Saturday, September 26, 2015

The Mystery of Zip Wyatt aka Dick Yeager

August of 1895 turning exciting in Oklahoma Territory with news that a posse had flushed out a long wanted and notorious outlaw known as Dick Yeager and Zip Wyatt and several other possible names.  A bad man who came to prominence with the bank robbery at Coffeeville, Kansas. Several sure deaths were pinned to him and dozens of others - one newspaper account charged nearly a hundred- were attached to him as well.

Shot three times with a .45, one of which lodged near his pelvis in his intestines, meant a month of agony for a shattered pelvis, infection and the certainty that death was hovering nearby in the sultry heat of late summer in Enid, Oklahoma.

He had been known to visit Oklahoma City's Hell, among other places, and kept the company of the worst of the bad men of the time. He rode with Dalton, Doolin and formed, for a short time, his own gang.

Researchers in Garfield County, where Enid is located, have identified him as Nathaniel Ellsworth Wyatt, alias Zip Watt, alias Dick Yeager, alias Wild Charlie.  He and his family arrived in 1889.  They cite that people viewed him as bad but not as bad as stories linked to him might imply.   He was a dashing and romantic figure certainly.  News papers did often use such figures to demonize certain behaviors, call for specific laws and otherwise manipulate public opinion.  The mystery may be where his grave is located as the original cemetery was relocated but they left his grave in place. Unmarked and alone. "The grave (out in what is now Kisner Addition) was dug by James McMillen. A spring wagon and driver, with Mr. Bass and Yeager's body made their way to the grave. George Rainey said that a little dog followed the wagon, and that was Yeager's funeral procession. The grave was unmarked, so the burial place is still out there in what is now a very fine residential development ... perhaps near an elementary school playground." (

Read more on him at
"Bandit at Bay" Enid Weekly Wave (Aug.8, 1895)pg. 5. Gives an overview of his capture, with a man named Black, his charged crimes of robbery, murder and theft, 15-20 murders alleged to him, including the murder of Kingfisher Post Master Townsend for which a man named Shoemaker was in jail. Also notes (pg.4) that Marshal Nix and the people of Guthrie were alarmed by stories Wyatt had heard his 'sweet heart' was in federal jail in that city and set out large numbers of armed guards should the bandit show up to rescue her.
'Zip's Capture' Weekly Oklahoma State Capital   (Aug 17, 1895) pg.7.
'Zip Wyatt Sinking Fast" Langston City Herald (August 17, 1895) 7.  Story out of "South Enid" says his father was William Wyatt, 'Six Shooting Bill', who lives near Guthrie. See the Garfield Country genealogy site (above) for more details on his heritage

Friday, September 25, 2015

They Rode like Centaurs

Lucille Mullhall, 1909 (Public Domain.Source={{LOC-image|id=cph.3c26135}} |Date=1909 |Author=J. V. Dedrick)   

They learned as young children the joys of riding across the landscape, the wind kissing their cheeks and the sense of freedom and sheer fun to be had on the back of a horse.  Skills of roping, riding, shooting, and a knowledge of the seasons necessary to survival.  A strong sense of purpose, participation, and partnership meant everyone pitched in to get the work done, feed the family, and make certain a better future.  What you did was based on what you could do or had previously mastered.  Competency and effectiveness were closely tied to how long you might live.  Those who rode the western ranges and woodlands, who herded cattle and horses, and who toiled in rain, snow, and heat to get the job done, were known as ‘Cowboys’.  They were not, however, all male.  Sometimes, the cowboy was a ‘girl’.  

Through the 1800’s women rode horses but in a dainty side-saddle that was designed to be used by a woman in full petticoat, skirt, and fashionable hat. The pace was a ladylike walk or a trot as long as it was for short periods.   Too delicate to really ride, to sit the saddle for long hours, or have her skin burned by wind or sun, a woman was not seen as a natural or suitable mount for any horse.

Heading westward, however, many women found the excessive (several layers) and fashionable petticoats (delicate, trimmed with expensive lace) a dangerous hindrance, a needless extra item to wash,  and far too many clothes for some of the harsher warm climates.   The delicate balance between the need to cut wood, plow, raise the children, feed the family, hunt for food, help out with the herd, and a dozen other tasks of the struggling or pioneer family meant that everyone learned skills. 

Sisters were raised just like their brothers and learned to shoot, hunt, track, ride a horse, herd cattle, brand, and feed the stock.  In addition, she might have to also learn social graces, how to wear a dress, how to cook, how to do the household books, and act the part of a lady ‘just in case’.  

No matter how good she became she was, for many, simply an oddity.  Annie Oakley, the great markswoman, was usually described in contemporary papers as a “trick shot”.   Her male counterparts were always, “marksman.”  The restraining atmosphere of late Victorian and early Edwardian society were coming to a head at the time a couple of generations of American western women were coming of age.  Raised in an environment where a person had to be independent to survive, where skills marked your more than social standing, and where the strength of your word weighed more than a bank balance, the limitations for women were particularly irksome for many.

The 1890’s were especially rich in tales of women who tossed off social limitations to achieve what they wanted, who expressed their own strong wills independent of males, and who dared to challenge the civic assumption that said women were less than their male counterparts.  The backdrop of the 1880’s and 1890’s is the topic of women’s rights to vote and fully participate in civic affairs.  Numerous newspapers carried editorials and opinion letters about how a woman could do many things a man could not. Tongues were often firmly in cheek as they enumerated them: wear a petticoat, sew on a button, and engage in small meaningless talk.  Some argued a woman could never be a soldier and in the readership were women who had disguised themselves as men and joined armies, women who had lifted guns to defend their families against wild animals and male marauders, and women who had fought the elements with a determination to win as great as any general. 

Social traditions told women that they must always hide that strength, wear frills and be intentionally dim-witted. Those were the same qualities used to deride them and their quest for equality. They were in the original ‘rock and a hard place’ quandary.  To be themselves – strong, opinionated, brave, intelligent, and freedom loving – these were women who felt they had to hide their true selves.  They saw their mothers, sisters and friends settle for something less and for something made less of them and said, “No!” 

So women like Ann Bassett became the ‘Cattle Queen of Colorado’ when she refused to be bought out by a land company who began rustling her cattle. Like any good cattle person she did not take kindly to that and rustled the land company cattle in return thus winning the label of ‘outlaw’ and ‘cattle rustler.’

In the 1889 Oklahoma Land Run, numerous women made the run and staked out their own claim and successfully proved the holding. 

There is no surprise that young women like Jessie Findley then learned to ride and could bravely face rushing rivers and hard country riding.  There is no surprise a young sister might emulate her brothers learning to ride, shoot and survive the hardest of environments with dignity and no loss of her femininity. Rose Dunn, was called the ‘Rose of the Cimarron’ for her graceful riding and her loyalty to those she loved. There is no real surprise that a young woman might choose to adopt a male persona to enjoy the adventure and excitement denied her as a woman.   Flora Quick Mundis became “Tom King” and an expert horse thief but still newspapers could not escape the claims she had been even worse as a woman. It was a general belief that only a shady woman would live so much outside the normal feminine sphere and prefer adventure over a home. 

Lucille Mulhall, raised in Oklahoma Territory, learned to do the work of a cowboy so well she was the first to compete against men in the male dominated rodeo. She is responsible for the spread of the term ‘cow-girl’ and for making the reality of a woman in that field an accepted institution.

This was the environment that birthed the strong, independent minded, and strong female characters of the American west in the 18th century and the early 20th. She was on cattle ranches, in communities, and in the out of the way places people tended to overlook.  She came in every shape, race, and social group.  She can still be found there today, enjoying the heritage carved out by her foremothers.

Friday, September 18, 2015

On the Edges of Hell: Rose of the Cimerron

She was called the "Rose of the Cimarron" due to her love of riding around the river of that name. One of the advantages of life in the west was the tendency to allow more freedom to girls on farms and ranches. Many a daughter or wife could ride, shoot and run a spread with the same ease as her male counterparts. 

Rose  Dunn was born in about 1879 and was the youngest of ten, daughter of William H. Dunn and Sarah C. Brenner Dunn. Several of her brothers were considered some of the worst outlaws of early day Oklahoma by U.S. Deputy Marshal Charles F. Colcord.
One of the Western Advantages was more freedom

Her brothers Bill, Dal, Calvin and George ran as a gang and had dealings with both the law and the outlaws (the Doolin and Dalton gangs) in the wild 1890's.  

She and her brothers lived around Ingalls. Some indicate that they had all come down from Kansas. Another source claims that Bill, and his brothers, were working one of the big cattle spreads in the region pre-Land Run.  When the Land was set to be opened for settlement the U.S. President ordered all the cattle combines and spreads to vacate.  That meant 'pink slips' for the cowboys. Many went west and northwest and some to Texas or New Mexico. Some stayed put and became the noted outlaws of the badlands in and around Oklahoma and Indian Territories.

Ingalls would be the site of a notorious gun battle between outlaws and U.S. Marshals, leaving several dead and forever marking the town and the people involved in the pages of western historical lore. Rose in her teen or early adult years became infatuated with one of the members of the gang her brothers hung with - George "BitterCreek" Newcomb. It was time when everyone had a nickname or outlaw label. In the early 1890's Rose was an almost mascot of the group, with most thinking highly of her for her looks or her spirit or her kindness to them. 

During the 'Ingalls Gunfight battle', September 1, 1893, she is said to have faced flying bullets to take a replacement Winchester to her idol Newcomb.  This was not true. When all settled, she married and moved far away to leave behind her the days as the alleged "Rose of the Cimarron".  

Note, although a popular photograph is often used and labeled with her name, it is believed to be a fake.  The image, showing a young woman in a striped dress holding a revolver, was said to have been made under the direction of U.S. Deputy Marshall Bill Tilghman, in an attempt to shield the true identity of Rose and help her make a new start.

Many of the outlaws of the Ingalls Battle were known to have frequented some of the dens and houses in Hell's Half Acre.  Many of the lawmen had walked its streets helping to keep peace.  Just another indication of the way "Hell" had a tendency to seep out into surrounding areas.

Rose Dunn aka "Rose of the Cimarron", along with "Cattle Annie", "Little Britches", Jessie Findley (Finley), and Flora Quick Mundis aka Tom King would fill dramatically the void left by the mysterious murder of Belle Starr in 1889 near Eufaula.  A fascinating page of truly unique history...found in Oklahoma...on the fringes of "Hell."

 Bonus: Her story inspired this classic and lovely song from Poco.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

The Lover's Lament. A poem by Marilyn A. Hudson

The Lovers Lament

A Poem by Marilyn A. Hudson, 2015

He said I’d wear fine satin and lace
When he wooed me under the moon.
Spend my days in contentment and grace;
Then my dreams turned to ashes and ruin.

Be careful of words falling like wine;
Heed well, those caresses like gold.
Weigh carefully your answer to ‘will you be mine?’;
These things I wish I’d been told.

He said I’d wear fine satin and lace
When  he wooed me like a knave.
Memory is all I  have left of his face
For I buried him deep in that grave.

So gents tend well just how you dally;
As you chase your Meg, Peg and Sally.
The wages of falsehood are gave –
It may be your own life you save.

Hell's Lullaby. A Poem

Hell’s Lullaby
A Poem By Marilyn A. Hudson, 2015

I have fallen far they do tell me
Hell’s doom they have forecast.
Well, let them chatter over their tea
There may be no future, but my, what a past!

On Saturday night I’m their pet.
“None is better” and none more true!
But on Sunday morning – we’ve never met -
As they take a place on a pew!

I’ve fallen far they do tell me.
One of Hell’s unfortunate doves.
Settled and married I should be;
A husband and child my sole loves.

Well, ladies, lift your glasses high!
Stand tall in face of all who sneer.
Ladies, we know the truth;
They all wish they were here!

So whirl me around the floor lad;
Pour more wine in my fancy fine shoe.
You’ll leave here not thinking me bad.
Hell’s hot but there’s still room for you!

They Wore Pants, Carried a Gun or Rode Like A Cowboy: VIVIA THOMAS

One has to wonder how much the legend of Vivia Thomas might have contributed to the imaginations of girls who were too daring and energetic to settle for the life expected of a woman in Victorian society.   The freedom, excitement and activity  made possible by dropping the skirts and donning trousers no doubt captured the mind of young women who saw their life as one of boring drudgery, endless child bearing and hard scrabble existence. Given the fact that Cattle Annie and Little Britches both moved into eastern Oklahoma, the Indian Territory, where Fort Gibson was located might indicate they did hear the story...

Who Was Vivia Thomas?

Fort Gibson, Indian Territory
January 1870
One of the longest and most intriguing tales of the Sooner state involves a woman who masqueraded as a man.  Various versions have been shared but all have the same basic tale with no explanations as to the source of the many intriguing details and motivations provided. It is in many ways one of the most firmly entrenched legends of the American frontier in Oklahoma. Her name was Vivia Thomas and she was buried on 7 January 1870 in the Fort Gibson Military Cemetery in what was then Indian Territory (Plot OC 0 2120).  For decades, stories of a slim weeping figure at her grave have been reported and her tale has taken on the cautionary veneer of the cost and regret of personal vengeance.
Fort Gibson in what was Indian Territory was established in 1824. In 1868 one of the first national cemeteries was organized nearby.  The fort operated for only about 60 years but in that time it saw a tremendous amount of history.
With some minor variations, creative additions and rearrangement of events, the following is the accepted tale of Vivia Thomas.
"One of the most interesting stories associated with Fort Gibson National Cemetery is the tale of Vivia Thomas. Legend has it this high-spirited daughter of a wealthy Boston family met and fell in love with a handsome young lieutenant at a ball following the Civil War.
After several months of courtship, they announced their engagement, but shortly before the wedding he left, leaving only a note that he desired to go West in search of adventure. Broken-hearted and bitter over the abandonment, Thomas went in search of her lover. After learning that he was stationed at Fort Gibson, she set off on a journey of revenge. She cut her hair, dressed in men’s clothing and joined the Army. The disguise worked, as the former fiance did not recognize her.
One night as he was returning from a visit with his Native American girlfriend, she ambushed and killed him. Despite an intense investigation, the murder went undiscovered. However, Thomas grew remorseful and began to visit his grave late at night. Eventually she contracted pneumonia from the continued exposure to the cold and collapsed near his grave, dying a few days later. Rather than condemning her actions, her army colleagues were so impressed with her courage in coming alone to the frontier and carrying out a successful disguise that they awarded her a place of honor for burial in the officer’s circle." ( 
Some authors have called the whole story “far-fetched” and many dismiss the tale of a woman dressing as a man as mere fiction. There is historic precedent and these could have been the stories that gave the young woman the idea to travel west as a man, first for safety and then later for other reasons.  In the American Revolution, Mexican and Civil Wars women fought sometimes in disguise.  Deborah Samson Gannett enlisted using her dead brother’s name and even pulled a musket ball from her own thigh to maintain her disguise.  In 1782, she enlisted under the name of her deceased brother, Robert Shurtleff Samson.  Margaret Corbin helped defend Fort Washington, New York.  Elizabeth C. Newcume in the Mexican War dressed as a man and joined at Fort Leavenworth in eastern Kansas. In 1847 she fought Native Americans in the area of Dodge City, Kansas. Sometimes they died as well such as Sarah Rosetta Wakeman who enlisted as Private Lyons Wakeman. She died during the war in New Orleans at the Marine General Hospital. At the time of her death, her true gender was not known. In fact, her headstone reads Lyons Wakeman.  Sarah Seelye who would become the only female member of the GAR. So women disguising themselves as men and serving in the military was not a new or “far-fetched” idea at all. So even in the gender restrictive Victorian era it was not unknown.  It probably says more about the biases and prejudices of the males who label it as such than about the idea itself.
Strangely, the final resting place of the mysterious Vivia is also home to many notables. Medal of Honor Recipients such as Private First Class John N. Reese Jr., (World War II), U.S. Army, Company B, 148th Infantry, 37th Infantry Division. Paco Railroad Station, Manila, Philippine Islands, Feb. 9, 1945 (Section 2, Grave 1259-E);  First Lieutenant Jack C. Montgomery, (World War II), U.S. Army, 45th Division. Padiglione, Italy, Feb. 22, 1944 (Section 20, Grave 963);  Talahina Diana Rogers - Cherokee wife of General Sam Houston - Section OC, Grave 2467 and others.
All of which makes the question of who she was in more mysterious.  The only apparent documentation found is her name in her tombstone and post records. She is listed in the Post Cemetery Records for Fort Gibson, Indian Territory, showing a death on January 7, 1870  (“Burial Registers for Military Posts, Camps, and Stations, 1768-1921” ; (National Archives Microfilm Publication M2014, 1 roll); Records of the Office of the Quartermaster General, Record Group 92; National Archives, Washington, D.C.)  No other identifying or biographical information is indicated in the record.  
If there was no stone in the cemetery most would have disregarded the story long ago as mere myth and an example of the tall tale told to entertain on long, cold winter nights. In a cemetery with some 2,000 graves of ‘unknowns’ there are stories still waiting to be told and so she is not alone as to scarcity of information. No doubt some of those unnamed graves would be significant to local, military or national history of only known.  So that leaves her place of burial, within the so-called ‘circle of honor’ graves, to offer clues to the truth of the basic story.
In recent years there has been a suggestion by some genealogical researchers that the grave refers to a grandchild of the Fort Superintendent, William Thomas who had married the daughter of Dr. John Westerfield (who is also buried at the cemetery).  Some claim this tombstone for “Vivia Thomas” in the honor circle is for an infant of Westerfield’s daughter Jennie. No documentary evidence is presented to substantiate this claim. However, and there are internal inconsistencies in accepting this theory.
The story of Vivia has been repeated in a dozen or more books and magazine articles.  The original story is filled with rich detail and motivational explanations that give it a first person texture.  All together the story seems to be based on some set of established facts.
Some of the most telling facts are found in the prosaic military records themselves.  From its earliest years the military has operated on the swift and unending flow of paperwork.  Reports about reports are regularly reported and in most cases this wealth of records has been preserved.  Some gaps do exist but just examining a couple of documents sheds some significant light on the story of Vivia Thomas. It also suggests the burial was not that of an infant child.
Item# 1 – Vivia Thomas’ name in all records stands alone accompanied only by the date of her death or burial.  Yet, on those same record pages will be notations “infant child of”, “Mexican soldier”, “wife and child of”, “unknown” and similar labels.   On the line where her name is listed it is starkly brief.  Her name, the date, and burial record number. 
Item#2 – Vivia is listed amid a sequence of deaths #2117 “Unknown”; #2118 “Alice Rockwell”; “2119 “Vivia Thomas”; “2120 David McWilliams” Sept 12, 1869.  Only Thomas and McWilliam’s have a date associated with their entries.
Item# 3 – According to most versions of the legend, Vivia shot the man who had jilted her “just weeks” before her death.  Some specifically name December but with the lack of much documentary information that may be simply a writer’s imagination at work.   According to several military documents, of internments at the Fort in 1868-1870, there was only one death prior to Vivia’s.  That was the death of Daniel McWilliams on 12 September 1869.
Item # 5 - According to the work by George Alexander Otis A Report of Surgical Cases Treated in the Army of the United States (1871), McWilliams was identified as a patient who was thought to have been shot by a “drunken Cherokee without apparent provocation” on the evening of 11 Sept. 1869. His wound was described as a “perforating gunshot wound of the thorax.”   He was shot with a Navy Revolver. He was immediately sent to the fort’s hospital nearby and treated by Assistant Surgeon Alfred Delany but died a day later and is buried in plot 4 0 2120 at the Fort. All of which meshes with the legend’s basic components.
Item # 6 – Vivia was buried in the Circle of Honor at Fort Gibson and it is generally understood this was a place where special individuals were buried.  These were people notable for service, historic significance and similar achievements. 
Item # 7 – Were Vivia the daughter of the superintendent William Thomas and wife Jennie Westerfield Thomas, it would be expected that the standard system of labeling and identifying persons would have been employed.  The father of Jennie Westerfield, Dr. John Westerfield, is buried in 1872 at the same cemetery with a clear notation, “father-in-law of superintendent”.
A DNA test might eventually prove a link to the Westerfield-Thomas line but, for now, the preponderance of evidence suggests that this was an adult woman. 
The story also underscores the reality of how history can “fall between the cracks” intentionally as people try to hide their own identities for a fresh start, to escape legal problems, or hide from those they do not wish to find them.  Add to this the occasional less than stellar ethics of a community, a police force, or newspapers and the truth can sometimes fall into a bottomless pit that makes uncovering the truth next to impossible.
[The above is a Chapter from the 2015 book, Into Oblivion by author Marilyn A. Hudson, available from Amazon in print and Kindle formats.]

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