Slaying of Deputy Marshal Dan Maples in 1887 Still Unsolved
Slaying of Deputy Marshal Dan Maples in 1887 Still Unsolved By Pat Donat November 16, 1964 - Northwest Arkansas Times, Fayetteville, now the NWA Democrat Gazette
The aura of mystery which surrounded the murder of a U.S. Deputy Marshall in 1887 came to the fore again when descendants of Dan Maples decided to present his picture to the Fort Smith National Historic Site.
Maples was one of 200 deputies who were characterized as "straight shooting, hard riding, fearless men." They were the men who brought in the criminals tried in Judge Isaac Parker's court at Fort Smith, of whom the judge said "without these men I could not hold court a single day."
Four men were suspected of having a part in the ambush. Three, of them, John Parris (also spelled Parish) Charles Bob Tail and Bud Trainor, were captured and jailed. The fourth, Ned Christie, remained at large and became the prime suspect after Parris accused him.
First hand reports, accounts of the incident carried down in the family, and other resource material fail to solve the crime. The picture is further clouded by an account, published 45 years later of an eyewitness who exonertaes Christie.
Dan Maples and his wife, Maletha Campbell Maples, came to Benton County shortly after the close of the Civil War from their native Carroll County. After serving as deputy sheriff for the county Dan was appointed U.S. Deputy Marshall and worked under Chief Marshal Thomas Boles and John Carroll, who succeeded Boles, in 1886.
To understand the situation in the Indian Territory at that time it must be remembered that this was practically a haven for criminals. The Indian goverment had no control over white men and the Cherokee goverment and courts of Arkansas and Kansas were far away and their jurisdiction rights frequently questioned in cases arising in the territory. The men who lived here, mostly cowboys who guarded the herds in the Cherokee Strip, guaranteed their personal safety by their accuracy with a gun. From this group came both the criminals and the law men who brought them to justice during this turbulent period of Oklahoma history.
It was into this area then that Dan Maples was sent on May 4, 1887. He, like all the marshals, was considered an intruder. The citizens banded together to prevent these officers from performing their duty. If the marshal was successful he earned $2 for bringing in his man plus the enmity of the man's friends.
Maples was sent to Tahlequah at the request of residents who asked for a man who was not afraid because the lawless element had gotten out of hand. This is according to family tradition as related by Maples' grandchildren, Mrs. Beatrice Maples Jones, Bryan A. Maples and Mrs. Lillian Maples Anderson, all of Bentonville, who recalled their grandmother's account.
Other reports say he carried a whisky warrant for an Indian named John Parris and that he was sent to arrest the noted desperado Bill Pigeon (Pigeon ws wanted for the slaying of Deputy Jim Richardson but disappeared into the Flint Hills and was never found according to Glenn Shirley's "Law West of Fort Smith").
When Dan received the request he got ready to leave. He had worked mostly in the Cherokee country as he was familiar with the tribe and its language and was praised as "part of the cream" of Marshal Carroll's staff.
His wife begged him not to go. Her premonition of impending disaster was intensified as he bade her farewell and prepared to get into the wagon when a bird fluttered around his head and landed on his shoulder.
The next she heard was when the news of his death came over the wires.
The following report was published in a local paper (updated clipping kept by family) shortly afterwards:
"Deputy Marshal Dan Maples of Bentonville on Monday left for the Cherokee Nation to arrest the noted desperado Bill Pigeon. He was accompanied by J. M. Peel and George Jefferson. On Thursday the news came over the wires that Dan was shot and badly wounded. A later dispatch brought the news that he was dead. No further particulars are known as yet. Dan Maples was well known in Benton County and no man had more or warmer friends.
"Later: The body of Mr. Maples arrived and was buried yesterday at Bentonville." (The dates on the tombstone, as copied by his granddaughter, are born Jan. 17, 1846, killed May 5, 1887.)
The following week a more complete report was published again with no date or name on the paper:
"This community was thrown into a great state of consternation by the arrival of the son, (Sam Maples who himself was deputized as a marshal, Sept. 9, 1893 of Deputy U. S. Marshal Dan Maples, accompanied by one of the posse, last Thursday night announcing the killing of Maples at Tahlequah, Indian Territory on the preceding (Wednesday) night.
"The particulars as near as we can learn are as follows:
"Marshal Maples accompanied by his son, Mac Peel, George Jefferson and a young man engaged as cook, all of Bentonville passed through our city (probably Fayetteville) last Monday week, en route for the Nation, arriving at Tahlequah the next day.
Maples and one of the posse, George jefferson started to go up in town to do some trading and after transacting their business they started back to camp and while crossing the creek, within a hundred yards of camp, were fired upon by an unknown party. It was nearly dark when the shooting occurred.
It seems that Jefferson was on the lookout and discovered the gleam of a pistol in the hands of the murderer, who was secreted behind a tree, and he (Jefferson) called to Marshal Maples to "Watch Out!" but the warning came too late, and the first leaden messenger from the assassin's weapon caused the death of Maples, it being the only ball that took effect.
"The murderer, however, not being satisfied with his already bloody and cowardly work, emptied the remaining chambers and reloaded and emptied his second round at Jefferson.
"Jefferson, strange to say, being an open target, stood and emptied his pistol at the murderer, escaping without a single scratch. Maples also fired four shots after being shot clear through the body.
"The remaining parties in camp, Mac Peel, the cook, and Maples' son, hearing the shooting went to the rescue as quickly as possible, but the affray was of short duration, and by the time they procured their weapons and arrived at the scene the murderer had fled to the brush.
"Maples was at once conveyed to a residence in Tahlequah where he received the best care and attention at the hands of the worthy citizens of that place. He died the next day. No clue has yet been announced, only that a dispatch had been received at Bentonville, from Chief Bushyhead stating that an arrest had been made and was thought they had the man who murdered Maples."
This report is essentially as the descendants recall their grandmother telling the story and as Jefferson related it to them. Mrs. Maples lived until 1934 and never forgave the Indians for killing her husband.
The Indians apparently didn't forgive themselves for they offered a reward and promised to do all in their power to catch and bring to trial the slayer.
This turned out to be a difficult task.
The Indian Journal of May 16, 1887 said that Heck Thomas was one of the marshals sent out to capture the slayer. "Should he get the right man he would make a very profitable haul -- there is a $500 reward for the murderer."
Thomas was sent out to capture a young Indian named Charley Bobtail who had been a constant companion of Parris one of the suspects in the killing. He arrested Bobtail the night of May 20 and took him to Fort Smith.
Bobtail denied any knowledge of the crime and Parris confessed that Bobtail wasn't there and said, "The man who killed Maples is Ned Christie".
His accusation is given by Shirley in his book, "Heck Thomas, Frontier Marshal".
When word of this confession reached Tahlequah Christie went on scout.
Deputy Joe Bowers rode into Rabbit Trap to serve the murder warrant. Christie fired from the underbrush, the ball struck Bowers and a charge of assaulting a Federal officer was filed against Christie.
That same year in a resume of the number of marshals killed an account in the Fort Smith Weekly Elevator dated Dec. 9, 1887 stated "Dan Maples murdered at Tahlequah, presumably by Ned Christie, Charles Bobtail, John Parris and Bud Trainor. The three latter are in jail here, while Christie is at large.
And Christie remained at large -- in fact Harry Sinclair Drago, in "Outlaws on Horseback" says he gave the deputies the longest and most determined battle ever fought. He also indicates it was never established who fired the shot but Christie was presumed guilty because he fled.
Old timers here feel that Christie was not guilty and proof of his standing in the community was his election to the Cherokee Tribal Council while he was still a young man. He was son of Watt Christie, a full-blood Cherokee, a gunsmith and well educated in the white man's language. After the warrant was sworn out for him he refused to speak another word of English.
Christie was finally killed in a two-day (Nov. 2-3, 1892) epic battle with U.S. marshals in which dynamite was employed to destroy his log cabin fort. Enoch Mills, grandfather of Mrs. Lewis Jeter of the Greenland area was among the deputies who were present. He is included in the picture which shows Christie in death and the marshals who were in at his capture.
Forty-five years later, Fred E. Sutton, a former deputy marshal and free lance writer wrote a feature story relating that a negro blacksmith, Dick Humphrey, of Tahlequah saw Bud Trainor kill Dan Maples. Fear of Trainor kept Humphrey silent until he learned of Trainor's death at the hands of renegades in the Cooweescoowee district. Sutton says "This is a true account of this tragedy of the Cherokee Nation."
Despite Maples untimely death his son, George, followed in his father's footsteps and served as sheriff of Benton County for three terms.