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Pleasant Valley Once Home of Early Badmen

Pleasant Valley Once Home of Early Badmen

The Guthrie Daily Leader
Sunday, April 18, 1971
© Guthrie Daily Leader
Used here by Permission

Cowboy flat was the name given to the vast spread of rangeland that lay embraced in the great bend of the Cimarron River between Guthrie and Coyle. From the rising bluffs that contain the Cimarron this valley spreads flat, rich, and fertile as far as you can see, fading into the hazy atmosphere against the opposing bluffs along the far horizon.
When the settlers came in the Run of '89 the name of that rangeland was changed to Pleasant Valley. The town that grew up there was so called, but the taming of Cowboy Flat required a great deal more than changing its name to Pleasant Valley.
The cowhands who rode Cowboy Flat during the years it was open range include Bill Doolin, Bill Dalton, Bittercreek Newcomb (the Slaughter Kid), Dick Broadwell, Little Dick West, Zip Wyatt, and Bill Powers. Each of these men turned outlaw and, in time, was shot to death. Five of them "soonered" a claim in the Cowboy Flat range country in 1889. Not one of them farmed his claim. They relinquished their claims for nothing, for a few, or many, dollars, and rode off down the owlhoot trail to die.
They were adventures betwixt the Cowboy Flat days and these violent deaths. Dick Broadwell sold his relinquishment for $1,200 and hied himself off to Dallas with a pretty neighbor widow who had just sold her claim too. In Dallas, Dick kept enough money to buy a new suit to get married in, and gave the pretty widow all the rest with instructions to go buy the marriage license, then open a joint bank account for them. He never saw her again.
His adventures as an outlaw took a turn even more grim.
As the range cattle industry rose to dominance in Texas after 1865, men of the Halsell family there became prominent. The Halsells rode the Chisholm Trail drives, crossing and recrossing the Oklahoma country, branching east and west of the trail, searching out new grass for the grazing herds, learning the country.
It was a country of succulent, nourishing pastures. Where the grass grows stirrup high, waving even higher than a cowboy's saddle horn near the rivers and creeks, it becomes temptation irresistible to a cattleman.
By the 1880's range camps had sprug up throughout the Cherokee Strip, in the Chickasaw country, even in the Kiowa, Comanches, and Cheyenne lands and, especially, in the Unassigned Lands of central Oklahoma. From these headquarters and line camps cowboys road herd on thousands of fattening cattle.
The Halsells of North Texas, Glenn and Billy, owned 14,000 of these cattle.
The Halsells of North Texas, Glenn and Billy, owned 14,000 of these cattle. Their headquarters were one mile east of Skeleton Creek on the north bank of the Cimarron. Their cattle grazed over thousands of acres of the Unassigned Lands.
Bossing this operation were the older Halsell's nephews, two young brothers, Harry and Oscar Halsell. In the winter of 1881 Glenn and Billy Halsell sold their entire herd, range delivery, to the Wyeth Wholesale Shoe Company of St. Louis. Harry and Oscar Halsell had about 500 head of their own cattle in the herd, Harry's branded H H, and Oscar's HX.
When the Wyeth Company riders took range delivery of the herd Harry and Oscar cut out their cattle and moved on down river to Cowboy Flat. There they began building their cow camp, whereupon the Wyeth foreman and his men rode down river and interrupted them.
They wanted to know what Harry and Oscar were up to. The Wyeth Company figured they had bought the range when they bought the cattle. Harry disillusioned them. Harry informed him that this was Indian Territory, that they were all trespassers, that he and Oscar like this range, and aimed to stay.
The Wyeth cattle boss shrugged and led his men away. Harry and Oscar had taken; they also kept. The Wyeth Company lost out all around. The following hard winter killed most of their cattle. In frustration, they sued Uncles Glenn and Billy Halsell still in Texas, and lost the lawsuit.
In the timber along the north bank of the Cimarron, Harry and Oscar built their headquarters camp; roomy dugouts in two sandy hills twenty feet apart. They lined and roofed the two big dugouts with split cedar logs. Between these two cedar-fragrant dugouts they built a long connecting hallway and were snugly situated for the cold winter ahead.
Oscar suggested that if Harry would secure horses he would get some grub. Harry rode to Arkansas City, borrowed four hundred dollars, and bought eight horses. Oscar rode to Caldwell, won four hundred dollars playing poker, and bought a wagon load of supplies. Which suggests the similarity, and the difference, between these two aggressive and increasingly successful cattleman brothers.
On one cold night during that winter, while Harry was away. Oscar and the cowboys remaining in camp spread prairie hay on the earthen floor of one of the dugouts to make for warmer sleeping during the night. They spread out the blankets, played cards for a while, then turned in.
Around two o'clock in the morning Oscar woke up. Flames of fire were spreading. The hay and bedding were on fire. There was a five-gallon can of coal oil in the dugout. Oscar told a cowboy to carry it out. He did and set it right beside the door.
Three cases of cartridges in the dugout began to explode, along with the shells in gunbelts left in the bedding. Everybody ran outside. As they reached shelter in the horse sheds the coal oil explode, along with the shells in gunbelts left in the bedding. Everybody ran outside. As they reached shelter in the horse sheds the coal oil exploded. A wagon loaded with feed and supplies stood in the long hall between the dugouts. The burning coal oil caught it on fire.
It was bitterly cold and by now the whole camp was burning. Leaving the disaster behind, Oscar and the men saddled up and rode off in the freezing night to seek shelter. Next day, in the cow camp where they found shelter, Oscar won three hundred dollars playing poker.
This adventurous life with its free ups and downs came to an abrupt end when the country was thrown open for settlement in the Run of '89. Oscar became a business man in Guthrie. Harry returned to Texas where he became a banker. While so many of their cowboys rode off down the outlaw trail; Cowboy flat became a community of farms, and changed its name to Pleasant Valley.
By 1910 the town of Pleasant Valley had proudly grown to include a frame hotel, a post-office, three doctors' offices, cotton gin, first State Bank, two churches--Catholic and Lutheran, a telephone line and switchboard operated by a crippled fellow named Bill Hogan, depot and railroad with four passenger and two freight trains daily, two--Later three--General stores, a shifting number of saloons, and blacksmith shops which by 1920 had become garages where gasoline was sold and Model T Fords repaired.
This pleasant little inland town established an annual Fair, with horse racing among its competitions, amusements, and exhibits. There was a town band, a baseball team, and a volunteer fire department. M. C. Rouse observed the whole passing pageant.
His father, George Rouse, had purchased Zip Wayatt's (sic) claim in 1892. In the small frame house he built on that claim his son was born. M. C. Rouse still lives on that claim. The sturdily built little homesteader house in which he was born stands behind the large comfortable farm house in which he now lives. M. C. Rouse grew up to become Pleasant Valley's postmaster and operated a general store there.
Pleasant Valley town became a casualty of the highway and fast auto travel. Not {sic} it is a ghost. The town is gone and little material remains to show where it once stood, but Pleasant Valley community is still a prosperous agricultural district of substantial people.
Not so the outlaws who once rode and staked claims there. Within nine years after the Run of '89 all of them were dead. Dick Broadwell and Bill Powers were killed with Bob and Grat Dalton on October 5, 1892, while trying to hold up the First National Bank and the Condon Bank in Coffeyville.
Bill Dalton was killed on June 8, 1894; hunted down and found, by a posse in his hideout near old Elk, Oklahoma.
Two years later Bittercreek Newcomb and Charley Pierce were killed on the Dunn ranch near Pawnee. The date was May 2, 1895. The manner of their deaths was not so certain. There were shot punctures in the soles of Charley Pierce's feet. There were claims that the Dunns, John and Dal, shot the outlaws while they were asleep. Bill Tilghman and Heck Thomas, both U. S. Marshals, declared this untrue, for they had killed the outlaws in a fair fight as Bittercreek and Pierce were trying to flee.
Zip Wyatt was pursued by the law and shot near Hennessey in August of 1895. He died a long death, finally breathing his last that September, in the Garfield County jail.
Doolin lasted one year more, spent in flight. He was killed by a posse near Lawson in August, 1896.
Little Dick West was the last to die. He is the only one of the outlaws who rode for the Halsells who is mentioned in Harry Halsell's later self-published books "The Old Cimarron" and "Cowboys and cattlemen." Little Dick was brought to the Halsell ranch in Texas as a small orphan boy. A homeless waif, he was first called "Ragged Dick" and was much beloved by the Halsell family.
One of the ranch's foremen had found Dick and as he grew up "Ragged Dick" learned the cowboy's trade. He came to Oklahoma with Oscar and Harry, who recognized Dick's steadfastness and courage many times. In Harry's narratives of clashes with Indians, with the army troops from Camp Russell who forced the cattlemen to remove their herds from the Unassigned Lands before the Run of '89, with hardcases and law officers in the Kansas cowtown, Hunnewell, with rustlers, with rival cattle barons on the open range, Dick West always seemed to be nearby and loyal and brave in his part of the action.
Dick West was brave in dying. In 1897, he threw in with those comic opera outlaws Al and frank Jennings. After their several failures in train robbery, Little Dick left them in disgust. The Jennings boys were captured and went to jail.
Little Dick hid out for a while, then went to work on a farm on Cottonwood Creek near guthrie. A posse led by Logan County Sheriff Frank Rinehart and including Bill Tilghman found Dick and attempted to arrest him there, but Little Dick preferred to fight. He was shooting his sixgun at the officers while he dived under a barb wire fence when he died, early on the morning of April 7, 1898.
It is no good to sit in judgement of these men, for we can never know all the factors that joined in the making of their decisions.
Perhaps if these brave and resourceful men had done hat they did not want to do, if they had proved up and worked their claims in Cowboy Flat, they might have lived long in Pleasant Valley, instead of becoming targets; for bullets, for the morbid eyes of the curious, and for photographers, as they lay cold and dead on board sidewalks, in wooden coffins, or on mortuary slabs, far from home.
Editor of Newspapers note:
The above story was written by Bill Burchardt, Editor of Oklahoma today Magazine. The article appears in the Spring 1971 issue. Burchardt is a native of Guthrie and an authority on Oklahoma history.

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