The feud began with the death
of Thomas Brooks on April 24, 1896. Living in Dogtown was an old
Ranger who was said to have stashed a large amount of money. When Thomas
attempted to rob the ranger, he was shot and killed. Willis Brooks claimed
that Thomas was enticed by Jim McFarland to commit the robbery, but then
told the ranger beforehand.
Willis soon confronted Jim with
his suspicions, to which McFarland said that Thomas had been involved with
a gang of thieves who intended to rob the ranger, but that Thomas had
gotten greedy and tried to pull the job alone. Willis didn't believe him
and harboring a grudge, the feud slowly escalated, with both sides vowing
to shoot each other on site.
In 1898, Henry "Peg Leg" Brooks
was arrested by Deputy Marshal Frank Jones for stealing horses and put in
the jail at Chandler, Oklahoma. While he was incarcerated a family member
began to deliver him food goods, including “syrup”. However, the “syrup”
was actually acid which Henry applied to the metal bars of his jail cell,
in a plan to make his escape. However, the famous sheriff of Lincoln
County, Bill Tilghman, discovered the "syrup" and foiled the escape
attempt. Henry was later convicted, but received a pardon and was released
on July 11, 1902, just a few weeks before the Spokogee shootout.
In January 1899, Jim McFarland
got into an argument over a bill with a man named John Johnson at a
general store in Dogtown. Later that day, Jim shot and killed Johnson
during a gunfight in front of Joe McFarland's house. Johnson was struck by
five bullets; two in the head, one through the hip and bowels and two more
in both thighs. Jim was unharmed and it is not known if Johnson was able
to return fire before being killed. One year later, in January 1900, Jim
was tried for Johnson's murder in Muskogee, Oklahoma but the only
witnesses were his brothers. Because there was a lack of evidence to prove
that Johnson was not killed in self-defense, Jim was acquitted and allowed
to return home.
Jim later accumulated several
other charges against him, including assault with the intent to kill, but
all were pending. Jim then decided to fake his own death to elude the
authorities. Sometime in 1901, Jim had been released on bail and was
working for a cattle company in Okemah when he stole $3,000 from his
employers and fled to Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. Two days later, his horse
wandered home riderless with blood on the saddle and a bullet hole near
the edge. The police suspected that the Brooks family was responsible and
they organized a posse to search the area for Jim's remains. Jim's plan
might have worked, but a year later, in August, 1902, he tried to contact
his family and was discovered by the authorities. Jim surrendered and
quickly posted a $1,000 bond. The charge of assault with the intent to
kill was dropped, due to the lack of evidence, and Jim's former employers
forgave him for taking the money, after he claimed that he was "ambushed
and abducted to Mexico" by some bandits. In no time, with Jim's troubles
seemingly behind him, he was soon back to his old habits.
By the summer of 1902, the Fort
Smith and Western Railway company was building a line from Fort Smith,
Arkansas to Guthrie, Oklahoma and approaching the Dogtown area. The
present-day location of Dustin, Oklahoma, was chosen as the site of a new
railroad town, which was to be named Spokogee, a Creek word meaning "near
to God." The new town was to be located right in the area between the
Brooks and McFarland homes and neither family was very happy about it.
Regardless, plans for the
railroad town proceeded and the townsite company purchased 320 acres from
the Creek nation and began selling $25 lots and building a train station
at the new site.
A large celebration opening-day
sale was scheduled for July 1, 1902, which was just a few weeks before
Jim's return from Mexico. It was interrupted, though, by a confrontation
between the two feuding families that came very close to becoming deadly.
John Brooks, Willis' son, and Alonzo Riddle, a McFarland supporter, began
arguing about something. Quickly, an so an old
Confederate named G.G.
Tyson, disarmed Riddle and led the two young men behind a building to
fight with their fists.
When the fight started, Brooks
began hitting Riddle with brass knuckles and knocked him to the ground, so
Tyson intervened again to take the weapon away. However, before the fight
resumed, John's brother-in-law, Sam Baker, armed himself with his rifle
and pointed it at Riddle. A man named Jesse Hill, a townsite promoter, who
was standing nearby, pushed Baker's rifle barrel toward the ground and
said: "Don't act a fool."
Baker then released his hold on
the rifle, drew his revolver, and pointed it at Hill's face. Another
townsite promoter and U.S. Deputy Marshal named Morton Rutherford then
armed himself and pointed his weapon at Sam Baker while the latter's
16-year-old son, Bill, grabbed his rifle and pointed it at Rutherford. The
situation was very tense for a moment, but a "cool headed" man named Cliff
Speer managed to diffuse the situation by slowly lowering Rutherford's
rifle barrel and allowing Sam a chance to leave. When Sam was out of
firing range, Bill lowered his weapon as well and they both left to tell
Before long, Willis Brooks and
his cohorts, each mounted and armed, rode up to do battle. Then Mr.
Rutherford stepped in again, and spoke to the leaders of both sides,
talking them down from what might have been a deadly gunfight. The event
took its toll on the “would-be” new town. Though lots sold, the town
wouldn't boom. Although Spokogee quickly grew to support a population of
150 people, the residents were nervous, especially when the McFarland or
the Brooks families rode in heavily armed.
Though one battle had been
avoided, the feud was far from over. After the July 1 incident, the
McFarland faction was ready to kill the Brooks' whenever the opportunity
presented itself. The opportunity came on September 22, 1902, after a
thunderstorm passed over the area. At the Brooks Ranch the rain scattered
some of the cattle and it prevented the men from working the farm. Because
of this, Henry "Peg Leg" Brooks and his nephew, Earl, went out to roundup
the livestock while Willis and two of his other sons, Clifton and John,
mounted up to ride into town for the mail. Meanwhile, the McFarlands and
the Riddles had anticipated their arrival, due to the rain. They came up
with a plan to ambush the Brooks' in town, but in a way that made it
appear as though it was self-defense. The McFarlands took up positions
across the street from the post office and then sent George Riddle out to
"take care of some errands." However, Riddle's real intention was to
confront the Brooks' and provoke a fight. When Willis and his sons rode
into town later that morning, they dismounted and tied their horses up in
front of the post office. Then, as the three were entering the building,
Riddle came out of the door with his mail. The Brooks' immediately began
making threats and Riddle said something to this effect: "Kill me if you
want, I am unarmed and have but one time to die."
The plan worked perfectly.
Willis and his sons cursed Riddle and then drew their weapons on him, but
he hastily ran across the street to Morton Rutherford, who was standing in
front of his office, and requested protection.
Rutherford called out to Willis
and demanded peace but before he could finish his sentence, Willis fired a
shot at Riddle with his revolver. The bullet struck Riddle in the head and
he fell to Rutherford's feet.
After hitting George Riddle in
the head, Willis "wasted precious time" by running up to him and shooting
him twice more. Someone, possibly Rutherford, then fired on Willis and
struck him in his right hip. Willis jumped up into the air and then fell
face down into the mud. He got back up a moment later and began firing,
but was then hit in the chest and killed. Clifton Brooks was struck
multiple times; once in the leg, once in the neck, and once more in the
chest, but he was able to survive the initial volley and make a run for
it. Alonzo Riddle and Jim McFarland then chased him down on horseback and
John Brooks was shot "through
and through" and found lying near the back door of the post office, having
been struck by a steel-jacketed bullet. Immediately after the shooting
ceased, Rutherford arrested Jim, Joe, and Alonzo and then delivered them
to Deputy Marshal Grant Johnson in Eufaula by wagon. The three men were
placed in the Eufaula Jail and went before the county commissioner's court
two days later on September 24. All three were charged with murder and
released on bonds to await trial. John Brooks was also charged with
murder, but he remained in Spokogee because of his critical condition. The
town doctor expected John to die of blood poisoning, but he survived and
lived into the 1950s. Willis and Clifton were buried in Checotah next to
Thomas Brooks, who died in 1896.
Less than three weeks after the
gunfight at Spokogee, Jim McFarland was killed in an ambush. On October
10, 1902, Jim and his wife were returning home from Weleetka in their
buggy, and as they approached a river ford near Old Watsonville, someone
opened fire on them with a rifle. One steel-jacketed bullet struck Jim in
the back and he died a few minutes later.
Henry "Peg Leg" Brooks and Sam
Baker were the prime suspects, but there was no evidence and neither of
them were arrested. Some local citizens believed that McFarland was killed
by a member of his own faction, but in any event, nobody was ever charged
for the crime.
The death of Jim McFarland
marked the end of the feud. John Brooks left the area after recuperating
from his wounds.
In 1905, Henry was arrested for
stealing horses again and sentenced to ten years in Fort Leavenworth,
Kansas. When he was paroled on January 10, 1911, Henry went home to
Lawrence County, Alabama, where he took care of his aging mother and
became a bootlegger. On January 11, 1920, Henry was surrounded at his
still by a posse under the command of Sheriff John Robinson. Though he was
completely outnumbered, Henry chose to resist and began firing his
revolver. The posse then retaliated and struck Henry twelve times. He died
about fifteen minutes later.
Sam Baker also died violently.
In 1911, Sam became involved in a dispute with a Checotah merchant, who
shot him in the back. Old "Jenny" Brooks outlived all of her sons. She
died on March 29, 1924, at the age of 98, and is said to have been proud
that all of her sons had "died like men, with their boots on." As for the
McFarland faction; all of those arrested were later acquitted and they
continued living in the area.
The Fort Smith and Western
Railway tracks finally reached Spokogee on April 1, 1903 and soon after
the town was renamed Dustin.
Compiled and edited
of America, April, 2017.
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Frontier Feuds & Range Wars
Old West Gunfights