Saturday, October 13, 2012

1897 bank robbery

On a Saturday in summer 1897, two strangers showed up in Clarksville, Texas. Newspaper reports a week or so later said the two put on a show of pistol and rifle marksmanship at the town square, shooting coins tossed into the air and such. If Clarksville had downtown saloons, the pistoleros most likely paid a visit, but newspaper stories do not say.

On the Monday following, reports reached Clarksville that the same two men robbed a bank in New Boston and then rode north, for the Red River and presumed safety north of the river, in Choctaw Nation.

Visiting Clarksville that Monday was a deputy U.S. marshal, one of Federal Judge Isaac Charles Parker’s law enforcement officers in Fort Smith, Ark. Upon hearing of the robbery and direction taken by the robbers, the lawman rode for the river and crossed into the wild lands of the future Oklahoma.

As one of Judge Parker’s officers, the unnamed deputy possessed extensive knowledge of not only the geography of Choctaw Nation, but also knew every place bad men were likely to visit. The deputy himself visited such a place and learned the two bank robbers had been there only a few hours before, had hired a carriage and two sporting women and then took the road east.

The deputy was not about to follow the long road, which he knew made a large upside down U. Instead, he rode across the U, finding a place to intercept the robbers. The deputy tied his horse and took his Winchester and waited behind a tree. The bad men approached a short time later. The deputy stepped from behind his tree and shot both robbers. He might have said, “Deputy United States Marshal! Put up your hands!” Or he might not have said anything.

Whichever, the bad men were dead, and the sporting women unharmed.

The deputy took the two cold bodies and two warm bodies to Clarksville, where the dead robbers were displayed in open pine coffins for all to see … A lesson as well as a spectacle.

Later that day, a wagon carried the bodies to an area just outside the small cemetery for Mount Zion Sojourner Baptist Church. Each body had its hands cuffed behind the back.

In normal, traditional Christian ceremony, bodies are buried facing east, so those called from their graves will see sunrise on the day of judgment.

The two bad men were not given that opportunity, but were buried face down, with their heads to the west. That way, they would have a running start on judgment day.

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