Brooks-McFarland Feud


Indian Territory, 1890s

Indian Territory, 1890s

The Brooks–McFarland Feud was a family feud that took place in the Creek Nation of Indian Territory (Oklahoma) at the turn of the century. The conflict began with the death of Thomas Brooks on April 24, 1896, while he was attempting to rob a Texas Ranger. The Brooks Family blamed the McFarlands for his death, claiming that Thomas had been coerced by a McFarland into committing the crime. After six years, the feud culminated in the Spokogee Shootout in 1902.

Brooks Family

Originally hailing from Alabama, the Brooks Family made their way to Indian Territory, via Texas in 1890. The head of the family in Oklahoma was Willis Brooks, Jr. who had been born to Willis and Louisa Jane “Jenny” Brooks on April 3, 1854, in the hill country of Lawrence County, Alabama.

Willis Jr. had four brothers; John, the eldest, Gaines, Mack, and Henry, the youngest. During the Civil War, the Brooks family joined the Confederacy, although many of their neighbors remained loyal to the Union. For this, their neighbors were called “Tories” by the rebels. Willis Brooks, Sr. attempted to enlist in the Confederate Army, but he was rejected due to his age. He did, however, become a saddle maker that was attached to a rebel cavalry in 1863. When Willis returned home he learned that a “Tory” had been annoying his wife, Louisa Jane “Jenny”, a half-breed Cherokee, who was nearly 20 years younger than her husband. Sometime within the next few days, Willis found the man and killed him, but his friends soon retaliated. Willis was shot dead in front of his house and then, a few days after his funeral, John was killed while working in a field. Mrs. Brooks witnessed the first event and she claimed that seven or eight men were responsible. She then had her sons avenge their father and brother. By late 1883, the Brooks brothers had killed the last of seven known men who had murdered their father. Though their revenge was seemingly complete, the Brooks’ continued to harass some of their neighbors.

Before long, Sheriff Alex Heflin had had enough and on April 14, 1884, he deputized several men and attempted to make several arrests in the Brooks family. However, a gunfight broke out, in which one member of Sheriff Heflin’s posse, a man named Phillips, was killed. Gaines Brooks was also killed and his younger brother Henry was hit in one of his legs. Part of Henry’s leg required amputation and he became known as “Peg Leg” Brooks.

Afterward, what remained of the Brooks family then moved west, settling in Cooke County, Texas in 1883. In 1890; they moved again, this time, to the Chickasaw Nation in Indian Territory. Four years later, Willis moved them again, finally settling in Dogtown which was about 25 miles west of Eufaula, in the Creek Nation. The area of the Dogtown Settlement was a lush, lawless country between the North Canadian and South Canadian Rivers. There, the family prospered as farmers and ranchers.

Somewhere along the line Willis married and would have six sons and at least two daughters; Thomas, Clifton, John, Earl, Marion, Willis III, Francis, and Lela. When she was old enough, Francis married Columbus Windfield “Sam” Baker, who was also from Alabama and would support the Brooks family in their dispute with the McFarlands. Together Sam and Francis had several children, one of whom was named Bill.

McFarland Faction

Not as large as the Brooks Family, the McFarlands also had an unsavory reputation before their arrival in Oklahoma. Jim McFarland, the leader, was said to have been a murderous cattle rustler in Kentucky. He too settled near Dogtown, about four miles north of the Brooks’ ranch. There, he married a Creek woman named Sarah Watson.

Sometime later, Jim was joined by his two brothers, Sam and Joe, as well as Sarah’s brother, Sandy Watson, and another Native American named Bill Franklin. The McFarland family was also supported by an old man named George Riddle and his son, Alonzo “Lon” Riddle, who owned a ranch to the northwest of the Brooks-McFarland homes.

Texas Ranger BadgeThe Feud

The feud began with the death of Thomas Brooks on April 24, 1896. Living in Dogtown was an old Texas 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.

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