Henry Starr -- The
Cherokee Bad Boy
During his 32 years in
crime Henry Starr robbed more banks than both the James-Younger Gang and
the Doolin-Dalton Gang put together. He started robbing banks on horseback
in 1893 and ended up robbing his last in a car in 1921. The Cherokee
Badman netted over $60,000 from more than 21 bank robberies.
was born near Fort Gibson in
Territory on December 2, 1873 to George "Hop” Starr, a half-breed
and Mary Scot Starr, a woman of Irish decent and one-quarter
Cherokee. Mary came from an educated and respectable family, but the Starr side of
the family was rife with
outlaws. Henry’s grandfather was Tom Starr, an outlaw
in his own right. Henry would later say that his grandfather "was
known far and wide as the Devil’s own. In all matters where law and order
was on one side, Tom Starr was on the other.”
uncle was the notorious Sam Starr who was married to
the "Outlaw Queen.” Belle Starr was widely known for her relationship with the notorious
Gang and her criminal escapades through
Henry though, reportedly was not fond of Belle,
finding her to be crude and reprehensible, quickly informing anyone who
commented on the relationship, that she was his aunt by marriage only.
During the time of Starr’s youth, the northeastern corner
of Indian Territory was rugged and
untamed, often referred to as the "Land of the Six-Gun” and the "Robbers’
Roost.” The rough terrain of the area provided a number of natural
hideouts for thieves, murderers, and other outlaws seeking refuge from the law.
In 1886, Henry’s father
died leaving Mary to care for three children and the family farm.
However, within just a few months she remarried a man by the name of C.N.
Walker, who Henry hated. Starr felt that Walker was inferior because
his veins contained no Indian blood. Walker was also abusive and he
and Henry had immediate problems. Within just a few short months of
his mother’s remarriage Henry left home.
By the age of
sixteen, while Henry was working on a ranch near Nowata, in Indian
Territory, he had his first run-in with
the law. As Henry was driving a wagon to town two deputy marshals caught
him with whiskey and arrested him for "introducing spirits into
territory." Though he plead guilty to the offense, he maintained
that he was innocent, having borrowed the wagon without knowing that the
whiskey was in it.
Starr returned to Nowata
and continued to work as a cowboy, but it wasn’t long before he had
another run-in with the law. In December 1891, he was arrested for
stealing a horse, again he denied the charge, but was locked up at
anyway. His cousin paid his bail and Starr hit the road, with a
warrant for his arrest hanging over his head. After jumping bail, Henry
had made a conscious choice to live on the wrong side of the law.
The warrant for Starr’s arrest was given to Deputy Marshals Henry C.
Dickey and Floyd Wilson who were quickly on Henry’s tail.
Joining up with Ed
Newcome and Jesse Jackson, the gang began to rob stores and railroad
depots. Hitting their first railroad depot right where he lived,
Starr and his gang relieved the Nowata Depot of $1,700 in July 1892.
In November 1892, they hit Shufeldts Store at Lenapah, Indian Territory taking $300 and in the same
month robbed Carter’s Store in Sequoyah, Indian Territory making off with $180.
December 1892, Deputy Marshals Dickey and Wilson were very close to
finding Henry. Following his trail, the two marshals arrived at
Arthur Dodge’s "XU Ranch,” eight miles from Nowata, where it was rumored
that the Starr Gang might be meeting. Upon arriving at the ranch,
the marshals questioned Arthur Dodge who denied knowing Starr personally,
but stated that he had seen the bandit ride by the ranch several times.
The lawmen searched the surrounding countryside until late into the night,
but found no trace of Starr or his gang. However, the next day, on
December 13, 1892, the two lawmen were having dinner at the Dodge Ranch
when Mr. Dodge informed them that he had seen Henry that day while working
on the ranch.
Wilson rushed to the barn, mounted an already saddled
horse, and sped off in pursuit of Henry. Dickey’s mount was unsaddled so he was several minutes behind Wilson. Before long, Wilson found
Henry in an opening on Wolf
Creek. Spotting each other at almost the same moment, Starr
dropped from his saddle while Wilson remained mounted about thirty yards
away. Wilson ordered Henry to
surrender, but Henry just "walked away." Wilson then stated that he had a
warrant for his arrest and rode closer to Henry,
stopping some 25 or 30 feet from him. Wilson then dismounted, raised his
rifle, and fired a warning shot over Henry's
With that first shot, Starr
returned fire and a gunfight ensued. Wilson was hit and fell to the
ground, badly wounded. When Wilson tried to load a fresh cartridge
into his rifle, the weapon jammed and he threw it aside, reaching for his
pistol. Starr fired two more shots and Wilson sank to the ground, too
weak to defend himself.
Then, calmly walking
over to Wilson, Starr
fired one more round into his heart. At the sounds of the shots, the
frightened horses rode away, but Henry was able to catch Wilson’s
horse and took off. By the time Marshal Dickey arrived, the
whole affair was over and Starr
was long gone.
Now, Henry was wanted for murder
and the law doubled their efforts to find him. On January 20,
1893, Starr was nearly caught when
Indian Police picked up his trail near Bartlesville, I.T. (Indian
Territory). A gun
battle broke out but Starr was able to escape. Teaming up with a man by the name of Frank Cheney,
Starr and Cheney robbed the
MKT railroad depot of $180 and Haden’s Store of $390 in Choteau, I.T. In February, they hit the railroad depot and general store in Inola,
I.T. making off with $220.
not bothered by the law hot on their trail, Starr and Cheney grew bolder
and robbed their first bank in Caney,
on March 28, 1893, relieving the Caney Valley Bank of $4,900. The two men entered the Caney National Bank with their revolvers
drawn. Cheney entered the vault carrying an old two-bushel sack
and emerged from the vault with the bag filled with currency. Starr and his partner locked
the bank’s customers and employees in a back room and exited the bank. One
newspaper said of the robbery that it was "one of the boldest and most
daring robberies known to border history.”
Just a little more
than a month later, they robbed their first passenger train at Pryor
Creek, I.T., making off with $6,000.
Not to be stopped, Starr chose the People’s Bank
of Bentonville, Arkansas
for their next robbery. On June 5, 1893, Starr and four partners rode
into the small, northwest Arkansas
town. However, by 1893, Starr was an infamous man and
people recognized him as soon as he entered the town.
By the time
Starr and Kid Wilson entered the
bank, an alarm was quickly spreading that the bank was being robbed. Gunfire erupted outside the bank and
Starr and Wilson left the bank
while the robbery was still in progress.
Starr and Wilson raced for their
horses, and the gang of bandits fled from Bentonville with the posse right
behind them. When they reached safety, they counted their take and
were disappointed to find only $11,000, which had to be split between five
Following the Bentonville robbery,
Starr and his gang were
constantly pursued by the law. With a $5,000 reward offered for Starr, the gang decided to split
up for a time. Henry, Kid Wilson and a lady friend boarded a train
at Emporia, Kansas intent on
California. Enroute, they stopped at
Colorado Springs to "replenish the lady’s wardrobe” and do some
sight-seeing. On July 3, 1893, they checked into the Spaulding
House. Henry registered as Frank Johnson and the Kid registered as
John Wilson, both from Joplin,
Missouri. However, officers discovered they were there
was arrested in the restaurant. Later they picked up Wilson in
Colorado City. Returning to the Spaulding House, they woke up the
woman, who was registered as Mrs. Jackson, but who admitted to being
wife of six months. In a search of the room, the lawmen found $1,460
in greenbacks and about $500 in gold.
and Wilson were returned to
on July 13, 1893 to stand trial. Starr
was charged with thirteen counts of highway robbery, and one count of
murder. The trial revolved around the murder charge and Starr was found
Judge Isaac Parker and sentenced to hang. Henry's lawyers
appealed the case and the U.S Supreme Court overturned Parker's decision
and granted Starr
a new trial. He was found guilty at the second trial and again sentenced
to hang, but again his lawyers were able to appeal and get Henry yet
At the third
trial trail Henry plead guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to a
total of 15 years -- 3 for manslaughter, 7 years for each 7 counts of
robbery and 5 years for 1 count of train robbery.
On January 15, 1898, Henry Starr
was transported to the federal prison at Columbus, Ohio.
It was during his stay in jail
awaiting trial, that fellow
Crawford Goldsby; alias
Bill attempted a jailbreak with a gun smuggled to him by a trustee.
There was a gun battle between Bill
and the prison guards, in which one of the guards was killed. However, the
guards were unable to disarm
and it was standoff. Henry and
were old acquaintances and Henry
offered to disarm
the guards would in turn promise not to kill Cherokee Bill afterwards. The promise was made and Henry
entered the cell telling his friend that he had no chance of escape.
Cherokee Bill gave up his revolver and Starr
turned it over to the guards. This incident
Henry to later acquire his
In 1901, Henry, with help from his
family and the
Tribal Government, applied for a pardon. President T. Roosevelt so
admired the man for his courage in the Cherokee Bill incident that he reduced his
Henry was released from
prison on January 16, 1903.
After his release from prison,
Henry returned to
Tulsa, I. T.
and worked in his mother's restaurant. It was here he met and married his
second wife, Miss Ollie Griffin in September 1903. A Short time
later, in 1904 Theodore Roosevelt Starr was born.
Henry led an honest life
for a while until officials in Arkansas
learned of Starr's release. They immediately began seeking his extradition for
the 1893 Bentonville robbery. Henry took to the safety
of the Osage Hills, quickly falling in with his old partners. Later,
he would write, "I preferred a quiet and unostentatious interment in a
respectable cemetery rather than a life on the Arkansas
On March 13, 1908, Henry and his gang crossed
border and robbed the bank at Tyro, Kansas.
Though pursued by a posse of over twenty men, Starr and his gang were
able to get away.
Henry then headed west,
along with Kid Wilson.
When the pair hit Amity,
May, they robbed the local bank of $1,100. Soon after the Amity robbery,
Kid Wilson and Starr separated. History fails to tell us what ever became of Kid Wilson but
Starr spent the summer and
fall of 1908 hiding in
and Arizona. However, when he wrote to a friend back in
supposed friend betrayed him, and on May 13, 1908,
Starr was once again
placed under arrest to be extradited to
November 24, 1908, Henry plead guilty to the Amity robbing and was
sentenced to 7 - 25 years in the Canon City,
Prison. During his imprisonment, Henry worked as a trustee,
studied law in the prison library and wrote his autobiography entitled
'Thrilling Events, Life of Henry Starr'.
On September 24, 1913, he was paroled by
the governor and was free again, with the stipulation that he never leave
the state of
Starr did not keep his
promise, instead returning to
Oklahoma, and his old ways.
Between September 8, 1914, and January 13,
1915, fourteen different bank robberies were attributed to Henry Starr.
All were daylight robberies, carried off quickly and efficiently, at
two-week intervals. This was the worst streak of robberies the people of
had ever witnessed, and in response to the cries of the citizens, the
state legislature passed the "Bank Robber Bill,” which appropriated
$15,000 for the capture of bank robbers and placed a $1,000 bounty on
head. The reward was payable "Dead or Alive."
The banks robbed in this period included:
Keystone State Bank, Keystone,
Keifer Central Bank, Kiefer,
Farmers' National Bank, Tupelo,
Pontotoc Bank, Pontotoc,
Byars State Bank, Byars,
Farmers State Bank, Glencoe,
Citizens State Bank, Wardville,
Prue State Bank, Prue,
Carney State Bank, Carney,
Oklahoma State Bank, Preston,
(no money taken, but $1200 damage done to vault)
First National Bank, Owasso,
First National Bank, Terlton,
Garber State Bank, Garber,
Vera State Bank, Vera,
Convinced that Starr
was hiding in the Osage Hills, the law was relentlessly tracking all of
his old hideouts. However, the clever
was living in the heart of
Tulsa, at 1534
East Second Street, just two blocks from the Tulsa County
Sheriff and four blocks from the mayor of Tulsa.
Then on March 27, 1915
six other men rode into the town of
plan was to rob two banks at the same time, much as the
had unsuccessfully tried to do in Coffeyville, Kansas in 1892. The
Oklahoma robbery would prove
almost as disastrous for Henry Starr.
Proceeding to rob the Stroud
National Bank and the First National Bank, word of the holdup spread
quickly and the citizens took up arms against the bandits.
named Lewis Estes were wounded and captured in the gun battle. The rest of
the gang escaped with $5815, thus pulling off a double daylight bank
recovered from his wound, he stood trial and entered a plea of guilty to
the Stroud Robbery on
August 2, 1915. Sentenced to 25 years, he was transferred to the
State Penitentiary at McAlester,
While in prison at
McAlester, Starr began speaking of the foolishness of a life of crime, urging
young people to stay honest and earn their money in a legal manner. "I’m
45 years old now,” Starr
told a reporter from the Oklahoma World, "And 17 of my 45 years
have been spent ‘inside.’ Isn’t that enough to tell any boy that there’s
nothing to the kind of life I have led?” The good words had the proper
was paroled in on March 15, 1919.
For two years, the famous bandit stayed
true to his word and lived an honest life. He
even encouraged others to do so by starring in "A Debtor to the Law",
a film, which depicted the Stroud,
bank robbery and the senselessness of crime. Henry
produced and starred in the silent movie, which was an immediate and huge
success. He went on to star in a couple of other movies, and
received an offer from Hollywood to do a movie out there. He turned it
down from fear that if he went to Hollywood the authorities in Arkansas
would try to extradite him for his part in the Bentonville robbery. It was
during his time in the movies that Henry
met and married his third wife, Hulda Starr
Oklahoma. They were
married on February 22, 1920 and moved to Claremore,
could not live the life an honest man for very long. On Friday
morning, February 18, 1921, Henry
and three companions drove into Harrison,
entered the People's State Bank and robbed it of $6000. During the
was shot in the back by the former president of the bank, and his partners
fled, leaving him to face the music alone. He was carried to the jail
where doctors removed the bullet. Obviously proud of his record, he
boasted to the doctors on Monday, February 21, 1921 "I've robbed more
banks than any man in America." The next morning he died from
his wound with his wife, Hulda, his mother and his 17-year-old son at his
died as he had lived, in a violent manner, but true to the code of the
outlaws, he never revealed a single partner in any crime. He never
shot anyone in the commission of a crime, and served his time in jail like
a man. He had succeeded where others had failed by robbing two banks at
once, and by robbing more banks than anyone else.
During his 32 years in crime, he claimed to
have robbed more banks than both the
James-Younger Gang and the
put together. He started robbing banks on horseback in 1893 and ended up
robbing his last in a car in 1921. Allegedly, he robbed 21 banks during
his outlaw career making off with nearly $60,000.00.
of America, updated April, 2017.
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loot from Starr’s earlier crimes was, by his own words, hidden
"..near the border in a place nobody could find it in a million years.”
Many researchers believe that this cache is hidden somewhere along the
Cimarron River in Stevens County,
read more about the hidden treasure, click
"I love it. It is
wild with adventure."
– Henry Starr describing
the bandit life in the Old West shortly before he was shot to death in a
gunfight in Arkansas.
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