By Liz McMahan
Almost from birth, cousins Dick and Zeke Crittenden were so close that everyone considered them practically brothers. They were five years apart, with Dick being the older of the two.
Dick and Zeke did everything together — from growing up in the hills of western Cherokee County to signing up to become U.S. Deputy Marshals under “Hanging Judge” Parker’s Fort Smith, Ark., court.
And when one decided to leave the marshal’s service, they both quit and went to the other side of the law — stealing horses, pulling holdups and drinking good, homemade whiskey.
That was what they were doing — drinking whiskey together — on the last day of their lives: Oct. 25, 1895, on Wagoner’s South Main Street, when they were involved in a shootout with Belle Starr’s son.
That incident will be re-enacted at 2 p.m. Saturday by members of Frontier Ministries under the sponsorship of the Wagoner County Historical Society.
Anyone who wants to be an “extra” in the re-enactment is invited to come in period dress and mill about as a bystander, said Terry Presley of Frontier Ministries.
“This is not a tribute to the outlaw Crittenden brothers, but a re-enactment of the actual history that took place in Wagoner,” said Shirle Lamb Williams, president of the historical group.
“We do, however, want to also pay tribute to our law officers of today and yesterday and will have a display of all former county sheriffs in the city museum on South Main at 1 p.m. We invite all officers and their families to participate.”
The Crittendens left their first mark in history books as marshals on July 18, 1894, when they joined a posse attempting the capture of the notorious Cherokee Bill and outlaw Jim Cook at a house on 14-mile Creek east of Tahlequah.
The two outlaws got away, but the Crittendens had shown no fear in the battle.
Cherokee Bill was captured in Nowata the next year, after the Crittenden boys had been assigned to work in the Wagoner area.
As the train taking Cherokee Bill to the Fort Smith passed through Wagoner it stopped, and Cherokee Bill was paraded before a waiting crowd to pose for a photograph. He stood between Zeke and Dick, with his arm around Zeke. At the opportune moment, Cherokee Bill dropped his hand to Zeke’s holster, thinking he would grab his weapon and escape. Crittenden had the foresight to remove the weapon before standing next to Cherokee Bill.
Then, having resigned from law enforcement to a new career of robbery and horse theft, the Crittendens visited downtown Wagoner.
They got into a quarrel in John Burne’s restaurant. One of the Crittendens beat the old man up pretty badly with his six-shooter and finally superficially wounded him with a shot to the back of the head.
Dick and Zeke went from bad to worse, firing indiscriminately and, after running out of ammunition, went from one store to another and finally obtained some from the Great Racket Store.
U.S. Deputy Marshal Ed Reed was attempting to arrest Zeke Crittenden, when Zeke, with a six-shooter in each hand, fired two shots at Reed and missed. Reed was son of Belle Starr and had been appointed marshal here upon his release from the Ohio State Penitentiary.
Reed then leveled his Winchester at Zeke and fired, striking him in the chest. The bullet passed through his body and broke his arm on the opposite side, killing Zeke on the spot.
When Dick learned his brother had been killed, he became furious and set out to find the person who did it. As soon as he learned it was Reed, he took aim at him and fired, but missed.
Then, Reed shot Dick Crittenden. He fell from his horse, not 10 feet from where his brother lay.
Dick lived until about midnight. His horse was killed in the battle.
The two men were taken to a doctor’s office above what is now American Bank.
Reed was cleared of wrongdoing in the case. He later was killed in Claremore.
If you go
What: Crittenden-Reed shootout/Law Enforcement Appreciation Day.
When: Law enforcement Appreciation Day, 1 p.m.; Re-enactment 2 p.m., April 20.
Where: South Main Street, Wagoner.
INFORMATION: (918) 691-1855.