Thursday, September 10, 2015

GIRL OUTLAW : Jessie E. Findley and the Christian Brothers Gang

Jessie E. Findley (the name is sometimes spelled Jesse Finley and Jessie Finley) was born in Ozark, Missouri in about 1878. Her father was a carpenter and she had as a youth a sister and a brother. The father died when she was very young, her brother went to Montana and the mother, using benefits collected on the death of her husband from his membership in various societies, they survived. The sister died. Then she married a cattleman named Woods and they moved to Pottawatomie Co., Oklahoma in April 1889.  Her life was normal and boring until one day a man rode in asking for some food. Bob Christian was a not bad looking man and it was, according to the papers, 'love at first sight for both of them'. He wooed and flirted with her all the time she was cooking his meal and soon they were seeing each other often.

As luck would have it, the man was an outlaw who traveled with a brother named Bill and sometimes their father and others to rob and kill.  They teamed up sometimes with other bad gangs as the need or the job required.  Coming back from one visit they crossed the path of the sheriff  and a chase ensued that resulted in the their imprisonment.

1896 Artist Drawing of Jessie Findley
Several images appeared purporting to be her.

Lady love rushed to their aid, with some help from gang friends, and slipped a revolver into the hands of the imprisoned Bob Christian.  They broke out of jail, killing Police Chief Jones in the process and hightailed it to an outlaw hiding place in Violet Springs where family members and others joined as they headed out.  Bob apparently sent word for some men to hide the young female accomplice and so for the next five days Jessie was moved from one place to another. She estimated she had ridden over some 250 miles in that five days. They dressed her in cowboy garb, rode her all over the territories, and finally hid her in African American cabin in a lonely, isolated corner of the Seminole Nation.  There, in her version, she was 'rescued' by Sheriff Deford's men, W.C. Wade and W.H. Springfield,  and brought to jail in Oklahoma City.  

Other versions say they arrived as she was re-dressing in female garb and before she could get her shoes on they plopped her on a 'male saddle' and rode hard to Norman fearful the gang would ambush at any moment.  Then they rested at Norman before heading north to Oklahoma City. They said she rushed into the swift and deep Canadian River with the reckless disregard of a hardened bad man and courageously endured the long, hard journey.

In July of 1895 she testified to her role in the escape, identifying the revolver and the man who had given it to her.  In November she was indicted along with others for murder and introducing a weapon in to a jail. Other named were: Tullish Welch or Welsh, John Reeve, W.H. Carr. Carr subsequently disappeared. She spent fourteen months in the County Jail. 

In April of 1896, there was a brief news article about a poisoned bottle of beer offered anonymously through the jail cell to Finley and cell mate Bettie Blackford.  At first it was believed to be cocaine poisoning and the articles inferred they both used such. Blackford had been arrested on vice charges in Oklahoma City prior to this. Jessie was reported to believe that the whole bottle was intended for her and had she alone finished it she would be dead.  A local newspaper reported the same story a day or two later but indicated both women had died from the poisoning.  Unfortunately, no other mention has been found and no records located to verify what happened to this daring and misguided young woman after December of 1896 when a newspaper piece shared she had turned state's evidence and might never be tried.  A woman of her same name marries in Oklahoma County in 1899 but it is unclear if there is a connection.

Hopefully she did what so many desired she do and establish a new life for herself and put all the 'adventures' behind her. I wonder how that worked?

Rose Dunn aka "Rose of the Cimarron", along with "Cattle Annie", "Little Britches", Jessie Finley (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."

Select Sources:
"Jesse Findly Captured" Salt Lake Tribune (July 18, 1895, pg. 1), the source calls her a "notorious young woman."
"Girl Horse Tamer". Logansport Journal (June 13, 1896) tried to explain why "the people of Oklahoma are proud of Jessie Findly" by stating the 17 year old girl was recognized as a "champion woman horse-breaker."
Tecumseh Herald (Dec. 12, 1896) informs that Jessie had 'turned state's evidence.'

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