Stevens County War, Kansas – Bloodiest County Seat War of the West

Hugoton, Kansas in the early 20th Century

Hugoton, Kansas, in the early 20th Century

By Emerson Hough in 1907

In the month of May 1886, the writer was one of a party of buffalo hunters bound for the Neutral Strip and the Panhandle of Texas, where a small number of buffalo still remained at that time. We traveled across the entire southwestern part of Kansas, below the Santa Fe railroad, at a time when the great land boom of 1886 and 1887 was at its height.

Townsite schemes in western Kansas were at that time innumerable, and a steady stream of immigration was pouring westward by rail and wagon into the high and dry plains of the country, where at that time, farming remained a doubtful experiment. In the course of our travels, we saw one morning, rising before us in the mirage of the plains, what seemed to be a series of crenelated turrets, castles peaked and bastioned.

We knew this was but a mirage and knew that it must have some physical cause. But what was a town doing in that part of the world? We drove on and, in a few hours, found the town — a little, raw boom town of unpainted boards and tents, which had sprung up almost overnight in that far-off region. The population was that of the typical frontier town, and the pronounced belief of all was that this settlement was to be the commercial metropolis of the Southwest. This little town was later known as Woodsdale, Kansas. It offered then no hint of the bloody scenes in which it was soon to figure, but within a few weeks, it was so deeply embroiled in a war with the rival town of Hugoton as to make history notable even on that turbulent frontier.

Mr. Herbert M. Tonney, now a prosperous citizen of Flora, Illinois, was a resident of that portion of the country in the stirring days of the land boom and became involved to an extent beyond his own seeking in this county seat fight. While serving as an officer of the peace, he was shot and left for dead. No story can serve so well as his personal narrative to convey a clear idea of the causes, methods, and results of a typical county-seat war in the West.

His recountal follows:

“I do not need to swear to the truthfulness of my story, for I have already done so in many courts and under the cross-examination of some of the ablest lawyers in the country. I have repeated the story on the stand in a criminal case that cost the United States government more money than it has ever expended in any similar trial, unless perhaps that having to do with the assassination of President Lincoln. I can say that I know what it is to be murdered.

“In March 1886, I moved out into southwestern Kansas, in what was later to be known as Stevens County, then a remote and apparently unattractive region. In 1885, a syndicate of citizens of McPherson, Kansas, had been formed for the purpose of starting a new town in southwestern Kansas. The members were leading bankers, lawyers, and merchants. These sent out an exploration party, among which were such men as Colonel C. E. Cook, former postmaster of McPherson; his brother, Orrin Cook, a lawyer; John Pancoast, J. B. Chamberlain, J. W. Calvert, John Robertson, and others. They located a section of school lands in what was later known as Stevens County, as near the center of the proposed county as the range of sand dunes along the Cimarron River would permit.

“Others of the party located lands as close to the townsite as possible. On August 3, 1886, Governor Martin issued a proclamation for the organization of Stevens County. It appeared upon the records of the State of Kansas that the new county had 2,662 bona-fide inhabitants, of whom 868 were householders. These claimed a taxable property, in excess of legal exemptions, amounting to $313,035, including railroad property of $140,380. I need not state that the organization was wholly based upon fraud. An election was called for September 9, and the town of Hugoton — first called Hugo — was chosen.

Colonel Sam Wood

Colonel Sam Wood

“There can be competition in the town-site business, however. At Meade Center, Kansas, there resided an old-time Kansas man, Colonel Samuel Newitt Wood, who also wanted a townsite in the new county. Wood’s partner, Captain I. C. Price, went down on July 3 to look over the situation. He was not known to the Hugoton men, and he was invited by Calvert, the census taker, to register his name as a citizen. He protested that he was only a visitor but was informed that this made no possible difference, whereupon, Price proceeded to register his own name, that of his partner, those of many of his friends, and many purely imaginary persons. He also registered the families of these persons and finally — in a burst of good American humor — went so far as to credit certain single men of his acquaintance with large families, including twenty or thirty pairs of twins! This cheerful imagination on his part caused trouble afterward, but certain it is that these fictitious names, twins and all, went into the sworn records of Hugoton — an unborn population of a defunct town whose own conception was in iniquity!

“Price located a section of government land on the north side of the sand hills, eight miles from Hugoton, and this was duly platted for a townsite. Corner lots were selling at Hugoton for $1,000 apiece, and people were flocking to that town. The new town was called Woodsdale, and Colonel Wood offered lots free to any who would come and build upon them. Settlers now streamed to Woodsdale. Tents, white-topped wagons, and frail shanties sprung up as though by magic. The Woodsdale boom attracted even homesteaders who had cast in their lot with Hugoton. Many of these forgot their oaths in the land office, pulled up, and filed on new quarter sections nearer to Woodsdale. The latter town was jubilant. Colonel Wood and Captain Price, in the month of August, held a big ratification meeting, taunting the men of Hugoton with those thirty pairs of twins that never were on land or sea. A great deal of bad blood was engendered at this time.

“Soon after this, Wood and Price started together for Garden City. They were followed by a band of Hugoton men and captured in a dugout on the Cimarron River. Brought back to Hugoton, a mock trial was held upon them, and they were released on a mock bond, being later taken out of town under guard. A report was printed in the Hugoton paper that certain gentlemen of that town had gone south with Colonel Woodand Captain Price ‘for the purpose of a friendly buffalo hunt.’ It was the intention to take these two prisoners into the wild and lawless region of No Man’s Land, or the Panhandle of Texas, there to kill them and to bring back the report that they were accidentally killed in the buffalo chase. This strange hunting party did go south, across No Man’s Land and into the desert region lying around the headwaters of the Beaver. The prisoners knew what they were to expect, but, as it chanced, their captors did not dare kill them.

“Meantime, Woodsdale had organized a posse of 24 men under Captain S. O. Aubrey, the noted frontier trailer, formerly an Indian scout. This band, taking up the trail below Hugoton, followed and rescued Wood and Price and took prisoners of the entire Hugoton ‘posse.’ The latter were taken to Garden City, and here the law was in turn set at defiance by the Woodsdale men, the horses, wagons, arms, etc., of the Hugoton party being put up and sold in the court to pay the board of the teams, expenses of publication, etc. Colonel Wood bought these effects at a public auction.

“By this time, Stevens County had been organized, and the Hugoton ‘pull’ was in the ascendancy. A continuance had been taken at Garden City by the Hugoton prisoners, who were charged with kidnapping. The papers, in this case, were sent down from Finney County to the first session of the District Court of Stevens County. The result was foregone. Tried by their friends, the prisoners were promptly discharged.

“The feeling between the two towns was all the time growing more bitter. Cases had been brought against Calvert, the census-taker, for perjury, and action was taken looking toward the setting aside of the organization of the county. The Kansas legislature, however, now met, and the political ‘pull’ of Hugoton was still strong enough to secure a special act legalizing the organization of Stevens County. It was now the legislature against the Supreme Court, for a little later, the Supreme Court declared that the organization had been made through open fraud and by means of perjury.

“Naturally, trouble might have been expected at the fall election. There were two centers of population, two sets of leaders, and two clans, separated by only eight miles of sand hills. There could be but one county seat and one set of officers. Here, Woodsdale began to suffer, for her forces were divided among themselves.

“Colonel Wood, the leader of this community, had slated John M. Cross as his candidate for sheriff. A rival for the nomination was Sam Robinson, who owned the hotel at Woodsdale and had invested considerable money there. Robinson was about 40 years of age and was known to be a bad man, credited with two or three killings elsewhere. Wood had always been able to flatter him and handle him, but when Cross was declared as the nominee for sheriff, Robinson became so embittered that he moved over to Hugoton, where he was later chosen town marshal and township constable. Hugoton men bought his hotel, leaving Robinson in the position of holding real estate in Woodsdale without owning the improvements on it. Hence, when the town-site commissioners began to issue deeds, Robinson was debarred from claiming a deed by reason of the hotel property having been sold.

“Bert Nobel, a friend of Robinson’s, sold his drug store and moved over with Robinson to Hugoton. Hugoton bought other property of Woodsdale malcontents, leaving the buildings standing at Woodsdale and taking the citizens to themselves. The Hugoton men put up as their candidate one Dalton and declared him elected. Wood contested the election and finally succeeded in getting his man Cross declared as sheriff of Stevens County.

“It was now proposed to issue bonds for a double line of railroad across this county, such bonds amounting to eight thousand dollars per mile. At this time, the population was largely one of adventurers, and there was hardly a foot of deeded land in the entire county. In the discussion over this bond election, Robinson got into trouble with the new sheriff, in which Robinson was clearly in the wrong, as he had no county jurisdiction, being at the time of the altercation outside of his own township and town. Later on, a warrant for Robinson’s arrest was issued and placed in the hands of Ed Short, town marshal of Woodsdale. Short was known as a killer and, hence, as a fit man to go after Robinson. He went to Hugoton to arrest Robinson, and there was a shooting affair in which the citizens of Hugoton protected their man. The Woodsdale town marshal, however, still retained his warrant and cherished his purpose of arresting his man.

“On July 22 of this year, 1888, Short learned that Sam Robinson, the two Cooks, and a man by the name of Donald, together with some women and children, had gone on a picnic down in the Neutral Strip, south of the Stevens county line. Short raised a ‘posse’ of four or five men and started after Robinson, who was surprised in camp near Goff creek. There was a parley, which resulted in Robinson escaping on a fast horse, which was tied near the shack where he was stopping with his wife and children. Short, meantime, had sent back word to Woodsdale, stating that he needed help to take Robinson. In the meantime, also, the Hugoton men, learning that Short had started down after Robinson, had sent out two strong parties to rescue the latter. A battle was imminent.

“It was at this time that I myself appeared upon the scene of this turbulent and lawless drama, although, in my own case, I went as a somewhat unwilling participant and as a servant of the law, not anticipating consequences so grave as those which followed.

“The sheriff of the county, John M. Cross, on receiving the message from Short, called for volunteers, which was equivalent to summoning a ‘posse.’ He knew there was going to be trouble and left his money and watch behind him, stating that he feared for the result of his errand. His ‘posse’ was made up of Ted Eaton, Bob Hubbard, Holland Wilcox, and myself. At that time, I was only a boy, about 19 years of age.

“We had a long and hard ride to Reed’s camp on Goff Creek, whence Short had sent up his message. Arriving there, we found Reed, who was catching wild horses, together with a man by the name of Patterson and another man, but Short was not in sight. From Reed, we learned that Robinson had gotten away from Short, who had started back, leaving word for Mr. Cross, should he arrive, to return home. A band of men from Hugoton, we learned later, had overtaken Short and his men and chased them for twenty-five miles, but the latter reached Springfield, Seward county, unharmed.

“Robinson, who had made his escape to a cow camp and thence to Hugoton upon a fresh horse, now met and led down into the Strip one of the first Hugoton ‘posses.’ Among them were Orrin Cook, Charles Cook, J. W. Calvert, J. B. Chamberlain, John Jackson, John A. Rutter, Fred Brewer, William Clark, and a few others. Robinson was, of course, the leader of this band.

“After Sheriff Cross asked me to go down with him to see what had become of Ed Short, I went over and got Wilcox, and we rode down to the settlement of Voorhees. Then we rode to Goff Creek, and all reached Reed’s camp about seven or eight o’clock on Wednesday morning, July 25, 1888. Here we remained until about five o’clock of that afternoon when we started for home. Our horses gave out, and we got off and led them until well on into the night.

The Hay Meadow Massacre took place in a hay meadow that was actually in Oklahoma.

The Hay Meadow Massacre took place in a hay meadow that was actually in Oklahoma.

“At about moonrise, we came to a place in the Neutral Strip known as the ‘Hay Meadows,’ where there was a sort of pool of standing water, at which settlers cut a kind of coarse hay. There was in camp there, making hay, an old man by the name of A. B. Haas, of Voorhees, and with him were his sons, C. and Keen Haas, as well as Dave Scott, a Hugoton partisan. When we met these people here, we concluded to stop for a while. Eaton and Wilcox got into the wagon box and lay down. My horse got loose, and I was a few minutes in re-picketing him. I had not been lying down more than 20 minutes when we were surprised by the Hugoton ‘posse’ under Robinson. The latter had left the trail, which came down from the northeast, and were close upon us. They had evidently been watching us during the evening with field glasses, as they seemed to know where we had stopped and had completely surrounded us before we knew of their being near us.

“The first I heard was Cross exclaiming, ‘They have got us!’ At that time, there was shooting, and Robinson called out, ‘Boys, close in!’ He called out to Cross, ‘Surrender, and hold up your hands!’ Our arms were mostly against the haystacks. Not one of us fired a shot or could have done so at that moment.

“Sheriff Cross, Hubbard, and myself got up and stood together. We held up our hands. They did not seem to notice Wilcox and Eaton, who were lying in the wagon. Robinson called out to Cross, ‘Give up your arms!’

“I have no arms,’ replied Cross. He explained that his Winchester was on his saddle and that he had no revolver.

“I know better than that,’ said Robinson. ‘Search him!’ Someone from the Hugoton party then went over Cross after weapons and told Robinson that he had no arms.

“‘I know better,’ reiterated Robinson. The others stood free at that moment, and Robinson exclaimed, ‘Sheriff Cross, you are my first man.’ He raised his Winchester and fired at Cross, a distance of a few feet, and I saw Cross fall dead at my side. It was all a sort of trance or dream to me. I did not seem to realize what was going on, but I knew that I could make no resistance. My gun was not within reach. I knew that I, too, would be shot down.

“Hubbard had now been disarmed, if indeed he had on any weapon. Robinson remarked to him, ‘I want you, too!’ and as he spoke, he raised his Winchester and shot him dead, Hubbard also falling close to where I stood, his murderer being but a few feet from him.

“I knew that my turn must come pretty soon. It was Chamberlain who was to be my executioner, J. B. Chamberlain, chairman of the board of county commissioners of Stevens County, and always prominent in Hugoton matters. Chamberlain was about eight feet from me, or perhaps less when he raised his rifle deliberately to kill me. There were powder burns on my neck and face from the shot, as the woman who cared for me on the following day testified in court.

“I saw the rifle leveled and realized that I was going to be killed. Instinctively, I flinched to one side of the line of the rifle. That saved my life. The ball entered the left side of my neck, about three-quarters of an inch from the carotid artery and about half an inch above the left clavicle, coming out through the left shoulder. I felt no pain at the time and, indeed, did not feel pain until the next day. The shock of the shot knocked me down and numbed me, and I suppose I lay a minute or two before I recovered sensation or knew anything about my condition. It was supposed by all that I was killed, and, in a vague way, I agreed that I must be killed, that my spirit was simply present listening and seeing.

“Eaton had now got out of the wagon, and he started to run towards the horses. Robinson and one or two others now turned and pursued him, and I heard a shot or so. Robinson came back, and I heard him say, ‘I have shot the ______ who drew a gun on me!’

“Then I heard the Hugoton men talking and declaring that they must have the fifth man of our party, whom they had not yet found. At this time, old man Haas and his sons came and stood near where I was and saw me looking up. The former, seeing that I was not dead, asked me where I had been shot. ‘They have shot my arm off,’ I answered him. At this moment, I heard the Hugoton men starting toward me, and I dropped back and feigned death. Haas did not betray me. The Hugoton men now lit matches and peered into the faces of their victims to see if they were dead. I kept my eyes shut when the matches were held to my face and held my breath.

“They finally found Wilcox. I do not know just where, but they stood him up within fifteen feet of where I was lying, feigning death. They asked Wilcox what he had been doing there, and he replied that he had just been down on the Strip looking around.

“‘That’s a damned lie!’ replied Robinson, the head executioner. As he spoke, he raised his Winchester and fired. Wilcox fell, and as he lay he moaned a little bit, as I heard:

“‘Put the fellow out of his misery,’ remarked Robinson carelessly. Someone then apparently fired a revolver shot, and Wilcox became silent.

“Someone came to me, took hold of my foot, and began to pull me around to see whether I was dead. Robinson wanted it made sure. Chamberlain, my executioner, said, ‘He’s dead; I gave him a center shot. I don’t need to shoot a man twice at that distance.’ Either Chamberlain or someone else took me by the legs, dragged me about, and kicked me in the side, leaving bruises that were visible for many days afterward. I feigned death so well that they did not shoot me again. They did shoot a second time each of the others who lay near me. We found seven cartridges on the ground near where the killing was done. Eaton was shot at a little distance from us, and I do not know whether he was shot more than once or not.

“The haymakers were now in trouble and said that they could not go on putting up their hay with the corpses lying around. Robinson told them to hitch up and follow the Hugoton party away. They did this, and after a while, I was left lying there in the half-moonlight with the dead bodies of my friends for company.

“After the party had been gone about twenty minutes, I found I could get on my feet, although I was very weak. At first, I went and examined Wilcox, Cross, and Hubbard and found they were quite dead. Their belts and guns were gone. Then I went to get my horse. It was hard for me to get into the saddle, and it has always seemed to me providential that I could do so at all. My horse was very wild and difficult to mount under ordinary circumstances. Now, it seemed to me that he knew my plight. It is certain that at that time and afterward, he was perfectly quiet and gentle, even when I laboriously tried to get into the saddle.

“At a little distance, there was a buffalo wallow with some filthy water in it. I led my horse here, lay down in the water, and drank a little of it. After that, I rode about fifteen or sixteen miles along a trail, not fully knowing where I was going. In the morning, I met Constable Herman Cann, of Voorhees, who had been told by the Haas party of the foregoing facts. Of course, we might expect a Hugoton ‘posse’ at any time. As a matter of fact, the same crowd who did the killing (fifteen of them, as I afterward learned), after taking the haymakers back toward the State of Kansas, returned on their hunt for one of Short’s men, who they supposed was still in that locality. It was probably not later than one or two o’clock in the morning when they found me gone.

“Our butchers now again sat down on the ground near the bodies of their victims, and they seemed to have enjoyed themselves. There was talk that some beer bottles were emptied and left near the heads of their victims as markers, but whether this was deliberately done, I cannot say.

“Constable Cann later hid me in the middle of a cornfield. This, no doubt, saved my life, for the Hugoton scouts were soon down there the next morning, having discovered that one of the victims had come to life. Woodsdale had sent out two wagons with ice to bring in the bodies of the dead men, but these Hugoton scouts met them and made them ride through Hugoton so that the assembled citizens of that town might see the corpses. The County Attorney, William O’Connor, made a speech demanding that Hugoton march on Woodsdale and kill Wood and Ed Short.

“By this time, of course, all Woodsdale was also under arms. My friends gathered from all over the countryside, a large body of them heavily armed. Mr. Cann, the constable, had tried to take me to Liberal, but I could not stand the ride. I was then taken to the house of a doctor in the settlement at LaFayette. On the second night after the massacre, I was taken to Woodsdale by about 20 of the Woodsdale boys, who came after me. We arrived at Woodsdale about daybreak the next morning. In our night trip, we could see the skyrocket signals used by the Robinson-Cook gang.

“After my arrival at Woodsdale, it might have been supposed that the country was in a state of war instead of living in a time of modern civilization. Entrenchments were thrown up, rifle pits were dug, and stands were established for sharp-shooters. Guards were thrown out all around the town, and mounted scouts continued to scour the country. Hugoton, expecting that Woodsdale would make an organized attack in retaliation, was quite as fully fortified in every way. Had there been a determined leader, the bloodshed would have been much greater. Of course, the result of this state of hostilities was that the governor sent out the militia, and there were investigations and, later on, arrests and trials. The two towns literally fought each other to the death.

Kansas Militia

Kansas Militia

“The murder of Sheriff Cross occurred in 1888. The militia was withdrawn within about thirty days thereafter. Both towns continued to break the law — in short, agreed jointly to break the law. They drew up a stipulation, it is said, under which Colonel Wood was to have all the charges against the Hugoton men dismissed. In return, Wood was to have all the charges against him in Hugoton dismissed and was to have safe conduct when he came up to court. Not even this compounding of felony was kept as a pact between these treacherous communities.

“The trial lagged. Wood was once more under bond to appear at Hugoton, before the court of his enemy, Judge Botkin, and among many other of his Hugoton enemies. On the day that Colonel Wood was to go for his trial, June 23, 1891, he drove up in a buggy. In the vehicle with him were his wife and a Mrs. Perry Carpenter. Court was held in the Methodist church.

At the time of Wood’s arrival, the docket had been called and a number of cases set for trial, including one against Wood for arson — there was no crime in the calendar of which one town did not accuse the other, and, indeed, of which the citizens of either were not guilty.

“Wood left the two ladies sitting in the buggy near the door and stepped up to the clerk’s desk to look over some papers. As he went in, he passed, leaning against the door, one Jim Brennan, a deputy of Hugoton, who did not seem to notice him. Brennan was a friend of C. E. Cook, then under conviction for the Hay Meadows massacre. Brennan stood talking to Mrs. Wood and Mrs. Carpenter, smiling and apparently pleasant. Colonel Wood turned and came down towards the door, again passing close to Brennan but not speaking to him. He was almost upon the point of climbing to his seat in the buggy when Brennan, without a word and without any sort of warning, drew a revolver and shot him in the back. Wood wheeled around, and Brennan shot him the second time through the right side. Not a word had been spoken by anyone. Wood started to run around the corner of the house. His wife, realizing now what was happening, sprang from the buggy seat and followed to protect him. Brennan fired a third time but missed. Mrs. Wood, reaching her husband’s side, threw her arms around his neck. Brennan, coming close up, fired a fourth shot, this time through Wood’s head. The murdered man fell heavily, literally in his wife’s arms, and for the moment, it was thought both were killed. Brennan drew a second revolver and so stood over Wood’s corpse, refusing to surrender to anyone but the sheriff of Morton County.

“The presiding judge at this trial was Theodosius Botkin, a figure of peculiar eminence in Kansas at that time. Botkin gave Brennan into the custody of the sheriff of Morton County. He was removed from the county, and it need hardly be stated that when he was at last brought back for trial, it was found impossible to impanel a jury, and he was set free. No one was ever punished for this cold-blooded murder.

Colonel Samuel N. Wood was an Ohio man but moved to Kansas in the early Free Soil days. He was a friend and champion of old John Brown and a colonel of volunteers in the Civil War. He had served in the legislature of Kansas and was a good type of early and adventurous pioneer.

“Whether or not suspicion attached to Judge Botkin for his conduct in this matter, he himself seems to have feared revenge, for he held court with a Winchester at his hand and a brace of revolvers on the desk in front of him, his court-house always surrounded with an armed guard. He offended men in Seward County, and there was a plot made to kill him. A party lay in wait along the road to intercept Botkin on his journey from his homestead — everyone in Kansas at that time had a ‘claim’ — but Botkin was warned by some friend. He sent out Sam Dunn, sheriff of Seward County, to discover the truth of the rumor.

“Dunn went on down the trail and, in a rough part of the country, was fired upon and killed instead of Botkin. Arrests were made in this matter also, but the sham trials resulted much as had that of Brennan. The records of these trials may be seen in Seward County. It was murder for murder, anarchy for anarchy, evasion for evasion in this portion of the frontier. Judge Botkin, soon after this, resigned his seat upon the bench and went to lecturing upon the virtues of the Keeley cure. Afterward, he went to the legislature — the same legislature that had once tried him on charges of impeachment as a judge!

“These events all became known in time, and lawlessness proved its own inability to endure. The towns were abandoned. Where in 1889 there were perhaps 4,000 people, there remained not 100. The best of the farms were abandoned or sold for taxes, the late inhabitants of the two warring settlements wandering out over the world. The legislature, hoodwinked or cajoled heretofore, at length disorganized the county and anarchy gave back its own to the wilderness.

“I have indicated that the trial of the men guilty of assassinating my friends and of attempting to kill myself in the Hay Meadow butchery was one which reached a considerable importance at the time. The crimes were committed in that strange portion of the country called No Man’s Land or the Neutral Strip. The accused were tried in the United States court at Paris, Texas. I myself drew the indictments against them. There were tried the Cooks, Chamberlain, Robinson, and others of the Hugoton party, and of these, six were convicted and sentenced to be hung. These men were defended by Colonel George R. Peck, later chief counsel of the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railway. With him were associated Judge John F. Dillon of New York, W. H. Rossington of St. Louis, Senator Manderson of Nebraska, Colonel Robert G. Ingersoll, and others. The Knights of Pythias raised a fund to defend the prisoners and spent perhaps a hundred thousand dollars in all in this undertaking. A vast political ‘pull’ was exercised at Topeka and Washington. After the sentence had been passed, the case was taken up to the United States Supreme Court on the ground that the Texas court had no jurisdiction in the premises and on the further grounds of errors in the trial. The United States Supreme Court, in 1891, reversed the Texas court on an error in the admission of evidence and remanded the cases. The men were never put on trial again, except that, in 1898, Sam Robinson, meantime pardoned out of the penitentiary in Colorado, where he had been sent for robbing the United States mails at Florissant, Colorado, returned to Texas, and was arrested on the old charge. The men convicted were C. E. Cook, Orrin Cook, Cyrus C. Freese, John Lawrence, and John Jackson.

“The Illinois legislature petitioned Congress to extend United States jurisdiction over No Man’s Land, and so did the state of Indiana, and it was attached to the East District of Texas for the purposes of jurisdiction. Congressman Springer held up this bill for a time, using it as a club for the passage of a measure of his own upon which he was intent. Thus, it may be seen that the tawdry little tragedy in that land, which indeed was ‘No Man’s Land’ in time, attained a national prominence.

“The collecting of the witnesses for this trial cost the United States government over one hundred thousand dollars. The trial was long and bitterly fought. It resulted, as did every attempt to convict those concerned in the bloody doings of Stevens County, in an absolute failure of the ends of justice. Of all the murders committed in that bitter fighting, not one murderer has ever been punished! Never was a greater political or judicial mockery.

“I had the singular experience, once in my life, of eating dinner at the same table with the man who brutally shot me down and left me for dead. J. B. Chamberlain, the man who shot me and who thought he had killed me, came in with a friend and sat down at the same table in a Leavenworth, Kansas, restaurant where I was eating. My opportunity for revenge was there. I did not take it. Chamberlain and his friend did not know who I was. I left the matter to the law, with what results the records of the law’s failure in these matters have shown.

“Of those who were tried for these murders, J. B. Chamberlain is now dead. C. E. Cook, who was much alarmed lest the cases might be reinstated in the year 1898, claims Quincy, Illinois, as his home but has interests in Florida. O. J. Cook is dead. Jack Lawrence is dead. John Kelley is dead. Other actors in the drama, unconvicted, are also dead or nameless wanderers. As the indictments were all quashed in 1898, Sam Robinson, whose whereabouts are unknown, will never be brought to trial for his deeds in the Hay Meadow butchery. He was not tried at Paris, being then in the Colorado penitentiary. His friend and partner, Bert Nobel, who was sent to the penitentiary for seven years for participating in the post office robbery, was pardoned and later killed a policeman in Trinidad, Colorado. He was tried there and hanged. So far as I know, this is the only legal punishment ever inflicted upon any of the Hugoton or Woodsdale men, who out-vied each other in a lawlessness for which anarchy would be a mild name.

Go To the Next Chapter – Desert Outlaws

By Emerson Hough, 1907. Compiled and edited by Kathy Alexander/Legends of America, updated October 2020.

About the Author:  Excerpted from the book The Story of the Outlaw; A Study of the Western Desperado, by Emerson Hough; Outing Publishing Company, New York, 1907. This story is not verbatim as it has been edited for clerical errors and updated for the modern reader. Emerson Hough (1857–1923).was an author and journalist who wrote factional accounts and historical novels of life in the American West. His works helped establish the Western as a popular genre in literature and motion pictures.  For years, Hough wrote the feature “Out-of-Doors” for the Saturday Evening Post and contributed to other major magazines.

Also See:

Old West Feuds & Range Wars

Other Works by Emerson Hough:

The Story of the Outlaw – A Study of the Western Desperado – Entire Text

The Cattle Kings

The Cattle Trails

Cowboys on the American Frontier

The Frontier In History

The Indian Wars

Mines of Idaho & Montana

Pathways To the West

The Range of the American West