Gruesome Deaths Still Unsolved

In the book, Into Oblivion: Murders, Missing Persons and Mysteries, author Marilyn A. Hudson explores several true life mysteries.  Many of them are based in Oklahoma, with others in Texas, Missouri and New Mexico.

  • The unsolved murder of a butchered body found west of Oklahoma City in 1951. The wife and mother walked home from work but ran into the wrong person.
  • The unsolved murder of a young hitchhiker near Yukon. Links to the previous case and to the heart of OKC itself?
  • A string of mysterious, bloody, and still unsolved murders involved butchered bodies in southern Texas and New Mexico. Are they all connected?
For your ghoulish reading pleasure, get this book (in print or Kindle) and explore the twists and turns of people who found themselves on a road leading "Into Oblivion."

For interviews, please email author Marilyn A. Hudson.


What Really Happened to 'Dynamite Dick"?

Charles Daniel, aka "Dynamite Dick", Clifton was born about 1865 and died November 7, 1897 near Checotah in Indian Territory (present day Oklahoma).  The question has to be asked about this man often labeled the "most killed outlaw in America", is that information accurate?

He was missing several fingers and the story of just how they went missing seemed to change as well. Some claimed he had been a miner or worked in train robbery with dynamite and was a little too slow and lost some digits.  Other sources claimed he had them shot off in the U.S. Marshals vs. Outlaws in Ingalls, Oklahoma in 1893.

He was said to have been killed near Blackwell, Kay County, Oklahoma in 1896 by U.S. Deputy Marshal Chris Madsen.  Yet, in November of 1897 there was a long, detailed story about the killing of the digit deprived desperado near Checotah, I.T. (present day McIntosh County in the southeast corner of the state). 

It was recounted in the news article of the Daily Oklahoma State Capital (Guthrie) of Nov. 22, 1897 (pg.3) that he had been involved in numerous robberies, including the 'Southwestern Bank Robbery" and it was claimed he led the 'Red Fork Train Robbery' (about 1893). The last of which took on a near legendary aura over time. He was one of the original Dalton gang, he had robbed post offices at Rock Island (KS) and in Foyil (OK). He had enjoyed the luxuries of jails in Paris (TX) and in Guthrie (OK).

It was a close Doolin gang cohort as well and led in the famous jail break at Guthrie in 1896 where several bad men escaped.  He was in the Cook gang in all of their raids.  He was described as being big, heavy set, well muscled and having a fair intelligence.  He was known as a shrewd scout and was labeled " the most dangerous criminal and outlaw".

In November he was tracked by law into thicket forested areas of southeast Oklahoma and took shelter in a small house where an "Indian Woman and boy" were.  Attempting to use them as a shield, the law finally got the them out and then a gun battle ensued after which he was killed.  A grave site in Muskogee seems to indicate the truth of the Checotah death in November of 1897. The government, apparently, footed the bill. Plus, there was the rewards of $2800 paid to U.S. Deputy Marshall Lawson for the death of Clifton.


She Was A He!

In the late 1890's a thrilling horse thief raced across the hills and vales of Oklahoma and surrounding
regions.  Big talkers claimed she had been there at the great train robbery at Red Fork.  Bill Doolin of the Dalton-Doolin Gang said she was the best brains around and was one tough hombre. For approximately ten years she lived a life as a daring horse thief who rode like the wind and was known as 'Tom King".

Tom, however, had been born the last child of a wealthy Missouri farmer and in the hills around Holton she rode her beloved horses.  She was sent to Holton College and then another school but soon tired of them and raced back to her horses.  Finally, a shady character caught her attention and she married at  17 John Ora Mundis.  They spent the early months of their marriage visiting all the gaming and saloon dens for all night fun.  Then, they took her inheritance and went to Oklahoma Territory where they lived high in Guthrie until the money ran out.  Some suggest she turned to prostitution and some that she had an affair with a local doctor. Either way, her husband turned jealous and she ran away.  She returned sometime later but in male garb, hair cut male short and calling herself Tom King.  She freed horses from hitching posts, local pastures and fields as an easy way to make money.

She was arrested and escaped a few times and then disappeared... It is believed she died in Clifton, Arizona in 1903, where she was known as Mrs.B.F. Neal and "China Dot",  when a man shot her and then shot himself. Some suggest that the man was her husband Mundis using a fake name. The truth may never be known.

Flora Quick Mundis aka Tom King, Rose Dunn aka "Rose of the Cimarron", along with "Cattle Annie", "Little Britches", Jessie Finley (Finley), and others would fill dramatically the void left by the mysterious murder of Belle Starr in 1889 near Eufaula.  A fascinating page of truly unique history. 

However, they were not the only woman of the west who made a decision that those skirts - and all they represented - were just such a hassle.

In 1907 was the story of a woman who masqueraded in man's attire for many years.  Miss Catherine Vosbugh hid her female sex for 60 years until she died at age 83 in Trinidad, Colorado.  She had been born in France. In this country she found it difficult to make her way and found work as a bookkeeper, male, in Joplin, Missouri.  While she married a woman, who she claimed was in trouble, and lived with her for 30 years as a couple.

About 1905, 'Charlie' Vosbaugh and his wife came to Trinidad where shortly after the wife died and he grew more feeble.  In hospital the secret was discovered and he refused to don female clothes. When he died he was wearing male clothes.

In Buffalo, New York in 1903 was the story of a woman who had worn male clothes for 20 years and when she fell on ice breaking her leg, her secret was uncovered.  Forced into female clothes in the hospital, she vowed she would jump off Niagara Falls before wearing another skirt!  She slipped out and police, staff and others were searching for her, fearful she was going to jump.  She claimed to have a sister in NYC that likewise dressed in male attire.

Into the first dozen years of the 20th century there were many stories of women who were masquerading as men.  It was illegal to do and these often surfaced when someone was arrested.  Several stories indicated that they had adopted male dress and identity merely to make the money needed to survive.  As one young woman from Montana noted: 'A girl can't earn enough to stay straight...I can drive a care and earn fair wages...As a girl ...no more than $5-6 a week...as a boy...$16-30.'    Women joined mining crews, rode with cattle, cooked on the range, and did many other 'male' jobs in order to survive and in many cases to achieve some autonomy.

History is filled with stories of women who masqueraded as men to escape, to have adventures, and to find fulfilment.  They were soldiers, sailors, cowhands, miners, farmers, teamsters, and more. From Deborah Sampson in the Revolution to Catherine "Charlie" Vosbugh they made the determination about what their life would be and how they would like it.


Words of Wisdom from a Forgotten Figure in Oklahoma History

Be True to Yourself. Charles F. Colcord
There is only one way in the world to be successful in business, “Colcord said. “That route is to be true to the one person you can’t fool a bit; that person who knows all about you, knows all your weaknesses and strong points – the one who knows every little trick you try to play to beat the other fellow out of something, and who is going to reprimand you for every mistake you make…YOURSELF. You can go along for years, maybe, and make a big financial success at the expense of those with whom you’re dealing, but you’ll never be happy. Your own conscience will spoil the pleasure of eating the feast you have so carefully prepared.” Colcord continued, recalling something he heard on a Texas ranch as a boy and it lingered with him for more than half a century”” Be true to yourself….Get all the schooling you can even if you have to sacrifice to get it.  Education is something you can’t lose. It may get rusty on you, bt you can brighten it up. Then practice honesty in little things and satisfy yourself that everything you do is above reproach…do what you say you will do and you will learn that integrity is truly the basis of success.”-------  The Autobiography of Charles Francis Colcord, 1859-1934. Helmerich, 1970 (p233-234).

Colcord was born in Kentucky , lived in Louisiana as a boy and then transplanted to Texas where he learned and lived the life of the cowboy on the major cattle trails and ranches out of southern Texas. He made the 1889 run into Oklahoma, became the first law in Oklahoma City, began a deputy U.S. Marshal, made the Cherokee Strip run of 1893, lived in Perry and then returned to Oklahoma City where he launched into a busy life of business, real estate and community building. The Colcord Building in downtown Oklahoma City was one of his projects. 

In 1903 he built a magnificent home based on plans of his real life 'Old Kentucky Home' that would, if it still stood today, would be a draw for people worldwide.  The eleven bedroom home was three stories filled with imports from Italy, Frane, Belgium with marble fireplaces, a solarium, billiard room and ballroom.  Placed at a trolley stop it was a destination for site seers, artists who came to capture its lovely lines, and admire its architecture. The lovely house, still in good condition, was torn down in the early 1960's.

What Will I Wear?

One of the recognized lures for young women to enter a life of shame in the Edwardian era was a familiar one. Clothes. In 1859 when Dr. William Sanger asked some 2,000 prostitutes what had launched them into their life the answers were surprising. The majority had been lured not by seduction, violation, or bad company but by destitution, inclination and seduction/abandonment topped the list.  The fact that inclination came in second must have been a hard pill for Victorians to take given their predispositions about the role of virtue in a woman's life and general beliefs about sex in general.

So, in 1904 Police Chief Brown and Matron Bond had their hands full with a young miss who had run from her grandmother in Perry, had been sent to the Guthrie Rescue Home and had left there to go to Oklahoma City. She was being seriously wooed by someone on West Second Street , i.e., "Harlot's Lane", to enter full time into the sporting life through clothes: silk skirt, drop stitch stockings, new undervest, new corset and the 'inevitable' high heeled slippers.  She was  taken by Police Matron Bond and Mrs. Matthews to the local Rescue Home. So, as the headlines put it, she was "Rescued from a Life of Shame."  

In its historical context, Oklahoma had since about 1895 through the early years of 1900 been in a financial decline. The Cherokee Strip had opened in 1893 and some wandering and adventurous types had set out to stake their claim. Vast numbers of the downtown offices, houses, and businesses were vacant and anyone who wanted to rent space was welcome.  As is often the case, vice survives in the toughest times.

On the home front this might have meant less money for frills, even if your family believed in such things on social or moral grounds, and so the lure for a dreamy girl might have been too much.  The same thing, unfortunately, can still happen to today. Hopefully, we can learn from the lessons already learned by women of an earlier age.

Where Were the First OKC Schools?: First African-American School in 1889

The land run of April 22, 1889 saw thousands of settlers establish a growing community in just hours. It did not take them long to establish churches, government offices and schools.

In October  a school for white children opened in what was then known as South Oklahoma (anything south of Grand Avenue). It was organized at the corner of Washington (area of SW 1st) and Broadway.   Parents were urged to send along any books so they could build a library to help them until funds developed to build a proper collection of books.

In November school officials announced a school for 'Negro children' had also been established with a well qualified teacher from Texas. Further more, the school would be free to all living in South Oklahoma and for a $1 a month to any living outside that area.  There was no address listed in the article found sharing this information in 1889.

Does anyone know where this school was located?  The names of teachers?  Students?

Who Was Vivia Thomas? Updated

Chapter from the 2015 book, Into Oblivion by author Marilyn A. Hudson, available from Amazon in print and Kindle formats.

Who Was Vivia Thomas?

Fort Gibson, Indian Territory
January 1870

One of the longest and most intriguing tales of the Sooner state involves a woman who masqueraded as a man.  Various versions have been shared but all have the same basic tale with no explanations as to the source of the many intriguing details and motivations provided. It is in many ways one of the most firmly entrenched legends of the American frontier in Oklahoma. Her name was Vivia Thomas and she was buried on 7 January 1870 in the Fort Gibson Military Cemetery in what was then Indian Territory (Plot OC 0 2120).  For decades, stories of a slim weeping figure at her grave have been reported and her tale has taken on the cautionary veneer of the cost and regret of personal vengeance.
Fort Gibson in what was Indian Territory was established in 1824. In 1868 one of the first national cemeteries was organized nearby.  The fort operated for only about 60 years but in that time it saw a tremendous amount of history.
With some minor variations, creative additions and rearrangement of events, the following is the accepted tale of Vivia Thomas.
"One of the most interesting stories associated with Fort Gibson National Cemetery is the tale of Vivia Thomas. Legend has it this high-spirited daughter of a wealthy Boston family met and fell in love with a handsome young lieutenant at a ball following the Civil War.
After several months of courtship, they announced their engagement, but shortly before the wedding he left, leaving only a note that he desired to go West in search of adventure. Broken-hearted and bitter over the abandonment, Thomas went in search of her lover. After learning that he was stationed at Fort Gibson, she set off on a journey of revenge. She cut her hair, dressed in men’s clothing and joined the Army. The disguise worked, as the former fiance did not recognize her.
One night as he was returning from a visit with his Native American girlfriend, she ambushed and killed him. Despite an intense investigation, the murder went undiscovered. However, Thomas grew remorseful and began to visit his grave late at night. Eventually she contracted pneumonia from the continued exposure to the cold and collapsed near his grave, dying a few days later. Rather than condemning her actions, her army colleagues were so impressed with her courage in coming alone to the frontier and carrying out a successful disguise that they awarded her a place of honor for burial in the officer’s circle." (http://www.cem.va.gov/cems/nchp/ftgibson.asp) 
Some authors have called the whole story “far-fetched” and many dismiss the tale of a woman dressing as a man as mere fiction. There is historic precedent and these could have been the stories that gave the young woman the idea to travel west as a man, first for safety and then later for other reasons.  In the American Revolution, Mexican and Civil Wars women fought sometimes in disguise.  Deborah Samson Gannett enlisted using her dead brother’s name and even pulled a musket ball from her own thigh to maintain her disguise.  In 1782, she enlisted under the name of her deceased brother, Robert Shurtleff Samson.  Margaret Corbin helped defend Fort Washington, New York.  Elizabeth C. Newcume in the Mexican War dressed as a man and joined at Fort Leavenworth in eastern Kansas. In 1847 she fought Native Americans in the area of Dodge City, Kansas. Sometimes they died as well such as Sarah Rosetta Wakeman who enlisted as Private Lyons Wakeman. She died during the war in New Orleans at the Marine General Hospital. At the time of her death, her true gender was not known. In fact, her headstone reads Lyons Wakeman.  Sarah Seelye who would become the only female member of the GAR. So women disguising themselves as men and serving in the military was not a new or “far-fetched” idea at all. So even in the gender restrictive Victorian era it was not unknown.  It probably says more about the biases and prejudices of the males who label it as such than about the idea itself.
Strangely, the final resting place of the mysterious Vivia is also home to many notables. Medal of Honor Recipients such as Private First Class John N. Reese Jr., (World War II), U.S. Army, Company B, 148th Infantry, 37th Infantry Division. Paco Railroad Station, Manila, Philippine Islands, Feb. 9, 1945 (Section 2, Grave 1259-E);  First Lieutenant Jack C. Montgomery, (World War II), U.S. Army, 45th Division. Padiglione, Italy, Feb. 22, 1944 (Section 20, Grave 963);  Talahina Diana Rogers - Cherokee wife of General Sam Houston - Section OC, Grave 2467 and others.
All of which makes the question of who she was in more mysterious.  The only apparent documentation found is her name in her tombstone and post records. She is listed in the Post Cemetery Records for Fort Gibson, Indian Territory, showing a death on January 7, 1870  (“Burial Registers for Military Posts, Camps, and Stations, 1768-1921” ; (National Archives Microfilm Publication M2014, 1 roll); Records of the Office of the Quartermaster General, Record Group 92; National Archives, Washington, D.C.)  No other identifying or biographical information is indicated in the record.  
If there was no stone in the cemetery most would have disregarded the story long ago as mere myth and an example of the tall tale told to entertain on long, cold winter nights. In a cemetery with some 2,000 graves of ‘unknowns’ there are stories still waiting to be told and so she is not alone as to scarcity of information. No doubt some of those unnamed graves would be significant to local, military or national history of only known.  So that leaves her place of burial, within the so-called ‘circle of honor’ graves, to offer clues to the truth of the basic story.
In recent years there has been a suggestion by some genealogical researchers that the grave refers to a grandchild of the Fort Superintendent, William Thomas who had married the daughter of Dr. John Westerfield (who is also buried at the cemetery).  Some claim this tombstone for “Vivia Thomas” in the honor circle is for an infant of Westerfield’s daughter Jennie. No documentary evidence is presented to substantiate this claim. However, and there are internal inconsistencies in accepting this theory.
The story of Vivia has been repeated in a dozen or more books and magazine articles.  The original story is filled with rich detail and motivational explanations that give it a first person texture.  All together the story seems to be based on some set of established facts.
Some of the most telling facts are found in the prosaic military records themselves.  From its earliest years the military has operated on the swift and unending flow of paperwork.  Reports about reports are regularly reported and in most cases this wealth of records has been preserved.  Some gaps do exist but just examining a couple of documents sheds some significant light on the story of Vivia Thomas. It also suggests the burial was not that of an infant child.
Item# 1 – Vivia Thomas’ name in all records stands alone accompanied only by the date of her death or burial.  Yet, on those same record pages will be notations “infant child of”, “Mexican soldier”, “wife and child of”, “unknown” and similar labels.   On the line where her name is listed it is starkly brief.  Her name, the date, and burial record number. 
Item#2 – Vivia is listed amid a sequence of deaths #2117 “Unknown”; #2118 “Alice Rockwell”; “2119 “Vivia Thomas”; “2120 David McWilliams” Sept 12, 1869.  Only Thomas and McWilliam’s have a date associated with their entries.
Item# 3 – According to most versions of the legend, Vivia shot the man who had jilted her “just weeks” before her death.  Some specifically name December but with the lack of much documentary information that may be simply a writer’s imagination at work.   According to several military documents, of internments at the Fort in 1868-1870, there was only one death prior to Vivia’s.  That was the death of Daniel McWilliams on 12 September 1869.
Item # 5 - According to the work by George Alexander Otis A Report of Surgical Cases Treated in the Army of the United States (1871), McWilliams was identified as a patient who was thought to have been shot by a “drunken Cherokee without apparent provocation” on the evening of 11 Sept. 1869. His wound was described as a “perforating gunshot wound of the thorax.”   He was shot with a Navy Revolver. He was immediately sent to the fort’s hospital nearby and treated by Assistant Surgeon Alfred Delany but died a day later and is buried in plot 4 0 2120 at the Fort. All of which meshes with the legend’s basic components.
Item # 6 – Vivia was buried in the Circle of Honor at Fort Gibson and it is generally understood this was a place where special individuals were buried.  These were people notable for service, historic significance and similar achievements. 
Item # 7 – Were Vivia the daughter of the superintendent William Thomas and wife Jennie Westerfield Thomas, it would be expected that the standard system of labeling and identifying persons would have been employed.  The father of Jennie Westerfield, Dr. John Westerfield, is buried in 1872 at the same cemetery with a clear notation, “father-in-law of superintendent”.
A DNA test might eventually prove a link to the Westerfield-Thomas line but, for now, the preponderance of evidence suggests that this was an adult woman. 
The story also underscores the reality of how history can “fall between the cracks” intentionally as people try to hide their own identities for a fresh start, to escape legal problems, or hide from those they do not wish to find them.  Add to this the occasional less than stellar ethics of a community, a police force, or newspapers and the truth can sometimes fall into a bottomless pit that makes uncovering the truth next to impossible.


A Volcano in Nebraska?

Doing some research in an old newspaper file, I ran across one of the fascinating tidbit fillers of news from here and there. This one reported a volcano in Nebraska. Originally noted by Lewis and Clark, the region was said to be held sacred by local Native peoples and the 'mound' stood some 180 feet and was seen to smoke, flame, and otherwise give the appearance of a volcano. Earthquakes in the 1870's set nerves on edge as did the fact it appeared to belch fire and heat. Subsequent floodings of the nearby river destroyed it and as the areas around it died up, the story too was largely lost. Today, it is believed the 'volcano' was actually the product of chemical reaction. In a 1901 newspaper it was explained: "The volcano is believed to be due to the peculiar formation of the rock, which is of carbonate of lime mingled with innumerable crystals of bisulphate of iron or iron pyrites. The decomposition of the component parts is credited with bringing about the violent chemical action."

Read more here  and here.

I Write Like...

I write like
H. P. Lovecraft

I Write Like. Analyze your writing!

Expanded and Revised Edition

Expanded and Revised Edition
Coming Soon!