Very little has been written on Deputy U.S. Marshal Benjamin F. Williams and that which has made it into print has often times been clouded with inaccuracies and outright fabrications. It is the purpose of this article to make an attempt to sift the documented truth from the blatantly false chaff which has surrounded this little-known lawman of the Indian Territory.
Benjamin F. Williams was the fourth child born to Dr. Dearman and Mary (Farmer) Williams near Salem, Ohio on January 27, 1837. At the age of eighteen in 1855, Williams, his brother John, and two sisters moved to Iowa and began farming. The rest of the family followed within a few months. In 1859, he joined the Pike‚?Ts Peak Gold Rush and made the trek with two brothers who were neighbors of his named Collins one of which had previously married one of Williams‚?T sisters. He remained in Colorado Territory until the outbreak of the Civil War at which time he returned to Iowa and enlisted in the 5th Iowa Cavalry and participated in the capture of Forts Donelson and Henry and in the Battle of Pittsburg Landing. Shortly thereafter, he was taken prisoner and held for two years at various times at Winston, Libby, and Andersonville Prisons. Williams and two other prisoners managed to escape during Sherman‚?Ts famous March to the Sea and successfully made their way back to Union lines where he was given a furlough due to failing health. He returned to the farm of his brother, John, near Muscatine, Iowa and never returned to the Army as the War was over soon after. He soon moved to the Indian Territory and settled at the Darlington Agency (Collins, 518-521).
The Williams family were members of the Society of Friends, better known as Quakers, which had been given control of the Indian Agencies of the Indian Territory by the federal government. At the time, Brinton Darlington was the Indian Agent in charge of the Cheyenne & Arapaho Agency. The Agent‚?Ts wife was the sister of the mother of John Collins who had married Benjamin Williams‚?T sister, Amelia, making the Williams family related to Brinton Darlington by marriage. Two Williams brothers, John F. and Edwin F., were employed at the Agency soon after it was established. John being given the position of agency blacksmith and Edwin as an engineer or farmer. Darlington died in 1872 and his position was taken over by John D. Miles, another Quaker, and it was soon after his appointment that Benjamin Williams was called to the Agency. At the time, lawlessness at the hands of civilians was running rampant throughout the western Indian Territory and Miles reportedly discussed the matter with John and expressed the need for a man to be appointed to the full-time position of dealing with this lawless element. John immediately recommended his brother, Benjamin, who soon arrived at the agency. It was not long after his arrival in 1873 that Benjamin Williams received a deputy U.S. marshal commission from the Western District of Arkansas in which capacity he would serve diligently and faithfully for the next three years (Collins, 521-523). John F. Williams was noted in April 1873 as being a "Special Agent" at Darlington possibly indicating that he was temporarily serving as Indian Agent (Carriker, 77).
In describing his uncle Benjamin, Hubert Collins, son of John and Amelia Collins who spent a short time at the Red Fork Ranch owned by his brother, Ralph, said:
"It was a service that called for courage of the highest type, for the ability to make instant decision, as well as a degree of resourcefulness that never failed in an emergency. In this of course, he was pre- eminently a man for the times in which he lived and for the exigencies of the service to which he had been called" (Collins, 523).
[FOOTNOTE: The Red Fork Ranch was founded by a Mr. Reynolds (possibly of the trading firm of Lee & Reynolds) and was sold to Daniel W. Jones. It was then sold to a Mr. Hood who in turn sold the ranch to Ralph Collins (elder brother of Hubert Collins) and Frank Williams, brother of Deputy U.S. Marshal Benjamin Williams, about 1881. The men formed the Williams Company and owned the ranch until 1885 (Collins, 30)].
Collins further described his uncle as being five feet, eleven inches in height "with a well-knit, muscular form‚?¶he was governed by an indomitable spirit that never hesitated an instant‚?¶he had a full head of heavy, dark brown hair and a beard that covered his face and neck". Further, Williams was described as always carrying a Colt Model 1873 revolver chambered for the .45 Long Colt cartridge and a Henry repeating rifle chambered in .44 Henry Rimfire (Collins, 527-528).
In response to the thievery, two more deputy U.S. marshals joined Williams in the spring of 1873. They were E.C. Lefebvre and John/William H. Talley (DeArment, 41). Benjamin Williams spent the winter of 1873/1874 in the field among the Indians of the reservation and succeeded in winning the confidence of the majority of their number (Collins, 524). In January 1874, Deputies Williams and Talley scoured the region south of the Kansas line in a vain attempt to arrest whiskey peddlers, horse thieves, and buffalo hunters illegally trespassing on Indian lands. The lawmen went on to Camp Supply where their request for a detachment of troops was granted with Lt. Henry P. Kingsbury and seven troopers of the 6th Cavalry being detailed to assist in the mission. On January 30, six buffalo hunters were found quartered in a dugout trying to wait out a severe winter storm and all were placed under arrest. The following morning, the Lieutenant and three men accompanied Williams south to the Cimarron while the other four went with Talley northeast to scout the Fort Harker Trail. In all, the scout of the area resulted in the raiding of four camps and the arrest of twelve prisoners (Carriker, 85; Shirley, 54).
Horse thieves plagued the western Indian Territory and it was due to the presence of illicit "whiskey ranches" dotting the prairies along the Kansas line and throughout the western portion of the Territory that the Indians were kept in good supply of the latest models of firearms and ammunition. These outposts appear to have been primarily within the confines of the Cheyenne & Arapaho Reservation as, in 1874, it was noted that Comanche and Kiowa Indians were traveling from their reservation north into the lands of the Cheyenne & Arapaho where they were trading buffalo hides for arms and ammunition. This resulted in tensions being high between personnel assigned to the Cheyenne & Arapaho Reservation and the Kiowa & Comanche Reservation. Agent Miles stated openly that he had information which indicated that the post trader at Fort Sill, John S. Evans, was freely supplying his Indians with this contraband. This charge was countered with the statement of John Evans who indicated that the Comanche and Kiowa could easily slip into Miles‚?T reservation and acquire these implements (Steele, 92). The men who comprised the lawless element were primarily grouped into bands of outlaws including the Gallagher Gang headed by "Slippery Jack" Gallagher and the Lee Gang headed by "Wild Bill" Lee.
In May 1874, Deputy Williams was informed of the arrival at the agency on May 28 of a desperado named Sammy "Apache Sam" Walker. Agent Miles described Walker in a letter to Commissioner of Indian Affairs Edward P. Smith:
"There can be no doubt but that Walker was sent up here as a spy from a party of thieves now quartered a few miles east of the cattle trail [Chisolm] on the [Cimarron] River" (Dunning Collection, Miles to Smith, May 30, 1874).
Deputy Williams quickly took to the trail and followed the outlaw as he departed the Agency. The lawman was apparently aware of Walker‚?Ts activities prior to his arrival at the agency as Williams had made an arrangement with employees at the Smith & Ford Ranche on the Chisolm Trail east of Darlington that they would hold Walker there if he made his presence known and await the deputy‚?Ts arrival. Walker did indeed arrive at the Ranche and, as was pre-arranged, was taken into custody by the proprietors. Williams soon arrived and was proceeding to take Walker into custody when the erstwhile outlaw made a play for his gun. The deputy responded quickly and was forced to shoot and kill Walker. Deputy Williams‚?T actions were supported by witnesses to the shooting, Charles W. Whittaker and W.H. Ford, who made their official affidavit to Agent Miles (Dunning Collection, Miles to Smith, May 30, 1874). Deputy Williams made his official report of the shooting to Miles upon his arrival at Darlington on May 30:
"I hereby report to you that on last evening at Smith & Ford‚?Ts Trading Post on North Canadian, below this Agency, I found ‚?~Sam Walker‚?T alias, ‚?~Apache Sam‚?T a horse thief, whom I had been following and attempted to arrest him, when he drew his revolver compelling me to shoot him in self defense. I found in his possession to wit; one Sharp‚?Ts carbine, one Colt‚?Ts revolver, one pony, saddle, and bridle, and $24.55 in currency all of which I turn over to you. Mr. Ford of the firm of Smith & Ford and Chas. W. Whittaker were present when I made the attempt to arrest whose affidavit you will please find enclosed" (Dunning Collection, Benjamin Williams to John D. Miles, May 30, 1874).
Apparently, no legal action was deemed necessary at the time of the killing of Sam Walker. However, on September 22, 1875, a warrant was issued charging Williams with murder. However, this warrant was never served and another was issued on August 31, 1876 being returned unserved (Fort Smith Case File, Benjamin Williams, #203).
In June 1875, Williams joined with a small band of Cheyennes who had been the recent victims of horse thieves. With the deputy and Indians went a small escort from Darlington which managed to effect the arrest of ten desperadoes on June 23 (Carriker, 108). Apparently, the federal court for the District of Kansas must have had a willingness to assist in quelling the lawlessness running rampant in the Territory as the prisoners were taken to Wichita and brought before a U.S. Commissioner for their examination. This was prior to federal jurisdiction being held by the District of Kansas over the western part of the Territory as the Western District of Arkansas still had complete control at this time. The Topeka Daily Commonwealth reported on July 14:
"Four horse thieves, S. N. Deitrich, J. L. Jones, D. Campbell, and Taylor, and six buffalo hunters, T. L. Causey, C. A. Carp, John McNeill, John Heisler, Willis McCarthy, and Ben. Gates, were brought in here this morning in charge of Deputy U. S. Marshal Ben Williams, assisted by an escort of ten soldiers, and lodged in jail. The buffalo hunters were captured on the 22nd of June by Deputy Williams and a party of soldiers, about 70 or 80 miles southwest of the Cheyenne Agency, and south of the main Canadian river. At the time of the capture, Williams was out with the Cheyennes, hunting buffalo. On their return home, they ran across the first four named above, who had some twenty head of ponies in their possession, belonging to White Bead, a Caddo Chief. They were taken in and the horses returned to their owner. The examination of the entire batch will be commenced tomorrow before U. S. Commissioner H. C. Sluss. Mr. Peck, our active U. S. Attorney, will be here tonight, to prosecute. The evidence against all these culprits, especially the horse thieves, is such as to insure their conviction. The hunters were captured within the limits of the Wichita reservation, and were engaged in killing buffalo for their hides alone. There is but a very short step from a horse thief to a buffalo hide hunter. Very often the former play off as hunters, and it is difficult to distinguish one from the other" (Topeka Daily Commonwealth, July 14, 1875).
On August 10, 1875, two white men named Alexander Hamilton and Phillip Block, an employee of the Indian Agent at Darlington, engaged in a verbal altercation near the crossing of the Canadian River near the Cheyenne & Arapaho Agency. Hamilton claimed that Block rushed upon him and struck him with his fist. Hamilton then pulled his pistol and threatened to shoot Block. Block then grabbed the pistol and a struggle ensued in which the pistol was accidentally discharged and Block was hit. In so doing, Hamilton attempted to murder Phillip Block using the pistol. Hamilton was arrested by soldiers on August 22 and incarcerated in the military camp at Cheyenne Agency (Fort Smith Case File, #82/ Letter from Letters Received dated October 06, 1875/September 23, 1875). [FOOTNOTE: The Camp at Cheyenne Agency was the forerunner of the soon-to-be-established post of Fort Reno].
A subpoena was issued at Fort Smith on September 2, 1875 for witnesses in the case, Frank Goff and A.M. Heath. This subpoena names Hamilton and another man named Walla Burnette as the defendants in the case. Deputy U.S. Marshal Tucker A. Twyman left copies of the subpoenas at Cheyenne Agency on September 17 for Goff, Heath, and the victim, Philip Block. He noted that Block was absent at a "grand council" where he was likely serving as interpreter. The witnesses were served at Cheyenne Agency by Deputy Williams, Goff on September 20 and Heath on September 23 (Fort Smith Case File, #82). [FOOTNOTE: Philip Block was an interpreter among the Indians and appears to have been absent at a council in which he was likely serving in this capacity (Indian Journal, 10/26/76, pg. 2) He was married to an Indian woman named Mollie (Cheyenne Transporter, November 25, 1881, pg. 1).]
Upon arriving at Fort Smith, Hamilton was assigned bail in the amount of seven hundred and fifty dollars and was released on bond on December 15, 1875. Hamilton appears to have fled the Territory as on December 7, 1876, nearly one year later, Deputy U.S. Marshal Twyman declared that Hamilton was not found within the limits of the District. The last verifiable whereabouts of Hamilton was recorded by Deputy U.S. Marshal J.C. Wilkinson who stated "[Hamilton] is not in my district‚?¶He is at Wichita, Kas." More specifically, Hamilton was living with a man named Marton about four miles outside of Wichita. This was dated July 17, 1877 (Fort Smith Case File, #82). [FOOTNOTE: Another attempt on Block‚?Ts life occurred in the summer or fall of 1883. Hubert Collins, an eleven year old at the time of his visit to the Red Fork Ranch north of Darlington which his older brother, Ralph, partially owned, recorded the event in his book, Warpath & Cattle Trail. One morning Block and Hubert Collins were near the North Canadian River when Block was hit by a shot from a gunman concealed in a cluster of plum bushes. The bullet grazed Block‚?Ts forehead and he survived the attack. The failed assassin was identified as a relative of an Indian named Gray Beard who was either a Cheyenne or Arapaho (Collins, 200-202). Curiously, this event is not recorded in the pages of the Cheyenne Transporter newspaper published at Darlington. Phillip Block remained in government employment at Darlington until the early 1880s when he relocated to Caldwell where he was employed in Keeling‚?Ts Store (Cheyenne Transporter, November 28, 1883, pg. 3)].
Hubert Collins related a story concerning Williams‚?T apprehension of an outlaw named "Wild Bill" Lee in 1875. According to Collins, Lee was the leader of a gang of desperadoes which went by the name of the Lee Gang. However, Collins‚?T recollection of events is questionable as he gives two distinctly different versions of the incident in his various published accounts. Certain aspects of the "Wild Bill" story bear a striking resemblance to that of Williams‚?T fatal shootout with horse thief "Apache Sam" Walker in 1874.
Collins states that Williams received a warrant for "Wild Bill" who was the eldest of the Lee brothers and proceeded southwestward from Darlington in pursuit of the outlaw. He soon caught the trail of Lee and followed the outlaw at a distance always keeping him within sight. The pursuit went on for some time when Lee finally stopped for the night at a deserted cabin. Williams quietly moved forward while Lee was at the cabin and went by the outlaw‚?Ts location when he saw a wagon coming toward him from the opposite direction. Williams convinced the driver to assist him. The driver was to head the wagon down the road acting as though he would continue past the cabin while Williams remained secreted in the back of the wagon. Once the wagon was in front of the cabin door, the driver was to sharply turn the wagon away from the cabin causing the rear and Williams to face the outlaw who was by this time standing in the doorway. All went according to the plan and once Lee saw Williams with his weapon leveled, the outlaw went for his own gun and Williams was forced fire a fatal shot (Collins, 528-531).
The incident concerning "Wild Bill" Lee is fairly confusing as Hubert Collins described the event in his book, Warpath and Cattle Trail, and his later article about Ben Williams which appeared in the Chronicles of Oklahoma giving varying accounts of the encounter. These discrepancies are addressed by the editors of the republished version of Collins‚?T book, William W. Savage Jr. and James H. Lazalier:
"On occasion, Collins‚?T emendations only further roiled waters that were already muddy‚?¶Between the writing of the book and the appearance of the article, the uncle‚?Ts [Williams‚?T] hair color changed, and his height became approximate. In the book, Williams captured an outlaw named Wild Bill and his gang en masse and sent them all to Leavenworth; but in the article, Wild Bill was killed and gang members had to be tracked down individually. Because Collins referred to the book‚?Ts version in the article account, the possibility exists that there were two Wild Bills, both pursued by Ben Williams. Collins certainly had the opportunity to clarify matters in the article and that he did not do so might appear to indicate a desire to present new information about his uncle while at the same time protecting the integrity of his earlier account. Further complicating the issue is the Utica newspaper version, which sets the Wild Bill story told in the book in 1874; but Collins says in the book that the incident occurred four years prior to his visit to the Red Fork Ranch, which would have made it 1879. The Oklahoma Historical Society article covered Williams‚?T career from 1873 to 1875, established Wild Bill‚?Ts last name as Lee, and suggested in a footnote that the Lee gang operating in Indian Territory in the mid-1880s consisted of survivors from the Lee gang of the mid-1870s. The conclusion must be that, after the passage of forty-five years, there were some facts that Collins simply could not manage to get straight" (Collins, xix-xx).
The mention of the Utica (New York) article in which the Wild Bill story takes place in 1874 further reinforces the likelihood that the outlaw was in fact "Apache Sam" Walker. In Warpath and Cattle Trail, Collins indicates that Williams, with the assistance of troops from Fort Reno, apprehended and did not kill, "Wild Bill" and thirteen of his gang members at the cook-house of the Red Fork Ranch. He goes on to state that "Wild Bill" and his gang were taken to Kansas, tried, and convicted finally being sentenced to a prison term at Fort Leavenworth Prison. This is completely incorrect as federal jurisdiction over civilian outlaws in that area was still under the control of the federal court at Fort Smith and no convicted persons were, at that time, being incarcerated at Leavenworth. Collins‚?T article on Williams makes no reference to the location of this incident as being at the ranch, but merely at a secluded log cabin. Further, the fact that the only Fort Smith case file naming Benjamin Williams as defendant is the case in which he was charged with murder in the shooting death of "Apache Sam" Walker, lends even more credence to the fact that the man whom Collins referred to as "Wild Bill" Lee was in actuality "Apache Sam" Walker. Collins‚?T inaccuracies are difficult to place in the realm of either forgetfulness or falsity. His truthfulness must be called into question in many cases such as the story he relates of having met Jesse James at the Red Fork Ranch during his stay there in 1883. James had been dead since 1882. However, Collins‚?T documentation of Williams‚?T early life and family history is most likely correct as Collins and Williams were related and this information would likely be more accurate than the wild tales spun in later life of Williams‚?T exploits as a federal peace officer.
Collins goes on to recount another tale relating to the Lee Gang which occurred following the death of "Wild Bill". Two members of the gang were arrested and brought before the U.S. Commissioner at Darlington who bound them over for trial to be held at Fort Smith. The men were to be taken first to Wichita, Kansas by wagon and then on to Fort Smith via train. Williams took custody of the two outlaws and proceeded north toward the Kansas line. However, once they arrived at Kingfisher Stage Station, the deputy had suspicions that trouble lay ahead at the station in the form of cohorts of his prisoners. Williams disarmed the wagon driver, leaving nothing to chance, and continued into the stage station. The team was changed with fresh animals and the party continued on without incident (Collins, 531-532).
On another occasion, Collins states that Williams was transporting two prisoners and had stopped for the night and made camp. The prisoners fell fast asleep and Williams was holding his revolver as he reclined. Later, Williams shook himself from his sleep and realized that he had dropped his weapon. The deputy quietly searched in the dark for his revolver and finally managed to find it wedged between his leg and that of one of the sleeping prisoners (Collins, 532-534).
During the fall of 1875, Deputy U.S. Marshal Williams was supervising the hunting camps of the Cheyenne & Arapaho Indians who had chosen to attempt a buffalo hunt. While out with the Indians, a small group of Arapaho hunters were fired upon on October 18 by white hide hunters who killed a mule which one of the Indians was riding. The Indians returned fire and managed to turn back the attacking whites who proceeded to leave behind five worn-out horses which the Indians then turned over to Williams. The deputy feared that more trouble lay in store for the Indians if they pushed any further and it was for this reason that Williams requested a military detail be dispatched to escort the hunting party (Berthrong, 5).
The days of the Indians relying on buffalo meat for their subsistence was soon drawing to a close with the vast majority of the animals having been slaughtered by hide hunters. Rations provided by the government were lacking at the Agency and by April 1876, Agent Miles sent Williams with a "posse" to "seize two hundred head of beef cattle from herds" that were being grazed on the reservation illegally. This was a delicate situation as even though the herds were being held on reservation lands in direct violation of federal law, the owners were still entitled to protection under the law from the seizure of their stock. Williams and his group were successful in confiscating one hundred and ninety-eight head of cattle from the herd of E.B. Millett and delivering them to the Agent on April 12. This action was repeated by Miles on at least one other occasion and the cattlemen were outraged at the act (Berthrong, 9-10).
In June 1876, Superintendent Nicholson requested that Williams‚?T commission be renewed explaining that no federal lawman was ever seen in the area in pursuit of outlaws and only once they were in confinement were the lawmen in the area and then only to retrieve the criminals which had already been captured. Nicholson expressed his desire to retain Williams as an effective officer and that he would submit a request for six deputy marshals to be commissioned specifically for duty in the Cheyenne & Arapaho Country, but would not as he knew the request would not be honored (Berthrong, 19-20). It was about this time that Williams ceased his employment as a deputy U.S. marshal. It is therefore theorized that Nicholson‚?Ts request to retain Williams was not granted by his superiors.
Williams indeed did not receive a renewal on his deputy marshal commission and left the employment of the Indian Service taking a job as a stage driver between Darlington and Caldwell, Kansas. Reportedly, on one of his trips, one of his passengers was Miss Affie Woodcock, a Kansas school teacher, who would soon become Williams‚?T wife. The couple settled on a parcel of land several miles west of the western Indian Territory border in the Texas Panhandle in Wheeler County where Williams became a cattle rancher. Williams and his wife soon moved from Texas and settled in California where he died in San Jose on October 19, 1908 and was buried in the G.A.R. section of the San Jose Cemetery (Collins, 518, 536-538).
Berthrong, Donald J. The Cheyenne & Arapaho Ordeal: Reservation and Agency Life in Indian Territory. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, OK: 1976.
Buntin, Martha. "The Murder on Turkey Creek", Chronicles of Oklahoma Vol. 12, No. 3, September 1934, pgs. 258-263.
Carriker, Robert C. Fort Supply, Indian Territory: Frontier Outpost on the Plains. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, OK: 1970.
Cheyenne Transporter November 28, 1883, pg. 3 November 25, 1881, pg. 1
Collins, Hubert E. "Ben Williams: Frontier Peace Officer", Chronicles of Oklahoma Vol. 10, No. 4, December 1932, pgs. 518-539.
Collins, Hubert E. Warpath and Cattle Trail. University Press of Colorado, Niwot, CO: 1998. Original publishing date 1928.
DeArment, Robert K. "Hurricane Bill Martin: Horse Thief", True West Vol. 38, No. 6, June 1991, pgs. 38-45.
Fort Sill Letters Received, May 29, 1875-December 20, 1877, Fort Sill Museum Archives, Fort Sill, OK.
Freeman, G.D. Midnight and Noonday: Or the Incidental History of Southern Kansas and the Indian Territory, 1871-1890. Edited by Richard L. Lane, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, OK: 1984.
Hoig, Stan. Fort Reno and the Indian Territory Frontier. University of Arkansas Press, Fayetteville, AR: 2000.
Indian Journal [Eufala, I.T.] October 26, 1876, pg. 2
Leckie, William H. The Buffalo Soldiers: A Narrative of the Negro Cavalry in the West. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, OK: 1967.
Miller, Nyle H. & Joseph W. Snell. Great Gunfighters of the Kansas Cowtowns: 1867-1886. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, NE: 1963.
Shirley, Glenn. Guardian of the Law: The Life and Times of Williams Mathew Tilghman. Eakin Press, Austin, TX: 1988.
Steele, Aubrey L. Lawrie Tatum‚?Ts Indian Policy", Chronicles of Oklahoma Vol. 22, No. 1, Spring 1944, pgs. 83-98.
Topeka Daily Commonwealth, Topeka, Kansas.
United States v. Alexander Hamilton, Jacket #82, Western District of Arkansas Criminal Case File, National Archives-Southwestern Regional Archives, Fort Worth, TX.
United States v. Benjamin Williams, Jacket #203, Western District of Arkansas Criminal Case File, National Archives-Southwestern Regional Archives, Fort Worth, TX.