ARCADIA – Outlaws were once very popular in Oklahoma, says historian Art Burton, and the most famous bad guy of the Indian Territory era was Crawford Goldsby, otherwise known as Cherokee Bill.
“He’s little-known today, but he was more of a classic outlaw than Billy the Kid,” Burton said. “He stuck up banks, trains and stagecoaches. He did it all.”
The teenaged outlaw also had lots of girlfriends, was a snappy dresser and freely shared the proceeds from his life of crime, Burton said. His exploits were regularly chronicled by the New York Times.
Burton, who graduated from Arcadia High School in 1967 and went on to a career in Chicago as a college teacher and administrator, will talk about Cherokee Bill, Bass Reeves and the Wild West days of Oklahoma at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, July 29, at the Arcadia Round Barn. Admission is free, and Burton will be available afterward to sign books.
Burton holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in African-American studies and is the author of several books about Oklahoma Territory, including “Black, Red and Deadly: Black and Indian Gunfighters of the Indian Territory, 1870-1907,” and “Black Buckskin and Blue: African-American Scouts and Soldiers on the Western Frontier.”
In 2007, he wrote the first scholarly biography on an African-American lawman of the Wild West, “Black Gun, Silver Star: The Life and Legend of Frontier Marshal Bass Reeves.” His latest book is “Cherokee Bill: Black Cowboy, Indian Outlaw.”
Burton said it’s not known how Goldsby received his nickname, but his mother was a Cherokee Freedman and Goldsby began his short-lived criminal career by throwing in with the Cook brothers, who were mixed-blood Cherokee.
The less-affluent residents of territorial Oklahoma did not necessarily have a problem with robbers such as Cherokee Bill, Burton said, because trains represented Big Business, and banks were not seen as friendly to the small farmer and rancher.
“Oklahoma has as colorful of a history as Hollywood has tried to project about other states in the West,” Burton said. “Hollywood was built on the stories of outlaws and lawmen. The Westerns were the movies that made Hollywood. Cowboys and outlaws and Indians were very much a part of Oklahoma’s history.”
The Arcadia Round Barn is six miles east of Interstate 35 and five miles west of Luther on Historic Route 66, and is owned and operated by the nonprofit Arcadia Historical and Preservation Society.