By J. V. Frederick
Beaver about 1885 was a small, struggling town on the Beaver River. A stage lot surrounded by a wire fence had a shed, stable, and a cabin in one corner; a picket cabin about twelve by twenty feet in size located about one hundred yeards south had a dirt floor, dirt roof, and was daubed with mud. In addition, Jim Lane was the proprietor of a supply store which sold tobacco, bacon, coffee, beans, flour, and ammunition.
In 1887, Beaver began to assume the spirit of a lively city. The increased activity was largely due to two men named Og Chase and George Scramage who added City to the name Beaver. The former was well known for his long whiskers and his knowledge of medicine while Scramage was a good mixer and booster of city activities. Chase was also known for his great desire to run for governor of the district. Scramage bought land just south of town and planned to develop it. He also bought land to the southwest and started a new town called Grand Valley, about four miles south of the Beaver River. He claimed most of the land adjoining both towns.
With influential friends, he formed a vigilance committee in each town to keep order. Scramage established his credit in a store at Beaver and in one at Grand Valley by placing a small sum of money on deposit. He then allowed needy comrades to secure bacon or beans from the stores and charge the items to him. Scramage expected to secure several sections of land in the vicinity with the help of the committees. He also paid $300 to Noah Lane as a deposit for land which joined Beaver City land on the South and promised to pay $1000 more to complete the purchase. The land looked good at that time and many thought that it would be very valuable when the country boomed.
Charley Tracy was the manager of a feed barn and livery stable in Beaver City and a man named Bennett operated a grocery.
They decided to make some "easy money" by hiring a man to jump a Land claim, sell out, and then divide the money among the three of them. They hired a man named Thompson to set up a tent on the claim and the plot started.
In a few days, Oliver Nelson rode into town. He had a claim near Grand Valley and had come to Beaver City to visit friends. The day was stormy and a light snow covered the ground. He stopped at the Tracy barn where he planned to leave his horse. No one seemed to be in the barn while Nelson tied his horse but dirt fell down from the rafters so Nelson believed that some one was hiding in the room above. However, he told his horse that he would leave him there for a short time while he finished his business in town. There was no comment from the person above so Nelson strode from the barn.1
Nelson walked across the street to where a friend named Miller lived and said, "Hello, Miller. What's the news?" Miller replied, "No news. Everyone is keeping still here." Nelson could not get him to talk further so left the house and walked down the street to a grocery-saloon and said to the proprietor, "Well, Jack, how's tricks?" Jack instantly replied, "Ol, there hain't no tricks. You'd better go slow around here and be careful." Nelson saw that he was having trouble in securing information so went back to the feed barn.
A man named Norton, an easy-going type, came out of the barn. Nelson greeted him and said, "Hello, Norton. Are you running this thing?" Norton asked, "Say, did you put that horse in there?" Nelson said that he did and wanted to know what was going on in town. Norton then asked him if he had not heard the news and Nelson replied that he had just come to town. Norton looked steadily at him and spoke, "Hell is liable to break loose
1This account is based on the memoirs of Oliver M. Nelson. He was born in Tippecanoe, Indiana, in 1862. He came to Barber County, Kansas, in 1879, and homesteaded a claim. In 1882, he reached Indian Territory and worked as a cook on a ranch until the spring of 1884. He homesteaded a claim near Grand Valley during the years 1887 through 1889. He took a claim in the Cherokee Strip in 1893 near Bison, Oklahoma. He spends the winters in the Rio Grande Valley where he owns a fruit farm.
here at any time. They have crippled Thompson and then shot him twenty-four times. They shot Bennett too. I have been in Dodge and Abilene but this is the cold-bloodest murder that I ever saw." As he spoke a man named Addison Mundel came down the middle of the street with a Winchester rifle in his hand. Norton saw him and shouted, "There goes one of the murdering —— now." Nelson warned Norton that Mundel would hear him but Norton retorted hotly, "I want him to hear me. He's afraid and he don't know how I'm fixed. He ought to be shot." Mundel paid no attention to the tirade and kept walking down the street without looking back. However, as Norton and Nelson talked, four other men with Winchesters walked to a point directly across the street from the barn.
In a few minutes a boy came along and the men pointed to the barn and back across the street. The boy started toward the barn, and Nelson ran inside and looked through a crack. He saw the boy near the door and shouted, "Norton, that boy is taking your key. Those fellows are going to shoot you." Norton sprang into action and seized the boy. He held the boy between himself and the four men, grabbed the key and managed to get inside the barn. The rifle men then moved down the street. Norton was now alarmed and asked Nelson if he had any place to stay that night. The latter said that he did not. Norton then said, "Then stay with me. How are you fixed?" Nelson said that he was not fixed very good, so Norton replied, "Well, I have plenty of guns. There won't be any danger if both of us stay here together." Nelson was not so sure of that, so he walked over to Miller's house to ask advice. Miller told him that some men in town were going to kill Norton during the night and that they were asking questions about Nelson. The latter said that he had just met Norton on the range and they were not close friends so he would not stay with him that night. Miller advised him to leave Norton before sundown.
Nelson thought that he would tell Norton of his decision, so he went back to the barn and told him, "Norton, I have to get
out of town right away, so I can't stay here tonight. You need to sober up and not be so sure because those fellows plan to kill you tonight." Norton just laughed and answered, "Oh, they're afraid. There is no danger."
Nelson returned to the Miller home and stayed there. At dawn, he suddenly awoke and ran to the west window. He saw Norton at the door of the barn with a shotgun in his hand. Nelson could not see any men with Winchesters on the street so decided that no battle had occurred.
He dressed and walked over to the barn to talk to Norton. He learned that Mundel and Thompson had been the leaders in the trouble. Nelson had known Mundel in Beaver City for several years and had seen him draw a gun on Thompson in 1887. The latter was a gambler who had irked Mundel in some way, so Mundel on a certain day pulled a gun quickly on Thompson and made him do a stomp dance on the sandy street while he held his hands in the air. The dance in Beaver City caused some excitement and merriment among the onlookers. During the comedy, a mule rolled into a fence and tore some wire loose from a corral near the scene, and the crowd of spectators rushed to free the mule. Mundel looked over his shoulder to see the commotion and lowered his gun. When he turned around, he was looking directly into Thompson's six shooter. Mundel was then forced to mount the well-curb several times and jump out on the board walk to please Thompson. Finally, Mundel was compelled to walk southward out of town with his hands in the air while the crowd howled in derision. Mundel swore to himself that he would get revenge on Thompson for the humiliation.
Mundel's chance came when Thompson set up his tent on the Land claim. Mundel was aided by other members of the vigilance committee such as Big Mack, Lee Harlow, Herb Wright, and L. N. Hodges who was postmaster. The five men walked to the claim and carried Winchesters for instant use. Thompson was boarding at Mrs. King's house which was half-sod and half-dugout, and was located about one block from the street. Thompson
saw the group leave the town hotel, so he ran around the boarding house and called out to Mundel when the latter was about two hundred yards distant. Mundel stopped, and Thompson said, "Hi, Mundel. Where you goin', you —?"
Mundel did not reply but knelt, aimed his rifle, and fired at Thompson. The bullet fell short, so Thompson laughed and shouted, "Raise your sights, d- you." Mundel fired again, and again the bullet fell short. Thompson dared him to try again so Mundel shot a third time. The bullet hit Thompson in the left knee-cap and he fell to the ground.
The committee returned to the hotel and sent Dr. Og Chase down to investigate the condition of Thompson. In a few minutes, Chase returned and said that Thompson would be a permanent cripple. The vigilantes now turned to settle the case of Bennett, but walked first to the town saloon in order to bolster their courage with fiery whiskey.
In a short time, they went to Bennett's store. One member said, "Thompson says that you caused him to get into trouble. He wants to see you." Bennett was surprised but replied, "If I got him into trouble, I can get him out. I'll get my hat and coat." Hodges then stepped in front of him and said warningly, "If you don't want to die, go now." Bennett obeyed and proceeded out the door with his thumbs in the arm holes of his vest. The group walked down the snow covered street toward the King home. Hodges led the way into the house and was followed by Bennett, but the other vigilantes remained outside. Hodges turned to Bennett when they had reached an inner room, and said, "Don't you know you must die for jumping that claim?" As he spoke, he drew his revolver quickly and aimed at Bennett. The latter struck at the gun as it was fired. The bullet hit Bennett's right arm, plowed into his forehead, and he fell dead on the floor. The remaining vigilantes now entered the house and saw the crippled Thompson lying on a cot. Without delay, they started firing at him and did not stop until they had sent twenty-four bullets into his body.
After the second murder, the committee decided to kill Tracy. The latter had heard of the shootings and was planning to leave town at once. He ran from his home, harnessed two ponies, and began to hook them to a buggy. His wife had stepped into the vehicle, and Tracy was ready to do so when the vigilantes came into sight. They saw his plan, aimed their guns, and shouted to him, "Throw up your hands." They were about three hundred yards away, and Tracy jumped into the buggy, lashed the ponies into full speed, and fled out of town amidst a hail of bullets. He headed northward toward Meade Center, Kansas.
The vigilantes were disgusted with the turn of events, but Big Mack, who weighed about two hundred pounds, shouted, "Just wait! I'll catch him." He ran back to the main street of the town where he had tied his horse. Big Mack owned a small race horse which was fast but weighed only eight hundred pounds. He mounted the animal, which was unsaddled, and pursued the flying buggy. Several trails led through the sand hills north of Beaver City, but all roads were heavy and difficult to travel. Big Mack was able to keep up the chase for two miles, but his horse tired rapidly in the sand; so the pursuit was abandoned. The Tracys reached Meade Center safely, and he persuaded the town marshal to place him in the jail for a few days so he would be protected. He did not return to Beaver City.
On the day following the murders, the King boy drove out of town with two large boxes in a wagon drawn by two heavy bulls. Two vigilantes walked on each side with Winchesters in their hands while Mundel came in the rear. Nelson and Miller were on the street when the procession passed. They soon learned the reason for the procession, but Miller said that the vigilantes would not allow any one to aid in the burials. Nelson insisted upon offering his assistance, so Miller warned him, "You d- fool! It ain't your funeral. Do you think that you own this town?"
Nelson made no reply but walked rapidly down the street to catch the wagon. Mundel saw him when he was about fifty yards away, stopped, and shouted, "Come on down, you —. We'll
bury you on top of the box." Nelson answered, "Say, fellers, I just decided not to go down." He turned back and rejoined Miller.
Nelson learned later that the funeral was carried out and Rev. Mr. Overstreet preached the sermon based on the scripture that the wicked should meet a timely end. The vigilantes paid seventy-five dollars to him for his service while the escort and driver of the hearse received twenty-five dollars each. Mrs. King was given fifty dollars for the grave lot.
The town committee sold the Bennett store and the Tracy stable and divided the proceeds after giving money to Norton because Tracy had failed to pay him his wages for his work in the stable. Panhandle justice in 1887 had killed two men and forced another citizen to flee to another town to save his life. It must be said, however, that "claim jumping" around Beaver City was decidedly unpopular for several years after this event.2
2Dr. J. V. Frederick is a member of the faculty of the Municipal Junior College at Pawhuska, Oklahoma. He is Professor of History at A. and M. College, Stillwater, Oklahoma, on the summer faculty.