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Ned Christie: Outlaw or Martyr?
Ned Christie was once a well respected man. In 1885, he was a Cherokee Senator, representing the Going Snake District in the National Council of the Cherokee Nation. He was also a skilled blacksmith, gunsmith and one of the best marksmen in the Cherokee Nation by the time he was 10 years old.
However, his life was shattered in an instant the night U.S. Deputy Marshal Daniel Maples was assassinated and he was charged with the murder. It was a charge he vehemently denied until the day he was shot down by a posse.
Ned was born on December 14, 1852, in the Rabbit Trap community of the Cherokee Nation, Adair County, Oklahoma. He spoke English fluently, was ¾ Cherokee and described as being tall and handsome.
During his youth he had heard countless tales about the thousands who had died on the Trail of Tears. One of those was his Irish grandmother, from whence his last name came. His father, Watt Christie and his uncles had fought for the Union during the Civil War. Following the war, several of Ned's brothers and his father also served in the Cherokee legislature. Young Ned was to follow in their footsteps…until fate stepped in.
Events that were to shape the rest of his, life began unfolding Easter morning, April 10, 1887. The Cherokee Female Seminary burned. Being a part of the legislature Christie was called into a special session in Tahlequah, the Cherokee Nation's capital.
While in Tahlequah one evening, Christie met up with several old friends, John Parris and Thomas “Bub” Trainor Jr. Trainor was known to be wild, reckless and often in trouble with the law. The group stumbled across 3 others and decided to make a night of it by getting some whiskey at the home of Nancy Shell. “Old Lady” Shell, sold them some but she had run out of corks for the bottles. In a makeshift manner, she tore a strip from her apron and improvised…a fact that much later would become an important piece of information.
At the time illegal whiskey had become a major problem in the Tahlequah area. Maples and an assistant had been sent from Fort Smith to investigate. He had a warrant for the arrest of Parris and Trainor as they were suspected of being major suppliers. During the course of investigation Maples had learned of Trainor’s whereabouts and he placed a phone call to notify his superiors. The conversation was overheard by one of Trainor’s cohorts. Later that night Maples was shot in an ambush and died several hours later of internal hemorrhage.
The next morning, Christie woke up after passing out from drinking the night before. That’s when he discovered he was a suspect in the Deputy’s murder. Some prominent members of the Cherokee Council advised Christie to leave town since killing a white man was punishable by death. At first Christie refused, claiming his innocence, but later took their advice. He went into hiding near his home in Rabbit Trap.
Not knowing what else to do, Christie sent a message to Judge Isaac Parker in Fort Smith. Christie offered to surrender if he was granted bail and given a chance to clear himself. Parker refused. Christie now knew he would never get a fair shake in a white man’s court, so he remained hidden in the hills around his home. Friends set up a system of signals to warn him if searchers got too close.
Soon after, Ned lost his position on the council because under the circumstances he would not be able to perform the functions of his office. He began drinking heavily and reportedly selling illegal whiskey. It was the only option left for him to support his family.
Ned Christie was now a fugitive and news media across the country splashed his name in banner headlines. Dime novels, eager to sensationalize the story, portrayed Christie, as a vicious killer, bank robber, train robber and basically a man of questionable character. Every unsolved crime in the Indian Nations was penned on him.
On May 18, 1889, Jacob Yoes became U.S. marshal in Fort Smith. He immediately set about clearing up the huge backlog of unsolved cases. He was particularly interested in disposing of the long pending Maples murder case and put his best men on the job, Deputy Marshal’s Heck Thomas and L. P. Isbell.
Thomas set out through Indian Territory, handing out subpoenas and making arrests on his regular circuit. They dropped off 13 prisoners at Muskogee.They also met Bub Trainor, Christie’s old acquaintance. Trainor had good reason to want Christie dead. He was also a suspect in the Maples Murder.
With the help of Trainor, Thomas and a posse surrounded Christie at his home. At dawn, the deputy marshals began advancing but Christie was warned of their approach by his barking dogs. Thomas ordered Christie to surrender but he opened fire with his Winchester rifle. Thomas stopped his attack long enough to allow Christie to send his family out. His wife, Nancy scurried to safety, but his young son, James, opted to stay and fight with his father. The posse set fire to a structure close to the cabin, which eventually set the cabin on fire. They were hoping to smoke the trapped pair out.
During the ensuing battle, Isbell was hit in the left shoulder. What the posse didn’t know was a bullet had smashed Christie’s nose, blinding him in his left eye. Christie was now unable to move or speak. James escaped out the back of the cabin. He was shot in the back but still managed to escape into the woods. The law determined Christie was dead, as he didn’t emerge from the burning cabin.
However, Nancy had gone for help and friends and relatives managed to get Christie out of the house and hid him in the woods. They also found James nearby badly wounded. They sent for a doctor to treat them.
The lawmen retreated to,Tahlequah with their wounded and Thomas wired Marshal Yoes about the battle. Thomas shortly after returned to Rabbit Trap and learned although Christie had been severely injured, he had escaped the burning cabin and was very much still alive.
Christie's friends and relatives built him a virtually impregnable rock fortress atop a hilltop less than a mile from where his cabin had burned. It was amply stocked with food, water and ammunition. Trees obstructing lines of fire had been cleared. There were also guards left with Christie. Christie sent word to Thomas telling him to come on up and they would shoot it out again.
Thomas returned to Rabbit Trap, but after seeing Christie's set up, determined it would take a lot more than his little posse to take the hilltop. Not wanting to put his men in needless danger, he called off the attack.
Thomas never made another attempt and for a time there was peace. Friends and relatives built Christie a new home close to his old one. But this home was no ordinary structure. It was a two-story house reinforced with double walls and sand poured between them. It reportedly had just one door and no windows, but the upper story had portholes through which they could fire their rifles. Feeling secure with the new building, Ned’s family and some of his relatives moved in.
During the summer of 1890, the reward for Christie was increased to $1,000. However, it had now been 5 1/2 years since the murder of Maples. Yoes became determined to bring the matter to an end once and for all. He sent for Deputy Marshal Dave Rusk who had been with Thomas in the 1889 attempt. His orders were…get Christie at any cost.
Rusk and five deputies made several attempts to breach Christies fortified home at dawn on October 12, 1892. All failed. The operation was once Again abandoned. Marshal Yoes was not pleased, but remained undaunted. He authorized another posse. But, this time they had an artillery piece...cannon.
Shortly after daylight, Christie’s home was once again surrounded. The law told him to send out any family and noncombatants. They all exited the home except for young Charley Grease who remained to fight. The battle was on.
The deputies kept peppering the house with rifle fire which had little or no effect. The cannon was brought up and a total of 38 rounds were fired at the cabin. But, to their amazement, they merely bounced off the reinforced walls. Finally, it was decided to use a heavier charge of powder. But the charge was too heavy and the cannon blew up.
The exasperated deputies devised another plan. They would wait until dark and use dynamite. When darkness descended several attempts to place dynamite beside the house were made. A few deputies were wounded trying, but finally Deputy Charlie Copeland succeeded. At daylight the fuse was lit. The explosion ruined the house, knocked out one corner and set the building ablaze. Christie was once again asked to surrender. He answered with another volley of rifle fire.
But soon, the house was enveloped in flames forcing Christie out into the open.Young Charley Grease was already dead. A desperate Christie fearlessly charged his attackers, firing as he went. The deputies fired back and riddled Christie’s body with bullets. Christie fell dead. A solemn stillness descended upon the battle field as a crowd gathered around the fallen Christie. A photographer in the crowd took photographs.
Christie’s body was transported to Fort Smith and placed in front of the jail entrance where morbid curiosity seekers and others could have their picture taken with the infamous “outlaw.” It remained on display until 4 pm and then sent by train to Fort Gibson. Ned’s body was claimed there by his father who accompanied his dead son back to Rabbit Trap and interred in the family cemetery.
With Ned Christie dead, the Maples murder case never came to trial. It was not until 1918 the true facts finally surfaced. There had been a witness who saw Maples murdered. Tahlequah blacksmith, Richard A. Humphrey, a former slave had seen Bub Trainor waiting in ambush and shoot Maples to death.
Like others in the town, Humphrey was afraid of Trainor. Humphrey knew, if he told what he had seen there would be quick retaliation by Trainor and his associates. So, he had remained silent. However, Trainor had died in 1896. But, Humphrey was still terrified of Trainor’s gang. Now, at the age of 87 and 26 years after Christie’s death, Humphrey testified clearing him of the charge.
The day after Maple’s murder, investigation of the crime scene produced the broken neck of a whiskey bottle. In the neck was a strip of cloth from Nancy Shell’s apron serving as a cork. Christie’s jacket had been found nearby where he had passed out. Inside the jacket was the shattered remains of the rest of the bottle. Upon this flimsy evidence Christie had been accused of murder.
Was Ned Christie guilty of the numerous other crimes attributed to him? Or was he tried, convicted and crucified in the court of public opinion by an overzealous press and sensationalized dime store novels?