Part 9 — A sensational holdup, continued

Staff Writer
Pawhuska Journal-Capital

(Editor’s Note: The following is the ninth installment from the Pawhuska Journal-Capital’s popular 1996 history book, “Cowboys, Outlaws and Peace Officers.” Portions of the book have been serialized each week for the last 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.)

By Joe D. Haines Jr.

Night watchmen Bevard (first name unknown) and Mike McShea heard the shot and appeared at the corner of the City Hotel. The robber spotted them and commanded a halt. The robber fired, and McShea and Bevard returned the fire.

Bevard’s gun jammed after two shots and he took cover behind a telephone pole. The outlaw blasted the pole, then dashed into the depot to tell the other two it was time to leave.

The three outlaws raced south, down the platform to their horses. Bevard ran to the depot and found Gus Cravatt, the young black, lying wounded west of the tracks.

Cravatt’s wound in his right leg bled profusely. The boy was taken to his father’s home. Two doctors were unable to stop the bleeding and young Cravatt died.

Sheriff’s posses were organized to pursue the outlaws, but to no avail. Little was heard from the gang until June 14, 1903. On this day, the Martin Gang made an appearance on the Osage Reservation.

The reservation (now Osage County, Oklahoma) was located in the northeastern part of the state. The sparsely settled area had many hiding places in the dense blackjack oak. The only law was the Osage Indian Police and a few U.S. deputy marshals.

It was to this refuge the Martin brothers came with their old friend Simmons in the summer of 1903. By June 14, the gang needed new horses. They decided to conceal themselves near the road between Pawhuska and Bartlesville and relieve travelers of their mounts.

About three miles southwest of Bartlesville, the gang found the perfect spot. The road ran between two hills along Liza Creek. Many trees provided cover.

Shortly after noon, Frank Watson of Bartlesville rode along the road on his way home. The Martins jumped from cover and seized his horse. Watson was told he wouldn’t be harmed if he behaved as he looked into the barrels of several Colt .45s.

Fred Keeler of Bartlesville was the next traveler to become a victim. Keeler, driving a buggy, quickly complied with the outlaws’ demands. He and his team were led into the woods to join Watson.

As the afternoon wore on, everyone passing along the road was stopped and led off to a secluded spot. Nellie Johnstone Cannon, a victim of the holdup, wrote the following account several years later:

“One beautiful Sunday afternoon in the early spring of 1904 (actually 1903), as a picnic party composed of Keeler, Johnstone, Bopst, Beattie, and Bixler families was returning from a day in the Osage, we were halted by a band of outlaws at a point between where the old trail followed the course of Liza Creek between two Osage hills, a short distance west of Bartlesville. We were all quite surprised, and of course considerably frightened until we learned of the real cause of all the confusion.

“Three bandits, two of them members of a family living on Coon Creek, had held up a train during the night, had hidden in the hills, and were now endeavoring to produce some good saddle horses upon which to make their getaway.

“There were many horses in the caravan that looked good to the bandits, among them a high spirited span of sorrels driven by Fred Keeler, but many of these driving horses were not saddle broke, so they had considerable difficulty getting mounts. They recognized my father, and were courteous enough to let him designate which one of his horses they should take.

“As it took several hours to go through this process of elimination and select the horse upon which the bandits were to depend their escape, quite a large group of people had assembled – all traffic from both directions being detained by the bandits.”

Continued next week.