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Life of the Marlows

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The story of the five Marlow brothers and their tribulations in late nineteenth-century Texas is the stuff of Old West legend (and served to inspire the John Wayne movie, The Sons of Katie Elder). Violent, full of intrigue, with characters of amazing heroism and deplorable cowardice, their story was first related by William Rathmell in Life of the Marlows, a little book published in 1892, shortly after the events it described in Young County, Texas. It told how Boone, the most reckless of the brothers, shot and killed a popular sheriff and escaped, only to be murdered later by bounty hunters. The other four brothers, arrested as accessories and jailed, made a daring break from confinement but were recaptured. Once back in their cells, they were forced to fight off a mob intent on lynching them. Later, shackled together, the Marlows were placed on wagons by officers late at night, bound for another town, but they were ambushed by angry citizens. In the resulting battle two of the brothers were shot and killed, the other two severely wounded, and three mob members died. The surviving brothers eventually were exonerated, but members of the mob that had attacked them were prosecuted in cases that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The original 1892 edition and expanded reprint of 1931 are both quite scarce. Later writers drew upon Rathmell’s account when telling the story of the Marlows, but all accounts were slanted sympathetically toward them, given the same bias by Rathmell. Now Robert K. DeArment, a noted historian of outlaws and lawmen of the West, has sifted through the evidence and presents herein an objective, annotated edition of Life of the Marlows , which contains extensive clarifying and corrective footnotes and an index. Now the complete story can be told and readers can judge for themselves: were the Marlows as law-abiding as Rathmell claims? Or was the mob reacting with justified anger?

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Chapter I Pioneer Days—An Indian Scare

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Pioneer Days—

An Indian Scare

In Nashville, Tennessee, in 1822, there lived in happiness and comparative prosperity, a very youthful married couple, the husband being scarce eighteen years of age. This was the handsome and ever good-natured Williamson Marlow Sr. and his child wife.1

After the birth of their first child2 they moved to Missouri, and a few years later, when three little pledges of love had gathered about the family fireside, the grim King of Terrors came in the still hours of the night and robbed that peaceful little home of its dearest treasure—a mother’s love and watchful care. A tiny spark of humanity was placed in the young widower’s arms, making four little ones3 for the griefstricken Williamson to be both father and mother to, and on that memorable day life lost for him its charm. Grief for the loss of a dutiful wife and loving mother knocked at his heart with a knell and he became for a time a wanderer, a brother and sister caring for the children. But time heals all wounds, so after the keen edge of his sorrow had worn

 

Chapter II Adventures in the Southwest—A Love Affair

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adventures in the southwest—

A love affair

The Marlow family located near Denver in 1865, and at that place the two oldest daughters of Martha, Nannie and Charlotte, were married to two worthy brothers, John and William Murphy. The girls were young to leave a mother’s care, being about 13 and 17,1 but love triumphed over reason, as usual, and the weddings took place on the same day, amid the ringing of bells, feasting, and much enjoyment.

Next year found Dr. Marlow and his family again back in Missouri, the spirit of travel and a disposition to see the world preventing him from being contented more than a year or two in one place, and near

Carthage, on the 14th of October, the youngest of the five brothers, who have in late years become so famous for dangers overcome and adventures encountered, was born.2

About this time, P. M. Marlow and Bithel came in from Texas to visit their father for the first time in a number of years. They had been

1

Nancy was twenty years old and Charlotte was sixteen in 1865, according to the birth dates provided by the family.

 

Chapter III Scenes and Adventures in Mexico

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scenes and adventures in mexico

In the spring of ’77, rumors of the wonders of South America having reached them, Dr. Marlow and the boys, together with about thirty others, mostly relatives, sold off their stock, bought mules, wagons and other necessities for a long journey, and began a trip overland to the balmy clime and flowery land of the tropics. It was a lovely morning in March when they started on their long journey, the soft south breeze made the tall grasses growing on the prairie nod a farewell to them, and the meadow larks sang a glad carol that the beauties and benefits of the old Lone

Star State might live in their memories, as well as the trials and dangers.

The company generally made it convenient to camp at or near some small town, where such a long train of covered wagons and the fine animals ridden by the boys invariably attracted much attention.

One evening while camped at a small town near Fort Worth, an unusually large crowd of visitors came out to see them and among these was a veritable dude and tenderfoot who was out from the New England

 

Chapter IV An Indian Chase—Marriage and Death

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an indian chase— marriage and death

The next four years was spent near old Fort Sill, in the Indian

Territory,1 where the five brothers worked for the heavy cattle barons of that section on their immense ranches, some of which included whole townships. Little change had taken place in the Territory since they had resided there, years before, and the same wild life prevailed.2

1

The military post called Fort Sill was established in 1869 on the west bank of Cache Creek in southwestern Indian Territory (Nye, Carbine and Lance, 84).

2

The Marlows found that Texas longhorns were still coming up the trail and they resumed their former occupation of rounding up strays and running off bunches of cattle whenever possible.

In September 1881 Harry H. Halsell came through with 1300 head and had a run-in with the family that he related in some detail in 1937:

We camped at noon in some wooded country on Hell Roaring Creek, and the wild appearance of the country makes the name appropriate. Passing on through the timber, the herd stopped for the night on a running stream called Rush Springs. The boss of this herd was Mat Laughlin, and he had as a side partner, a great big rough fellow, whose name was Charlie Hardwick. These two had left the herd about three or four o’clock in the evening, and it developed afterward they had gone a few miles southeast of Hell

 

Chapter V Boone Kills a Man—Terrible Battle With Wolves

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boone kills a man— terrible battle with wolves

After the death of the Doctor, Mrs. Marlow, her four sons1 and

George’s wife moved to a place on the Fort Worth & Denver railroad, where the boys took a grading contract.2 At this place Alfred made the acquaintance of the woman whom he afterward married—a Miss Venie

Davis, who was a handsome Western lass, brave and true-hearted, and who proved entirely worthy as a wife and life companion.

After completing their contract with the railway the boys took a very desirable claim near by, close to the Navajo mountains,3 and while

Mrs. Marlow, George’s wife and Boone remained to care for their stock, and Alfred and his bride were off on a little wedding tour and visiting some of her relatives, George, Charley, Ella [sic: Ellie] and a hired man proceeded to the new claim to erect dwelling houses thereon.

It was at this time that a tragedy occurred which cast a gloom over the lives and happiness of all our little band of Westerners, broke up their plans and home and made one of them a fugitive.

 

Chapter VI A Dark and Diabolic Plot

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a dark and diabolical plot

While still out on the hunt mentioned in the preceding chapter, and three or four days after the terrible experience with the wolves, the memorable blizzard that swept that section of the country with its wintry blasts in ’87 came upon them and caught them far from home and entirely shelterless. Many settlers and hundreds of head of stock froze to death in that terrible storm, and every living creature suffered from the chilling blasts of its icy breath.1 Our little hunting party tied all the blankets they had in camp over the shivering forms of their horses and then turned them loose, while for themselves they dug a deep pit and stretched a wagon cover over it. During the night they worked incessantly to keep a roaring fire in one end of their hole in the ground, and this they were enabled to do because of having over two hundred pounds of buffalo tallow to feed its flames. It was a dark and terrible night, and one which will remain in the history [memory?] of its survivors as long as they live. When those mighty blizzards of snow are blown over the great tracts of level and unprotected prairie lands in howling hurricanes that

 

Chapter VII The Plot Deepens—The Marlows in Chains................

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the plot deepens— the marlows in chains

Had E. W. Johnson known how terrible and disastrous would be the result of the dark scheme he planned that bright August day in 1888, he would have paused ere making so fatal a move, but alas! He could see nothing but popularity and gain as an outcome, “for,” he soliloquized,

“if I go up to the Indian country and arrest these five brothers I will make myself popular with the cattle men, and the $50 apiece for their arrest and ten cents milage on each bringing them down will net quite a neat little sum besides. But the warrants! What am I to do about the necessary papers? Bah! What does it matter? If I have to show a warrant

I will manufacture one for the occasion.1 Yes, I will do it, and my friend

Sam Criswell is just the man to assist me in the undertaking. It will be hard on the Marlows, but will be the making of me.”

He puts the letter in his pocket, not thinking that he has been thinking aloud, and that the very walls have ears sometimes, and saunters out into the city in search of his trusted ally, Sam Criswell.2

 

Chapter VIII War Clouds—Boone Gathers Another Victim

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war clouds— boone gathers another victim

Upon arriving at Graham, George’s first efforts were endeavors to provide bail for his imprisoned brothers, but in this he was temporarily balked, and instead was himself thrown into jail with them,1 by Johnson and Criswell who, having started in, were as relentless as death in their prosecution. In the few days prior to his arrest George had secured the services of an attorney, one Robert Arnold,2 who subsequently turned

1

According to the Graham Leader of October 11, 1888, Deputy Marshal Johnson arrived in town on October 7 with four prisoners he had brought back from the Indian Territory. Besides

Pete Berry, “an old violator of the law . . . for whom Mr. Johnson has been on the look out for a long time,” T. A. Atterson, wanted for cattle stealing in Wilbarger County, and Bill Murphy, charged with horse stealing in the territory, Johnson had under arrest “George Marlow, brother of the four Marlows already in custody, who is also charged with horse stealing.” The paper noted that Murphy was a nephew of the Marlow brothers and had agreed to testify as a government witness against them. A warrant for George was issued on October 7 by Commissioner Girand and signed by Deputy Marshal Johnson as having been executed that day (Case #234, The United

 

Chapter IX Reward for Boone, Dead or Alive—His Escape

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reward for boone, dead or alive— his escape

A large reward was offered for the capture of Boone Marlow, dead or alive, and in consequence the country swarmed with men eager to obtain this reward, either by fair means or foul.1 Boone soon learned of this, and fearing detection, he retraced his steps back to the home place and hid for the time being in a large stack of wheat straw, half a mile from the house. He tunneled into this big hill of straw for quite a ways, and excavated a room in its interior large enough for all practical purposes. No one ever dreamed he was in the neighborhood, though a crowd of men and officers seeking his life because of the high reward were continually about the premises, thinking no doubt that perhaps he might seek to communicate by some means with his family, and thereby leave some clue by which he might be traced and hunted down.

Food was conveyed to Boone by Charley’s wife, who displayed more courage and nerve than is usually shown by womankind, and showed herself to be a true heroine. This brave and true-hearted little woman made the trip from the house to the stack under cover of the darkness

 

Chapter X Escape From Prison—Recaptured

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escape from prison— recaptured

When the four brothers were taken to jail in Graham they were stripped naked and their clothes searched for arms or weapons of any description. Then they were shoved roughly into a small steel cage and locked and barred in with extra precaution. The turnkey and other jail officials and peace officers seemed determined to make their existence as miserable as possible, and every possible indignity and insult that could be devised was heaped relentlessly upon them. Their friends and even their mother and wives were denied admittance to them, and not a message or article of any kind was allowed to be transmitted either to or from them. The food they were given was of the coarsest kind, and not enough of it to have satisfied the hunger of one man, much less that of four strong and stalwart men like the Marlows at this time.

As day after day passed under this treatment, the realization that they were to be starved to death like rats in a cage forced its way upon their minds with all its horrors, and smarting under a hundred other insults, taunts and indignities, it is no wonder their free Western spirits rebelled, and that they resolved to make a bold break for liberty.

 

Chapter XI Lynch Law—At the Mercy of the Mob

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lynch law— at the mercy of the mob

Stronger and stronger grew the sentiment against the Marlows. The officers who had in the beginning started out to ruin them left no stone unturned to accomplish their purpose, but actuated by the hope of gain and personal aggrandizement they spread abroad every lie and innuendo which could suggest itself to their fertile and scheming minds.

Here were four innocent men in prison—men who had never in their lives committed wrong by word or deed—yet they were manacled and ironed like desperados of the worst type, held in prison under the charges of theft and being accessory to the heinous crime of murder, and outside the people were worked up and so incensed against them that they already thirsted for their blood, and muttered threats of lynching them could be heard on every side. The death of Wallace and their subsequent escape from the jail of course intensified this feeling, and things began to assume for them anything but a roseate hue.

On the night of January 17th the trouble which had been brewing came to a climax, and the jail was turned over to an organized mob by the peace officers already named. The details of the lawless project were carefully planned, and it was decided to work quickly, quietly and systematically. No shots were to be fired, as that would arouse the town and perhaps cause the recognition of those forming the mob.

 

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Chapter XII Removal and Final Attack—Battle of Dry Creek

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removal and final attack— battle of dry creek

1

The prisoners feared a mob worse than ever when they saw the crowd, and asked Johnson if he would arm them if they were attacked.

“Yes, I will,” he said.

There were two hacks and a buggy in sight. The six prisoners and driver got into one of the hacks and started, Clift and Burkhart, who were chained together, occupying the front seat by Martin, the driver, who was unarmed, for fear the prisoners might take his weapons from him when the attack was made. The four Marlows occupied the back seats.2 In the second hack were the two deputy marshals, Edward

Johnson, a kinsman of ex-Attorney General Garland,3 who had command of the party; Sam Criswell and the other guards, who were all heavily armed.4

1

The chapter title under the heading “Chapter XII” was inadvertently omitted in the Rathmell edition.

2

The lead vehicle was a three-seated hack driven by P. A. Martin (not “George” Martin as stated in Crouch, History of Young County, 118, and Raine, Famous Sheriffs, 37). Beside Martin sat Louis Clift (called “Pitts” by Johnson) and William Burkhart, chained together at the ankles.

 

Chapter XIII The Story in a New York Paper, in June 1891

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the story in a new york paper, in June 1891

We make a chapter here from a detailed statement of the facts now being narrated, which appeared and was elaborately illustrated in the

National Police Gazette during the summer of 1891.1

HUNTED IN THE LAW’S NAME.

FOUR MEN IN SHACKLES AGAINST A HUNDRED.

BORDER LIFE IN TEXAS.

THE FAMOUS MARLOW MOB CASE.

There is no more startling story in all the turbulent annals of the southwest than the one that will be told when the “Marlow mob” cases are called up at the next term of the United States Supreme Court. ExAttorney-General Garland will appear for the defendants in the case, which comes up before the final legal tribunal on a writ of error.

The official records of the case, which are on file in the Supreme

Court, will, it is asserted, disclose an astounding conspiracy, which, started by designing men, finally led a whole community into a series of criminal transactions, and stained the history of [a] Texas county with blood. The story, now told for the first time, would certainly be incredible if it were not supported at all points by official records.

 

Chapter XIV The Home Besieged—One Hundred to One

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the home besieged— one hundred to one

Brief time was there for the wounded brothers and grief stricken women to lament over the death of their loved ones, for their frail cabin had to be turned into a fortress, and hasty preparations made to defend their home and lives from the blood-thirsty horde which would be sure to arrive before long.

The brave mother was first to recover her self-possession, and commenced without delay for the siege. Charley was faint and helpless, the night’s ride having exhausted the little strength his wounds had left him. The only way in which he could breathe was when propped up in a sitting posture, and in this position, with a Winchester across his lap, he sat the following two days and nights. If anyone spoke loud or passed before him, he would instantly grasp his gun deliriously, try to draw it, then finding his mistake, sink back more exhausted than ever. The mother took command, Charley’s Alfred’s and George’s wives doing as she directed. When they had done all they could to put their little cabin in a state of defense, they busied themselves preparing cooling drink for the boys, and quietly awaited the coming of their enemies. Clift was in agony from a ragged wound in the thigh, and leaning on two guns, he continually hobbled up and down the floor, in too much pain to be quiet.

 

Chapter XV Prisoners Again—Boone Murdered

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PRISONERS AGAIN—

BOONE MURDERED

On Tuesday morning, in answer to a telegram sent the Sunday before to U. S. Marshal Cabell, stating that they would never surrender to anyone but he or Morton, Morton with his guard arrived.1 A mattress was placed in the hack they had brought for them, and the brave and self-sacrificing

Clift, at his own request, was placed in first in such a position as to hold up Charley, it being impossible for him to breathe only in a sitting position, so the wounded and suffering Clift held him in his arms till they reached the railroad the next day at about 11 o’clock.

After leaving the house a few yards they were met by Collier and his crowd, by appointment, in order to return the guns they had carried away from the battle field. It was prophesied by all that witnessed their departure that Charles would die of his wounds before reaching Dallas.2

When about one mile from the Denson farm a man overtook them and asked where they meant to reach the railroad. “Weatherford,” said

 

Chapter XVI Arrest and Trial of the Conspirators

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arrest and trial of the conspirators

On leaving Gainesville, Charley crossed the Red River at Brown’s

Ferry, north of Gainesville, crossed the Indian Territory and entered

Kansas at Kiowa,1 took a westerly course here and entered Colorado at

Coolidge,2 and two days later they reached La Junta, where Ellie, one of the twins, became quite ill of pneumonia. Three days later the little one died at this place. Charles was making for the mountains of Colorado, where he thought he would have peace at last.

George left Gainesville, Texas, on the 12th of the following October for Colorado, by rail. He knew Charley was somewhere on the road, but just where he would enter the mountains was a difficult matter to tell, so on reaching Gunnison, Colorado,3 he left his wife to look for him at this point, while he came on to Dallas,4 in the same state.

Between La Junta and Gunnison, Charley and Clift were compelled to work three weeks at a saw mill for money to continue their journey on. Charley chose the route by Gunnison, and came across George’s

 

Chapter XVII The Result—Extracts and Opinions

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the result— extracts and opinions

Such a long chapter of testimony may tax the reader’s patience somewhat, but as this book is a history as well as a romance, it is necessary to give facts as they occurred. There were many more important witnesses on both sides, whose testimony was but a reiteration of that already gone over, and which is for that reason omitted here.

The trial dragged along through the court with weary monotony for days and weeks. Hundreds of citizens from all parts of the State came and went, and all watched the proceedings with keen interest.

Finally the case was given to the jury, with a long and exhaustive charge by A. P. McCormick, from which the following brief extracts are taken:

“Gentlemen: When a citizen of the United States is committed to the custody of the United States marshal or to a state jail by process issuing from one of the courts of the United States to be held in default of bail to await his trial on a criminal charge, within the exclusive jurisdiction of the national courts, such citizen has a right under the constitution and laws of the United States to a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury, and until tried, has the right to be treated with humanity and to be fully protected against all unlawful violence while he is deprived of the ordinary means of defending and protecting himself.

 

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