Brooks-McFarland Feud

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 Willis.

Cowboy Feud

Cowboy Feud

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.

Spokogee Shootout

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 killed him.

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 Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, April, 2017.



Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported

Also See:

Frontier Feuds & Range Wars

Old West Gunfights


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