William Carr – Heroic Deputy or Outlaw?

United States Marshal Badge

United States Marshal Badge

William H. “Bill” Carr was a U.S. Deputy Marshal commissioned in the Western District Court at Fort Smith, Arkansas, in 1887. He was later commissioned in the Southern District of Indian Territory at Paris, Texas, and in the Kansas District Court at Wichita. In April 1889, he arrested Harris Austin, a Chickasaw Indian charged with murder. When Austin resisted arrest, gunplay erupted, and the outlaw was wounded three times. He would be hanged at Fort Smith, Arkansas, the following year.

Later that year, Carr confronted a gang of whiskey runners crossing the Red River Bridge into Indian Territory in August. The outlaws quickly turned around, escaping back into Texas. However, one of them who was left behind, a man named Lewis Jackson, was shot and killed by Carr.

In 1892, Carr and three other previously commissioned deputy marshals were arrested and charged with arson and murder for a fire in Lexington, Indian Territory, where a man had lost his life. However, Carr was cleared of the charges, as he was back in action in April 1894, when he and Marshal Evitt Nix confronted the Doolin-Dalton Gang near the Sacred Heart Mission in the Pottawatomie Reservation. When a gun battle erupted, Bill Dalton and George “Bitter Creek” Newcomb were severely wounded but escaped. Carr was also shot three times and left for dead by the outlaws, but he survived. By this time, Carr had become so well known; he was called “King of the Chickasaws” by the New York Times, which ran a feature article on his deeds of daring in April 1895 (see article below.)

Though Carr had a solid reputation as a U.S. Deputy Marshal, he was also allegedly friends with outlaws Will and Bob Christian. When the Christians, along with several other outlaws, broke out of jail in Oklahoma City in June 1895, killing Chief of Police Milt Jones and wounding the jailer and two innocent bystanders, Carr would soon be implicated in assisting the outlaws with their escape. Though the vast majority of lawmen who were acquainted with Carr felt Oklahoma County Sheriff C. H. Deford made the charges against Carr in an attempt to clear his office of any negligence, Carr would later be arrested anyway.

In the meantime, he continued to serve as a U.S. Deputy Marshal as on October 17, 1895, he arrested four murderers who were wanted for the murder of John Swilling near Tecumseh, Indian Territory.

Oklahoma Frontier

Oklahoma Frontier

As the investigation into the escape of the Christian brothers continued, some of Carr’s friends attempted to get him out of the country. However, Carr was eventually indicted by a Grand Jury for assisting the outlaws. The lawman then raised the $14,000 bond by selling his property and personal possessions. Then, he skipped his bond for reasons unknown and was “officially” never heard from again. Some speculated that he went to Texas, while others thought he remained in Indian Territory.

The newspapers of the day then tried to link Carr with several wanted fugitives. In 1896, the Beaver County, Oklahoma Territory newspaper reported that Carr was with Bill Doolin when Doolin attempted to make terms with lawmen and give himself up. Later that year, the Guthrie Daily Leader reported: “while playing with an old revolver, the 5-year-old son of Bill Carr, the noted outlaw, shot himself through the stomach, dying in a short time.”

In the meantime, another man named John Reeves, with the help of a woman was charged with secreting the guns to the Christian Gang, which allowed them to escape, and was sentenced to the Kansas penitentiary on December 21, 1896. However, William Carr was still a wanted man.

The last report of his existence was on June 1, 1900, when the Tecumseh Republican reported that Dad Feagin had visited Bill Carr. The latter used an alias of “Bill Evans,” about 65 miles east of Shawnee, Oklahoma. Feagin also said that Carr was in the presence of a former deputy marshal named George Elkins. He further added that Carr hid with the Christian brothers in southwest Texas before returning to Oklahoma.

After this unsubstantiated statement, nothing more was ever heard about William Carr.


New York Times

New York Times

New York Times, April 29, 1895 – King of the Chickasaws – “Fighting Bill Carr” and His Many Deeds of Daring

Wichita, Kansas, April 29, 1895 – The man who goes down into the Chickasaw Indian country says he never heard of “Fighting Bill” Carr is considered the greenest king of tenderfoot.

“A man who don’t know Carr should not be permitted to live in the Territory,” Rowdy Kate Daniels used to say while holding court in the Red Light Saloon in Purcell, [Oklahoma,] in 1889.

“Never heard of Bill Carr?” says Jim Davis, who has been in the country “since their days of Sam Bass.” “Wal, stranger, you’d better git acquainted with him. Jist now he’s laying up at the Clifton House nursing a sore arm. One uv ther Rogers gang shot him last week.

“Who is Bill? He’s a double-distilled rattler, a bunch of catmounts, a whole herd of Texas longhorns, and a grizzly bear all tied together with chain lightning. By profession, he’s a Deputy Marshal in this yer district, and he’s a killer from way up near the headwaters of Bitter Creek.

“You can jest yell that he is a daisy,” continued the old man. “Bill civilized this heathen country. He’s the chap who made angels of the Franklins and Washingtons and Christianized the Indians, and he dun it with cold lead, the only simon-pure religion of any use on the border.

“Is he the man they call the King of the Chickasaw Nation?” asked an interested tenderfoot while the gang strolled up and took a drink of chain lightning.

Carr, the officer in question, is a handsome Pennsylvanian with a record as Deputy Marshal that is little short of miraculous. The story, as stated by old man Davis, would appear , in the vernacular of the border, “durned fishy” were it not backed up by the testimony of United States Marshals Nix and Walker.

Billy Carr came here before the Oklahoma boom” resumed Davis reflectively, as he shot a mouthful of saliva at a crack in the floor. “Yep! I believe he’s called the King of the Chickasaw country. He first came into notice on the 4th of July in 1887. Down there in the bottom, a lot of sharks were fleecing suckers. A pretty girl was in one of the crowds trying to induce her foot brother to quit a brace game, but the grinning sharp only gave her the laugh and joked the fool boy into playing until all his money was gone.

Then he insultingly ordered them to ‘clear out and let him alone.” the girl cried bitterly over her brother’s losses and the tough gang stood about and laughed. Nobody knowed Bill Carr them days, and so he didn’t cut much figger. The man who had robbed the boy was ‘Coyote Dave,’ and he had killed a man or two, and had a private graveyard down in No Man’s Land. Well, Bill, he sorter stood ’round awhile after the pretty girl and her brother had left, and then he began to play. ‘Coyote Dave’ won some his money and when Carr accused him of cheating, he said:

“‘Course I did, tender. W’at you going to do about it, hey?’

“The camp turned out an’ buried Dave next day,” and her the old-timer’s face took on a contented frown, as his mind traveled back to that delightful occasion.

“Yes, Billy put three holes in David’s carcass inside a second, and as he walked away I heard him say, ‘That’s for that pretty girl with blue eyes; durn his ugly picture.’

“Well, a day or two after this a wild and wooly chap from the Brazos country plugged a hole through our City Marshal and then skipped out for Oklahoma. There wasn’t any one to foller him, and no one wanted the job of Marshal till Bill Carr said he’d take it if he could have an assistant, and he chose Joe McNally. (Poor Joe was killed by Sheriff Throttler at Fort Smith a month or so ago.) while Joe held down the town Bill Carr mounted his horse and chased the murderer down to where Oklahoma City now stands. The skunk turned on Bill, and there was another killing. A durned foot United States Marshal arrested Carr and took him to Wichita for trial, but he beat the case, and when he came back to the Territory the boys lynched ‘Horse Thief Johnny,” a witness agin Bill, just to show their goodwill. Bill said he’d a-knowed their hearts was all right without this proof, but he couldn’t bring Johnny back to life, so he helped plant him.

“Bill and Joe had their prison about three miles out of town, in the hills. They dug a hole back into a bank and staked their prisoners out in a pen till they had a load for Fort Smith. They made a camp up on a hill where they could overlook this pen, and if any of them durned murderers, horse thieves, whiskey peddlers, or outlaws generally thought they could skip out, they were usually brought to their senses with a bullet in their carcasses.

“About this time Harris Austin, a full-blooded Chickasaw Indian who had been killing people worse than the Bender family for about ten years did some new devilment, and the Fort Smith officers wanted him captured. The old heathen had the whole country ‘buffaloed’ except Bill Carr, and some of the boys said he didn’t have sense enough to know when he was a fool. So Bill he got on his old sorrel pony and rode out to this Indian’s lair in the mountains. He laid for him at daylight, and when the old red man came out to the spring for water Bill popped out and tried to arrest him, but the chief wouldn’t have it that way and slid behind a tree. Bill and him banged away at one another from undercover for about an hour, and then Bill put three bullets into the old rascal. That night he landed him into town across his horse’s back. The Indian recovered and was afterward hung at Fort Smith.

“But the very worst fight Billy ever had was with the Franklins and Washingtons. they was n***er hoss thieves, and lived in a cabin back in the hills. when Bill went after them he took a posse along, and when they reached the cabin a posse man, a personal friend of Bill’s rode up and pounded on the door. Then those heathen n***ers just opened a crack and stuck out their guns and killed that posseman. Bill vowed then and there that he would kill every one of them for murdering his pard. So he set fire to the woods back of the house, and when those heathens came running out with their guns in their hands he shot them all down. There were five in the party. Three he killed and two were taken to Fort Smith and hanged.

“Whisky peddling was one of the tough crimes about now, and a gang of outlaws along the Red River district took to sending in their red liquor by the gallon. You see, the boys rather liked the poison, and didn’t think the traffic ought to be curtailed by law so that when Bill started in to stop the supply the boys were agin it. One night Bill corralled three members of a gang of smugglers near Dennison, [Texas.] They were Lewis Jackson, his brother, and Walter Keene, a full-blood Injun. Together with a Sheriff’s posse, Carr sat down to watch a bridge. About dark, the posse went to supper, and Bill just staid on guard. While his friends were gone them chaps sneaked across the bridge, and when Carr halted them they began to shoot. Talking about hell a popping wasn’t in it. When the Sheriff heard the firing and run back they found Bill wounded and two of the gang dead. The next day they followed a trail of blood and run into Lewis Jackson’s body in a cave.

“As Carr was returning to Purcell, [Oklahoma] he was thrown from his horse and had a leg broken. He was carried into a ranch house, and who do you think he found there?” and Jim glanced eagerly into the faces of his interested audience. “Why the girl whose brother had been plucked by ‘Coyote Dave.” When Bill’s leg got well his heart was gone to the girl, and he married her soon after. All the boys turned out to Bill’s wedding, and after it was over he rode out to his ranch with his bride. While they were riding along in that moonlight one heathen coyote that had it in for Bill tried to shoot him, and they had a running fight, but Bill was too much for him, and Cherokee Ned was buried next day. Some of the boys found him along down the trail with a bullet between his cross-eyes.

Bill Cook, outlaw

Bill Cook, outlaw

“After Bill had been spliced a while and had been shot two or three times, his better half got him to quit and go down to violet springs, Oklahoma and buy a grocery. The idea of Bill Carr a-selling peas, and corn, and taters, like a common clerk!” and old Jim wiped his mouth and squinted up his eyes to show his utter contempt for such a proceeding. “Es I was a-saying, Bill turned clerk, but he didn’t like it, and neither did the boys. Arter a little a papoose was born, and then Bill was happy. At this time Bill Dalton and Bill Cook and other tough gangs was a cavorting around, and I often said that if Bill Carr hadn’t got married and settled down he’d made them fellers hard to ketch. Sure enough, Bill got into it last Spring year ago. Course you seen it in all the papers. Marshal Nix dun heered that Bill Dalton was down near Violet Springs, so he sends Carr a warrant for him and Slaughter Kid. Bill felt just like getting into the harness again. One afternoon along comes two galoots on horseback. Bill seen ’em a-coming and watched them hitch their horses to the old rack. His wife and kid were in the store when they came in and eyed Bill.

“‘Be you Bill Carr?’ asked on of the chaps.

“‘Recon I be,’ said Bill, bold as brass, as he slid along the counter toward a six-shooter. ‘Who be you’ns?’

Bill Dalton

Bill Dalton

“‘I’m Bill Dalton, and this is Slaughter Kid,’ said one of the strangers. ‘Head you’d a warrant for us and thought we’d come in,’ with a laugh.

“‘Yes, she is red-hot and still a hottin,’ said Bill, as he raised his gun. Just then, his two-year-old kid runs in atween them, and his wife run in arter it. This spoiled Bill’s aim, and afore he could pull a second time the two geisers begin to bore holes in him. But he was game and drove ’em out arter they had shot him three times. They got on their horses and escaped, but poor Bill lay about dead on the floor. When the outlaws heered that Bill wasn’t dead they threatened to finish the works, so a lot of the boys from Oklahoma City went down and guarded his house till he got better. Shortly after this Dalton was killed. when Bill got well he sold out his grocery, and since then he’s making it hot for the balance of the gang. Someone shot him last week during the Rogers fight, but they can’t kill Bill Carr,” and old Jim took a drink with a tenderfoot and went off up to the Clifton House to see how the “King of the Chickasaw Country” was getting along.

© Kathy Alexander/Legends of America, updated November 2022.

Also See:

Lawmen of the Old West

Outlaws on the Frontier

The Dalton Brothers – Lawmen  & Outlaws

Bill Cook – Leading the Cook Gang