During the 1800’s, Indian Territory was Outlaw Territory. Because Native American law did not apply to the white intelopers, crime ran rampant. The only law that existed was that of the military or the U.S. Marshal service. Since the military was generally stationed in one location, they didn’t have a lot of authority to chase outlaws and law breakers. Thats’ where the U.S. Marshal service came in. They patrolled throughout Indian Territory. Sometimes, they could be just as bad as the outlaws they were chasing, but still, they provided security throughout the territory.
Many of the U.S. Marshals that Judge Parker hired became well-known names throughout Poteau. Known U.S. Marshals that lived and patrolled in the county included Jimmie Hale, Bill (known as Will) H. Tucker, Melvin Tucker, Jack and Tony McClure, Henry Donathan, Joe Morgan of Sallisaw, Goodlow Gay, Ed Underwood, Emmert of Talihina, Eulas Pollan of Durant, and Edward B. “Coon” Ratteree of Cavanal. These Marshals were paid $100 per month.
U. S. Deputy Marshals that worked in Poteau and the surrounding areas included S. W. Tate, Allen M. McMurtrey, T. P. Hackett, John Wallace McMurtrey (served 1889-1896), R. E. Patrick (Served 1904-?), Wilson McKinney, John A. Hunt (Served 1907-1912), and Frank S. Gennung. Many of these men lived in Poteau. The only detailed information available on the U.S. Deputy Marshals that lived in Poteau is that which was found on John McMurtrey, Wilson McKinney, and Frank S. Gennung.
Details on Some of Oklahoma’s U.S. Marshals
John Wallace McMurtrey was commissioned on August 5, 1889, in the Western District at Ft. Smith, Arkansas, living in Poteau, Choctaw Nation. John later served as jailer in the Central District of Indian Territory at the Atoka jail. A forty by fifty foot brick two-story building served as a jail for the Choctaw Indian police and deputy marshals. The ground floor had three apartments. One apartment was for the jailer and guards, the second was for the white prisoners and the third was for the colored prisoners. The upper story had four apartments for women; one for white women, one for colored women and restrooms for each. The jail operated until 1913.
Wilson McKinney was appointed field deputy marshal in April of 1904, at Hughes. McKinney was appointed by Marshal George K. Pritchard of the Central District. In March of 1905, Deputy Marshal McKinney of Poteau went to arrest George McGuire, a whiskey peddler. The bootlegger pulled a gun, shooting Wilson. The wound was believed to be fatal. Bloodhounds were used to trail the guilty man. McGuire’s defense was he did not know McKinney was an officer.
Frank S. Gennung served in the Central District in 1895 and 1896. He went to Washington before the Attorney General and congress to issue a statement of the conditions in Indian Territory. Genning’s statement concluded that a ruling made by the Attorney General deprived the deputy marshals of fees in all federal cases in Indian Territory which left the door open for all kinds of crime and outlawry. Crimes not covered by fees would not be controlled by the deputy marshals and would be a travesty to the territory. Genning was one of the deputy marshals that transported nineteen prisoners from the Antlers court to stand trial in Poteau, then an additional ten prisoners were taken to the Ft. Smith jail to serve their sentences. Marshal Hackett was selected as Marshal over the Central District on March 19, 1901, when he selected Frank Genning as his Chief Deputy Marshal. The Attorney General’s office conducted an investigation and asked that Marshal Benjamin Hackett of the Central District be removed from office because he allowed several of his deputy marshals to perform misconduct while on duty. The deputies were charged with allowing prisoners to escape, being drunk while on duty and permitting liquor to enter Indian Territory. Deputy Marshal Gennung was cleared of any wrongdoing in the investigation that was concluded in February of 1894.
Edward B. “Coon” Ratteree: Famous Deputy U.S. Marshal
Edward B. “Coon” Ratteree, made famous in Larry McMurtry’s novel “Zeke and Ned”, was a Deputy U.S. Marshal in Indian Territory from 1889 to 1896.
In November of 1892, Ratteree was selected as one of the sixteen deputy marshals to travel to Ned’s Fort Mountain near Tahlequah, Cherokee Nation, to put an end to Cherokee outlaw Ned Christie. In May of 1885, Christie was charged with killing Deputy Marshal Dan Maples in an ambush. Several officers over a period of several years tried to bring the much-wanted outlaw to justice without avail. The Cherokee Indian Police appeared to turn their back in trying to bring Ned Christie to justice.
Ratteree lived one mile south of Poteau Switch for several years. Presently, this would be around the Carl Albert State College area. Ratteree served in the Western District at Fort Smith, Arkansas. For several months out of the year, he spent most of his time on horseback or in court at Fort Smith.
Typical of his life, Ratteree would spend several months tracking down known criminals in order to bring them to justice. One such incident, in May of 1890, Ratteree arrested W. L. Daniels at Prairie Grove, Texas, who was wanted on an assault to kill charge. The outlaw had a reward of $150 on his head.
After retiring from service, Ratteree lived out the rest of his life in Poteau. He died April 20, 1912 in Poteau, Oklahoma. Today, his bones lie buried at Old Panther Cemetery in Haskell County, Oklahoma, along with the rest of his relatives.