Part 7 — ‘So the swindles went round and round’

Staff Writer
Pawhuska Journal-Capital
Part 7 — ‘So the swindles went round and round’

(Editor’s Note: The following is the seventh 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.)

Cheated Indians

A Department of Interior report tells of an attorney who purchased an automobile for $250 then sold it to an Osage client for $1,250. This same attorney handled the affairs of another of his Osage clients in such a way that by 1929, his client was bankrupt and in debt $20,000 for mortgages held by the attorney, in spite of the fact that the Osage had inherited an estate of $90,000 and had an income of $7,000 to $12,000 per year.

So the swindles went round and round, anachronistic outlaws boomed into this last frontier for one final fling at the outlawing, and the mass communications portrayal of the Osage Nation as the last stronghold of the Wild West made Oklahoman’s so sensitive and self-conscious about their western heritage that for two decades, social ostracism fell upon anyone wearing a broad brimmed hat, high-heel boots, or anything reminiscent of western attire.

Two months after the hung jury failed to reach a verdict in the federal court in Guthrie, W.K. Hale and John Ramsey were again brought to trial, in federal court in Oklahoma City. Blackie Thompson, one of the anachronistic outlaws serving a life term in state prison, was released under immunity to testify that Hale had offered him $1,000 and a new Buick to blow up the Smith home.

Thompson had refused. Ernest Burkhart finally confessed that he was the “go-between” who had actually secured the Smith’s killer. Acting on instructions from Hale, Ernest had approached John Ramsey. He talked with the “Kingpin of the Bootleggers” Henry Grammer. He made the offer to another outlaw, Curly Johnson. He had tried to hire train and bank robber Al Spencer. All refused. Finally, he made a deal with one Ace Kirby. For $3,000, Ace had nitroglycerined into eternity W.E. and Rita Smith and their housekeeper. Ace Kirby could not be prosecuted. He had been cut in half by a storekeeper’s shotgun blast during an attempted robbery some months earlier.

Ernest testified that Hale had hired Ramsey to kill Henry Roan; Ramsey’s price was $500 and a new Ford. The “King of the Osage,” W.K. Hale, took the stand and denied everything. He had been in Fort Worth attending the Fat Stock Show when the Smith home was blown up. He insisted he had no reason to want Roan killed. But the jury’s verdict this time was “guilty.”

Hale, Ramsey, and Burkhart were sentenced to life imprisonment. Hale appealed. He was re-tried in 1929, and again found guilty. Ramsey appealed and was re-tried. At his last trial, Ramsey told an interesting new story, claiming that Curly Johnson had killed Henry Roan. Ramsey claimed that Burkhart’s wife intended to get a divorce and marry Henry Roan. Mollie Burkhart had, in face, been Roan’s wife before she married Burkhart. If she had divorced Burkhart and remarried, Roan, Ernest Burkhart would have lost the wealth Mollie had inherited from her mother and murdered sisters. Ramsey’s new defense failed to convince the jury. He was again found guilty.

At least twenty Osage murders were never officially solved. But with Hale, Ramsey, and Burkhart in prison, killing in the Osage came to an abrupt halt. The “Osage Reign of Terror” was over.

Continued next week.