Though the Cook Gang was short-lived, lasting less than a year, these ruthless outlaws made themselves extremely well known across the Cherokee, Creek, and Seminole Nations of Indian Territory in 1894.
It all began in the spring of 1894 when Cherokee Bill Goldsby, at the age of 18, shot a man near Fort Gibson, and believing he had killed him, fled to the Creek and Seminole Nations. There, he soon joined up with outlaws Jim and Bill Cook.
In June 1894, the trio was confronted at Fourteen Mile Creek near Tahlequah, Oklahoma, with a warrant for Jim Cook. In the inevitable shoot-out that occurred, 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, Jim was later captured by lawmen.
In the meantime, Cherokee Bill rode to the home of his sister, Maud Brown, hiding from the law. When her husband, George Brown, a vicious drunk, began to beat Maud with a whip for not responding quickly enough to his orders, Bill walked up behind the man and shot him to death.
Afterward, Bill Cook and Cherokee Bill rounded up a gang, mostly comprised of black men with Indian blood, and began to terrorize Oklahoma. In addition to its leaders, the gang comprised of Henry Munson, Curtis Dayson, “Skeeter” Baldwin, Lon “Long” Gordon, Elmer “Chicken” Lucas, Ad Berryhill, William Farris, Jess Snyder, George Sanders, Jim French, and Sam “Verdigris Kid” McWilliams.
Starting small, they were first accused of whiskey charges and horse theft before advancing to robbing banks, stores, and stagecoaches. The outlaws were ruthless, shooting anyone who got in their way.
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, one member of the gang, 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.
Continuing with their outlaw deeds, they robbed the J.A. Parkinson & Company store in Okmulgee, Oklahoma, on September 21, getting away with over $600.00.
Several weeks later, the gang got daring when on October 11, they first robbed the depot of the Missouri Pacific Railroad in Claremore, Oklahoma, and less than two hours later, they robbed the railroad agent at Chouteau.
Some nine days later, they wrecked the Kansas City and Pacific Express five miles south of Wagoner, Oklahoma, making off with the loot.
Ever continuing their treachery through Oklahoma, Cherokee Bill and several other members of the gang rode into Lenapah on November 8. While robbing the Shufeldt and Son General Store, an innocent passerby named Ernest Melton heard the commotion and stuck his head in to see what was going on. His curiosity got him killed when Cherokee Bill raised his rifle and shot him in the head. Shortly afterward, U.S. Marshals got a tip to the outlaw’s hiding place. Most of the gang members, including Bill Cook, were arrested; however, Cherokee Bill escaped.
Continuing to be hotly pursued, Cherokee Bill persistently eluded the posse for a while, at least. His final act along the outlaw trail happened on December 31, 1894, when he acted alone to rob the train station at Nowata, Oklahoma.
With the assistance of acquaintances who hoped to receive part of a $1,500 reward, he was captured on January 30, 1895, and was soon delivered to Fort Smith, Arkansas, to await trial for murder. On February 26, Cherokee Bill was tried before Judge Parker, found guilty, and sentenced to death. Though Bill appealed the verdict, he lost, and federal officials hanged him before hundreds of spectators on March 17, 1896.
Bill Cook died in prison on February 15, 1900.
© Kathy Weiser-Alexander/Legends of America, updated November 2021.