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Chronicles of Oklahoma
Volume 4, No. 2
June, 1926
OLD TIMERS SWAP YARNS AS PART OF CELEBRATION.

Page 153

HISTORIAN OF PLAINS COMES BACK FROM VERMONT FOR
FEW DAYS WITH FRIENDS AT FETE OF PIONEERS

When old timers get together, the yarns begin to spin. The ’89ers headquarters Tuesday was the scene of many a tale of the days of ’89, by the ’89ers who have arrived for the celebration, and by the cowboys and cattlemen coming in for the rodeo.

The middle of the group was William E. Hawks, now living in Vermont, "historian of the Plains," who has collected hundreds of cowboys’ poems, stories and actual history of the old west. Hawks is here as the guest of Major Gordon Lillie (Pawnee Bill). They have been friends for many years.

The killing of George Thornton by an outlaw named Wiley was related Wednesday when Hawks found Ransom Payne, federal court bailiff and marshal in ’89. Thornton was one of Payne’s associates, and Hawks knew him before he came to Oklahoma.

"Thornton was a member of an expedition into Mexico in 1883, for the purpose of establishing a ranch there. Things got too hot for them and they had to come back and settle in Texas. Every white man who ever had tried to settle in Mexico before then ‘got it in the back,’ and never returned.

"After a few years in Texas, Thornton moved on to Oklahoma as a United States Marshal."

At this point Ransom Payne took up the story. "We were standing in Guthrie one day soon after the opening, and Thornton told me he had a warrant for Wiley. He mounted his horse and with two Indians set out for the Sac and Fox country. Three days later Thornton’s body was sent back in a box, in a big two-horse wagon.

"It seems he had a claim to a valuable section of land near what is now Grand avenue in Oklahoma City," said Hawks, "and he always carried the papers with him. He approached the house of Wiley at night. The moon was

Page 154

shining. The door opened a few inches, and a rifle poked through. It spoke and Thornton fell in his tracks. And unless I am wrong, the Indians took a couple of shots after he had hit the ground.

"I don’t know for sure, but it looked like a put-up job," Hawks continued. "The papers never were found, and Thornton’s folks never got the land."—Daily Oklahoman.

The above story, with an addition by the editor, will be of interest to the many readers of Chronicles of Oklahoma. The writer of these lines has a little information concerning Mr. Thornton that the general public knows nothing about. At the time of Mr. Thornton’s death I was pastor of a charge in the Indian Mission Conference, known as Arbeka circuit. This circuit had reaches and breadths to it almost unparalleled by any other charge in the conference. In fact it covered the country reaching from Okmulgee to Sac and Fox Agency on the west, a distance of about one hundred miles, thence to old "Shawnee Town" (the location of which was on the banks of the North Canadian River, about midway between the present towns of Shawnee and Tecumseh) a distance of nearly forty miles, thence down the North Canadian River via Arbeka, where we lived in a rented parsonage, to where the present town of Weleetka is located, thence north by the "Bean farm," to Okmulgee, the place of beginning. Those of you who are familiar with this section of the country, are aware of the fact that it, at that time, had within its borders the elements of outlawry, and that it was the hiding place for all those who were given over to all kinds of devilry. Such characters as the Dalton’s, Cook’s, the Buck gang, Al Jennings, Wiley Bear and the noted Captain Willie, referred to above as Wiley, but who was known as Captain Willie in that section of country described above. The writer met all these men at different times while residing in the bounds of the Arbeka circuit. That little bit of history I wish to give in connection with Mr. Thornton is this: One Sunday evening, during church service, a stranger stepped into the church and remained through the service, at the close of which he came at once to the stand and made himself known to the preacher, stating that he was passing through the country, and as he was stopping for the night in the village, decided to attend church service. During the conversa-

Page 155

tion he said to the preacher: "I have a warrant for Capt. Willie and as I must leave early in the morning, I just want to thank you for the sermon you preached, it did me good, and as I may never see you again, I just want to tell you that I am glad I came." The congregation was dismissed and Mr. Thornton went out with the rest. About two in the morning he saddled his horse and went to the community where he had been informed that the man for whom he had the warrant could be found. To this place he came, and the above story tells the result. The writer knew nothing of the life of Mr. Thornton, while the outside may have been rough, I am sure there was on the inside of this man something akin to the eternal.

Mr. Thornton left Arbeka about two o’clock in the morning and was killed before sunrise, about fifteen or twenty miles northwest of Arbeka and east of Sac & Fox Agency, not far from where the little creek, known as Hillaby empties into the Deep fork.

J. Y. B.

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