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Outlaw Stories of Old Poteau
The Murder of Buck Davis
Buck Davis was a pillar of the Poteau Switch community. He was instrumental in bringing people to the area, first with his ferry business and then in his assistance to the St. Louis and San Francisco railroad workers. Even through his success, his life was filled with tragedy.
This streak of tragedy began with the death of one of his sons in 1884. The family recovered, but their contentment would be shattered once more. Ten years later, in 1894, Davis’s wife died at a young age. He buried her in the Lewis Graveyard. Unable to cope with the memories, Davis sold his large home and land to Will Page, a full blood Choctaw.
Three months after his wife died, he decided to get married once again. During these times, it was common for people to remarry quickly in order to preserve the household. To the disappointment of his family, Davis married Mollie James. Mollie was a strong willed woman who constantly clashed with Davis’s children.
Before they were married, Mollie almost ended up on the wrong side of the law. Mollie James had the maiden name of Mollie McKenna. In her late teens, she married Davis James, a Choctaw Indian. James was an abusive husband, a drunk, and had a quick temper. This combination of drink and anger would prove to be deadly. Davis James was drunk when he entered Welch’s store looking for a fight. He found one with John Griffy, son of Monroe Griffy. During an intense argument, James pulled his pistol, fired and killed John Griffy in cold blood. After the killing, James quickly fled Poteau Switch forever. It is thought by some that he is now buried in Red Oak, Oklahoma.
After Buck Davis married Mollie, they moved their families to Tarby Prairie, about three miles north of Poteau Switch. His object in moving out there was to help his stepchildren get their allotment of land at that place.
While living at Tarby Prairie, Dave Mason became increasingly interested in one of Buck Davis’s young daughters. Mason would frequently stop by the home of Davis in order to see his fifteen-year-old daughter. Davis’s daughter spurned Mason. When he came to visit, she would take extraordinary measures to avoid him. Davis, in an effort to protect his daughter, warned Mason several times to stay away.
Mason was bull-headed and refused to stay away. On December 19, 1900, an intoxicated Mason rode out to Tarby Prairie once more with the intention of winning over the heart of the young lady. Davis would have none of it. He quickly mounted his horse and rode out to meet Mason.
Once more, Buck Davis warned Mason to stay away from his daughter. Sometimes pleading, other times angry, Mason did all he could to convince Davis of his true intentions. Davis still refused, and tried to send Mason on his way. The argument quickly turned heated. Mason, in a stated of intoxicated duress, had had enough. He pulled out his pistol, aimed it at Davis, and fired.
The fatal shot would be the final tragedy of Buck Davis’s life. Davis lived in agony for another six hours before he faded away.
After his death, his family buried him at Maxey Hill Cemetery, two miles north of Poteau.
The Great Train Robbery of 1912
It was a clear, chilly morning on October 4, 1912. The Kansas City Southern passenger train Number 4 had just left Poteau, traveling towards Westville, Oklahoma, when it came to a crossing three miles north of town. As the passenger train slowed down to stop at the crossing, three masked men crawled over the tender and silently entered the engine. A fourth man stood guard outside.
As the three entered the engine car, two of the masked men quickly forced the engineer and fireman on to their knees while the other man swiftly applied the air brakes, bringing the train to a complete stop. Once the train was brought to a stop, two of the men rushed back to the express car.
Unaware of what was going on, the messenger, baggage man, and conductor were taken by surprise as two armed men rushed in. The bandits leveled their guns at the men and brutally forced the three behind a large pile of luggage trunks. After the train employees were subdued, the bandits used a good supply of nitroglycerine to blow open the safe. They emptied the safe in record time, stuffing the valuable loot into large gunnysacks.
Not yet satisfied, the bandits rushed back to railway post office car, pried open the lockboxes, and proceeded to stuff anything they could grab into the gunnysacks. Two mail clerks tried valiantly to stop them, but the bandits quickly overpowered them.
Unknown to the bandits, a large freight train was barreling down the tracks towards them. With the passenger train stopped, it seemed inevitable that the freight train would crash into the observation car at the end of the passenger train. Luckily, a brakeman stationed at the rear of the train saw the looming disaster. Risking his own life, the brakeman rushed down the tracks towards the oncoming freight train, frantically screaming and waving his arms. The conductor in the freight train noticed the commotion and immediately applied the air brakes. Even after hitting the air brakes, the train continued for another 4,000 feet before finally coming to a stop. If it hadn’t been for the bravery of the brakeman, the awareness of the conductor, and the long, straight section of tracks, the collision that would have occurred would have been one of the worst in Poteau’s history.
While this drama unfolded outside of the passenger train, inside, the bandits continued to loot passenger train. Once the bandits had taken everything that was of value, the two masked bandits left the train. Outside, they met up with the guard bandit and the one that had taken the engine car. Together, the four quickly escaped into the deep woods that surrounded Cavanaugh Mountain.
During the robbery, the train’s passengers remained oblivious.
After the robbery was reported, a posse of citizens and deputy sheriffs began a massive manhunt for the bandits. Using bloodhounds, the men spent the entire night searching, but by daybreak, it became obvious that the men had easily outwitted their pursuers.
In all, over $7,000 was stolen, along with most of the registered mail that was on board the train.
The Bandits Strike Again
A paper out of Fort Smith, Arkansas reported this on October 5, 1912:
...bandits who held up northbound Kansas City Southern train No. 4, on Tarby Prairie, three miles northeast of Poteau, Okla., Friday evening... All day long posses searched the Cavanaugh Mountains, which are close to the scene of the robbery...
William West, the boy who discovered the bandits boarded the train and whose cries of warning were unheeded by the passengers...J. M. Murray and Arthur Deshiort, two farmers, [said] the bandits rode away on the train...