Growing up to become one of the outlaw leaders of the Cook Gang, William “Bill” Tuttle Cook was born near Fort Gibson in 1873 in the Cherokee Nation in present-day Oklahoma but was left homeless at the age of 14 when his mother died in 1887.
Starting out as an honest young man, he served as a scout for the U.S. Marshals from Fort Smith, Arkansas, guiding them through Indian Territory. However, he soon started running whiskey to the Indians and, in 1893, was sentenced to 40 days in jail by Judge Isaac Parker. During his incarceration, he vowed he would put together an outlaw gang when he was released, and the following year he did.
By June 1894, he had gathered up his brother, Jim; Crawford “Cherokee Bill” Goldsby; Thurman “Skeeter” Baldwin; Jess Snyder; William Farris; Curtis Dayson; Elmer “Chicken” Lucas; Jim French; George Sanders; Sam “Verdigris Kid” McWilliams; Lon Gordon, and Henry Munson.
Going by various names, including the Cherokee Kid, John Williams, and John Mayfield, Bill led the Cook Gang in terrorizing Indian Territory by robbing banks, trains, post offices, stores, and individuals. The Cook Gang was pursued by dozens of lawmen who tracked them down one by one in no time.
In June 1894, Cherokee Bill, Jim, and Bill Cook were confronted at Fourteen Mile Creek near Tahlequah, Oklahoma, with a warrant for Jim’s arrest. In the inevitable shoot-out, Cherokee Bill shot and killed lawman Sequoyah Houston. Jim Cook was also severely wounded, and the other two took him to Fort Gibson. Forced to leave him, he was later captured by lawmen.
On July 14, the gang held up a stagecoach, and just two days later, they robbed a man named William Drew. On July 18, they held up the Frisco train at Red Fork. However, the gang escaped with very little due to the express messenger having had the foresight to hide the money behind some boxes.
On July 31, 1894, the gang stole $500 from the Lincoln County Bank in Chandler, Oklahoma, killing one person and wounding others. In the process, gang member, Elmer Lucas, was shot and captured by authorities.
Hotly pursued, the Cook Gang was surrounded at a friend’s home some 14 miles west of Sapulpa, Oklahoma, on August 2, 1894. During the volley of gunshots, one of the lawmen was shot and severely wounded. Two of the gang members, Lon Gordon and Henry Munson were killed, and Ad Berryhill was captured. The rest of the gang fled.
The gang then robbed the Kansas City and Missouri Express at Coretta, Oklahoma, on October 20, after which they robbed several stores and company offices, stealing large payrolls. When the gang robbed the Schufeldt and Son store in Lenapah, Cherokee Bill killed a man, and the lawmens’ determined pursuit increased, and all were eventually captured or killed.
Curtis Dayson, Thurman Baldwin, Jess Snyder, and William Farris were all sent to prison for long terms. Jim French, George Sanders, and the Verdigris Kid were shot to death by lawmen when they resisted arrest. Goldsby was captured and later hanged at Fort Smith. Bill Cook was apprehended in January 1895.
He was tried for bank robbery before Judge Isaac Parker on February 12, 1895, and found guilty. He was then sent to federal prison at Albany, New York to serve 45 years. He died on February 15, 1900, of consumption while in prison. His body was returned to Hulbert, Oklahoma.
© Kathy Alexander/Legends of America, updated December 2021.