Blake was born to Samuel Lee and Mary Etta Elkins Blake in about 1859. His parents were known to have lived in Missouri, but William’s birthplace is unknown. In the early 1880s, Blake was working as a cowboy in Kansas but later wandered south into Oklahoma. By late 1892 he had joined up with Bill Doolin’s Wild Bunch. During the next two years, he would be involved with a number of train and bank robberies with other members of the gang.
On the night of April 3, 1895, the gang robbed a southbound Rock Island train. When five men stormed the train and ordered it to be opened, messenger J.W. Jones refused and the outlaws fired 20 rounds into the car. Jones didn’t give up his hold until he was shot in the wrist and leg by random bullets. Worried they would kill the passengers, he finally let the bandits on the train. Storming in with guns drawn “Tulsa Jack” and George “Red Buck” Weightman, patrolled the passenger cars while the others guarded the safe in the front of the train. Tulsa and Red then stole the passengers’ wallets, watches, and jewelry. Making off with $400 in cash and other goods, they then rode off into the night.
Running for most of the night, they evaded the law. However, by the next afternoon, they were spotted by U.S. Deputy Marshal William Banks and six posse men. Taking a break in a sand basin along the Cimarron River in Major County, Oklahoma, the outlaws were called out by Banks and his men. In response, “Tulsa Jack” began firing in their direction and a fierce gun battle ensued. As bullets flew for almost 45 minutes, the gang held the Marshals off. However, when Blake broke cover to flee, he was shot and killed. As the firing continued, two more bandits were wounded before the rest of the men escaped.
Deputy William Banks later estimated that more than 200 shots were exchanged during the gunfight and that each outlaw was armed with two revolvers as well as rifles.
The death of “Tulsa Jack” was the beginning of a violent end to Bill Doolin’s gang, as the rest of the gang would soon be killed or captured.