Diron Lacina Ahlquist, 2003
By his own statement, Simpson Everett "Jack" Stilwell was born about 1851 on the frontier of the unorganized territory of Kansas within fifty yards of the Missouri border (Chambers, 113). Another account has him being born on August 25, 1849 in Tennessee (Thrapp, 1370-1371). At some point, the family may have relocated to Texas, but this is not certain. In 1862, Stilwell's father purchased land north of Palmyra [Baldwin City], Kansas. In 1863, at the age of fourteen, Stilwell was sent to the well near the family home in Kansas to get some water. He never returned and made his way to Kansas City where he joined a wagon train bound for Santa Fe, New Mexico Territory (Chambers, 114).
For the next four years, Stilwell made several trips between New Mexico, Kansas City, and Leavenworth spending his winters in New Mexico. However, his winters were not spent in slumber. Stilwell and others went on buffalo hunts down the Canadian River, the Wolf River, and the Beaver River before returning to work the wagon trains in the spring (Chambers, 114). Stilwell joined the U.S. Army in 1867 and served as post guide for troops at Fort Dodge, Kansas. In 1868, he headed south with General George Custer's expedition into the Indian Territory (Chambers, 116). On August 28, 1868, he joined Major George A. Forsyth's company of fifty scouts from Fort Harker and Fort Hays in pursuit of hostile Cheyennes. Shortly after joining Forsyth, the detachment went into camp on the Arickaree Fork of the Republican River where they were then attacked by a large party of Cheyennes under the leadership of Roman Nose. Jack and another scout named Pierre Trudeau managed to slip away from the fire fight and rode at a hurried pace in order to retrieve reinforcements for the besieged soldiers (Thrapp, 1370-1371).
Stilwell continued working as a government scout for many years. He was transferred to Fort Sill, Indian Territory in 1871 (Chambers, 116). In the summer of 1872, Stilwell made a trip from Fort Sill to Fort Dodge, Kansas with General Phillip Sheridan. This was just prior to the beginning of the great slaughter of the buffalo herds. The trip would mark the beginning of the end for the massive herds of bison as Sheridan noted soon after that there were more than 90,000,000 animals in a single herd that stretched 400 miles in length and 150 miles in width (Shirley, 33). This observation on the part of Sheridan was largely responsible for the coming onslaught of white buffalo hunters that decimated the bison herds.
In the fall of 1872, Kiowa chiefs, Satanta and Big Tree, were returned from Texas where they were serving life sentences for their leadership in the attack on Henry Warren's Wagontrain in Texas in 1871. However, officials at Fort Sill were not prepared to accept custody of the Kiowas as they feared a general uprising upon their return to their people. Receiving word that Fort Sill was to be the final destination, Major George W. Schofield, commanding Fort Sill, sent Jack Stilwell to intercept and turn the escort coming from Texas. Jack set out and located the escort several miles south of the Red River. Lieutenant Robert G. Carter was in command of the detachment. After conferring with Stilwell and reading Schofield's order, Carter opted to proceed with his prisoners to Atoka in southeastern Indian Territory (Nye, 158-159).
With the Comanche outbreak from their reservation in September 1874, Stilwell and another white scout named John "Jack" Kilmartin proceeded with a detachment under command of Lieutenant Colonel John Davidson, six companies of the 10th Cavalry, three companies of the 11th Infantry, a section of mountain howitzers, R.H. Pratt's Indian scouts, interpreter Phil McCusker, and ten volunteer civilian guides including J.J. Sturms and the Harper brothers (Nye, 212).
On August 25, 1875, Fort Sill scouts John "Jack" Kilmartin and James N. "Jimmy" Jones had an altercation with a man named Thomas Campbell near Fort Sill. Jones was commissioned by the Western District of Arkansas as a deputy U.S. marshal and he very well may have had cause to arrest Campbell. The government contracted wood camp in which Campbell was employed was notorious for drawing the lawless element and Campbell may have been one of these unsavory characters. A fight ensued between the scouts and Campbell which resulted in Campbell being shot once in the chest. He was taken to the post hospital at Fort Sill where he died of his wounds. A writ was quickly sworn out, which initially included the name of Jack Stilwell, for the arrest of Kilmartin and Jones, but through government red tape justice would not be dealt for several months following the death of Campbell (Fort Smith Court Records, Jacket #108, #112, & #180). However, Stilwell's name quickly disappeared from the legal records so it is assumed that his name was included by accident. Jones would stand trial and be found not guilty of the murder charges when he stood alone before the bar of the federal court as by the time a trial was begun, Kilmartin was dead.
"Red" McLaughlin had once been wagonmaster at Fort Sill and was known around the post as being a quiet and likable man. However, he seems to have become an outlaw all at once. During the mid-1870s, McLaughlin was known as "the worst horse thief in the Indian Territory" according to one report. His main area of activity was in the vicinity of Rush Springs, Chickasaw Nation located east of Fort Sill.
In October 1875, Jack Stilwell and Sergeant John B. Charlton 4th Cavalry decided to attempt an arrest of the horse thief and set out from Fort Sill to do just that. The two men rode to Ten Mile Creek and there Charlton parted company with Stilwell who headed north towards the Washita River. Charlton continued on to Rush Springs to try a two prong pursuit. About eight miles west of Rush Springs, Charlton topped a rise in the prairie and met McLaughlin. This took Charlton completely by surprise and his carbine and pistol were still secured in their respective scabbards.
McLaughlin recognized Charlton even though he was in civilian attire. The red headed outlaw kept Charlton covered with a gun, but allowed him to pass unscathed. Charlton went about his way as McLaughlin did. However, once out of sight of the outlaw, Charlton dismounted, tied his horse, and crept back up the road to see where McLaughlin had gone. Finally, he caught a glimpse of McLaughlin in the distance and he was heading in the direction of the "Widow McGee's" ranch. The ranch was a favorite resort of outlaws and Charlton strongly believed that this was McLaughlin's destination. Upon returning to his horse, Charlton met a deputy U.S. marshal named McAlister who was also in pursuit of McLaughlin. The two men went to Rush Springs where information was relayed to Colonel MacKenzie at Fort Sill. A detachment was sent in response under charge of Sergeant Felix 4th Cavalry. The McGee home was surrounded and McLaughlin and two of the McGee brothers were taken into custody and sent to Fort Smith for trial. However, the outcome of their cases is not known (Carter, 128-129). Even though this incident was a resounding success, Charlton would later point out that "Stillwell[sic] and I scouted continually but we did not bring in our man every time" (Carter, 138).
Stilwell was charged with larceny in December 1875. He had in some way acquired a certain mule that had been stolen from a man named James Jelm. However, when the case came before the federal court, it was realized that there was not enough evidence to convict Stilwell. He was discharged from custody and quickly returned to Fort Sill (Fort Smith Court Records, Jacket #180).
In late June 1876, a number of Comanche Indian ponies were stolen from an Indian encampment on East Cache Creek near Fort Sill. This information was relayed to Kilmartin, Stilwell, and John B. Charlton. The three men in the company of two Comanche Indians left Fort Sill and were nearing the Red River when the Comanches halted their progress. They steadfastly refused to ford Red River as they believed that their presence in Texas would be a violation of standing treaties with the government. The three white scouts continued on and crossed at Red River Station in Montague County (Carter, 123).
Once in Texas, the trail proceeded towards the Big Wichita River, but the trail was lost due to the passing of a large buffalo herd which destroyed the tracks. The men searched the rest of the day for any signs of the horse thieves, but resolved to go into camp when it became too dark to search further. The next morning, Kilmartin recommended that the three proceed to Whaley's Ranch which was about forty miles distant. The idea appealed to Stilwell and Charlton and the men went on to Whaley's Ranch where Kilmartin's wife, Lena, was employed as a housekeeper (Carter, 123). Lena was known to be the only woman living in that part of Texas up to the year 1873 and was considered quite a hardened frontier character. Not only was she proficient at her job as housekeeper, but in keeping with the frontier lifestyle, became quite adept at the use of the Winchester rifle and was considered an expert shot (Earle, 6-7). It is quite possible that Jack met Lena when he purchased his share of the ranch and later married her.
The following day, the scouts arrived at Whaley's Ranch. Whaley and his son had gone on a round up and Lena Kilmartin was left alone at the house. The horses were bedded down for the night and Lena prepared a meal for the weary travelers. Soon, the meal was served and all present sat down to enjoy a home-cooked supper. However, the serene atmosphere was shattered when Jack stated that he had heard rumors that Lena and Whaley were involved in a sexual relationship. With this being out in the open, Jack did not ask if the allegations were true, but told Lena that she would be returning to Fort Sill with him the next day. The gentle Lena apparently had no desire to return with her husband and she began to scold Jack as he simply took her verbal abuse and continued to eat his meal. Stilwell and Charlton quickly concluded their supper and retired to the prairie where they spread out their blankets and found slumber. Kilmartin decided not to join his traveling partners and made his bed on the ground a few feet from the front door of the ranch house (Carter, 123).
The men fell into a deep slumber and the night passed away without incident. However, at day break, Lena Kilmartin slipped out of the front door of the house and approached her still sleeping husband. Without warning or provocation, Lena leveled a revolver at Jack's head and fired a single shot into his temple (Letters Sent, Lieutenant Colonel John P. Hatch to Assistant Adjutant General, #577/Nye, 244/Carter, 124). Stilwell and Charlton jumped to their feet and bolted toward the scene with carbines in hand. Charlton would later state, "Hardened soldier though I was, I was shocked beyond measure at this cold blooded murder and I turned on the woman and screamedâ¦" With hostility coming from Charlton and Stilwell, Lena simply stood her ground, raised her chin, and showed her staunch defiance to the scouts. Her neck was long and Charlton expressed the desire to "adjust a noose around it." Lena's defiance was soon curtailed when she caught a glimpse of the look in Stilwell's eyes. Lena now stood in uncertainty at what to do next. Stilwell proceeded toward her, his right hand extended toward the corpse and his left tightly gripping his carbine. As Stilwell neared her, Lena began to grope for the door handle behind her and finally managed to secure a grip that allowed her entry into the ranch house. Throughout the entire incident, Lena Kilmartin never said a word and when she was finally inside the house, she slammed the door and bolted it shut (Carter, 124).
Stilwell shook himself off and turned to face a confused Charlton who would later state that he and Stilwell "knew there was no law to handle" the situation. It is not known why the men did not take her into custody and relay her to the proper local officials in Texas. In any case, Kilmartin's limbs were straightened, he was wrapped in a blanket, and buried under a mesquite tree near the spot where he was killed. He was buried without a coffin or funeral services, just the mourning of two old friends who boiled with anger. It would later be rumored that Whaley was due to return to the ranch on the night of the scouts' arrival. However, somehow he had received word that Kilmartin was at the ranch. Thinking that this may spell trouble, Whaley kept his distance until Kilmartin's departureâ¦or killing as it would turn out (Carter, 124-125).
Stilwell and Charlton left Whaley's Ranch soon after the burial and returned to Fort Sill where Colonel Ranald MacKenzie, the commanding officer, was informed of the situation. The two scouts told MacKenzie of their desire to arrest Lena Kilmartin for her crime, but MacKenzie stated that he had no authority to issue orders for her arrest (Carter, 125). The extent of his authority in civilian matters was limited to the confines of the Indian Territory unless given specific orders to do otherwise. Nothing more is mentioned of this incident in official records and it appears that the matter was simply allowed to quietly disappear from recorded memory. Shortly after the death of Kilmartin, Stilwell left his employment at Fort Sill and headed west (Chambers, 117).
In 1877, Stilwell and his younger brother, Frank, made a trip from Anadarko, Indian Territory to Prescott, Arizona. While in Arizona, Frank fell in with a bad element and managed to kill a Mexican cook named Jesus Bega in October 1877. However, he was acquitted. Jack did not remain in Arizona long. He went to Texas in 1879 and gained employment as a scout at Fort Davis and Fort Stockton. Frank later moved to Tombstone, Arizona and was involved in the murder of Wyatt Earp's brother, Morgan, in 1882. This led to Frank's death at the hands of Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, and others in the railyard at Tucson, Arizona (Chambers, 117). In March 1882, after hearing of Frank's death, Jack went West in hopes of avenging his brother's death. However, he soon returned unsuccessful (Thrapp, 1371).
Following his unsuccessful foray in pursuit of Wyatt Earp, Jack Stilwell returned to Indian Territory where he became a deputy U.S. marshal with headquarters at Anadarko. One of Stilwell's many arrests occurred in the fall of 1885 when he arrested a man named Joseph Leonard who had been a thorn in the Indian Agent's side for quite some time. The arrest was accomplished at a point about thirty-five miles from Anadarko. Leonard was turned over to Chief of Indian Police Mandell and taken to Henrietta, Texas for an appearance before the U.S. Commissioner (Kiowa Agency Intruders, B.E. Cabell to Lee Hall, November 28, 1885).
On another occasion during the mid-1880s, Stilwell went to a cattle ranch located in the Cherokee Outlet with the intention of arresting three thieves named the "Sleeper Kid", Charlie Bryant, and Ben Hunt. Stilwell's plans had reached the three outlaws and they were going to be ready when the marshal arrived. Stilwell rode up to the ranch on a large gray horse and dismounted. He noticed Bryant and Hunt lounging about the camp with their weapons not far from their reach. Stilwell began a rather innocent conversation with the two men while he sized up the situation that he had ridden into. They were conversing about the weather, stock, and other things in general when the "Sleeper Kid" exited a tent, calmly mounted a horse, and galloped away from the ranch. Stilwell realized that he was in no position to arrest the outlaws so he bid Bryant and Hunt a good day and left without having brought in his prey (Barnard, 93-94).
In 1887, Stilwell was transferred while still in the Marshal's Service to Darlington and was highly relied upon while in service there (Chambers, 117/Biography File, OHS). Soon after, Jack became a police judge at El Reno. While serving in this capacity in March 1894, Stilwell was called as a witness in the case of The United States vs. The State of Texas which finally determined that Old Greer County, in what is now southwest Oklahoma, was actually a part of Oklahoma Territory. His deposition was taken at the Kerfoot Hotel in El Reno and took an entire day to complete (Chambers, 111). Within a few years, he relocated to Anadarko and became a U.S. Commissioner. While residing at Anadarko, Jack was admitted to the bar and also practiced law. In 1898, he accepted the invitation of an old friend, William F. "Buffalo Bill" Cody, to move to his ranch near Cody, Wyoming where Jack looked after Cody's interests while he was away with the Wild West Show. It was there that Stilwell died of Bright's Disease in 1903 (Thrapp, 1371). He is buried near Cody, Wyoming in a rather elaborate iron-fenced grave site.
Why should a man who had such a full life not write his own biography? This question was addressed by Clint Chambers who wrote an article about Jack Stilwell. The best guess is that Stilwell was just too humble of a man to brag about his exploits. Stilwell was quoted as saying:
"I have read the account of the fight [Arickaree] you mention. To criticize it, or even comment on it, would be to rewrite the whole thing, and I may say here that I would leave out four or five hundred pronouns "I". I don't feel at this time equal to the occasion. I am not in the habit of writing for publication" (Chambers, 120).
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Carter, Robert G. The Old Sergeant's Story: Winning the West From the Indians and Bad Men
In 1870 to 1876. Frederick H. Hitchcock, New York, NY: 1926.
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of Texas To Scout the Life of "Jack" Stilwell" West Texas Historical Association
Yearbook. Vol. 117, The West Texas Historical Association, Abilene, Texas: 1991,
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