Deputy marshal survived terrible wounds.
Near Purcell, Indian Territory, on August 23, 1895, the outlaw “Black Jack” Bill Christian shot Deputy U.S. Marshal Jake Hocker just above the heart. The rifle ball passed through the upper part of the lung and exited below the opposite shoulder blade. However, claiming the deputy as a victim of Black Jack has proved problematical as a few days later a newspaper expressed the opinion the lawman was on the mend, and later issues did not follow up.
Jake was born Walter Emerson Hocker on March 21, 1869, in Middle Grove, Mo., the third son of Dr. Phillip S. Hocker, a Boone County druggist. In 1888 young Jake joined his older half-brother James “Billy” Wilkerson in Purcell, a boomtown on the Santa Fe, Gulf & Colorado Railroad. Billy, who had been there since 1887, was a store owner who had also been the town’s first U.S. commissioner before he lost the position for failing to enforce the laws prohibiting liquor sales. (He blamed the drinkers, not the sellers, so he didn’t arrest any whiskey peddlers.) Still, Billy had enough influence with Marshal J.J. Dickerson, of the Eastern District of Texas, to wrangle a June 1, 1891, deputy marshal’s appointment for Jake.
In October 1891, following the opening of the nearby Iowa, Sac and Fox and Pottawatomie reserves, young Hocker became manager of his half-brother’s new store at Violet Springs. But soon Jake was convalescing from a leg wound after a Winchester accidentally fell and discharged.
One year later, on June 2, 1892, Jake Hocker was part of a posse organized by Deputy John Swain. The posse traveled via rail from Purcell to the end of the track at Englewood, Kan., to cut off a northern escape by the Dalton Gang after the outlaws had held up the Santa Fe Texas Express at Red Rock, Oklahoma Territory. The lawmen tracked their quarry to the mesas of “No Man’s Land” (the present-day Oklahoma Panhandle) but then abandoned the chase after learning the Daltons had obtained fresh mounts. The adventure helped Jake gain experience as a lawman, and incoming Marshal J.S. “Sheb” Williams renewed his commission in January 1895.
The following June, Bob and Bill Christian, who had earlier been convicted of murdering Pottawatomie County Deputy Sheriff Will Turner, escaped the Oklahoma City jail in a bloody shootout. (See related story in the December 2000 Wild West.) Over the next several weeks, posses flushed out the Christian brothers several times but couldn’t catch them.
Then, on August 22, Oklahoma County Sheriff C.H. Ford received a telegram from his son and deputy, Jim Ford, stating: “Got Reeves. Watch the wire tonight for news about the C. boys.” The cryptic message was a reference to Jack Reeves, a gang member who had provided horses and weapons in the jailbreak, and who had been trapped at the cabin of Bill Christian’s sweetheart, Emma Johnson, southeast of Purcell, by a posse that included Jake Hocker.
A few hours later, Reeves revealed that his cronies were hiding at the Smith and Baird ranch, six miles west of Purcell. The following morning, Ford’s posse went after them. Besides Hocker, the posse consisted of U.S. Indian Police Constable Charles Worley; Matt Cook, Jim Martin, Ben Goode and Bob McNamara, deputy marshals from the Southern District Court of Indian Territory; Deputy Marshal E.H. Scrivner, from the McAlester Court; and the posseman Tom Noah.
At 8:30 a.m. on the 23rd, the officers arrived at the ranch, where they found a cabin stronghold fronted by two miles of open grassland. Behind the house were two brush-choked ravines. Because the Christian brothers always responded with gunplay, this configuration made the deputies understandably reluctant about pursuing an approach involving ready ambush points. Therefore, after a short discussion, it was decided the best strategy was to explore the ravines first. Accordingly, the men separated into a ragged line and pushed into the maze. In a short while the outlaws were discovered hiding in a thicket. Hoping to flush them out, Jim Martin fired his Winchester, and a sharp fight ensued.
During the melee, Bob Christian’s horse was shot out from under him by Tom Noah, and Bill Christian’s horse was captured. Not ready to surrender, the outlaws retreated on foot farther into the underbrush, and line of sight between hunters and prey was lost. Faced with no other option, the officers again separated and cautiously rode into the Cross Timbers jungle.
After a quarter-mile, the outlaws slipped between Goode and Hocker, who had spaced themselves 20 yards apart. Hocker spotted the pair, dismounted and called for surrender. Instead, he was met by rifle shots and immediately fired back.
Bob Christian was wounded in the heated exchange, and his rifle damaged, but the badman kept firing his pistols. Focused on Bob Christian, Hocker did not notice Bill Christian racing to get behind him. When the outlaw reached a vantage point, Bill cut down Hocker, the rifle ball dusting both sides. As Hocker lay moaning, Bill stripped the marshal of weapons and then helped Bob mount Hocker’s horse. Once both were aboard, they lit out for nearby Walnut Creek. But before leaving, one of the brothers tauntingly asked Hocker if he thought he was going to die.
Because of the difficult terrain, other posse members, including nearby Goode, were unable to offer Hocker assistance during the action. It was, in fact, several minutes before most of the posse members worked their way to the scene. Once there, time was spent tending Hocker and discussing a course of action. The delay enabled the brothers to escape, even though Constable Worley followed them for more than two miles, determining that both were still aboard the same horse and one was definitely wounded. When pursuit ended, word of the affray was sent to town. That afternoon a carriage with a doctor arrived, and Hocker was brought in for treatment.
As to Jake’s fate, several recent findings have cleared up that matter. The first is a newly discovered docket of the Southern District Court of Indian Territory that reveals that in December 1895 John Stevenson, a troublesome citizen of Pauls Valley, attempted to add Jake Hocker to a civil suit. This tantalizing piece of information extends Jake’s survival to some four months after the injury. Hocker’s full recovery was confirmed by the unearthing of an article describing former pioneer W.E. “Jake” Hocker of Elk City, Okla., as a visitor to Purcell’s 1937 Golden Jubilee. This prompted a check of Beckham County, which revealed that in the eastern section of the county is the village of Hocker, a community named for “Walter E. Hocker, an Elk City banker and former Deputy United States Marshal.” Further record checks revealed that Hocker died September 30, 1939, and was interred in Elk City’s Fairlawn Cemetery next to his wife, Martha Malone. Therefore, researchers can now say with confidence that the hand of Black Jack Christian did not martyrize Jake Hocker.
Originally published in the February 2008 issue of Wild West. To subscribe, click here.