Monday, April 20, 2009

A Little Family History...

All my growing up life I'd heard about my great uncle, mom always said, "By marriage.", that was hung "for stealing horses". After I was grown one of my aunts that lived in California found a picture postcard of that hanging that took place down in Ada, Oklahoma. After doing some reading, we found out that great Uncle Jesse West and a couple of other fellows were involved, allegedly, in hiring a gunman to kill another man in Ada, A.A. Bobbitt, that had caused all kinds of problems and grief to quite a number of folks in the area in and around Ada before he got religion.

The hired gun was Jim Miller, a man who had killed any number of people, and the few times he had been arrested for a murder he had managed, with the help of his attorney, to get found "not guilty" by a jury of his peers. Miller had supposedly by his own claim had dispatched 51 souls to their eternal resting places. Among the folks he was suspected of killing were his own grandparents when he was 8 years old. Let's just say that the man, evidently even as a boy, had no moral compass and had no problem with gunning people down.

Bobbitt was a nasty fellow that was known to have stolen cattle from Uncle Jesse, as well as other folks in the territory. He was suspected of the fire that burned down Uncle Jesse's home and ended up killing Uncle Jesse's first wife. It happened when Uncle Jesse was out of town and his wife managed to get their kids out but was burned badly enough in the process that she died shortly thereafter because of the burns she sustained.

Now, this is where the family ties get tied into this story. Jesse married Nettie Venable in 1894, in Indian Territory. Her parents were my great grandfather, Dr. Elihu Venable and my great grandmother, Mary Woolums Venable. Uncle Jesse took his family and left the Ada area and purchased property out in Canadian, Texas and moved his family out there because he was tired of the continued problems with Bobbitt. But the banker in Ada, a Mr. Tom Hope wrote Jesse a letter in 1908 encouraging him to come back to the Ada area as there was money to be made in land and cattle business and other ventures. He told Uncle Jesse that Bobbitt was a changed man, had found religion and Hope thought there would be no more problems for Uncle Jesse from Bobbitt.

Old grudges and hard feelings evidently are hard to let go of however and when Bobbitt was murdered the lawmen arrested Jim Miller, Jesse West, Joe Allen and B.B. Burrell. Whether Mr. Miller was hired by Jesse and Joe Allen we will never know since the trial was never held. About 2 a.m. on April 19th, 1909, the lights and telephone lines to the town of Ada were cut and the 4 jailers guarding the prisoners were overwhelmed, the prisoners were taken from the jail. Jesse West, Jim Miller, Joe Allen and Burrell, who was supposed to have given the money to Miller, had their hands bound behind their backs with baling wire and were walked to the Frisco Livery stable and strung up. A photographer came about 7 a.m. and took photographs of the men still swinging from the rafters in the stable.

A grand jury was order by Gov. Haskell, but no one was ever charged in the lynching and to this day no one was ever identified as having participated in the hanging. This act of vigilanteism spelled the ending of the 'old West' and how matters were settled back in the day. My mom would have been upset that there was an anniversary marking the day and the event of the hanging, but she also would have been glad to know that one of several men who have done research on this event was a retired police officer and said that neither he nor anyone he knew had ever been able to find any evidence that Uncle Jesse or his long time friend and partner Joe Allen or Burrell were involved in the killing or hiring the killer Jim Miller to do the dastardly deed.

There have been a number of books that have been written about the hanging and it has been well documented by any number of authors. If you are interested in reading more about it, let me know and I can give you the titles of several books.

16 comments:

darsden said...

Wow you have some history in your roots Helen. (we could use a lil old west in this world about now) This sounds and reads like a novel of the old west.. I smell a book Helen...you have had an interesting life...excellent!

farmlady said...

Well this is just fascinating! My family came from Oklahoma too. I've often wondered how their lives were day to day: What they saw and how they dealt with the lawlessness. I'll bet there were lot's of mistakes made back then that folks had to live with.
Very interesting story.

K. T. Sparks said...

Helen that was so interesting! You just never know what you are going to find in those family trees!

Lisa said...

wow, that was really interesting. I love it when people tell their stories....life is just so "real". Who needs movie when we have blogs!!! =)

jojo said...

That is an amazing story Helen. Imagine what life was like in those days...which really were not that long ago for some of us! I would love the name of a book about this, history is my thing along with my son.

The song I alluded to on my blog was sung by Glen Campbell...or so I thought.

Brenda S Okie in Colorado said...

Oh I love those old stories about Oklahoma. I googled towns in the area where I grew up and got really old stories that way. Pretty Boy Floyd and his gang robbed banks in Paden and Castle. I was born in Prague and lived with my Grandparents in Paden until I was 11 and moved to Norman. Boley was the next town on their agenda. Boley is an all black community. The towns people ganged up and scared Pretty Boy Floyd and his men out of town and the bank wasn't robbed. I also had a Great Aunt that married a man that was trying to kill my family for oil and land. He had planned to kill everyone one by one. He tried to poison my Great Granddad. He hired a man to kill his wife by throwing lye into a window. It burned her and blinded her. All the men in town had him ready to be lynched, but were stopped by the law. He went to prison instead. This was the mid 20's to 30's.
Enjoyed your post Helen. Wouldn't you just love to find some of the old folks in each town and hear all the great stories?

Laura ~Peach~ said...

what facinating history! incredable pic too...

Mary Ellen said...

Oh my gosh. That reads like a great movie. What an incredibly rich history you have.

Being from the East Coast, all this stuff about the Old West just seems so unreal to me.

You really ought to think about writing your family memoirs. This would make a cool few chapters.

Ronda said...

I love finding out great stories from the past. My sister is the geneologist in our family, maybe I should look into doing some myself. You should write a book about this.. it is a very interesting story!

Staci said...

Yep, I want to know what the books are!

Twisted Fencepost said...

Interesting post, Helen. Sometimes I wish I could close my eyes and be transported back to see things as they were. If only for a few minutes.
You definitely have a colorful family there. Can't wait to hear more.
There is more isn't there?

Terry said...

I read about this story once while doing some digging of my own Oklahoma roots. I am so glad I came upon your blog .I just love your name .That's what got me curious .For me red dirt means Oklahoma .Thank you for sharing .
Have a fantastic week.

Debbie said...

I enjoyed this. If I were to live in another time it would be the 1800's. It's so neat that you know these things about your roots. All I know is that my Great-grandfather was full blooded Cherokee. The end. Sad.

hetty said...

Fascinating! What a colourful and interesting family history you have! You could write a book!

grgisme said...

Jesse West was my great-grandfather. According to my mom, the Bobbitt side continued to harass Jesse's son (Joe ?) for years afterwards. He ended up moving to New Mexico to try to get away from them. The fire that killed Jesse's first wife had been set by "drunken Indians" and my great-grandmother died while saving her children.

Tatersmama said...

Wow! Fascinating stuff! My mother was born and raised in Ada OK and there were always stories of her having been given some "gee-gaws" by Pretty Boy Floyd when he and my grandfather did some sort of robbery.
I don't know if it's true and I have no way of finding out, but I do know that my grandfather spent years and years in prison for robbing banks.