Part 3 — Terror reigns in the Osage

Staff Writer
Pawhuska Journal-Capital

(Editor’s Note: The following is the third installment from the Pawhuska Journal-Capital’s popular 1996 history book, “Cowboys, Outlaws and Peace Officers.” Portions of the book will be serialized each week for the next several weeks in the pages of the J-C. The original volume was compiled by former J-C General Manager Larry Lucas and writer Libby Meyer. Sharon Yates assembled the photo collection and JoAnn Gibson is credited with production duties on the original book.)


Wild stories abound in Osage County concerning outlaws- some fact, some fiction. There is not ample space in this book to give a full history of this side of society about Osage County.

Probably the best known outlaw in Osage County would be W.K. Hale, an old-time rancher known in the Osage for his “reign of terror.” Hale had been arrested and charged with procuring the murder of Henry Roan, a wealthy Osage. John Ramsey, cowhand and cattle rustler, was in jail charged with killing Roan in cold blood, shooting him in the back of the head with a .45 caliber six-shooter.

From an article taken from the September 29, 1972 edition of the Pawhuska Daily Journal-Capital, one of Oklahoma’s foremost writers at the time wrote of the Osage Murders, Bill Burchardt.

In 1923, on a spring night, a gigantic charge of nitroglycerin blew up the home of W.E. Smith in Fairfax, Oklahoma, killing Smith, his wealthy Osage wife, Rita, and their housekeeper, Nellie Brookshire. Ernest Burkhart, a nephew of W.K. Hale’s, had been indicted for complicity in this murder spectacular.

In the ensuing trials, the U.S. Bureau of Investigation, predecessor of the F.B.I., revealed a remarkable and deadly chain of events. On May 28, 1921, the body of Anna Brown, Osage, had been found in a pasture near Grayhorse, Osage Nation. There was a bullet hole in the top of her head, and an empty whiskey bottle near her body.

Kelsey Morrison, an ex-convict, was brought from jail in Guthrie, Oklahoma, to testify that he had been hired by W.K. Hale to kill Anna Brown, the price of $1,000, plus cancellation of a $600 debt, and a new car. Morrison stated that he and his wife, Katherine Cole Morrison, and Byron Burkhart, Ernest’s brother, had taken Anna Brown on a drinking party. When she was drunk, they had driven to the canyon near Grayhorse, and carried her from the car. “I shot her in the top of the head with an automatic,” Morrison testified. “I told Byron how to hold her up, then I shot her. She fell over. I did not watch her die, but left immediately. Hale suggested… to leave some whiskey and if they did not find her soon they would think she died from poison whiskey. He said he wanted the body found so she could be identified.

It quickly became apparent why W.K. Hale wanted Anna Brown’s body found and identified. Two months later, Lizzie Q. Kyle, Anna’s mother died. Lizzie Q., as her name appears on the tribal roll, was an aged Osage woman whose estate was valued at several million dollars. Rumor suggested that she had been poisoned. There was no investigation. All of Lizzie’s fortune, and all of her daughter Anna’s oil wealth, became the inheritance of Lizzie’s two remaining daughters, Rita and Mollie. Rita was Mrs. W.E. Smith. When she and her husband were both killed in the nitroglycerin blasting of the home in Fairfax, Mollie inherited all.

Mollie was Mrs. Ernest Burkhart. Ernest was W.K. Hale’s nephew.

The chain of events that led to the destruction of this Osage family had begun much earlier. The allotment of Osage land in 1906 applied to surface rights. Each Osage received approximately 658 acres of land. All mineral rights were held in common by the tribe. Each Osage received a “headright,” meaning that he or she would receive an equal share of all mineral income. At that time there were only 2,229 Osage. An Osage might sell the surface rights to his land, but it was illegal to sell a “headright.”

The only way an Osage would lose this “headright” was to die.

Continued next week.