Sunday, August 8, 2010

Henry Starr-The Cherokee Badman

Henry Starr

The Cherokee Badman

Henry Starr is no doubt one of the most interesting characters who ever came out of the Old West. During his 32 years in crime, he claimed he had robbed more banks than both the James-Younger Gang and the Doolin-Dalton Gang put together. However, in all of his life as a criminal he only killed one man, a U.S. Deputy Marshall who was about to arrest him. He started robbing banks on horseback in 1893 and ended up robbing his last in a car in 1921. He was the first bank robber to use an automobile in a bank robbery. A total of 21 bank is what he is alleged to have robbed. If he did pull all of those robberies, he would have made off with nearly $60000.00.

Henry Starr was born near Fort Gibson, I. T. on Dec. 2, 1873 to Tom Starr and Mary (Scott) Starr. His uncle was the notorious Sam Starr who was married to Belle Starr, the "outlaw queen". He was 1/4 Cherokee. His father died at an early age and his mother remarried a man named C. N. Walker. Henry hated his new stepfather and this caused a lot of hard feeling and was the driving force of Henry leaving home at an early age.

Henry was working on ranches near Nowata, I. T. when he had his first run-in with the law. He was driving a wagon to town one day when two deputy marshals caught him with whiskey and arrested him for "introducing spirits into territory." He went to court and plead guilty to the offense, although he always maintained that he was innocent because he had borrowed the wagon and didn't know the whiskey was in it. He was only 16 years old.

Henry found himself back at Nowata, working as a cowboy, when his next brush with the law came. He was arrested for horse theft, another charge he denied, and was thrown in jail at Fort Smith, Ark. His cousin paid his bail, and Henry was out. The problem was he wasn't going back. He jumped bail.

The path was clear to Henry now, and there was no turning back. He joined up with Ed Newcome and Jesse Jackson and went on a tear robbing stores and railroad depots. However, the law was after him now.

U.S. Deputy Marshals Henry C. Dickey and Floyd Wilson were hot on the trail of Henry near Nowata, when the event that would nearly cost Henry his life, twice, happened. In a shoot out with the marshal, Henry killed him. He was now wanted for murder.

With the law on his trail, Henry's Gang became more bolder, as they started robbing banks. On March 28, 1893 they robbed their first bank in Caney, Ks. Then they robbed the bank in Bentonville, Ark. But it was heating up for them in the territory, so Henry and Kid Wilson made tracks for California. They were captured in Colorado Spring, Co., and returned to Fort Smith to stand trail.

Caney, KS

Henry stood trail for the murder of Floyd Wilson in the court of Judge Isaac Parker. Although he maintained it was self defense, because he didn't know that Floyd Wilson was a marshal with a warrant for his arrest, he was found guilty and sentence to hang. His attorney appealed his case to the U.S. Supreme Court which overturn Parker's decision and granted Henry a new trail. The second trail ended with the same results, Henry was guilty and he was sentence to hang. His attorney once again appealed and won him a new trail. At the third trial Henry plead guilty to manslaughter, and was sentenced to 25 years in the penitentiary.

It was during his stay in jail at Fort Smith, awaiting trial, that one of his most amazing deeds was accomplished. Fellow prisoner, Cherokee Bill attempted a prison break with a gun smuggled him by a trustee. There was a gun battle between Bill and the prison guards, in which one of the guards had been killed. However, the guards were unable to disarm Bill and it was stand-off. Henry was a friend of Bill's and offered to disarm him if the guards would in turn promise not to kill Bill. The promise was made and Henry entered the cell where Bill was at, and retrieved the weapon.

It was this incident that would secure Henry his freedom. When Henry, with help from his family and the Cherokee Tribal Government, applied for a pardon in 1903, President T. Roosevelt admired the man for his courage in the Cherokee Bill incident so much, that he reduced his sentence and Henry was released from prison in 1905.

After his release from prison, Henry returned to Tulsa, I. T. and worked in his mother's restaurant. It was here he met and married his first wife, Miss Ollie Griffin, shortly after his son, whom he named Theodore Roosevelt Starr, was born. Henry manage to behave himself until 1908, when Oklahoma became a state. Under the fear of being extradited to Arkansas, he took to the brush of the Osage hills, and fell in with his old partners.

On March 13, 1908, Henry and his gang crossed the Kansas border and robbed the bank at Tyro, Ks. With the law hot on his tracks again, they fled Oklahoma heading west. Their next job was the bank in Amity, Co. From there Henry fled to Arizona, where he was captured by the law and returned to Colorado to stand trial.

In November of 1909, Henry plead guilty to robbing the Amity, Co. bank and was sentenced to 7 - 25 years in the Canon City Prison. It was during his stay at Canon City that Henry not only work as a trustee, he study law in the prison library, and wrote his autobiography, Thrilling Events, Life of Henry Starr. On September 24, 1913 he was paroled by the governor and free again.

In the autumn of 1914, the first in the worst series of bank robberies in the Southwest occurred in Oklahoma. Between Sept. 14, 1914 and Jan. 13, 1915 a total of 14 banks were robbed. At first officials were at a lost to figure out who was committing the crimes. Then one of the victims was able to identify a picture of the bandits. Henry Starr was back to his old tricks. A $1000 reward was offered the governor of the state, for Henry. The reward was payable "Dead or Alive".

It was during this time Henry pulled one of his slickest moves, while the law was searching all over the brush of the Osage hills and other known hideouts for him, Henry was living in the heart of Tulsa, at 1534 East Second Street, just two blocks from the Tulsa county sheriff and four blocks from the mayor of Tulsa.

Then on March 27, 1915 Henry and six other men rode into the town of Stroud, OK. and proceeded to rob both banks in the community. Word of the holdup spread throughout the town and the citizens quickly took up arms against the bandits. Henry and another bandit named Lewis Estes were wounded and captured in the gun battle. The rest of the gang had escaped with $5815, thus pulling off a double daylight bank robbery.

Once again Henry found himself in jail, on August 2, 1915 Henry entered a plea of guilty in the Stroud robbery, and was sentenced to 25 years in the Oklahoma State Penitentiary at McAlester, Ok. On March 15, 1919 he was paroled and released from prison.

Upon his release from prison, Henry returned to Tulsa, and with the urging of friends entered the motion picture industry. Henry produced and starred in the silent movie A Debtor to the Law, which was a movie about the double bank robbery in Stroud, Ok. The movie was an immediate success. For his part Henry was alleged to have netted $15,000. He went on to star in a couple of other movies, and was offer from Hollywood to do a movie out there. He turned it down from fear that if he went to Hollywood the authorities in Arkansas would try to extradite him for his part in the Bentonville robbery. It was during his time in the movies that Henry met and married his second wife, Hulda Starr from Salisaw, OK. They were married on February 22, 1920 and moved to Claremore, OK.

On Friday morning, February 18, 1921, Henry and three companions in a high powered touring car drove into Harrison, Ark. They entered the People's State Bank and robbed it of $6000. During the robbery, Henry was shot in the back by the former president of the bank, and his partners fled leaving him to face the music alone. He was carried to the jail where doctors removed the bullet. However, on Tuesday morning, February 22, 1921, Henry died from the wound. His wife Hulda, his mother, and his 17 year old son were at his side.

Henry had died as he had lived in a violent manner, but true to the code of the outlaws, he never revealed a single partner in any crime. He never shot anyone in the commission of a crime, and served his time in jail like a man. He had succeeded where others had failed by robbing two banks at once, and by robbing more banks than any others.

A little proud of his record, he boasted to doctors at Harrison the day before he died: " I've robbed more banks than any man in America."

Thanks to The Wild, Wild West!


  1. Hi, We live in Harrison, Arkansas, and include in the walking tour the building where he was shot and the local museum has Henry Starr's gun and other items on display. Come visit and see. Cheers, Jeanette

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