Cherokee Courtroom Shoot-out (1872) – In what is now Adair County, Oklahoma, a Cherokee Indian by the name of Zeke Proctor and a white settler named Jim Kesterson had long been feuding. When Proctor found Kesterson at the Hildbrand Mill on February 13, 1872, the two began to argue. When the pair went for their guns, Polly Beck Hildebrand threw herself between the two trying to stop the fight. However, Proctor’s bullet sailed into her chest. Kesterson ran for his life as Proctor shot at him two more times, hitting nothing more than his coat-tail. In the meantime, Polly Hildebrand lay dead. Though Proctor claimed it was an accident, this did little to satisfy the Beck family, who were also Cherokee, and immediately wanted vengeance upon the man. Tensions built in Indian Territory as Proctor was brought into custody and the location of the trial was debated. Finally, Proctor’s trial was scheduled for April 15th at the Cherokee schoolhouse in Whitmore, Oklahoma, where the Beck family was sure they would not get justice.
On the day of the trial, the makeshift courthouse was jammed with people, many of them, Proctor supporters armed to the teeth. Outside was another crowd, eager to hear the proceedings, among them a number of similarly armed Beck supporters. Shortly after the proceedings began, a federal posse arrived, led by Deputy U.S. Marshals J.G. Peavy and J.G. Owens, and included some of the toughest of the Beck family and their supporters.
As the posse began to push its way into the make-shift courthouse, all hell broke loose as shot after shot was fired. After the smoke had cleared, seven posse men were killed, including Deputy Owens. A number of others were injured. The following day, the worst of the Beck family’s fears was realized, when the Zeke Proctor was acquitted.
By Kathy Weiser-Alexander, August, 2017.