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S A M B A K E R : W I N S
T O N C O U N T Y ' S G U N F I G H T E R
S A M B A K E R : W I N S T O N C O U N T Y ' S G U N F I G H T E R
By Edward Herring
Chapter 3 of this book contains information about events and families in Robertson County. It is reprinted below with the author's permission. To purchase a copy of this book, please e-mail Edward Herring at firstname.lastname@example.org.
CHAPTER 3: GONE TO TEXAS
After the gunfight with the Hubbard Negroes in April of 1884, Sam Baker, with his wife Francis (Brooks) and their little children, left Lawrence County, Alabama with little more than the shirts on their backs. They boarded a west-bound train at the small town of Cherokee, in northwest Alabama. Accompanying them was Francis' brother, Henry Brooks. Henry had received a serious wound in the gunfight with the Negro Hubbard family a few days earlier. Their destination was the ranch of Henry's brother, Willis B. Brooks, in Erath County, Texas.
Just as his brother Mack had done about two years before him, Willis Brooks was forced to leave Alabama around 1874 after finding and killing one of the men who murdered his father and brother. Willis joined Mack who had sought refuge with their grandmother Bates, living near Kosse, in Limestone County, Texas. Mack had arrived in Texas in early 1872 and found work as a cowboy. The boys' grandmother, Annie Bates, died on February 17, 1873, in Robertson County, Texas.
An uncle of the brothers, Thomas Jefferson Bates, was an influential rancher who lived around the White Rock Community in northern Robertson County. T. J. Bates ran one of the largest cattle operations in the county. His land holdings extended along Duck Creek, southwest of Kosse, into southeastern Limestone County. Along with a certain amount of wealth came influence and power that would prove useful to all the Brooks boys at one time or another.
Willis and Mack learned the cattle business working for their uncle Tom Bates and other ranchers in the area. Mack Brooks would later disappear on a cattle drive up the Chisholm Trail and never be heard from again. Willis Brooks developed a keen eye for horse flesh; and a penchant for other people's brands. For several years, Willis roamed about the State of Texas, acquiring a reputation as a gunman and horse thief.
It was in Robertson County that Willis met and courted the oldest daughter of an ex-Confederate soldier named William Calloway Sanders. Margaret Elisabeth "Maggie" Sanders was born in Limestone County, Texas, February 2, 1859. William C. Sanders moved across the county line down into Robertson County soon after returning home from the war. Willis married eighteen year old Maggie there on December 28, 1875, and the couple started to raise a family.
An inveterate horse trader, William C. Sanders moved farther west, to Erath County, Texas, in the year 1877. Sanders traded a string of horses for a hundred and sixty acre farm belonging to a farmer named George Shelby. Willis Brooks settled down near his father-in-law in 1884. Brooks owned 103 acres of range land near the head waters of the Bosque River and later acquired more property about ten miles from Stephenville. By this time, Willis and Maggie had four sons, Thomas J., Clifton, John Laurence, and Marion.
After arriving in Texas the summer of 1884, Sam and Francis eventually made their home at Headsville in Robertson County, on land belonging to Francis' uncle, Tom Bates. Headsville lay six miles north of the White Rock Community, where Tom Bates lived, about a half mile from the Robertson-Limestone County line. Henry drifted between the ranch of his brother, Willis, in Erath County, and that of his uncle, Thomas Bates, in Robertson County.
It didn't take either Sam Baker or Henry Brooks very long to have a brush with Texas law. Henry was arrested at Stephenville, in Erath County, August 12, 1885, for unlawfully carrying a pistol. Next it was Sam's turn to grace the confines of the Stephenville jail. he was arrested by Deputy J. C. Caudle on August 31, 1886, for horse theft. The case wouldn't stick and Sam was discharged on November 5th.
In October of 1885, Sheriff Robert M. Love, of Limestone County, received word that Willis Brooks was back in his jurisdiction. Said to be accompanying Brooks were his brother-in-law, Thomas Sanders, and an associate named James Wright. All three men had outstanding warrants for horse theft out for them and all had relatives living in the area with whom they could seek refuge.
Sheriff Love learned the trio was holed up somewhere near Kosse, in the southeastern part of his county. he sent Deputy Sheriff John Kimbell, Levi L. Drinkard (1.23.1858 - 10.26.1885), and a posse man named Hudson on the trail of the suspected horse thieves. The officers picked up the trail of the suspects near Kosse. Three riders were seen heading east, toward Headsville. The officers trailed the trio to the home of a Mrs. Baker. Whether or not they knew they had crossed into Robertson County, this was a serious blunder on the part of the officers. Warrants or not, the lawmen were clearly out of their jurisdiction.
The officers were probably unaware of the fact that the Mrs. Baker, whose cabin they had trailed the suspects to, was Willis Brooks' youngest sister, Francis. The officers were also working under another misconception. The suspect named Brooks they were trailing was actually Willis Brooks' younger brother, Henry.
It was early Monday morning, October 26, when Deputies Drinkard, Kimbell, and Hudson surrounded the Baker cabin and demanded admission. Henry Brooks and his partners inside the cabin refused and instantly went for their guns. According to the officers, one suspect yelled out that they wanted to know who the officers were after, and on what charge. Deputy Drinkard, who was now standing on the ground near the front of the cabin, pulled out a warrant. As he knelt down to read it, one of the men in the cabin eased the barrel of a shotgun through a crack in the wall and fired. Twelve buckshot hit Deputy Drinkard in the face. He fell to the ground, mortally wounded.
Deputies Kimbell and Judson returned the outlaw's fire. Perhaps not knowing the size of the posse or fearing the arrival of reinforcements, Henry Brooks and the others decided to make a break. The officers made it too hot for the outlaws to make it to their horses. Henry and his partners were forced to leave their gear and escape on foot, followed by a hail of lead. As the outlaws were feeing, two of Deputy Kimbell's shot found their mark. One bullet caught Henry Brooks in the thigh while James Wright was wounded in the shoulder.
Kimbell and Hudson followed a trail of blood for some distance. When this played out, they telegraphed the Sheriff at Groesbeck for help. Sheriff Love raised a posse of fifteen men and rounded up a pack of bloodhounds. The hounds led the officers to where the fugitives had dressed their wounds and discarded a blood-soaked boot. By this time, however, the trail had grown cold and the outlaws had made good their escape. Deputy Kimbell took solace in the fact that he had seriously wounded at least one of the killers. The officers predicted the wounded outlaws would not get far.
The Dallas Herald, of October 29, 1885, contained the following dispatch about the slain officer: "Groesbeck, October 27 -- [Special] -- Levi Drinkard, the deputy sheriff who was killed near Kosse yesterday, was buried here this evening. His death is much regretted by all who knew him. He was a faithful officer and a quiet gentleman." Drinkard was buried at the old Fort Parker Cemetery, north of Groesbeck.
The officers' prediction rang true. Henry Brooks eluded capture for four days, but on Friday, November 30, a Sheriff's posse found his hiding place just a few miles southwest of the place of the gun battle. When found, the young man was in sad shape and surrendered without a fight. Without medical attention, infection had set up in Brooks' badly wounded right leg and screw-worms had infested the wound. Because the shooting had occurred in Robertson County, Sheriff T. B. Jones claimed jurisdiction and Henry Brooks was jailed at Franklin. Doctors S. E. Carrington and W. E. Baker, of Franklin, attended to Brooks' wound.
The Dallas Herald, of October 31, 1885, carried a dispatch from Mexia, Limestone County, dated October 30., that read: "Intelligence comes from Franklin that Willis Brooks, one of the men who killed Deputy Sheriff Drinkard, and who was wounded in the leg by Deputy Kimbell, has been caught and placed in jail."
The newspapers and authorities were still operating under the assumption that the wounded outlaw who had been captured was Willis Brooks. Of course, the man in jail was actually Willis' brother, Henry. Willis Brooks was most likely not even in the county at the time of the shooting. he was standing trial at Stephenville, in Erath County, on November 7, answering to a charge of aggravated assault.
It is not known how or when James Wright was captured, but he and Henry Brooks were both arraigned in District Court three months after the killing. The third outlaw, Thomas Sanders, made good his escape. Tom Sanders never stood trail for any crime and eventually left the area with a herd of cattle, destined for one of the Kansas cow towns. His family occasionally heard from him in Utah and Colorado.
By the time Henry Brooks' identity problem had been cleared up, the condition of his leg had worsened. Doctors Carrington and Baker could not halt the gangrene spreading through his shattered leg. They convinced Henry that if he wanted to live, his leg had to come off. They called on Dr. D. C. Jones of Calvert to assist with the operation. On Wednesday, November 11, the team of doctors removed Henry Brooks' right leg just above the knee. At the age of twenty-three, Henry Brooks received the moniker that would follow him through Texas and Oklahoma: Peg-Leg Brooks.
Henry Brooks and James Wright were arraigned in district court at Franklin, on February 1, 1886, and charged with the murder of Deputy Levi Drinkard. Bail was set at three thousand dollars each. Neither defendant could raise bail money and the case was continued until July 5th.
On July 5, 1886, the case was again delayed until July 8th. On that day, two second cousins of Henry Brooks, James M. Brown and George T. Brown, signed as sureties for his bond. James M. Sapp and Henry's uncle, Tom Bates, signed the bond of James Wright. Brooks and Wright were again free men, at least temporarily. while awaiting trial, Henry Brooks recuperated at his brother Willis' ranch in Erath County and tried to adapt to a life with one leg.
After numerous continuances, the case against Brooks and Wright finally went to court on July 13, 1887. The trial was over that afternoon. Despite overwhelming evidence of their guilt, Henry Brooks and James Wright were found "Not Guilty." The case files of acquittals were not retained. We can surmise that the question of jurisdiction was raised by the defense and the jury found that the defendants were justified in resisting arrest. Henry may have also benefited from the influence of his uncle, Tom Bates.
The exact movements of Sam Baker during the next four years are unclear. Although he spent most of his time in Texas, he and the Brooks were known to roam about the state and states farther west. It was during this time that Baker and the Brooks were earning reputations as gunfighters. Sam once told relatives that he had been as far west as New Mexico and Arizona. He also told of eating lizards and snakes to keep from starving in the desert.
Sam and Francis had three children born to them during their years in Texas. They were William M., born in Waco, McLennan Co., TX, November 25, 1886; Ella, born January of 1888; and Dona, born February of 1890.
Sam Baker and the Brooks were known to have spent some time in Cooke County and at Decatur, Texas. It was there that they befriending a "spindle-legged waif cleaning spittoons and sweeping up a saloon for his keep." They even taught the young lad how to handle a six gun. The young man's name was Richard West, who grew up to be known as "Little Dick" West, a deadly gunfighter who rode with the Bill Doolin Gang of outlaws before its demise.
West migrated to the Oklahoma Territory with a rancher named Oscar D. Halsell. Another Doolin Gang member acquainted with Sam Baker and the Brooks was "Dynamite dick" Clifton. During their years on the outlaw trail, West and Clifton kept in touch with their friends from Alabama and more than once sought refuge with them.
Sam and Francis Baker left Texas for the Indian Territory about 1890 and settled down near Collinsville, just north of Tulsa, in the Cherokee Nation. Their daughter Agnes was born there on October 13, 1893. A year later, Sam was living in the Creek Nation, eventually settling down near Bond Switch (now Onapa), about four miles southwest of Checotah in McIntosh County. The move to McIntosh County would be Sam and Francis' last. They raised their children there and remained there the rest of their lives. Sam would later serve a period of time as Deputy City Marshall of Checotah and Deputy Sheriff of McIntosh County before settling down as a rancher. Sam's life in the Indian Territory was anything but uneventful. He would be involved in train robberies, gunfights, and Indian uprisings. His boots would tread on both sides of the law and he would add several more notches to his six-gun.
Note: Although footnotes appear in the text, none are listed at the end of Chapter 3. They likely appear at the end of this book.
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