Little Known Black History Fact: Cherokee Bill

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Cherokee Bill was an outlaw who committed a series of violent crimes across the Indian Territory of the 19th Century, around what is now known as Oklahoma. Bill’s name grew in infamy after running with a crew of Black Indian outlaws and he was hanged for his crimes at the age of 20.

Born February 8, 1876 at Fort Concho in San Angelo, Texas, Bill’s father was a mulatto Union Army soldier and  a member of the famed Buffalo Soldiers regiment. His mother was said to be a mixed Black and Indian woman. Raised primarily at Indian schools, Bill’s mother remarried and the family moved to Missouri. According to accounts, Bill clashed with his new stepfather and moved to live with a sister in Oklahoma at 15.

Bill’s life of crime began around 17 or 18, although other reports state he might have killed his first man at the age of 12 over a disagreement. In 1894, Bill’s reign of terror as an outlaw began. He shot a man for beating up a younger sibling and though he thought he’d killed him, the man survived. Bill then fled to the Creek and Seminole Nations, running into Black Indian outlaws, The Cook Brothers.

The Cooks enlisted other mixed Indians like Bill to engage in a series of robberies and petty crimes. During the year, the gang performed about a dozen robberies and Bill was linked to several deaths in those crimes. The crime Bill was officially charged and eventually hanged for was a November 1894 robbery and murder of a man who interrupted the gang during a robbery.

Bill was captured in January 1895 with the help of former outlaw friends who wanted the $1,500 reward for his capture. While at Fort Smith, Ark., Bill was tried for the murder of Edward Melton and found guilty and sentenced to death in April of that year.

Bill was planning an escape and had a gun smuggled into the jail before his attempted break out in July. In the ensuing gun battle, a prison guard was killed. A fellow inmate and outlaw, William Starr, negotiated with Bill to turn himself in to the authorities. Despite a valiant effort for an appeal, Bill would hang for his crime the following year.

On March 17, 1896, Bill was sent to the gallows. Allegedly, his last words were “I came here to die, not make a speech.”

PHOTO: Public Domain

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