"I came here to die, not make a speech."
- Cherokee Bill, last words before being executed by hanging
The most recent series of badasses I've featured on this website have been from many different backgrounds and historical periods, but they've all basically had one thing in common – they've all been these grand, altruistic, noble do-gooders, heroically battling for the righteous principles they believe in, performing incredible deeds of bravery, and putting their lives on the line without hesitation to help their friends, save lives, and preserve freedom at all costs. This tale is a little different. This is the story of Cherokee Bill; and he was a complete motherfucker. A down-and-dirty, shoot-first plague on humanity without a single redeeming quality besides his unstoppable desire to murder, pillage, rob, and destroy everything he could get his hands on. A blood-chugging, sucker-punching outlaw from a gnarly tradition of ass-reaming wanton destruction so over-the-top maniacal in his diabolicalness that he would have made even the saltiest pirates, the most garlicy Mafia enforcers, and most mutton-soaked conquerors from history weep a single tear of joy into their extra-virgin Bloody Marys (which back in pirate days were called "extra virgin" simply because they were made with virgin's blood and vodka and maybe a stick of celery or a splash of V-8 juice).
Now, before we get into the face-shooting awesomeness of Bill's murderous death-trail of carnage across the wildlands of 1870s Oklahoma and Texas, I suppose I need to begrudgingly preface his story by saying that there seems to be an endless stream of wildly conflicting stories about the life of this insane-o-tron gunslinger, and that many of these delightfully-folksy anecdotes unfortunately seem to blatantly contradict one another so wildly that you'd almost think you were reading about two different people. I have of course in true Badass of the Week fashion chosen the most interesting/awesome versions of his stories and assembled them into one hopefully-cohesive narrative, but as is the case any time you're talking about an obscure lunatic on the run from the law over two hundred years ago, you should take most of this shit with a grain of salt from an historical perspective.
A pictoral representation of the story about the time
Cherokee Bill helped George Washington win the Battle of Yorktown.
The man who I will refer to solely as Cherokee Bill was born in Fort Concho, Texas, on 8 February 1876. Bill's father was a hardcore Buffalo Soldier, a Sergeant Major in the 10th U.S. Cavalry, and his mother was half-Cherokee, half-white, but apparently being just one-quarter Cherokee (and not named William) was enough for him to get the nickname Cherokee Bill at some point during his adventures. In any event, Cherokee Bill was infinitely better than his given name, Crawford Goldsby, which is such a fucking terrible name for a gunslinger that my hand cramped up just now when I tried to type it. So forget about that Crawford Goldsby bullshit, because even thinking about a mad dog face-eating outlaw with a name like that pisses me off.
Bill's father was kind of a badass, as you can probably tell from the fact that he was a Buffalo Soldier, but unfortunately for our future anti-hero the good Sergeant wasn't around too much for Bill's formative years. You see, one fine Texas evening some off-duty 10th Cavalry non-com was out at a bar when all of a sudden a couple unruly drunk jackass white dudes came up to him, talked a load of shit about how black men didn't belong in the military, and then tore the chevrons off of the guy's sleeve and threw them on the floor. The sergeant, realizing that he was heavily outnumbered, said nothing, picked up his chevrons, paid for his drink, and calmly walked back to camp. Fifteen minutes later, he, Sergeant Goldsby, and a shitload of other Cavalrymen came back to the saloon and shot the place to shit, killing everyone inside. After that tremendous display of vengeance/badassitude, Bill's dad kind of had to skedaddle, so he abandoned the family and fled to the Indian Territories. At least he went out in a blaze of glory, I guess.
Even though Sergeant Goldsby wasn't around to instill the time-honored virtues of over-the-top vengeance and asymmetrical asskicking into his young son, Cherokee Bill did a pretty good job of taking after his no-bullshit father nonetheless. Bill is believed to have killed his first man at the age of 12, when his brother-in-law told him to go feed some hogs (and was being a real asshole about the whole thing) so Bill capped him in the throat. Bill was tried of murder but acquitted because of his age, because even back in the Old West the judicial system was whack. Of course, another story has Bill killing his brother-in-law later on in life by shooting him with a rifle at point-blank range (I'll get to that in due time), and he only had one sister, so either there's a mix-up in stories here or this guy's sis had fucking terrible taste in husbands.
Anyways, while this whole murder-at-twelve thing is hotly debated among historians with nothing better to do, what we do know for sure is that Cherokee Bill started getting hardcore into criminal evilness in 1894. It started innocuously enough – the 18-year-old Bill was at a county dance with some hot babe he was totally into – but then all of a sudden he came across some complete douchebag 35 year-old guy who was a rival of one of Bill's older brothers. The jerkface started fronting all up on Bill right in front of his lady, so of course Bill had to get this fucker off his bozak by cold-cocking him in the face right hook and shooting him a couple times in the chest. The dude ended up pulling through his wounds and surviving, but not before Cherokee Bill had fled the scene of the crime, escaped to the Indian Territories, and joined a gang of hardened criminals intent upon turning the entire Indian Territory into a gigantic cesspool of scum and villainy.
The dude on the right is lining up for the perfect dick-shot.
The next year and a half of Cherokee Bill's life basically reads like a non-stop series of murders, robberies, asskickings, and hostage situations without any trace of remorse, pity, or mercy. Riding with a hardened, ultra-mustachioed gang of badasses with names like Texas Jack, the Verdigris Kid, Skeeter Baldwin, and Chicken Lucas (presumably the "comic relief" of the gang) these lawless desperadoes went on a criminal rampage that left every city in the Territories in the grip of panic and terror and death. In the summer of 1894, Bill robbed the railroad Depot at Nowata (in present-day Oklahoma), killing the depot operator with a mixture of bad language and bullets. He then proceeded to stand patiently on the platform next to a dead body and wait a few minutes for the next train to show up (he was just hard like that). When the train rolled up to the station, Bill threw open the express car's door and told the conductor he was robbing the joint. The conductor told Bill to go dry-hump a radiator, so Bill shot him through the beard at point-blank range, gunned down the brake man (just for good measure), robbed the train anyways, and then somehow rode the fuck outta there before the cops showed up.
For the next couple months, whenever Bill wasn't stealing horses, robbing stagecoaches and trains, or moonshining his own whiskey (awesome), he was busting a cylinder's worth of .45s into anybody unlucky enough to be within a few hundred feet of whatever crime he was in the process of committing. Like one time he robbed a bank and somehow ended up shooting the town barber in the back for a reason that probably made sense at the time. Another time he was robbing a different bank, and some local painter peeked in the window to see what was going on, so Bill capped that jerk through the window, said some shit about how he had no appreciation for the fine arts, and went right back to emptying the contents of the bank safe down his pants. (Interestingly, despite all the robbing/pillaging/plundering/murdering this guy did, this murder was the crime he actually ended up hanging for.)
BTW this week's story goes out to the incredibly polite group of prison inmates
who emailed me asking for more Old West badasses.
Please don't try this at home, guys.
All told, Cherokee Bill was responsible for killing somewhere in the vicinity of 7 to 14 men (best guesses place the number on the high end of this spectrum), plus dozens and dozens of robberies, stickups, holdups, larcenies, burglaries, and other words for robberies. The fact that he was willing to shoot anybody in the face at any time for no reason at all made him particularly fearsome, and Bill soon became known as the "Terror of the Indian Territories". Entire cities would shut down when they heard he was nearby, at $1,300 bounty was put on his head (this was a shitload of money in 1894) and, awesomely enough, at one point the situation got so bad that the Sheriff of Muskogee, Arkansas, wired Washington DC requesting for the Army National Guard to come out and "break the state of siege" Bill's gang held on the Indian Territories. The cops, posses, and vigilantes of the Old West, for their part, couldn't figure out what the fuck was going on, a shortcoming they mostly chalked up to the awesomely-pimpin' fact that Bill was a total player and had a hot babe in every city just waiting for him to show up so they could harbor and abet him (in a dirty way). It also helped that Bill was on good terms with the Creek, Seminoles, and Cherokee tribes of the Indian Territories and could, for the most part, move through territories unharmed – though I should say that this wasn't particularly because those tribes supported his actions, but more so because they didn't have a whole lot of respect for the white lawmen who screwed everybody over and then rode through there like they owned the place. It also helped that these cops sound like they couldn't find their dicks from their elbows (or however the fuck that expression goes).
Eventually posses started flipping out, hunting the gang down, and a bunch of badass shootouts ensued. Bill killed a couple deputies, but over the next couple weeks most of his gang ended up being shot in the ass, killed, or captured. Bill, for his part, continued to elude the cops at every turn – including one time when he was surrounded in a house, shot in the leg, and had his horse shot out from under him, but the dude still managed to escape the posse on foot and go right back to the business of doing horrible shit to people. It was also around this time that he went into the town of Talala, discovered that nearly everyone there had left town to go watch a baseball game, and subsequently went about the ballsy business of robbing every single store in the city, starting at one end and making his way door-to-door until he'd reached the other side of the town. It was during this time period that he also gunned down his brother-in-law (again?), though this time it's a little more understandable than that whole hog-feeding thing – Cherokee Bill had received ward that his sister's drunken fuck of a husband had been beating her with a whip when she didn't respond to his orders fast enough, so Bill paid the dude a visit and shot him seven times at point-blank range with a Winchester rifle.
Cherokee Bill with his gang.
But all things (both good and miserable) need to come to an end sometime, and Cherokee Bill was finally arrested in February of 1895. Bill was at some girl's house, hungover as shit from a night of whiskey, morphine, and sexing, and when Bill went to light a hand-rolled cigarette in her fireplace (I didn't even know this was possible, but I love the mental image I get when thinking about this guy leaning over a crackling fire to light his cigarette) some jerkwad deputy ran into the house and clubbed Bill in the back of the head with a giant log of firewood. The deputy later testified that he thought he'd hit Bill hard enough to kill him, but instead Bill just fell down, rolled over, and started throwing haymaker punches at anything that moved. It took three deputies fifteen minutes to finally subdue him, but Bill still wasn't done resisting arrest – on the way to Nowata for trial he snapped his fucking handcuffs (!) and tried to grab the pistol from one of his guards' holsters. The assaulted guard ended up falling out of the stagecoach, taking the pistol with him, and two deputies with shotguns managed to convince Bill to put on a fresh set of manacles and settle the fuck down.
As you can imagine, Cherokee Bill still wasn't finished. When the sentence of "death by hanging" was issued by Judge Isaac Parker, Bill's mom started freaking out all hysterically, but Bill, in the middle of the courtroom, just turned to her, smiled a huge shit-eating grin, and said cryptically, "Hey, I ain't dead yet."
A few days later an astute janitor found a six-shooter hidden in a bucket of lye in the prison bathroom.
This picture doesn't fit here, but for some reason I find it hilarious.
I can't figure out why, but I think it has something to do with the old dude in the window.
Three days after that, when a prison guard went to check on the prisoners, Bill pulled a false brick out of the wall of his cell, revealing a hand-dug hole behind the wall that had a revolver stashed in it. Bill drew the gun, killed the guard, and then orchestrated a fifteen-minute prison standoff, holding the guards off from his prison cell, shooting at anyone who peeked their heads around the corner. The terrified guards later testified that he was taunting them mercilessly, laughing like a madman, and, according to some versions, gobbling like a turkey every time he fired. This is weird, but I think it's weird in a good way.
The situation was eventually diffused by a fellow inmate, Bill was convicted for a second murder, and on 17 March 1896 Cherokee Bill was executed at a well-attended public hanging. One his way out to the gallows, all he said to the crowd was, "This is about as good a day to die as any," which is I think where the Klingons got their favorite motto. He was twenty years old.
"A bloodthirsty mad dog who killed for the love of killing."
- Judge Isaac Parker, sentencing Bill to the gallows
Cherokee Bill: The Toughest of Them All
Handbook of Texas Online
National Parks Service
Legends of America
Katz, William Loren. The Black West. Random House, 1971.
Metz, Leon Claire. The Encyclopedia of Lawmen, Outlaws, and Gunfighters. Infobase, 2003.
O'Neal, Bill. Encyclopedia of Western Gunfighters. Univ. of Oklahoma Press, 1991.
Smith, Robert Barr. Outlaw Tales of Oklahoma. Globe Pequot, 2008.
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