From the removal of the Cherokee Indians from Georgia and Tennessee to Arkansas and their establishment upon the reservation allotted to them by treaty with the Government in Arkansas, they have, until the period of this outbreak to the narrative of which this chapter is devoted, been considered as among the least dangerous and most peaceable of the tribes in that region.
But through various causes, chief among which has been notably the introduction among them of a horde of those pests of the West the border ruffians; these half wild, half-breed Nomads were encouraged by these Indians, as it appeared, for the sake of the liquor traffic. According to the official accounts of this attempt to reopen hostilities, it appears that on the 11th of April, 1872, it originated with a man named J. J. Kesterson, living in the Cherokee nation, near the Arkansas line, about fifty miles from Little Rock.
On that day he went to Little Rock, and filed information against one Proctor, also a white man, married to a Cherokee woman, for assaulting with intent to kill him while in his saw mill, on the 13th of February. Proctor fired a revolver at Kesterson, the ball striking him just above the left eye, but before he could fire again Kesterson escaped. Proctor, at the time, was under indictment in the Snake District for the murder of his wife, and was at that time on trial for the crime. A writ was issued at once, and the Deputy Marshals were ordered to proceed to “Grimy Snake” Court House, remain until the trial was over, and arrest him, if he should escape conviction, on the Kesterson charge.
The parties also had writs for the arrest of the murderers of Deputy-Marshal Bentz.
On the 13th of April the Deputy Marshals Jacob G. Owens, Joseph J. Peavey, with William Wood, Joseph Vanney, James Hoskins, Paul Jones and Eugene Brocket as a posse, started for the scene of action. At Evansville they were joined by Riley Woods, and William J. Morris, and at Dutchtown by a man named Beck, who was part Cherokee. The Indian Court House was about twelve miles farther west. At 3 P.M. on the following Monday they came up within fifty yards of the Court House, where they dismounted, hitched their horses, and quietly walked toward the east side of the house in couples. Beck stepped round to the front door, and looked in. Seeing the large number of people within, he turned to go back, and as he turned he was fired upon and dangerously wounded. At the same instant a volley was poured from the Court room upon the Marshal’s force, who at once returned the fire.
It appears Beck had some friends inside the Courthouse, who, when they saw him fall, opened fire on his (Beck‘s) enemies inside, and presently the fighting was general. It was brief, however, but terrible in its result. Of the Marshal’s force, seven out of eleven lay dead, and of the assailants three. Some sixteen or seventeen are reported wounded some mortally, including Marshal Owens. The messenger knew the names of only two of the Marshal’s force who were killed James Ward and Riley Woods. Three were missing James Hoskins, Paul Jones, and Eugene Brocket. Morris helped to lay out nine bodies on a porch about half a mile from the scene of the deadly affray, and thither the Federal wounded were also carried. Proctor, the woman killer and desperado, was guarded by eleven of his personal friends, who would not see him convicted. The Sheriff was killed, and the Judge received three buck-shots in the knee. Indeed, it appears from the sudden and deadly assault upon the Marshal’s force that the people inside the Courthouse had been fully informed of their approach, and were prepared for them. The officials had instructions to make a demand for Proctor only in case of his acquittal, and expected some resistance should they attempt to arrest Proctor after his acquittal. But for the murderous volley on their first approach they were not prepared, hence their slaughter.
Next morning Mr. Peavey sent the following dispatch to the U. S. Marshal’s office:
Whitemore’s, Barren Fork,
J. W. Donnelly
Dear Sir: We have had a terrible fight. Lost seven on our side killed. Three of theirs were killed, There are lots of wounded. We are in a devil of a strait. Send us men and means instanter. We are with the dead and wounded, and expect to stay with them until the last one of us goes. Owens is wounded. For God’s sake send help and send quickly. Come to Dutchtown and then down Barren Fork to Whitemore’s. Ward is killed. Vanney and I are alone with Owens. None of the rest are here with us. We look for help tomorrow night by dark, and are looking to be attacked every moment. The parties are close together. Some of the Cherokees are with us.
Yours in haste,
(Signed), J. S. Peavey
The names of the killed and wounded in this bloody onslaught are as follows:
Bell and Sam Beck, brothers, Cherokees; Black Sut Beck, cousin of the former; Jim Ward, of Fort Smith, formerly wagon-master; Riley Woods, of Fort Smith; George Selridge, of Benton County, and William Hicks, Cherokee. Deputy Marshal J. G. Owens was mortally wounded and since died. White Sut Beck, brother of Black Sut Beck, was severely wounded. McLaughlin White was severely wounded.
Of the attacking party the following were killed: Moses Alberti, John Proctor, and six wounded. A Deputy-Sheriff and an Indian, Jude, are also reported killed. Two unknown white men were also seen dead half a mile from the scene of the battle, supposed to have been killed in wantonness by the retreating aggressors. Captain Peavey late in the evening made his way to Cincinnati, twelve miles distant, and within this State, taking with him two of the wounded, Beck and McLaughlin, who were barely able to move, leaving Owens and his posse, Vanney, to procure medical assistance. He failed to obtain the aid of the surgeon at Cincinnati, who refused to go, but had coffins made for the dead, and engaged a man to haul them out to Mrs. Whitmores.
In the meantime, two sons and a nephew of Moses Alberti, who was killed the previous day, arrived at Cincinnati, and forbade the coffins to be taken out, showing a disposition to kill Beck and McLaughlin, the wounded men. Peavey declared they should do so only over his dead body. At this crisis United States Deputy Marshal George Dean, with a posse of three men, arrived from Fayetteville, which turned the scale, and made the would be assassins beat a hasty retreat. Both the wounded were successfully transported to Fayetteville, and Mr. Peavey took the stage for this place, where he arrived Wednesday evening utterly exhausted, not having had any sleep since the night before the battle, and terribly used up from the excitement undergone for the two or three days past. He had the butt of one of his revolvers blown off, his pants and coat riddled, and his eyes nearly put out by a Spencer ball passing so close to his visional organs as almost to knock him down. His escape was miraculous.
The fight, murderous as it was, did not last, according to the statement of an eye witness, more than three to five minutes. In the narrative of this person some interesting particulars are given. He states:
“There were quite a number or Cherokees outside the building, who were evidently friendly to the Marshal’s party. White Sut Beck, a Cherokee, of the Marshal’s posse, put his foot upon the steps of the house when he perceived the house full of armed men ready to fire. He remarked that there should be no disturbance, as they were United States officers, and had come with no hostile intentions. Deputy Marshal Peavey, who was standing near, made the same remark, and the friendly Cherokees on the outside, who were relatives of Beck, shouted the same to the men inside. Just then a gun was fired inside, the signal for a truly hellish combat. White Sut Beck leveled his piece against the door, when his gun was seized at the muzzle by the brother of the murderer, Proctor. Beck pulled him out, however, and shot him dead. By that time the firing had become general, and most of the Marshal’s men lay dead on the ground.
The Judge was shot, a Deputy Sheriff and one of the jury killed. Proctor himself was wounded. James Ward, who leaves a young wife at this place, was killed in the act of getting on his mule. His body was afterwards brutally kicked by an Indian and robbed. Riley Woods was killed and was also treated in a similar barbarous manner. Moses Alberti, a prominent Cherokee, when the firing commenced, threw open his coat and was drawing his revolver upon Captain Peavey, when the latter brought down his gun upon him, whereupon Alberti dropped his hand in token of peace; but no sooner had Peavey turned partially away, when Alberti drew his revolver upon him, which, being seen by one of the Marshal’s posse, the latter shot Alberti dead.
Deputy-Marshal J. Gowens was shot through the body, above the hips, at the north-east corner of the school-house. Captain S. Peavy took him about eighty yards to the rear, constantly facing the enemy, many of whom were armed with Spencer rifles, and got his clothes riddled with bullets. Meeting old man Beck, whose two sons and two nephews were in the fight on the Marshal’s side, and three of whom were killed, he got him to take the wounded man to Mrs. Whitmore‘s, half a mile distant. By that time the Courthouse, or school-room, was cleared of combatants, and when Peavy returned he found none but women to take away the dead and wounded on the enemy’s side. He had the bodies of seven of his men (killed) conveyed in an oxen team to the house of Mrs. Whitmore, and there laid out on the porch, he, with the old Indian women and Vannoy, one of his men who escaped unhurt, composing their stiffening limbs.”
The result of this affray was the organization and dispatch of a sufficient force to the Cherokee country to hold in check the lawless renegades gathered to defy the process of the law and its executors, and to drive these desperadoes from that part of the country altogether. Such of them as could be secured were conveyed to safe quarters where they will be made to suffer the penalty they so well deserved.
The promptness of action on the part of the Government after the fight doubtless did much to prevent a general uprising of the disaffected part of the Cherokees. Had the desperadoes been in perfect accord with the entire Cherokee nation, the result would have been wide spread and disastrous.