskogee who converted me. I feel that I am going home. I want you all to meet me there. Goodbye.

As the death mask was being adjusted, he repeated: Good bye all.

Murmurs from all parts of the death chamber replied to his farewell.

A moment later the dying man strained forward as the voltage was applied. After a few seconds the current was shut off but was hastily re-applied. When examination revealed Blakely was not dead.

The second application resulted in death.

Both bodies were turned over to an undertaker.

Ledbetter who refused spiritual advice was baptized late yesterday having professed his faith in a protestant denomination.

About 75 persons witnessed the execution most of them state employees and newspaper men. Within the wire enclosure immediately about the chair were Warden Fred Switzer, Deputy Warden Garrett, Assistant Warden Jedlicka, Dr. Echols, accompanied by six physicians, Chaplain J. D. Rogers, Mr. Taylor and an electrician.

Both of the condemned men wore black suits presented to them late yesterday by the authorities as part of an entire new outfit with which to be attired upon entering the chair. Ledbetter had a red rose in his lapel and Blakely a red carnation.

An attendant concealed behind a screen made the connection upon a given signal. Twenty-three hundred volts were used.

The men had been in the death cells since Tuesday.  (The Daily Ardmoreite, Friday, February 25, 1921, front page and page 2)


With steps that did not falter and not a trace of fear on their faces, John Ledbetter and Robert W. Blakely white men of Muskogee County went to the electric chair Friday morning.

Ledbetter walked first from the death cell at 12:15 and with the pallor of death faced spectators and officials and then smilingly took his seat in the chair.

When asked if he had a final message, Ledbetter replied in a scarcely audible voice with a request that A. A. Taylor, a welfare worker of Muskogee and the young people of the Baptist Church at that place have charge of his burial.

Straps were quickly adjusted with electrodes in contact with the proper vital nerve centers, and upon a signal given the electrician a current of high voltage ran through the man’s body, burning out his life in exactly 60 seconds. When discontinued Ledbetter was examined by attending doctors and the prison physician declared him dead.

The body was removed to an awaiting cot that stood outside the door.

Only a few moments lapsed when Robert W. Blakely walked from his cell in company with the attendants and his religious advisors and made the atonement demanded by law. With steady steps he entered the wicket enclosure that contained the chair of death.

While yet standing Blakely looked his audience in the eyes and said:

I feel I am paying the penalty I deserve for I did the deed I was accused of while in a fit of passion. The young  people of Muskogee who visited me in the jail there converted me and my trust is in God. If this was not true I could never stand and face you now. I am going home and I want to meet each of you there. Good Bye.

Seating himself without assistance in the chair, he retained his clam as the attendants immediately began setting the straps in place. As the black cap was being put over his eyes he again said Goodbye, everybody. Many murmured responses were heard from different parts of the room. The current was on 45 seconds and the prison physician found the heart to still be beating wildly so a second shock of 10 seconds followed, though the first would caused death, the men of science said.

Ledbetter’s body will be taken to Muskogee and buried. Blakely will lay in a local cemetery thans to a good Samaritan. A. A. Taylor who payed for a lot in order that the executed body need not be buried against his wishes within the prison walls.

Taylor had much to do with the conversion of both men. Ledbetter having professed religion only a few hours before the execution.

Ledbetter had killed Robert Moreland, a rival and Blakely killed his step daughter Effie May McAlfred. .  (The Daily Ardmoreite, Friday, February 25, 1921, front page and page 2)


A grim scene was enacted at the state penitentiary at McAlester shortly after midnight last night when two men were led into the death chamber to die in the electric chair. They had committed murder. They had sinned against society and society exacted the supreme toll as a penalty. It was the hour of retribution for Robert W. Blakely, who killed his stepdaughter to hide the sin that had been committed between them, and for John Ledbetter, who killed his rival in love.

Society, representing the organized fellowship of man sat in the seat of judgment. Society pointed an accusing finger and demanded a life for a life. But is not society to blame?

There are stepping stones to vice and crime. You must take the first step before you reach the second one. The stepping stones confront us at all stages of life, but more so in childhood, when man is in the moulding. It is then that our faces are pointed in the direction of our destiny. It is then that that twig is bent, and as the twig is bent, so shall the tree grow. But who is responsible for the bending of the trig? The home, the school and the church, but society more than any one of these three, because society represents all three, including too the state. If we are to hold society responsible for the bending of the twig, is not society to blame for the tree if it is a bad one?

We need to look to our youth. Who knows but that it would have been different for Robert Blakely and John Ledbetter if in their youth there had been someone to say, “This is right and that is wrong,” someone to whisper a word in time, to lend a helping hand. We need to strive more to instill principles of righteousness, and to inspire uplifting ideals.

In a tense atmosphere of tragedy, Blakely and Ledbetter were led from their isolated cells into the stillness of the room where the electric chair awaited them. Ledbetter at last was repentant. Blakely resigned to his fate and ready to face the Almighty. A wife and little daughter at their home in Muskogee prayed for the soul of Blakely, hoping against hope that some miracle would spare him to them at the last moment.

Strapped in the death chair, the executioner bids the condemned man recite the Lord’s Prayer. Ledbetter knew it not. Blakely, his eyes closed, begins, Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy Name, Thy kingdom c-o-m-e.” He gets no further. A heavy hand presses down the giant switch, the strapped man stiffens in his seat there is a flash as the overwhelming charge of electricity burns through his body; a faint moan passes his lips and he is no more. Society has been avenged.

But what assurance have we that others will not come to the fate of Robert Blakely and John Ledbetter? Why cannot society remove the stepping stones to vice and crime? It is unlawful in Oklahoma to be criminally negligent. Is not society criminally negligent when it overlooks the pitfalls where men may stumble into sin? Let us strive for a better brotherhood among men for a closer observance of life’s Golden rule. When we have achieved this society will never to sit in judgment. (The Ada Weekly Evening News, Friday, February 25, 1921, page 2)

Prisoner Must Sweat

Muskogee, Aug. 1 – When Samuel C. Hutchinson was sentenced today in the United States district court on a charge of misappropriating $2,000 belonging to the American Express company during the period of the war, Judge Robert L. Williams declared he wanted to make the prisoner “sweat” and for that reason he sentenced him to a year in jail instead of to the penitentiary. Hutchinson was fined $100 also. (Drumright Evening Derrick, Thursday, August 3, 1922, page 3)


Woman Beaten to Death

Oklahoma Officers faced by Baffling Mystery

Muskogee, Okla., Dec. 28 – A middle aged dressmaker Miss Mary Wolfenberger was found beaten to death here today.

Officers were trying to trace her movements last night in an effort to clear up the mystery. (Oregonian, Portland, Oregon, Thursday, December 29, 1932, page 1)

Admits Hammer Killing

Muskogee, Okla., April 17 (AP) – County Attorney Oldham announced tonight Bill Johnson, 30, had confessed the hammer slaying of Miss Mary Wolfenberger, 60, a seamstress, here the night of December 27. (Omaha World-Herald, Omaha, Nebraska, Tuesday, April 18, 1933, page 1)

Hammer Killer to Hang

Muskogee, Okla., May 2 (AP) – Bill Johnson a negro was convicted late today of the hammer murder of Miss Mary Wolfenberger, sixty year old seamstress and sentenced to death in the electric chair. (San Francisco Chronicle (San Francisco, California, Wednesday, May 3, 1933, page 15)

144 Witnesses at Slayer Execution

McAlester, Okla., Friday, Nov. 10 – William Johnson, Negro, was executed at state’s prison here early today for the hammer slaying last December of Miss Mary Wolfenberger, Muskogee seamstress.

“In my heart I know I’m paying for something I never done,” the Negro told the 144 witnesses, three of them Negroes, just before he was placed in the electric chair.

Miss Wolfenberger was slain when she resisted robbery. (Seattle Daily Times, Seattle, Washington, Friday, November 10, 1933, page 11)


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