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Chronicles of Oklahoma
Volume 3, No. 4
December, 1925

Frank D. Northrup

Page 289


The Stillwater Gazette of May 8, 1892, carried this item:
"Judge Jerome S. Workman, probate judge of "D" County, in the Cheyenne and Arapaho country, rode in from Taloga yesterday. He had finished taking filings on town lots and came home to look after business matters."

Had J. E. Sater, the editor of the Gazette, had a keener nose for news and had Judge Workman less modesty, he might have added another sentence something like this: "He had played hide and seek with the Dalton gang on the way," but Sates had more than a county wide reputation for brevity of expression and didn’t believe in wasting space. Since the story was not told then and has not been to this day, to my certain knowledge, I believe that it still deserves a place among the thrilling incidents of the early days. But before I start I should introduce Judge Workman as he was then.

He was twenty-seven years old, just a boy in years, but with a back-ground founded on an unusual training. Life for him on a Kansas farm, at the age of sixteen, became too tame and he went west and "joined on" as a cowboy on one of the big ranches that in those days spotted the West, from the Rio Grande to the Canadian border. For four years he played a part in the strenuous business of riding the range from Texas to Montana. At twenty he took stock of himself and decided that he was getting nowhere. Having saved his money, he went to Lawrence, Kansas, entered the University, and four years later left there with a lawyer’s degree. He came to Oklahoma and settled at Stillwater, forming a law partnership with Frank J. Wikoff, until recently president of the Tradesmen’s National Bank, Oklahoma City.

When the Cheyenne and Arapaho country was opened to settlement, April 19, 1892, he was appointed probate judge of "D" County by Governor A. J. Seay. There you have some notion of his equipment for meeting the conditions confronting one pioneer. How he could ride! And how he could shoot! What horses he owned—two of the finest specimens of saddle horse it has ever been my lot to see. The courage of the man—twice I had occasion to observe him in those

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finger-on-the-trigger situations was something infinitely fine.

On the day of the run, April 19, 1892, as trustee of the Government, Workman entered the 320 acre townsite of Taloga, which had been laid off by government surveyors, opened his office in a tent and began taking filings on town lots. A great crowd swarmed over the country and finally centered at Taloga. Each person was entitled to file on two business lots and, as I recall it, as many as six residence lots. Business was brisk and the fees, which were almost wholly cash, came in rapidly. Within a week, there being no bank within seventy-five miles, the matter of being his own bank vault, and everything, became burdensome and rather dangerous. During the first days practically every member of the original Dalton gang, then at its peak, filed on lots, using fictitious names, presumably to get a line on the probable amount of money the judge was gathering in. Fortunately, Workman knew these men and, being a young man of more than ordinary judgment, kept the fact discreetly to himself. He did, however, divide large sums of money among a few of the boys who were his friends. Many methods were used to safeguard it until such time as it could be taken to a bank.

It was a wild country, out in Dewey county, in those days. Reckless men, to use a mild term, came there from many sections of the United States, seeking adventure, many more of them than sought to make new homes. This type eventually passed on, leaving the hardy and courageous to establish civilization.

In about two weeks the crowd faded away, business became slack and early one morning Judge Workman gathered his money in a bag and, mounted on "Lou," a magnificent black horse, a horse of such outstanding points that up to this time the judge was best known because of the horse, left to ride to Stillwater, a distance of 120 miles, the first fifty without settlements, except the old Mennonite Indian Mission at the abandoned military post known as Cantonment, near the present town of Canton. He was feeling happy, believing that he had gotten away without being observed by any of the members of the Dalton gang, who still hung about. Maybe he did, but when he emerged from the little Indian mission

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at Cantonment, thirty miles on his way, where he had stopped for lunch, they were waiting for him out in front. There they were—Bob, Grat, Bill Powers and one other whose name I have forgotten. Workman grasped the situation and, with out hesitation, walked over to them and addressing Bill Powers, who stood nearest, asked if he could direct him to the Strip line trail leading east, that he was going that way and was unacquainted with the country. Bill could, and did. With his finger in the sand, sitting on his toes, cowboy fashion, lie outlined the trail so clearly that it could not be mistaken Workman thanked Bill, slowly saddled his horse, and just as slowly rode away.

The Mission stood on the south bank of the North Canadian river, among the trees. To the east of it, a short distance and on the opposite side of the river, a tree-bordered ravine came down from the north. The pursued rider with his clothes full of money, as soon as out of sight over the hill turned and doubled back down this ravine practically to the river and then made his way east across the country, keeping out of sight under the hills that lay between him and the gang that was following the Strip line trail. Something like an hour later, he rode to the top of a hill to take observations and saw them about two miles to the north and traveling in a tong trot strung out along the trail. Workman quickly got back out of sight and continued his way east, protecting himself by taking advantage of the natural obstructions the country afforded.

Another hour passed and he observed them again a considerable distance ahead of him. They were standing in a group, evidently holding a conference. Again he quickly ducked out of their range of vision and continued his way keeping the hills and trees between him and the gang as much as possible. A short time later he observed one of the men coming in his direction, evidently having been detailed to make a search for him. As he came into sight the distance between the two riders was perhaps 300 yards. The cow path Workman was following branched to the right about halfway between them. Again Workman demonstrated his superior judgment. Speeding up his horse and getting his gun ready for action he beat the other man to this fork in the path and turned to the right with the intention of opening fire should the other man attempt to head him off. Instead of doing this

Page 292

the outlaw turned his horse and returned the way he came at full speed.

The country in this section is rolling and spotted with blackjack and other trees, and it was a difficult matter to make way without being observed, especially to a man who was inexperienced in riding unsettled country and unaccustomed to reading its surface and using this knowledge to guide him.

It was approaching sundown when he reached the river east of the site of the present town of Okeene. The small bluff on the west side, where the road crossed provided an excellent waiting place for Bob and his bunch and, in relating the incident to me, Workman said he felt certain they were there and that he had made up his mind to avoid the crossing, when he overtook a wagon load of Hennessey negroes who had been hunting quail in the new country.

Conversation with them was struck up at once and, following Workman’s story that he had crossed the river at this point a few evenings previously, and that a fine bunch of wild turkeys were watering there, several of them acted on the suggestion and substituted buckshot for the birdshot in their guns. As they drove down into the river Workman had pulled his horse up on the left hand side of the wagon, keeping it between him and the bluff.

The members of the gang were there, with guns ready for action, but the presence of the negroes threw a monkey-wrench into the machinery of their plans. They hesitated; Bob Dalton was sore by this time, having been outwitted once before, and was for taking a chance on holding up the whole bunch. Other members of the gang dissuaded him, however, but not until he had flung his hat on the ground and jumped on it. Evidently they decided they would get that nice little bundle of money later on. Something approaching $10,000 in real money was an important item in those lean days.

Riding on ahead of the wagon, Workman reached the opposite bank about the time the gang was a third of the way over. He took the time to dismount, tighten the saddle girth preparatory to a long, hard ride, and gave the boys the high sign to come on. He mounted and went away from there under full speed, his horse apparently as fresh as if the forty miles already covered did not count. The horsemen follow-

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ing forced their horses into as high speed as they could make in the shallow water of the river and raced after him.

The timber and low hills hid him from view and before going a mile he turned abruptly up a grassy ravine and quickly was out of sight of the road. He camped that night with a home-seeker who was traveling through the country and had just made camp for the night.

The next morning Workman had seventy miles yet to go and a possible menace in every mile. The fact that the robbers were in the lead made the trip anything but a pleasant ride. But Workman rode into Stillwater the evening of that same day, with his horse in good condition.

It was evident, from events that occurred that night and the following day, that they were outwitted again and followed the road east until late, thinking to eventually overtake a man who apparently knew so little of the endurance of a horse as to put it under full speed at the end of a long day. They were sure to overtake a worn-out horse and a foolish rider before he could cover that seventy miles.

Having missed him, and the nice fat wad of money that he carried, they compromised by holding up the Santa Fe train at Wharton, in the Cherokee Strip, near the site of Perry, that night, when they robbed the passengers and killed the station agent, a mere boy, who was holding a lonely job in the wilderness, if prairie country may be called such. The next day they killed a deputy United States marshal, who was a member of a party which attempted their capture, in a fight in the Otoe country, north of Stillwater.

In the evening of the same day a spring wagon, containing the body of this deputy marshal, drew up at the rear door of Ollie Stevenson’s undertaking parlor, in Stillwater, and Workman, from his office window not thirty feet away, watched as it was carried inside. He said aloud to himself, "It wasn’t your time, Mr. Workman."

Hundreds of old timers will recall Workman with pleasure, his fine qualities and his disposition to be square with his fellowmen. Later he served with distinction in the War with Spain, as county attorney of Payne County, as a railroad attorney and builder in Washington, and he now is a resident of Oregon, where he has retired on a farm near Woodburn. I remember him gratefully, for he was more

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than a brother in those early stirring days of my boyhood, and my roommate for five years. And yet, it was characteristic of the man that he should have mentioned to me but once the tale that I have just told. It was all in the day’s work. I’ll bet he has forgotten it.

Frank D. Northup.

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