Lee Atkins – Killed Before Duty

U.S. Deputy Marshal Badge

U.S. Deputy Marshal Badge

A newly appointed U.S. Deputy Marshal, Lee Atkins had not even seen service when he was killed.

A Creek Indian, Lee was born to Thomas and Mary Jane Atkins on December 20, 1860. Atkins had just been commissioned in the Western District Court at Ft. Smith, Arkansas, by Marshal George C. Crump when he was attending a horse racing event in Checotah, Oklahoma. He was there with another U.S. Deputy Marshal, Dick Downing, who was in town to serve an unrelated writ.

Earlier in the day, Atkins had been warned that a man named Amos McIntosh, another Creek Indian and former prosecuting attorney in Muskogee, was looking to kill him. After the warning, Downing accompanied Atkins for the rest of the day, and when Atkins and McIntosh came face to face, both agreed to give up their weapons to prevent any trouble.

However, McIntosh later got his gun back, and that evening when the two met again at the horse races, they began to argue. When Atkins cursed McIntosh, telling the other man that he was unarmed and calling McIntosh a coward, McIntosh pulled his gun and shot Atkins twice, once in the left side and once in the hip. Though reports stated that both men had been drinking, Marshal Downing said Atkins was sober.

Indian Territory Checotah Cemetery

Indian Territory Checotah Cemetery

Lee was buried at the Indian Territory Checotah Cemetery in McIntosh County, Oklahoma.

Why Downing didn’t immediately arrest McIntosh is unknown, but it was probably because Atkins was not in the discharge of his duty when he was killed. At that time, there was a question of which court would have jurisdiction over the case — that of the Creek Nation or that of the United States Government. Most people assumed that it would be tried by the Creek authorities. But such was not the case.

In the meantime, the killer fled the town on the next train to Eufaula, where he openly bragged about how he had killed the deputy marshal. After several weeks, Amos McIntosh was surprised when he was arrested on January 14, 1895, by U.S. Deputy Marshal Grant Johnson,  who had for some time a writ for the arrest of McIntosh.

Several Deputy Marshals transported the killer to the federal jail in Ft. Smith, Arkansas, where he was held for one year before being released to the Creek Lighthorsemen.

The Indian Police then took him to the Creek Indian Nation court, where he was given his freedom.

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

Also, See:

Adventures in the Old West

Lawmen of the Old West

TimeLine of the American West

U.S. Marshals – Two Centuries of Bravery


Find a Grave
Littlefield, Daniel F. and Underhill, Lonnie E.; Journal of Negro History, University of Chicago Press, April 1971.
Owens, Ron; Oklahoma Heroes: The Oklahoma Peace Officers Memorial, Turner Publishing, 2000