Chronicles of Oklahoma

Skip Navigation

Electronic Publishing Center
Oklahoma Historical Society
Chronicles Homepage
Search all Volumes
Copyright 2001
Purchase an Issue

Table of Contents Index Volume List Search All Volumes Home

Chronicles of Oklahoma
Volume 10, No. 4
December, 1932
BEN WILLIAMS,
FRONTIER PEACE OFFICER

By Hubert E. Collins

Page 520

Benjamin F. Williams, son of Dr. Dearman and Mary (Farmer) Williams, was born near Salem, in Columbiana County, Ohio. Although his life seems destined to be a rather stormy one, he was reared in the teachings of the Society of Friends, commonly called Quakers.1 Before he had passed his 'teens, he was helping to pioneer a new community on the fringe of settlements in Iowa, where his parents were numbered among the first settlers. There he developed all of the resourcefulness of a typical frontiersman, including remarkable proficiency and skill with fire-arms, his favorite weapon being the rifle, with which he became an expert marksman. Whether he was influenced by the wild associations of frontier life or merely followed the impulsive tendencies of an independent disposition, or both, he seems to have cut loose from the faith of the quiet, peaceable people in which he had been born and reared, though always holding it in great respect, and went his own way. And so it was that, when the great


1Benjamin F. Williams, fourth child and second son of Dr. Dearman and Mary (Farmer) Williams, was born near Salem, Ohio, January 27, 1837. His education was secured in the district schools of his youth. In 1855, when he was eighteen years old, he accompanied his older brother, John, and two of his sisters, to Iowa, whither the rest of the family followed them a few months later. The next four years were spent under pioneering conditions, on the Iowa frontier. In 1859, he joined the Pike's Peak gold rush and crossed the Plains to Colorado, along with two young neighbors (brothers) by the name of Collins, one of whom had married one of his sisters. The three young men sluice mined in Graham Gulch one winter. Subsequently they hunted and trapped for a season. When the Civil War broke out, Ben Williams returned to Iowa and enlisted as a soldier in the 5th Iowa Cavalry. He was in Grant's army at the capture of Forts Donelson and Henry and he was afterward with his regiment in the Battle of Pittsburg Landing, shortly after which he was captured and was a prisoner in the hands of the enemy for nearly two years, being confined at various times at Winston, Libby and Andersonville prisons. With two comrades, he succeeded in effecting an escape during the confusion incident to the advance of Sherman's army during its famous "march to the sea" and made their way into the Union lines. His health having been shattered by the rigors of imprisonment, he was furloughed home as an invalid and the war ended soon afterward. Thereafter he was engaged in farming until he came to Darlington to take up his special work. The rest of his life story is told in the text of the accompanying sketch. His death occurred at San Jose, California, October 19, 1908.

Benj. F. Williams

John F. Williams

Page 521

war for the preservation of the Federal Union came on, like many another "fighting Quaker" (including two of his own brothers), he volunteered to don the blue and help to fight his country's battles.

Long and faithfully did young Williams serve in the ranks, until he had been promoted through the non-commissioned grades and was recommended for a commission. Then, one unlucky day, after three years of service, he was captured by the enemy and was sent to Andersonville Prison, where he was held for six months, until the beginning of the march of Sherman's army to the sea. Andersonville Prison being in the way of that advance, its inmates were removed to other points out of the line over which the Federal forces were marching. In the confusion of this abandonment, Ben Williams succeeded in making his escape. Trailed by blood-hounds, after numerous thrilling experiences in which he seemed to come within a hair's-breadth of recapture, he finally made his way into the Federal lines, weak and emaciated, with his health shattered by malaria. He was promptly given a furlough and was sent home to recuperate. He went to the home of his brother John, near Muscatine, Iowa, on a farm. The war ended a few weeks later, so he never returned to active service.

Joining his brother in renting some additional land, he remained there until the call came for him to come to the Indian Territory for special service in connection with the Cheyenne and Arapaho Indian Agency. Brinton Darlington was a leading business man and likewise a most earnest and influential member of the local organization of the Society of Friends. John Collins had married Amelia Bond, whose mother was a sister of Brinton Darlington's wife, so he was an uncle of John Williams by marriage. The treaty with the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes provided that there should be certain artisans and shops maintained for their benefit. Knowing John Williams to be honest, conscientious, industrious, skillful and discreet, Agent Darlington had hired him as the Agency blacksmith, just as he also hired the younger brother, Edwin F. Williams, as the Agency engineer. Agent Darlington died in 1872, and John D. Miles, another Quaker, was appointed to fill the vacancy thus created.2


2John De Bras Miles was born at Dayton, Ohio, June 7, 1832. His father was of English extraction and his mother's family was of French origin. He was reared on a farm in Miami County, Ohio, where he received a common school education. This training was afterward supplemented by a full course in a business college at Richmond, Indiana. At the age of seventeen, he engaged in teaching school and, at the age of twenty, entered the merchandising and milling businss at Wabash, Indiana. In the winter of 1868-9, he was appointed U. S. Indian agent for the Kickapoo tribe, then living on a reservation near Atchison, Kansas. In 1871, he was sent as a special commissioner to the Republic of Mexico to secure the removal of the Mexican Kickapoo band back to the United States. In 1872, he was transferred to the Cheyenne and Arapaho Agency, at Darlington, Indian Territory, as agent to fill the vacancy occasioned by the death of Brinton Darlington. In 1877, he was sent as special commissioner to the agency of the Uncompahgre Utes, in Colorado, to adjust the differences between the Indians of that tribe and the white settlers who were at war over a disputed boundary line. After holding his position as Indian agent at Darlington for twelve years, he resigned In 1884, and accepted the position of attorney for Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians. After the opening of Oklahoma to settlement, in 1889, he took an active part in the movements incident to the proposed organization of the Territory. His home was at Lawrence, Kansas, for many years, but subsequently he lived near Sutherland Springs, Texas, for several years. Still later he moved to California where he died at the ripe old age of ninety-four.

Page 522

Agent Miles found that white outlaws were stealing horses from the Indians and from white freighters on the Chisholm Trail and also occasionally plundering wagon trains. He therefore asked authority from the Department of the Interior to employ a competent man to devote his whole time to the work of running down and capturing such outlaws and seeing to it that they were prosecuted. This authority was granted. John Williams had become Agent Miles' principal advisor and he recommended his brother Ben for appointment to the new position thus created. Ben Williams was sent for and at once came to the Agency, where he agreed to assume the duties of the position thus tendered to him. In order that there might be no question as to his authority to serve warrants, make arrests and hold prisoners, the United States marshal of the Western District of Arkansas, whose jurisdiction included the whole of the Indian Territory, was asked to issue a commission to Ben Williams as a deputy United States marshal.3 So, while acting largely at the instance and under the direction of John D. Miles, Government tribal agent for the Cheyenne and Arapaho, at Darlington, he always reported to the United States marshal at Fort Smith, Arkansas, and



Page 523

any prisoners which he captured were taken there for trial before the Federal District Court in session at that place.

Ben Williams filled the duties of this position only for a little over three years, as it was understood to be but a temporary one. During the period of his tenure, however, he succeeded in cleaning out some of the worst and most desperate bands of outlaws then operating in Indian Territory. Incidentally, he saw much of the Indians and of Indian life and he succeeded in gaining the confidence and good will of some of the Indian leaders who were slow to bestow friendship upon any white man who had not proven himself trustworthy in their searching estimation. Many of his experiences during the course of his service in that capacity were of the most thrilling character, yet the story of that service has never been published and is forgotten except by very few people. It was a service that called for courage of the highest type, for the ability to make instant decision, as well as a degree of resourcefulness that never failed in an emergency. In this, of course, he was pre-eminently a man for the times in which he lived and for the exigencies of the service to which he had been called. The Indians of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes, and more especially the former, were among the most restless and intractable of their race on the Great Plains at that time. This was not due wholly to their natural disposition but, rather, because they had been goaded to desperation by the treatment which they had received at the hands of the white people. Although they had nominally been settled and at peace on the new reservation, for several years, it was known that several bands were very much dissatisfied and still nursing strong feelings of vengefulness because of the injustice and wrongs which they had suffered in the past. Such were the conditions existing when Ben Williams came to take up the performance of his duties among the people of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes, in 1873. His task was assuredly not a light one. He had to win the confidence and friendship of the Indians in order that they might be brought under persuasive control. Some of the band chiefs and head men held themselves aloof and were naturally suspicious of every white man. The reservation was almost imperial in its extent and it was no small task for a single peace officer to undertake to perform such a duty alone. It was his duty to try to keep

Page 524

outlaws, horse-thieves, whiskey peddlers, buffalo hunters and other white intruders out of the reservation and, as far as possible, to keep the Indians within its limits unless they had official permission to leave on hunting excursions.

Ben Williams spent the winter of 1873-4 in the field, among the Indian villages. There were too many of them for him to get acquainted with all of them and, moreover, some of them had their own reasons for not wanting to come under his influence. In general, the people of the Arapaho tribe received him much more cordially and treated him with much more frankness than those of the Cheyenne tribe. Then, in the early summer of 1874, came the outbreak of the last general Indian war in the Southern Plains region, in which most of the Cheyenne people, with most of the Comanche and a large part of the Kiowa, left their reservations and took to the open range, to wage a united war against the hated white people. The bands of Cheyenne that remained at peace, were clustered near the Agency, as were the Arapaho, who as a tribe took no part in the war. Ben Williams had won the confidence of a few of the Cheyenne leaders as well as that of practically all of the Arapaho chiefs and head men. It was in the closing scenes of this conflict that he was destined to plan an important part, namely, in effecting the rescue of the two older Germaine sisters and, incidentally, of bringing about the surrender of a large band of hostile warriors.

Shortly after the first outbreak of hostilities, a band of Cheyenne warriors had made its way into Northwestern Kansas, where they found the emigrant wagon of the Germaine family. Attacking it, the parents were both killed and the four daughters were carried away into captivity. Every possible effort was made to effect their recapture or release. Finally, one band, by which the two little Germaine girls were held captive, was closely pressed, and abandoned them; they were found seated on a buffalo robe and an old Indian was left to guard them, where the pursuing soldiers soon afterward found them.4 But the two older sisters, who were in the years of middle youth and who were with another band, yet



Page 525

remained to be rescued. As a matter of fact, all of the hostile bands realized the futility of further warlike efforts yet, knowing that they would be attacked at sight, they succeeded in concealing their people from discovery, though the troops were constantly in the field in quest of them. After this lull in hostilities, the Arapaho Indians sought and secured permission to go on a buffalo hunt. While on this hunt in the Texas Panhandle, they were in frequent touch and communication with the hostile Cheyenne bands and were kept fairly well posted as to what was going on in the camps of the latter and the location of the same. Ben Williams had accompanied the Arapaho, to see that they preserved their attitude of neutrality. The young Arapaho braves, who were largely in sympathy with the Cheyenne, usually passed him with scowling faces, but there was no overt act of hostility toward him. "Jimmy" Morrison,5 whose wife was a daughter of the Arapaho chief, Big Mouth,6 was also present in camp and was of great help to him. The band of the noted Cheyenne chief, Stone Calf,7 by which the two elder Germaine sisters were still held captive, was south of Red River, when the Arapaho camped near at hand. It seemed that Stone Calf had already decided to make his way back to the vicinity of the Agency at Darlington, slip into the camp of his friend and fellow chief, Little Robe (who had remained at peace), and obtain the best possible terms and clemency by voluntary surrender instead of waiting to be captured off the reservation by the troops. At this juncture, Ben Williams boldly walked into the hostile Cheyenne camp, where he was accorded a very cool and suspicious reception.







Page 526

However, the Arapaho were not slow in letting the Cheyenne chief know that this unarmed white man was a kinsman of their beloved and venerated Tosimeah (Agent Darlington) and of the same faith, whereupon Stone Calf invited him to his lodge, where he found the two remaining Germaine girls.

The two white girls wept with joy when they met Williams, the tears trickling through the paint which had been smeared on their faces to make them look like Indians. They reported to him that they had been treated as slaves and allotted the hardest work of Stone Calf's camp. However, the chief was more inclined to be guided by the advice of the white man in his camp when he learned that he was a younger brother of Tun-Hun ("The Pounder"), who was the blacksmith at the Agency and who was recognized as a friend by all Indians. Within another day, the whole cavalcade of Arapaho and hostile Cheyenne was en route. Ben Williams constituted himself guard for the two white girls and also acted as an advance guard for all of the Indians. In event that white soldiers had been encountered, he would have had to explain the status of all of his motley following. It so happened, however, that not a single soldier was seen during the course of the entire trip to the Agency, so these two numerous bands arrived at Darlington, late one afternoon, to the surprise of the troops and their scouts. Indeed, until their sudden appearance in the camps of Little Robe and his friendly followers, the whereabouts of Stone Calf and his hostile warriors was utterly unknown.

Ben Williams, "Jimmy" Morrison and some Arapaho chiefs accompanied Stone Calf as he immediately visited the headquarters of General Nelson A. Miles, where the two white captives were voluntarily surrendered.8 Just as another hostile band had given up the two younger captives a few days previously, to placate the military, so did Stone Calf with the last two members of the Germaine family. While Stone Calf was negotiating with General Miles, the 300 members of his band quietly set up their tepees all about



Page 527

the villages which were already there. Other bands of hostile Cheyenne encamped at Red Bluffs,9 about thirty miles up the valley of the North Canadian from the Agency.

This surrender of the two older Germaine sisters has been the subject of much misunderstanding, or, rather, misinformation. In the main, George Bird Grinnell was correct in his version of the affair as related in his book, "The Fighting Cheyenne," since he secured his information directly from the Cheyenne people. What he lacked was the story of the actual surrender of the two girls to General Miles by Stone Calf before the General was even aware that they were near him. It is to be regretted that the public records place the credit for the rescue of these two captives entirely with the officers and troops of the United States Army, who had no part in it except to receive them when voluntarily surrendered by Chief Stone Calf. The story of the captivity of the Germaine sisters, part of whom are still living, has been published in book form in recent years. There can be no doubt that Stone Calf agreed to deliver them to General Miles on his own initiative and to serve his own interests and that before any of the officers or troops knew where he was to lay hands upon him in a compulsory manner. Let this stand as a part of the real history of Oklahoma, with credit given where it is due—to a savage Indian.

Ben Williams had now reached the prime of his physical life. A pen picture of the man may not be lacking in interest to the reader. In stature, he was close to five feet, eleven inches, with a well-knit, muscular form. He was governed by an indomitable spirit that never hesitated an instant. He had a full head of heavy, dark brown hair and a beard that covered his face and neck. In action, he was as quick as a cat and he was athletic to the degree that he could leap astride his pony at a bound, or clear a fence-bar chin-high. His dress was any clothing which he could afford, generally topped by a white Stetson hat of the style then commonly worn in the cattle country—with a straight brim, fifteen to eighteen inches wide—not the "ten-gallon" tops so much affected on the present-day dude-ranches and by moving-



Page 528

picture "cowboys" who never worked on a ranch a day in their lives. Ben Williams always carried a Colt's forty-five calibre revolver in a holster attached to his cartridge belt. But he depended more on his Henry rifle, as did many another old-time peace officer. He generally carried this weapon in the crook of his left arm, whether riding or afoot, and he learned to make many of his best shots from that position. His marksmanship was deadly accurate and swift as the strike of a rattlesnake. With the Colt's revolver, he fired straight from him while holding it shoulder high—there were no fancy hip shots from a revolver, since they seldom hit the mark.

Ben Williams was never idle, as there was always plenty of work in his line to keep him busy. Many outlaws lurked in the wilderness and infested the trails that led through the region in which Darlington was located. At one time there was a gang which was led by several brothers named Lee.10 Their number was reduced by one when Ben Williams beat one of these leaders "to a draw" in a single combat. The Quaker disposition in Williams revolted at killing a fellow man but it was woe betide the man who made the killing obligatory. Ben always expressed regret in this instance yet, seemingly, it could not have well been otherwise.

When Williams received a warrant to capture the eldest of the Lee brothers and return him "dead or alive," the desperado had adopted the sobriquet of "Will Bill," but the name did not deter his nemesis. Instead, tucking the warrant in his pocket, he rode away at a rapid pace, heading his pony in a direction southwestward from the Agency, in a course quartering from the setting sun. He soon picked up the trail which told that his man was ahead, though not within sight. But though pursued and pursuer could not see each other, it was a race, nevertheless, the one being fully conscious that there was a price upon his head, while the other was urged forward by a sense of duty. Nightfall ended the chase, temporarily.



Page 529

Each was up at dawn and the race was resumed. The marshal passed the site of the hunted man's camp, soon after day light. Thenceforth, Williams had to maneuver to keep out of sight by seeking to keep in depressions which were off of the direct trail. Reaching the rim of the Washita Valley, he espied his man, far ahead. The outlaw was beyond the river, riding toward higher ground, thus placing him constantly in sight of the marshal. Mid-day found the fugitive turning into a trail that led down the valley. A log house, which had been built by some venturesome trader with the Indians, stood close beside this trail. Williams, who knew the country well, surmised that the fleeing man would stop there, even before he reached the log house. When the outlaw did this, Williams immediately availed himself of an opportunity to conceal his horse in a low place and hide himself where he could watch developments. Although he was nearly a mile and a half from the log house, he could see his man standing in the door. Plainly, to go farther, in daytime, was out of the question unless some unforeseen circumstance should come the marshal's way.

It was quite evident to the marshal that the desperado expected that some one would be following him, as he maintained a position in the doorway, probably watching backward his morning's trail. There seemed to be no other recourse than to let darkness come to his relief. Darkness meant, also, that the man might easily escape if he were frightened. By the middle of the afternoon, time was hanging heavily on the hands of the marshal as he lay in concealment. Once, when the hunted man disappeared inside the building, Williams arose to his feet and, in so doing, he thought he saw something moving on or near the trail far to the northwest. Watching closely for several moments, he finally concluded that some one was coming down the valley in a wagon. Instant action on the part of the marshal followed. Keeping on low ground, he led his horse to a point where the timber belt along the river would effectually screen his further movements, where he immediately mounted and rode rapidly upstream to a point beyond the range of vision from the log house. Then, riding out into the open, he changed his course to intercept the trail, where he was gratified to note a covered wagon, drawn by a team of

Page 530

horses, with a lone driver in charge. Hailing this man, Williams made himself known and deputized the stranger as a posseman. Quickly they worked out a plan by which they hoped to capture the man Lee, or, at least, give him a chance to surrender.

Williams' pony was left behind to graze until wanted. The driver was to proceed along the road as though he would pass the log house as he made his way on down the valley. The tailgate of the wagon-box (which was empty) was removed and Williams seated himself in the rear end of the wagon-box, with his rifle in position across his knees. At the right point, the driver was to swing from the road, to his right, and turn his wagon completely around in front of the log structure. This would bring Williams into sight of the man still standing in the doorway. The rest would be up to the marshal.

With the plan thoroughly understood and each man in his appointed place, the wagon proceeded on its way, down the trail. The cabin was sighted, with the outlaw still on the watch. He stood squarely in the doorway, leaning slightly against the upper part of the jamb. Vigilant curiosity kept his eyes upon the approaching vehicle but, as yet, there was no alarm. The team trotted, the wheels beat their tune under the hub caps, while the break-gear rattled; harness creaked as the horses took slight rises and the wagon rose from the ruts to take the turn. This action was so natural that there was no change in the attitude of the man in the doorway, until he suddenly noted the man seated in the back end of the wagon box, with his rifle at ready.

"You are my prisoner! Throw up your hands!" Williams shouted. Lee gave no indication of obeying the command. Instead, he made an effort to grasp his sixshooter and draw it. As his hand approached the holster, a shot rang out and he slumped slightly forward, thus showing that he had been hit. The shot had struck close to the heart but such was the outlaw's vitality that he still tried vainly to draw his revolver. One hand had been grasping the doorjamb above his head and this prevented him from falling. As he slid slowly toward the earth, this hand still retained some strength in its grasp, Williams noted another attempt to draw the six-shooter and he sprang forward and struck

Page 531

the hand loose from the door-jamb, whereupon the wounded desperado fell prone in the doorway, still conscious. His last glance held all the venom that he had for the marshal and he managed to speak of that which was evident: "Williams, you have killed me!" These were the last words of one outlaw on that frontier.

The death of the leader of the Lee Brothers' gang did not stop the activities of other members. Ben Williams was called upon to arrest more of the members of that outfit than of any other during the ensuing six months. There was one marked difference in all of the other members of that gang, however. Each and every one surrendered promptly when called upon to do so. There was always bitter enmity shown and Marshal Ben Williams had more than one escape from assassination. Two members of the Lee gang had been arrested and brought before the United States Commissioner at Darlington Agency, who bound them over for trial before the Federal Court at Fort Smith. The journey from Darlington had to be by stage from that point to Wichita, Kansas, which was the nearest railway station. The first part of the trip was over the prairie from Darlington to the Kingfisher stage station.11 The two prisoners unburdened their minds and did considerable boasting in an attempt to intimidate Ben Williams who had them in charge. In this move, they made a mistake, as the Quaker marshal was not a man of the type that could be readily bluffed.

Knowing the prisoners to be members of the Lee gang led the marshal to suspect that they had a confederate in the person of the keeper of the next stage station. Therefore he was led to the conclusion that there might be trouble and even danger awaiting him at Kingfisher, so, instantly, his plans were made. Shortly before coming in sight of the stage station, he called the driver to halt the vehicle. Disarming the driver, he used him to aid in trussing up the two prisoners inside the stage. The two were then placed where they could not move hand or foot. The stage then proceeded as usual and drove up to the station with the customary flourish.



Page 532

Needless to state, the station tender was surprised to find himself looking into the muzzle of the marshal's rifle as the team came to a stop. From that moment, there was action and the team changes were made in record time, with every man on the run. Williams barked out his order as he moved here and there. At one moment, he would be at a distance, covering the crowd; again he was close to the station attendant, who was suspected of complicity with the Lee gang, jabbing the man's ribs with the muzzle of his rifle in a manner that was anything but comfortable. After a record change, the vehicle shot down the bank of Kingfisher Creek and up the opposite slope in a flying get-away. He had disarmed the station attendants at the start.

After reaching a point well on toward the Cimarron Crossing, the vehicle was again halted and the prisoners were released from their cramped position. Further indulgence in threats and bragadocio was not indulged in, since the first effort had not proven to be a profitable one. The rest of the trip was made in silence. No one tried to answer the marshal's pleasantries as he evened up the score for what his prisoners had tried to do to him.

Ben Williams' life was in danger every day, as he performed the duties of his position, anyone can well believe. It was all in a day's work with him, however. Probably no one incident impressed him as being a narrow escape as did the following incident, which he was wont to relate with great gusto, in after years: As before, he had started with two prisoners for Fort Smith, from Darlington, after he had been through several days' pursuit, without opportunity to rest up. The marshal and his prisoners occupied the lower part of the stage, with the two prisoners side by side on the rear seat, facing the officer, whose feet were between theirs, in the center of the seat, facing to the rear. Captor and prisoners were very tired, so it was not long after dark that snoring was heard from all of them as they sought needed rest. This surcease from physical weariness was sought by the prisoners but not on the part of the marshal. Indeed, he was facing men so desperate that he kept them constantly covered with a sixshooter, cocked and lying in his lap. Sleep was farthest from his intention, at any time during that night. Tired nature had taken a hand, however,

Page 533

and had left him in a very dangerous situation. It may be well to use his own words in telling the rest, as he related it afterward.

"I awoke some time during the night and realized that I had been asleep. In the darkness, I could not see either of the prisoners but I could hear them snoring. I missed my revolver the first thing—it had dropped from my hands and I could not locate it by feel, anywhere. It was evident that neither of the prisoners had discovered my loss and, of course, I knew that I must locate and gain possession of the gun without awakening either of them. We were sitting packed in as tight as sardines in a can.
"With my heart in my mouth, I started in exploring, first between my legs and then on either side, on the seat. Then I leaned forward and explored the laps of my fellow-travelers. Next came the floor—I started on my left. To lean over and not awaken either of the prisoners became one of the most trying jobs of my life. It was tedious work as I would bend slowly enough to keep suspicion of my moves at rest. Of course, I should have known that the men were dead to the world and would be slow to sense the situation, even if they did awake. But I attributed supernatural powers to them and I was worried. Slowly, pausing a hundred times at false alarms, I pursued my search. My right foot finally located the gun, where it had fallen, wedged between my leg and that of one of the prisoners.
"I should have felt it there, when I first missed it, had it not been for the perverseness of my excitement, that held me ignorant of its location for some minutes. When I did feel the weapon, as my leg moved, it gave me a start, since I was almost sure that the prisoner would feel it at the same time. When I recovered command of myself, for I was paralyzed into inaction for a time, it was to start to reach for the revolver. I lowered my right hand, fractions of an inch at a time, until I felt

Page 534

that I could make a grab for it. I did so and the feeling of relief, as my fingers grasped the butt and circled the trigger, has never been equalled since."

The prisoners both awoke at the unusual stir of the marshal though neither of them ever knew how they had missed an opportunity for escape, that night. But Ben Williams took it very lightly after he had recovered his nerve. As long as a man escaped with his life, the adventure was a joke with him.

There never was a more nervy occurrence than the affair of "Ben Williams and 'Wild Bill,' " as related in my book, "Warpath and Cattle Trail."12 To have blundered in on fourteen outlaws, all awake and heavily armed, and to have fought free of them all by sheer force of will is no small credit to the esteem in which they all held him. The first man with the pseudonym of Hitchcock, had died with his boots on at the behest of this Quaker cyclone. No doubt that first fatality had bred a wholesome respect which was a protection. Mentioning these affairs reminds his biographer that Ben Williams was not tied to guns for weapons. There were times when he relied on nature and was even more proud of the accomplishment.

Following the path of duty soon after the killing of Lee, Williams, accompanied by a band of Indians, was out in the field in conjunction with a troop of cavalry from Fort Dodge, in an effort to capture and escort from the country a party of buffalo hunters.13 The combined party had been out in the upper Cimarron country for several weeks, scouting with poor success. Ben Williams and the lieutenant in command of the troops had messed together and slept in the same army tent. With these two white men was George Bent,





Page 535

who also ate with them and slept in the same tent.14 It is said that there was a bottle of whisky to discuss during one evening meal. As Bent related the account of the evening, the two men—Ben Williams and the lieutenant—emerged from their usual taciturnity and began to use laudatory expressions, each in his own behalf—like two boys, each was bound to out-brag the other. The Lieutenant was scoring high when Williams remarked he could most likely lick any man on earth. To this the army man took exceptions. Each of the two men claimed the championship of the Western Plains.

The lieutenant called the guard in from in front of his tent and all equipment was carried out. Orders were then issued to keep everyone away from the tent until further word was given out. The two men then stripped to the waist and started a fist fight with George Bent as referee. They say that it was a fair fight, with Queensbury rules, which ended when one man was down. It took over an hour to settle the affair and Bent awarded the honors to the Quaker marshal. Ben Williams always claimed the fight and, as the lieutenant never objected, the honors will have to go to the subject of this sketch and let history so record.

Time passed and Ben Williams continued to risk his life in the capture and delivery of renegades and desperadoes and the delivery of the same to the proper Governmental authorities for trial because of their deeds and misdeeds, during the years 1873-4-5. The pay was not large—only $100.00 per month, with allowance for certain actual travel-


14George Bent was the second son of Colonel William W. Bent, the noted Rocky Mountain fur-trader of the first half of the last century, whose trading house, best known as Bent's Fort, on the upper Arkansas River, in eastern Colorado, was one of the most noted institutions of its class. Colonel Bent's wife was owl Woman, who was a daughter of the chief medicine man, or high priest, of the Cheyenne tribe. Their children were sent to the home of Colonel Albert Gallatin Boone (a grandson of Daniel Boone, the Kentucky pioneer), who lived at Westport, the eastern terminus of the Santa Fe Trail, to go to school. Later, the sons were sent to the Christian Brothers' College, at St. Louis. Colonel Bent's father, Judge Silas Bent, of St. Louis. His father was Silas Bent the elder, member of a prominent family in Boston, who was one of the directors of the Ohio Company and one of its pioneer settlers at Marietta, on the Ohio River, in 1788. Prior to that, Silas Bent the elder had been lieutenant colonel of a Massachusetts militia regiment, during the Revolution, and, still earlier, he was reputed to have been one of the leaders of the band of young white men who disguised themselves as Indians and dumped the British tea into the Boston Harbor. George Bent was a man of keen mind and great intelligence and, had he been reared under a different environment, could doubtless have made his mark in the world of affairs. He was possessed of a marvelous memory and was virtually a walking cyclopedia of Great Plains history, never forgetting a name or a date. He died at his home, at Colony, in Washita County, in May, 1918, at the age of seventy-six years.

Page 536

ing expenses. Even at this, Government inspectors were always quibbling over differences and distinctions between traveling expenses and living expenses, so that, before the appropriation for the support of his work had expired, he threw up his position in disgust and utterly refused to reconsider his resignation when urged to do so. He had rendered faithful service and had cleared the reservation of white outlaws and renegades. Meanwhile, the new military post of Fort Reno was being built and a force of Indian police had been organized under the direction of "Bill" Darlington, son of the old Agent, Brinton Darlington, so that Ben Williams services probably were not needed as much as they had bee when he first assumed his duties at the Agency. One important service that he rendered, along toward the close of his service at the Agency, was that of guiding a detachment of troops that was sent out to select the site for Fort Elliott,15 which was built, like Fort Reno, after the close of the Indian War in 1875.

During the first year of his service with the Darlington Agency, he had accompanied a band of Indians on a buffalo hunt, during the course of which the Indians showed him a splendid spring of water that gushed out in considerable volume at the head of a deep ravine, about two miles from Sweetwater Creek, of which it was a tributary. Ben Williams was much interested in this spring. Seven hackberry trees were scattered along the little brook below the spring, each about forty feet high but scarcely showing above the top of the ravine. The prairie land on either side was so nearly level that the ravine was scarcely visible at a distance of a few rods.

After leaving the public service, Ben Williams was a



Page 537

stage driver between Darlington and Caldwell, Kansas, on the Chisholm Trail, for a season. On one of his trips down from Caldwell, among the passengers was Miss Affie Woodcock, a Kansas school-ma'am, who was under contract to teach in one of the Indian schools which were operated in conjunction with the Darlington Agency. The stage driver was attracted and soon induced the lady to marry him. They went back to her Kansas home for the wedding ceremony. There, he persuaded her to agree to go to a new home to be built as soon as he could find the spot and build in the midst of the buffalo plains. Williams had made fast friends with the Indians and was loath to leave their vicinity. Moreover, he had never forgotten the spring which the Indians had shown to him. One of his warmest friends among the Indians was Little Robe, a Cheyenne chief, who wanted him to locate there and promised that he would protect him in event of any further Indian trouble. At the time, it was supposed that the spring was in the Indian Territory but, later, it was found to be several miles west of the 100th Meridian, in what is now Wheeler County, Texas. At the time that Williams was there with the Indians, there were thousands of buffalo ranging in the immediate vicinity.

After his marriage, accompanied by a brother of his bride, he started on a journey to locate the spring and the ravine with the seven hackberry trees. The effort put his plainscraft to a severe test, as nearly five years had passed since the spring had been pointed out to him. Going to Fort Elliott, he worked eastward from there. He made no false moves but deliberately tracked down the seven hackberry trees, the tips of their topmost branches just showing above the level surface of the prairie. Finding a grove of oak trees down the stream a mile from the site selected for the house, the two men erected the outlines of a house with logs set up in stockade fashion, to mark the spot as first improvements. Finding that the site was in Texas, a contract was made for the purchase of the land. The following spring,



Page 538

he took his bride, and a young boy who was the son of Iowa relatives and, accompanied by the brother-in-law who had made the first trip with him, proceeded to his new home in the Texas Panhandle country, where he finished the house, corrals and stables. Thus was established a cattle ranch in the midst of the wild buffalo range. The two grown men actually killed and skinned over 600 of the animals on their own land, during the ensuing season. Many of the buffalo hides were very heavy and were described as resembling huge pancakes. It was quite a problem to market them. It was finally decided to resort to the use of hay-racks mounted on wagons. The dried hides were loaded on these and thus transported to the new town of Mobeetie, adjacent to Fort Elliott, where they were marketed at an average price of one dollar each. The modest sums thus earned helped out on the first year's expenses. Buffalo were scarce after the first year and soon disappeared.

The new ranch prospered right from the start. Butter, eggs, poultry and other produce found ready demand at remunerative prices at Fort Elliott, while the herds of cattle on the ranch were increasing. The ranchman's friendship with the Indians never changed and Indian guests and visitors were always welcome in his home. Among these, the Cheyenne chief Little Robe, was among the most frequent.16

Williams first named his new home Hackberry Springs, but, later, when a postoffice was established, it was changed to Affie, in his wife's honor. It was a regular stop on the Star Route stage line between Fort Reno and Las Vegas, New Mexico. The Williams home was at Affie, Texas, until 1886. When Wheeler County, Texas, was organized, about 1880, Ben Williams was named as one of the county commissioners. Most of the new neighbors were from the South and some of them were not averse to baiting an ex-union soldier. Ben was too fiery to trust himself, so he finally decided to leave the country to avoid trouble. He felt that guns might be resorted to and he did not want to kill anyone. So it was decided to sell the place to which he was greatly attached and move to California. The ranch was sold to the S. R. E. Cattle Company and the buildings were torn town and removed. The spot where this frontier home once stood is still locally known as Williams Spring.

Page 539

Numerous other incidents in the life of Ben Williams might be discussed, illustrating still further the impulsiveness, courage and will power of the man, but these must suffice for this account of his life. This brief sketch adds measureably to the history of the old Cheyenne and Arapaho Indian Agency at Darlington. The version of the surrender and delivery of the two older Germaine sisters is here related, just as he often recounted it to his sons and nephews—Dr. Francis Williams, of San Francisco, and Rev. Mahlon D. Williams, of Reno, Nevada, are his sons, and Messrs. Ralph P. Collins, of Rocky Ford, Colorado, and Mr. Hubert E. Collins, of Utica, New York, are his surviving nephews. All are living at this writing (July, 1932) and each can vouch for the story as here related. There has been a measure of misunderstanding concerning the end of the quest for the Germaine sisters. It is understood that one Army officer was promoted partly because he had rescued the two older Germaine sisters in the field. The real story of their surrender and delivery at Darlington, by the Cheyenne chief, Stone Calf, acting under the persuasive influence of Ben Williams, was never made public until now. It is not merely interesting but important as a pertinent fact in the pioneer history of the present State of Oklahoma.

Ben Williams, soldier, peace officer, peacemaker, frontier diplomat, scout, plainsman, ranchman, belligerant Quaker—impulsive and fearless but always fair,—reached the end of his earthly journey at his home in San Jose, California, nearly a quarter of a century ago. His grave in the G. A. R. lot in the San Jose cemetery overlooks the mighty Pacific, whose restless waves are typical of the activities of his tireless and useful life.

HUBERT E. COLLINS.

Return to top


Electronic Publishing Center | OSU Home | Search this Site