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The moon had set and all was quiet in the hour before dawn on November 3, 1892, in the Cherokee Nation. The posse, 25 men strong, lay in wait outside Ned Christie's fortified house. Gus York and U.S. Deputy Marshal Gideon S. 'Cap White, the posse leaders, gave their final orders. Christie must be kept from escaping, they said, and Christie's supporters must be prevented from coming to his aid.
At sunrise, the door slowly opened and Arch Wolf, Christie's nephew and a member of his gang, stepped out. When Wolf started for the nearby spring, Cap White shouted for him to surrender. Wolf replied with gunfire. Return fire from the deputies struck him in the leg and arm. As Wolf staggered toward the cabin, another bullet grazed his head, but he made it inside. Christie whooped as he always did when a fight began. A hail of bullets blazed from the portholes he had cut into the upper portion of his home. The final battle to capture Ned Christie was on.
Christie was reportedly one of the most vicious men to ever raise a gun in Indian Territory. He was reputed to be a born killer, cold-blooded and ruthless. Dime novels of the time said he walked the isolated paths of the Cherokee Nation, relentless in his maniacal hatred of the white man. He was rumored to have murdered 11 or more people, though officially he was charged with only one, U.S. Deputy Marshal Daniel Maples. For five years Christie, who maintained his innocence, had evaded the lawmen attempting to bring him in to stand trial for that murder. When his trouble with the law began, Christie was a well-respected member of the Cherokee National Council, one of three legislators in the Executive Council, which acted as an advisory committee to the principal chief. A tall and handsome man, Christie could speak English fluently. Three-fourths Cherokee, Edward (Ned) Christie was born on December 14, 1852, in the Rabbit Trap community of the Cherokee Nation. He grew up around his father's blacksmith shop and became a skilled blacksmith and gunsmith. By age 10, he was said to be one of the best marksmen in the Cherokee Nation.
In the blacksmith shop, Ned and his brothers heard much about the forced removal of the Cherokees from the East to Indian Territory in 1838. Thousands had died upon the Trail of Tears, including Christie's grandmother, an Irish woman who had given the Christie family its last name. During the Civil War, Christie's father, Watt, and his uncles sided with the Union. Watt Christie, who had been forced out of North Carolina in 1838, said he would not be driven from his home a second time. Young Ned remained behind to help defend the rest of the family.
Following the war, several of Ned's brothers and his father served in the Cherokee legislature from the Going Snake District. In 1885, Ned Christie, following in their footsteps, was elected to his first term in the National Council. He became known for his hot-tempered speeches on the legislative floor in defense of Cherokee sovereignty, as movement was underway to open to white settlement a 2-million acre tract, known as the Unassigned Lands, in the heart of Indian Territory. The Indians were being pressured to take their lands in individual allotments, thus eliminating the tribes as separate nations. Christie knew that once this happened, the white man would soon be in charge of those allotments, legally or otherwise. In the meantime, intruders and illegal whiskey were plaguing the Cherokee Nation.
On Easter morning, April 10, 1887, the Cherokee Female Seminary burned. The Executive Council, including Christie, was called into special session in Tahlequah, the Cherokee Nation's capital, to see what could be done about rebuilding the seminary.
Christie lived in the Rabbit Trap community with his third wife, Nancy, and a son from a previous marriage, 13-year-old James. When the Executive Council was in session, Christie customarily stayed in town at the home of Senator Ned Grease, a relative of Nancy's. At the end of a busy day, he liked to go downtown after supper to find a drink of whiskey. Like many of his friends, he sometimes drank too much. On December 24, 1884, he had been accused of killing a young Cherokee man, William Palone, in a liquor-related incident. Christie had been brought to trial but was declared not guilty.
On the night of May 5, 1887, in downtown Tahlequah, Christie met John Parris. A half blood, Parris had been in trouble with the court in Fort Smith for years for introducing and selling whiskey. Parris always knew where to find a drink of whiskey. He and Christie moseyed toward Dog Town on the northern edge of Tahlequah. They crossed the bridge over Spring Branch and passed Big Spring, where a team and wagon were camped. The past three days had been cold and rainy, but this evening was clear and pleasant.
At the home of Nancy Old Lady Shell, they found Thomas Bub Trainor, Jr., eating supper, all decked out in a white shirt, ready to attend a local dance. Trainor was one of Tahlequah's Saturday Night Outlaws. His family was well-respected, but Bub was wild and reckless. Christie and Parris bought a bottle of whiskey from Nancy. Not having a cork for the bottle, she tore a strip from her apron to use as a stopper. Christie and Parris left Nancy and Bub behind and made their way back to Spring Branch. They came across three other acquaintances, and soon all five men were drinking.
Meanwhile, U.S. Deputy Marshal Dan Maples and posseman George Jefferson were at work in Big Spring. John C. Carroll, the Western District of Arkansas marshal at Fort Smith, had sent them to investigate the growing illegal whiskey operations in the Tahlequah area. Maples inquired unobtrusively about the matter. His chief suspects were Bub Trainor and John Parris, and he had warrants for each of them.
Maples soon learned that Trainor was the most persistent supplier of whiskey in Dog Town and a frequent visitor to Old Lady Shell, among others. Satisfied with what he had learned, Maples used storekeeper James S. Stapler's phone to notify Carroll. One of Trainor's associates, standing unnoticed by an open window, heard everything.
After making the call, Maples walked with Jefferson back toward their wagon camp. The moon shone brightly. As they approached a footlog across Spring Branch, Jefferson saw the muzzle of a revolver resting against the side of a tree on the opposite side of the branch. Don't shoot! he shouted.
But the assassin fired. The ball struck Maples in the chest. He fell but was able to draw his revolver and fire at the man. Jefferson fired, too. None of their shots found their mark. A few hours later, shortly after midnight, Maples died of internal hemorrhage.
The next morning, Ned Christie awoke near Spring Branch, where he had passed out during his drinking spree the night before. Much to his surprise, he learned he was a suspect in the murder of Deputy Marshal Maples. Senator Grease advised him to leave town until things settled down. Killing a white man was punishable by death. Christie refused to leave. Claiming his innocence, he said he hadn't even had his gun with him the night before.
When the National Council opened the next day, Ned Christie attended as usual. But after learning the U.S. deputy marshals had a warrant for his arrest, he decided to take his father's and Senator Grease's advice and leave town. He hid out near his home in Rabbit Trap.
Christie sent a message to Hanging Judge Isaac Parker in Fort Smith, offering to give himself up if Judge Parker would grant him bail so he could prove his innocence. Parker refused. Christie felt he would not receive justice in a white man's court. He vowed he would rather die at home fighting than go to Parker's court to be hanged. He then sent for Sud Wilson, a medicine man. They spent three weeks in a secret place in the woods, going through various ceremonies. Afterward, Christie returned home, confident the deputy marshals could not catch him now.
His family and friends in the Keetoowah Society (a 200-year-old Cherokee organization) set up a system of signals in the hills and warned him when one of the deputies was near. If a deputy did get close, Christie would utter his defiant Cherokee gobble and fire a warning shot to scare him off. One too-persistent deputy was shot in the heel, another in the neck.
In August 1887, the Executive Council declared that Ned's position as executive councilor was vacant because he was evidently unable or disabled from serving. Also that month, in the general election, his father, Watt Christie, lost his position in the National Council, and the movement for individual allotments was gaining support. Ned Christie became bitter and began drinking heavily. Reportedly, he started bootlegging whiskey to support his family.
Meanwhile, in Fort Smith, John Parris and Charley Bobtail, another drinking partner of Christie's that fateful May night on Spring Branch, were confined in jail beneath the Federal Court. They had been charged in the murder of Maples along with Christie and Bub Trainor. But Trainor said he could prove he had been at Nancy Shell's eating supper at the time and some time before the killing, and he was released on bail. He continued to raise hell, and in 1888 he appeared in court periodically to respond to various other charges against him. Judge Parker said the Maples case could not go on trial without Christie's arrest, but Christie remained elusive. It seemed most every crime in Indian Territory was blamed on him.
On May 18, 1889, in Fort Smith, Jacob Yoes replaced John Carroll as marshal. A man of strong will, Marshal Yoes set about cleaning up the backlog of business. Of particular concern to him was the long-pending case of the murder of Deputy Marshal Dan Maples. It was unthinkable to Yoes that such a crime could go unpunished. He called in his most able lawman, U.S. Deputy Marshal Heck Thomas, and handed him a writ for Christie, reminding him there was a $500 reward for the outlaw's capture.
Deputy Thomas had joined the marshal's force in Fort Smith in late 1885, and he quickly became one of the most active officers in the court (see the December 1999 Wild West). He consistently brought in more prisoners than anyone else. On November 21, 1887, he had set a record for a single trip by bringing in 41 prisoners.
With Deputy Marshal L.P. Isbell of Vinita, a skilled tracker, Thomas set off on his usual circuit through Indian Territory, handing out subpoenas and making arrests. At Muskogee, they left 13 prisoners under guard and met Bub Trainor. Trainor knew Ned Christie and his habits well and wanted him captured — or, better yet, killed — to clear his own name in the murder of Deputy Maples.
In late September 1889, Heck Thomas and his posse located Christie at his home in Rabbit Trap. At the first light of dawn on the 26th, the deputy marshals crept toward Christie's home. The dogs in the yard barked, warning Christie. Thomas ordered the deputies to rush the cabin. They could hear Christie crawling into the loft.
Thomas shouted, United States marshals! and ordered Christie to surrender. Instead, the outlaw knocked a plank off the gabled end of his cabin, gobbled at the deputies and opened fire with his Winchester. Thomas told him if he was going to fight to first send out his women and children. Christie kept firing. The deputies then set fire to a small outbuilding, hoping to smoke Christie out. Nancy Christie ran out of the house, and the lawmen held their fire. Young James remained inside, scrambling into the loft to load his father's weapons.
Smoke swirled around the cabin as Nancy disappeared into the woods. Deputy Marshal Isbell, trying to use a tree for cover, took a Winchester ball in the left shoulder. Flames from the outbuilding now took hold of the log cabin, and the deputies waited for Christie to run out. But unknown to them, in the heat of battle, a bullet had smashed Christie's nose, struck his left eye, ranged around the side of his head, and lodged in the back just beneath the skin. Blinded, he fell on his back, unable to move or speak. James grabbed his father's Winchester and kept firing for a time at the deputies to make them believe Christie was still alive and dangerous. The fire crackled below. James could not move his father, so he decided to leave the house alone. Outside, as he tried to climb the fence, the deputies shot him in the back. He managed to get over the fence and stumble off into the woods.
The deputies decided Ned Christie was probably dead. Isbell was bleeding badly, and the woman who had fled the house was certain to bring help. The deputies departed. Shortly after, Nancy returned and ran inside the burning cabin. In the loft, Christie's eyesight had returned but he still could not move or speak. He heard his name being called in Cherokee, Nede Wade! Ned saw his wife's frightened eyes peering at him from the opening at the top of the ladder.
Other friends and relatives came running to see what the shooting was about. They managed to get Christie out of the burning house and hid him in the woods. They also found the badly wounded James and sent for Dr. Bitting, a white man who owned a grist mill nearby.
The lawmen brought the wounded Isbell to Tahlequah, where Thomas telegraphed Marshal Yoes about the fight. Thomas soon returned to Rabbit Trap, where he learned that Christie had been wounded but escaped the burning building. Many in the community resented Thomas and the other lawmen because of their actions against Christie and his family.
Dr. Bitting considered Christie's injury a serious one but not critical. The bullet had smashed Christie's nose, ruining his good looks, and left him blind in his left eye. A vindictive hatred now burned in Christie's heart. Along with Ned's own wounds, his son had been shot and his home destroyed — all for a crime he had not committed. Christie swore he would never surrender or be taken alive. He said he bore no officer enmity personally but would shoot whenever they came within range of his gun. Christie said there was only one man whom he would like to shoot, Bub Trainor, who was doing all he could to assist the officers. But Trainor never came within range of Christie's Winchester.
Christie's friends and relatives installed him in a rock fort on a hilltop less than a mile west of Ned's burned cabin. They stocked the fort with food, water and ammunition and also cleared the trees from the top of the hill, making Ned's Mountain virtually impregnable. Feeling secure in the rock fort with his guards, Christie sent word to Heck Thomas where he could be found, telling the deputy marshal to come on up if he thought he could capture him, and they would shoot it out.
On November 12, Heck Thomas returned to Rabbit Trap with a posse that included Bub Trainor. After seeing Christie's rock fort and hearing Christie's challenges to them, the deputies determined it would take a large regiment of U.S. militia to stand up to Christie and the powerful defense surrounding him. Thomas did not want to expose his men needlessly to danger, so he called off the assault.
Thomas would not attempt to capture the outlaw again. For a time, Christie enjoyed comparative peace as he and James recovered from their wounds. Their friends and relatives helped Christie build a new home just east of the burned one, across Bitting Creek. It was a special two-story house, double-walled with sand poured between the walls, some said. It had a root cellar, just one door and no regular windows, but the upper story of the house did have portholes through which Ned could fire when deputy marshals threatened. He stocked his fortified house well with food and ammunition.
Christie's eldest daughter, Mary Gritts, and her year-old daughter, Charlotte, moved in with the family. Ned's nephew, 14-year-old Arch Wolf, sometimes known as Little Arch, spent much of his time there, too. Christie delighted in having his family about, and many young people in the neighborhood regarded him as a hero.
During the summer of 1890, though, Ned Christie's reputation as an outlaw continued to grow. Store robberies and other depredations in the area were blamed on him. The support of many former friends dropped away, because they felt his criminal activities were becoming too violent to condone.
In Fort Smith, the reward for the arrest and delivery of one Ned Christie at the Jail in Fort Smith was increased to $1,000. Marshal Yoes and Judge Parker sat back, confident that it would only be a matter of time before someone brought in the wily Cherokee outlaw.
Lawmen roamed the woods in the Going Snake District, hunting Christie like a rabbit, in 1891 and '92. More than a few times, he shot at his pursuers. A legend began to build among the Cherokees that Christie was invincible, and as the outlaw's reputation grew, Yoes became more irritable. It had been 5 1/2 years since the murder of Maples. Yoes determined to make an all-out effort to capture the slippery outlaw. He summoned Deputy Marshal Dave Rusk, who had been with Heck Thomas in the failed 1889 attempt to land Christie, and told him to get Christie at any cost.
Rusk and five other deputies approached Ned's fortified house at dawn on October 12, 1892. The dogs barked, alerting Christie. In the ensuing fight, two of the deputies were wounded. Rusk set fire to an outbuilding, hoping the flames would ignite the house as had happened at Christie's old home. But the outbuilding was not close enough this time. Next, the deputies tried dynamite, but the fuse refused to burn. Rusk then sent word to Marshal Yoes, saying they needed more help. Yoes replied that help was on the way and that Rusk and his posse should hold the fort by all means and get them this time.
The deputies continued their assault upon the cabin throughout the day and night, but they finally gave up because all their efforts had little effect. Marshal Yoes was undaunted, however. He now authorized a posse under the management of Gus York, who was not an officer but was said to be well posted in the locality where Christie lived. York designated Deputy Marshal Cap White as head of the posse.
Armed with a borrowed cannon that fired a 3-pound, bullet-shaped ball, York and White gathered a posse and set out from Fayetteville, Ark., toward Rabbit Trap. Along the way, they gathered more men. Among the posse were George Jefferson, Mack Peel and Dan Maples' son Sam who had all been at the wagon camp at Big Spring the night Deputy Marshal Maples was shot down.
The posse reached the Cherokee Nation border shortly after sunset on November 2. After a short rest, they set off again. At 4 a.m. on November 3, under cover of darkness, the men surrounded the outlaw's home and concealed themselves in the underbrush. York and White both knew that Christie kept a pack of dogs to warn him when intruders were near. Earlier, the deputies had heard dogs barking down in the hollow, but now the dogs were strangely silent.
Since the October 12 raid, Christie had stayed close to his fortified house. Inside that morning with Ned were his wife Nancy; daughter Mary; granddaughter Charlotte; Little Arch; Charles Hare, a young full-blood Cherokee who had recently joined the gang; and Charles Grease, a 7-year-old nephew of Nancy's. James Christie was not at home. He may have been hunting overnight in the hollow and probably had taken the dogs with him.
Shortly after daylight on the 3rd, Nancy and Mary came out of the house briefly and then went back inside. Little Arch came out soon after, and when he refused to surrender, the battle was on.
Following Little Arch's wounding, Gus York called for Ned Christie to surrender. To be sure the outlaw understood, York had Sheriff Ben Knight, a full-blood Cherokee, repeat the order in Cherokee. Christie responded with a hail of bullets. White told him to at least send out the women and children. Christie called Nancy and the others up from the root cellar and told them to leave. All of them did, except, for some unknown reason, young Charley Grease. About this time, according to the Oklahoma City Evening Gazette, James was intercepted while he was trying to take to his father two boxes of cartridges. The newspaper added that the outlaws inside the house kept up a perfect fusillade of bullets all during the day.
A crowd of Christie's friends and relatives gathered below the wagon ford. They watched the house in silence as heavy smoke from the black powder drifted their way and stung their nostrils.
The deputy marshals kept demanding the surrender of the outlaw and his two confederates, and promised them good treatment, but met with refusal and defiance every time, the Evening Gazette said. Christie, according to a much later account, laughed at them, for he was winning. He and the wounded Arch Wolf thought it comical that the government soldiers would go to all that trouble just to capture a couple of poor Indians. The Arkansas Gazette noted, Even the women who had come out of the house made sport of the officers for their audacity for trying to capture Christie.
Cap White sent Sheriff Knight to fetch Watt Christie to entreat his son to give up. Watt refused. He said he could see no evil in his son. Mary then told the lawmen there was a baby in the fortified house, but Knight doubted her words . He snatched at Mary's apron and five boxes of .44-caliber cartridges tumbled out. Mary ran off into the brush.
The deputy marshals kept firing at long range until the cannon arrived. It was set on a post-oak stump across Bitting Creek in the field near Christie's old homesite. The deputies fired 38 rounds at the cabin, but the cannonballs bounced off the stout walls. Finally, it was decided to use a heavier charge of powder. But the charge was too heavy, said an eyewitness, and the cannon was blown to bits.
The fight continued until dark. Several deputies were wounded. The lawmen were getting nowhere, so they decided to use dynamite. Shortly after the moon went down, Charlie Copeland ran up and placed a dozen sticks of dynamite with a long fuse beside the house. At daylight on November 4 the deputies lit the fuse.
The resulting explosion, according to the Arkansas Gazette, wrecked the house and knocked out one corner. The house began to burn. Christie and the others inside were once again asked to surrender but refused and kept up the fight. Finally, they retreated to the root cellar. Then the roof fell in. Arch Wolf's hair caught fire, and burning timbers struck Charles Hare. Young Charley Grease was probably already dead.
Thick smoke from the burning house enveloped the clearing. While the blaze was at its fiercest, the deputies saw Christie emerge from under the floor, firing at the nearest deputies. In the smoke and confusion he almost got away. But then young Deputy Marshal Wess Bowman heard a yell and saw Christie running at him and two other deputies, firing his rifle as he came. The deputies returned the fire, riddling Christie's body with bullets. In the sudden stillness, as the deputies gathered around the fallen Christie, Sam Maples ran up and, in a frenzy of revenge, emptied his revolver into Christie. The Indian women waiting on the knoll above the ford trilled in mourning. The sun rose, and a light wind scattered the drifting smoke. The officers found badly burned Charles Hare trying to escape and arrested him.
First reports were that the body of Wolf, who had been wounded early in the morning, was burned to a crisp in the building. Later it was determined the remains were of the boy, Charley Grease. Arch Wolf had in fact lost all his hair in the fire but had escaped and fled north. He would later be arrested in Chicago.
The deputies strapped Christie's body to the door of his cabin and carried him to their camp. A photographer, who was in the crowd that had gathered, took pictures. The deputies hauled Christie's corpse to Fort Smith to collect their reward. The body, according to the Fort Smith Call, was placed in the front entrance of the jail and the public were allowed to see the disfigured tenement of clay so recently occupied by a more contorted soul.
More pictures were taken, and Judge Parker personally congratulated each man who had accompanied Christie's corpse to Fort Smith. The body remained on public display until it was placed on the 4 p.m. train to Fort Gibson. Ned's father claimed the body at the fort and brought his son to Rabbit Trap for burial in the family cemetery. Gus York received the $1,000 reward at the end of December, but after paying expenses and dividing the rest among posse members, he and the others each received just $74.
Many in Indian Territory felt safer now that Ned Christie was dead. Others considered his death a tragedy, believing he was a peaceable man who had desired nothing more than to be left alone to enjoy his family. Those who knew him best felt there had been a miscarriage of justice.
Charles Hare and Arch Wolf were brought to trial and convicted of resisting arrest and intent to kill. They both did time. Little Arch became depressed behind bars and, on August 25, 1895, was admitted to a hospital for the insane. He didn't get out until 1907. James Christie was shot and killed by an assassin near his home in July 1893, eight months after the death of his father. His head was reportedly severed from his body.
With Ned Christie dead, the Deputy Marshal Dan Maples murder case never came to trial. It was not until 1918 that the truth in the matter became public knowledge. In a story in the Daily Oklahoman it was revealed that Tahlequah blacksmith Richard A. (Dick) Humphrey, a former slave adopted into the Cherokee Nation, had witnessed the murder.
On his way home from work on the night of the tragedy, Humphrey had started across a footlog below the wagon camp at Big Spring. In the moonlight, he saw Bub Trainor stooped over Ned Christie, who was passed out in the bushes. Trainor took off Christie's dark jacket and slipped it on over his white shirt. With revolver in hand, Trainor stood behind a tree. Humphrey knew then there was going to be some desperate deed attempted. Like others in the town, Humphrey was afraid of Trainor, so he stood hidden from Trainor's view and watched. What he saw was the assassination of Maples.
Fear of Bub Trainor had sealed Dick Humphrey's lips at the time. Trainor died in 1896. He was, according to one newspaper report, killed at Talala on Christmas night, by 4 negroes. It was a plot, and 4 shotguns did the work. Even then, Humphrey was still afraid to tell what he knew for fear of Trainor's gang. But he never forgot and wanted to set the record straight. He was 87 years old when his opportunity came with a Daily Oklahoman reporter 26 years after Christie's death.
Humphrey said that after Trainor shot Maples, Trainor ran to Christie, threw his coat over him, shook him vigorously, and told him to get up. Christie, still half asleep, got to his feet, walked over to a clump of small trees, lay down and fell asleep again. Trainor rushed up the slope, nearly running into Mack Peel, who was racing to the scene with gun in hand. Humphrey, terrified by what he had seen, fled in the opposite direction.
The day after the shooting, deputy marshals investigating the crime scene found the broken neck from a whiskey bottle near the tree where the assassin had hidden and fired upon Maples. In the broken neck was a strip of cloth from Nancy Shell's apron. A short distance away, they found Christie's jacket with the shattered remains of the bottle in the pocket. Based on this circumstantial evidence, the respected legislator Ned Christie had been blamed for Deputy Marshal Maples' death and his life made a living hell.
This article was written by Bonnie Speer and originally appeared in the February 2000 issue of Wild West.
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