Brooks–McFarland feud

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Brooks–McFarland feud
Date 1896–1902
Location Creek Nation, Indian Territory, USA
Deaths ~5

The Brooks–McFarland feud was a family feud that took place between 1896 and 1902, in what is now the state of Oklahoma. It began after the death of Thomas Brooks on August 24, 1896. The Brooks family blamed the McFarlands and from there followed a series of confrontations that culminated in a historic shootout at Spokogee on September 22, 1902. During the shootout, Willis Brooks and two others were killed while a fourth man was seriously wounded. The feud ended about three weeks later, on October 10, 1902, when Jim McFarland was ambushed and killed near his home. According to the author Edward Herring: "The deaths of Willis Brooks and Jim McFarland signaled the end of an era when disputes were settled with gun smoke and hot lead. With them also died the old feud."[1][2]


Brooks Faction

Willis Brooks II was born on April 3, 1854 to Willis and Louisa Jane "Jenny" Brooks, who lived in the hill country of Lawrence County, Alabama. Willis Jr. had four brothers; John, the eldest, Gaines, or Gainum, Mack, and Henry, the youngest. During the American Civil War, the Brooks family joined the Confederacy, although many of their neighbors remained loyal to the Union. For this they were called "Tories" by the rebels. Willis Brooks, Sr. attempted to enlist in the Confederate Army, but he was rejected due to his age. He did, however, become a saddle maker that was attached to a rebel cavalry in 1863. When Willis returned home he learned that a "Tory" had been annoying his wife, Louisa Jane "Jenny", a half-breed Cherokee, who was nearly twenty years younger than her husband. Sometime within the next few days, Willis found the man and killed him, but his friends soon retaliated. Willis was shot dead in front of his house and then, a few days after his funeral, John was killed while working in a field. Mrs. Brooks witnessed the first event and she claimed that seven or eight men were responsible, according to differing accounts. She then had her sons avenge their father. According to Ken Butler, author of Oklahoma Renegades: Their Deeds and Misdeeds: "By late 1883, the Brooks clan disposed of the last of the seven slayers of their father, but they continued to harass some of their neighbors [the Hubbard family]."[1][3][4]

In April 1884, Sheriff Alex Heflin decided he had had enough of the Brooks family and he deputized some local men and attempted to make arrests. A gunfight occurred on April 14. Gaines and a citizen named Phillips of the Sherriff's party[5] were killed while Henry and two more deputies were wounded. Henry was hit in one of his legs and after it was amputated he became known as "Peg Leg" Brooks. The Brooks family then went West. For the next six years they lived in Cooke County, Texas, but, in 1890, Willis II, who was now the leader of the family, moved north to the Chickasaw Nation, in the Indian Territory. He didn't stay for long though; in 1894 he moved his family again. This time to a new settlement known as Dogtown, twenty-five miles west of Eufaula, in the Creek Nation. In Dogtown, Willis II and his family prospered as farmers and ranchers. Willis married at some point and he had six sons and at least two daughters; Thomas, Clifton, John, Earl, Marion, Willis III, Francis and Lela. When she was old enough, Francis married Columbus Windfield "Sam" Baker, who was also from Alabama and supported the Brooks family in their dispute with the McFarlands. Together Sam and Francis had several children, one of whom was named Bill.[1][3][4]

McFarland Faction

The McFarland family was smaller than the Brooks, but had an equally questionable history prior to the beginning of the feud in 1896. Jim McFarland was the leader. After developing a reputation as a murderous cattle rustler in Kentucky, Jim moved west to the Indian Territory, where he married a Creek woman named Sarah Watson. Sometime later, Jim was joined by his two brothers, Sam and Joe, Sarah's brother, "Sandy" Watson, and another Native American named Bill Franklin, and they all settled together at a place four miles north of the Brooks home, near Old Watsonville. The McFarland family was also supported by and old man named George Riddle and his son, Alonzo "Lon" Riddle, who owned a ranch to the northwest of the Brooks-McFarland homes. According to Edward Herring, the Riddles joined the McFarlands because Willis Brooks attempted to have the former "driven out of the area," sometime before 1896.[1][3]

The feud

The feud began with the death of Thomas Brooks on April 24, 1896. It seems there was an old Texas Ranger living in Dogtown and he was said to have been hiding a large cache of money. So when Thomas attempted to rob the ranger, he was, unsurprisingly, shot and killed. The Brooks family blamed the McFarlands. Willis claimed that Jim enticed his son into committing the crime, but then told the ranger beforehand. When Willis confronted Jim, the latter said that Thomas was involved with a gang of thieves, who intended to rob the ranger, but he "had gotten greedy and tried to pull the job alone." From there the situation slowly escalated, both sides vowed to shoot each other on sight. Since both factions weren't above cattle and horse theft, and the Dogtown area was known for being infested with rustlers, it is likely that at least one of the families was involved in stealing livestock from the other. In 1898, Henry "Peg Leg" Brooks was arrested by Deputy Marshal Frank Jones for stealing horses and put in the jail at Chandler. According to Ken Butler, one of Henry's family members lived nearby and delivered him "syrup" and other food while he was imprisoned. The "syrup" was actually a certain type of acid that could dissolve metal. Henry applied the acid to the metal bars in his jail cell whenever he could and he hollowed out his peg leg to hide the bottle. However, the famous sheriff of Lincoln County, Bill Tilghman, discovered the "syrup" and foiled the escape attempt. Henry was later convicted, but released on July 11, 1902, just a few weeks before the Spokogee shootout, after receiving a pardon from President Theodore Roosevelt.[1][3][4]

Death of John Johnson and Jim McFarland's escape to Mexico

In January 1899, Jim McFarland got into an argument over a bill with a man named John Johnson at a general store in Dogtown. Later that day, Jim shot and killed Johnson during a gunfight in front of Joe McFarland's house. Johnson was struck by five bullets; two in the head, one through the hip and bowels and two more in both thighs. Jim was unharmed and it is not known if Johnson was able to return fire before being killed. One year later, in January 1900, Jim was tried for Johnson's murder in Muskogee, but the only witnesses were his brothers. Because there was a lack of evidence to prove that Johnson was killed in self-defense, Jim was acquitted and allowed to return home. According to Herring, Jim later accumulated several other charges against him, including assault with the intent to kill, but all were pending. Jim then decided to fake his own death to elude the authorities. Sometime in 1901, Jim had been released on bail and was working for a cattle company in Okemah when he stole $3,000 from his employers and fled to Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. Two days later, his horse wandered home riderless with blood on the saddle and a bullet hole near the edge. The police suspected that the Brooks family was responsible and they organized a posse to search the area for Jim's remains. Jim's plan might have worked, but a year later, in August 1902, he tried to contact his family and was discovered by the authorities. Jim surrendered and quickly posted a $1,000 bond. The charge of assault with the intent to kill was dropped, due to the lack of evidence, and Jim's former employers forgave him for taking the money, after he claimed that he was "ambushed and abducted to Mexico" by some bandits. Herring says that because Jim's troubles were seemingly over, he was soon "back in his old haunts and up to his old habits," which included feuding with the Brooks family.[1][3][4]

The railroad and the founding of Spokogee

By the summer of 1902, the Fort Smith and Western Railway company was building a line from Fort Smith, Arkansas to Guthrie and approaching the Dogtown area. The present-day location of Dustin, Oklahoma, was chosen as the site of a new railroad town, which was to be named Spokogee, a Creek word meaning "near to God." The new town was to be located right in the area between the Brooks and McFarland homes, and according to Herring, neither of the two factions were very happy about it. George Sparks, a Fort Smith banker, and Cliff Speer, the owner of a hardware store in Fort Smith, controlled town site privileges along the new railroad, but because it was to pass through Creek territory they were unable to capitalize on their concession. Instead they contracted two Oklahoma attorneys, S. Morton Rutherford, and his young partner, Jesse Hill, to handle it for them. After acquiring 320 acres from the Creek Nation, Rutherford and Hill began selling off $25 lots and building a train station at the new town site. A large celebration opening-day sale was scheduled for July 1, 1902, which was just a few weeks before Jim's return from Mexico. It was interrupted, though, by a confrontation between the two feuding families that came very close to becoming deadly. John Brooks and Alonzo Riddle began arguing about something so an old Confederate, G.G. Tyson, disarmed the latter and led the two young men behind a building to fight with their fists.[1][3]

When the fight started, Brooks began hitting Riddle with brass knuckles and knocked him to the ground, so Tyson intervened again to take the weapon away. However, before the fight resumed, John's uncle, Sam Baker, armed himself with his rifle and pointed it at Riddle. Hill, who was standing nearby, pushed Baker's rifle barrel toward the ground and said: "Don't act a fool." Baker then released his hold on the rifle, drew his revolver, and pointed it at Hill's face. Rutherford then armed himself and pointed his weapon at Sam while the latter's sixteen-year-old son, Bill, grabbed his rifle and pointed at Rutherford. The situation was very tense for a moment, but the "cool headed" Cliff Speer managed to diffuse it by slowly lowering Rutherford's rifle barrel and allowing Sam a chance to leave. When Sam was out of firing range, Bill lowered his weapon as well and they both left to tell Willis. Jesse Hill said the following about that day: "It was the first and only time I ever looked down a gun barrel.... Willis Brooks and his cohorts, each mounted and armed, rode up to do battle.... Unless something was done to stay the upcoming disaster, potential buyers would not become lot-owners. To my surprise, Rutherford entered the scene. Rutherford addressed the leader of each side in turn, at times bombastically belligerent, at times profanely pacific, but at all times profusely perspiring. He talked the two sides out of battle, but all of this had a bad effect on the crowd." In spite of the interruption, Rutherford and Hill managed to make $14,000, and more over the next few days. After the sale, the new land owners began building houses and businesses, but the town "refused to boom" because of the feud. Although Spokogee quickly grew to support a population of 150 people, Hill described them as nervous, especially when the McFarland or the Brooks families rode in heavily armed. Hill eventually left town because of the stress, some of which was brought about by George Riddle, who had a bad habit of pulling his gun on anyone over any kind of altercation.[1][3]

Gunfight at Spokogee

According to Edward Herring, after the July 1 incident, the McFarland faction was ready to kill the Brooks' whenever the opportunity presented itself. The opportunity came on September 22, 1902, after a thunderstorm passed over the area. At the Brooks Ranch the rain scattered some of the cattle and it prevented the men from working the farm. Because of this, Henry "Peg Leg" Brooks and his nephew, Earl, went out to roundup the livestock while Willis and two of his other sons, Clifton and John, mounted up to ride into town for the mail. Meanwhile, the McFarlands and the Riddles had anticipated their arrival, due to the rain. They came up with a plan to ambush the Brooks' in town, but in a way that made it appear as though it was self-defense. The McFarlands took up positions across the street from the post office and then sent George Riddle out to "take care of some errands." However, Riddle's real intention was to confront the Brooks' and provoke a fight. When Willis and his sons rode into town later that morning, they dismounted and tied their horses up in front of the post office. Then, as the three were entering the building, Riddle came out of the door with his mail. The Brooks' immediately began making threats and Riddle said something to this effect: "Kill me if you want, I am unarmed and have but one time to die." Herring says that the plan worked perfectly, Willis and his sons cursed Riddle and then drew their weapons on him, but he hastily ran across the street to Rutherford, who standing in front of his office, and requested protection. According to Ken Butler, Rutherford, who was a United States Marshal, among his other professions, called out to Willis and demanded peace. But before Rutherford could finish his sentence, Willis fired a shot at Riddle with his revolver. The bullet struck Riddle in the head and he fell to Rutherford's feet. George Herring, however, says that Jesse Hill was standing inside Rutherford's office and witnessed Sam McFarland fire the first shots. Though Herring does say that Sam's firing was wild and only intended to taunt the Brooks'. Herring says that Sam's firing scared Riddle and it was at this time that he turned around and fled to Rutherford.[1][3][4]

No matter which version is true, after hitting George Riddle in the head, Willis "wasted precious time" by running up to him and shooting him twice more. Someone, possibly Rutherford, then fired on Willis and struck him in his right hip. Willis jumped up into the air and then fell face down into the mud. He got back up a moment later and began firing, but was then hit in the chest and killed. Clifton Brooks was struck multiple times; once in the leg, once in the neck, and once more in the chest, but he was able to survive the initial volley and make a run for it. Alonzo Riddle and Jim McFarland then chased him down on horseback and killed him. John Brooks was shot "through and through" and found lying near the back door of the post office, having been struck by a steel-jacketed bullet. Immediately after the shooting ceased, Rutherford arrested Jim, Joe, and Alonzo and then delivered them to Deputy Marshal Grant Johnson in Eufaula by wagon. The three men were placed in the Eufaula Jail and went before the county commissioner's court two days later on September 24. All three were charged with murder and released on bonds to await trial. John Brooks was also charged with murder, but he remained in Spokogee because of his critical condition. The town doctor expected John to die of blood poisoning, but he survived and lived into the 1950s. Willis and Clifton were buried in Checotah next to Thomas Brooks, who died in 1896.[1][2][3][4]

Death of Jim McFarland

Less than three weeks after the gunfight at Spokogee, Jim McFarland was killed in an ambush. On October 10, 1902, Jim and his wife were returning home from Weleetka in their buggy, and as they approached a river ford near Old Watsonville, someone opened fire on them with a rifle. One steel-jacketed bullet struck Jim in the back and he died a few minutes later. According to Ken Butler, the first newspaper account of the incident says that Henry "Peg Leg" Brooks killed Jim near Weleetka, although this was later proven to be false. Henry and Sam Baker were the prime suspects, but there was no evidence and neither of them were arrested. Some local citizens believed that McFarland was killed by a member of his own faction, but in any event, nobody was ever charged for the crime. According to Edward Herring: "Most believed he had gotten what he deserved."[1][3][4]


The death of Jim McFarland marked the end of the feud, although some newspaper accounts say that Henry Brooks was killed shortly after. Henry, however, lived until 1920. In 1905, Henry was arrested for stealing horses again and sentenced to ten years in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. When he was paroled on January 10, 1911, Henry went home to Lawrence County, Alabama, where he took care of his aging mother and became a bootlegger. On January 11, 1920, Henry was surrounded at his still by a posse under the command of Sheriff John Robinson. Though he was completely outnumbered, Henry chose to resist and began firing his revolver. The posse then retaliated and struck Henry twelve times. He died about fifteen minutes later.[1][2][3][4]

Sam Baker also died violently. In 1911, Sam became involved in a dispute with a Checotah merchant, who shot him in the back one day. Old "Jenny" Brooks outlived all of her sons. She died on March 29, 1924, at the age of ninety-eight, and is said to have been proud that all of her sons had "died like men, with their boots on." As for the McFarland faction; all of those arrested were later acquitted and they continued living in the area.[1][2][3][4]

The Fort Smith and Western Railway tracks finally reached Spokogee on April 1, 1903 and soon after the town was renamed Dustin.[1]

See also


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  5. Memphis daily Appeal April 17, 1884 page 2