An Oklahoma Rose

Among the reasons I enjoy history is that it provides an interesting insight into the lives of people who have gone before, provides us with examples of morality (or a lack of it), and it gives some perspectives about our society today.  For example, all youngsters, no matter their gender, ethnicity, religious training, or national origin, develop romantic attachments.  It is part of the human process of maturation.

In my day, young boys were drawn to stories of high adventure, grave danger, and acts of courage —especially in the face of overwhelming odds.  During my grade school years, I constantly read books and magazine articles about America’s pioneers, starting with the early colonists, the men who blazed new trails through the old west, the scouts, the hunters, the Indian fighters, soldiers, and brave lawmen who stood alone confronting evil.  As I grew older, I realized that some of these accounts were exaggerated, probably to sell books and magazine articles, and I learned that some of my childhood heroes had a dark side.  Years later, I learned that everyone has a dark side.  There is good, and not-so-good in all of us.  Despite these realizations, I have never lost my fascination for, or interest in tales of great undertakings —even those that ended in failure.

As a youngster, I read about the women pioneers, too … but these accounts were mostly about women whose stories were fictionalized.  Women such as Annie Oakley and Calamity Jane who seemed to master the skills and crafts of the men of the day.  No one with any sense would want to place themselves on the receiving end of Annie Oakley’s or Calamity Jane’s .45 revolver.  I didn’t hear about Stagecoach Mary until I started making inquiries about who America’s pioneer or old west women were.  I wondered about other women whose lives have been hidden away because of their uncommon lifestyle.  I have found a few of these women, but with few exceptions, there does not appear to be much detail about their lives.

Armed woman in the American West

At some point in their formative years, all youngsters become infatuated and it may be fair to say that this aspect of growing up can be quite painful.  Because young people’s brains aren’t fully formed until they’re around 25-years of age, they tend to make poor decisions, many of which have long-term and unhappy consequences.  It is why teenagers have a greater need of good parenting than they did when they were still very small.

One such story concerns a woman named Rose Elizabeth Dunn.  It is a confusing story, and a bit convoluted.  The reason for this is that the historical record is incomplete, her story is inundated with rumor and, or innuendo, and we just aren’t sure about the chronological sequence of her life’s events.  We know she was born on 5 September 1878.  According to Ancestry.com, her parents were William and Sarah Dunn, both of whom were born in Indiana.  According to the 1880 Census for Walnut Township, Cowley County, Kansas, Rose (and her siblings) were born in Kansas[1].  Her father is listed as a farmer; her mother as a housewife (in those days a common census entry for women).

[Note:  There are photographs available on the Internet claiming to be the likeness of Rose Elizabeth Dunn, but none of these are verifiable and are therefore not included.  I also have no interest in re-publishing photographs of dead men whose bodies are riddled with bullets.  Two photographs included have nothing to do with Rose Dunn; they are included only as a possible representation of how a woman living in the west might have dressed. ]

William and Sarah had eight children, in order of seniority: Ephram, Lucinda, Charles D., William E., John E., George E., Mary B., and Rose.  We cannot (and should not) comment about their skill as parents because we don’t know anything about that.  We should realize that life in the United States in the post-Civil War period was difficult, farming was hard work with few rewards, and it may be entirely correct to say that William never found the time to bounce his children on his knee.  Similarly, raising children on an isolated farm in Kansas may not have been the most rewarding experience for Sarah, either.

I believe it is likely that William Dunn moved his family to Oklahoma sometime between the 1880 and 1890.  He may have passed away within a few years.  We can find references to the “Dunn Ranch,” outside Ingalls, Oklahoma, but we also know that Sarah married the highly respected Dr. W. R. Call, who had a medical practice in Ingalls.

Some historians claim Rose attended school at a convent in Wichita, which might suggest an early Catholic influence.  If it is true, then it contradicts the claim that the Dunn’s were dirt-poor farmers.  In any case, by the time Rose was 12 years old, two of her older brothers were already known in Oklahoma as outlaws[2].  By then, Rose was already proficient in managing livestock.  She was an excellent horsewoman, could rope, tie, wrangle, and shoot.  These are skills more suitable to life on a ranch than on a farm.

A 14 or 15-year-old Rose was introduced to the outlaw George Newcomb by her brothers, who were more on the order of desperado wannabe’s than they were hardened criminals.  George’s moniker was “Bitter Creek” Newcomb[3].  Newcomb had an eye for pretty girls, and Rose was an attractive lass.  He apparently caught her eye as well.

At this point, it is time to pause and reflect on these facts.  There are two versions of the events of the Battle of Ingalls, Oklahoma.  There is the official version of the story, reconstructed by the lawmen who participated in the battle, and the fictionalized version of the event propagated years later by lawmen who weren’t present in Ingalls on the day of the incident.

The official report, written by lawmen who participated, was written several days later, after the fact.  What this means is that the lawmen wrote their account based on what they could remember, no doubt tempered by how they wanted their superiors to judge their behavior while under fire.  It is possible that the official account contains some embellishment.

Other accounts of the event were written by retired lawmen many years later.  These were men who wanted to enrich themselves by publishing stories and making films about their law careers.  Significantly, of the three lawmen who engaged in these self-fulfilling stories, none were present in Ingalls on the day of the shootout.  The men I’m writing about were Bill Tilghman, Chris Madsen, and E. D. Nix[4].  Two years later, responding to a lawsuit filed by Murray, alleging wrongful injury by US marshals, E. D. Nix wrote a summary of the event that was based entirely on the official statements written by the lawmen who did participate in the shooting.

Years later, as a result of the fictional stories, Rose Dunn was often referred to as George Newcomb’s mistress, but we do not know enough about their relationship to make such a claim.  Was there an attraction between 29-year-old George Newcomb and a 14 or 15-year old girl?  It is possible, of course, but if Rose Dunn was attracted to George Newcomb, it was likely more on the order of a teenage girl’s infatuation.  There is no evidence to suggest that Rose Dunn and George Newcomb ever had a relationship; there are only the slanderous suppositions in books and films produced 22-years after the event.  All we know about Rose Dunn is that she was a pretty young lady who, according to researchers, had a calm demeanor and a kind nature.

Tilghman and others claimed that Rose Dunn aided and abetted the Doolin Gang by providing them with various supplies from stores inside Ingalls, Oklahoma; that she provided the gang with useful information about the presence of lawmen, that she gave this information to George Newcomb while he and the gang were hiding out at the Dunn Ranch, just outside town.  The claim is either untrue, or only partially true.  The Doolin Gang may have periodically visited the Dunn Ranch, but the ranch was not their regular “hideout.”

George Ransom owned a saloon inside Ingalls, Oklahoma.  When the Doolin Gang was in Ingalls, they used Ransom’s saloon as their headquarters/hangout.  The bartender in the Ransom Saloon was an ally of the gang —a man known as Murray.  Murray may have been somewhat typical of the citizens of Ingalls, Oklahoma, who it appears catered to the Doolin Gang by selling them ammunition, feeding them, giving them a place to sleep, caring for their horses, and providing gang members with news of the activities of lawmen operating in the area.

What motivated the townspeople to provide succor to the Doolin Gang is anyone’s guess.  It might have been that citizens were paid for these services, or it could be that they were living in fear of their lives.  Much later, Marshal Nix opined that it would have been impossible to get anyone in Ingalls to testify in court about what they knew of the Doolin Gang.  Based on these circumstances, it is unlikely that Rose Dunn participated any more or less than any other citizen giving comfort to the outlaws.

If William Dunn was dead by this time, his five sons likely continued working the Oklahoma ranch (in addition to their interests in bounty-hunting).  William’s death would also help to explain Sarah Dunn’s marriage to Dr. Call and Sarah moving into Call’s home in Ingalls, with her youngest daughter, Rose.  It is a fact that 15-year old Rose Dunn was living in the Call residence on 1 September 1893.

On 1 September, thirteen lawmen under the supervision of Deputy U. S. Marshal John Hixon rode into Ingalls, Oklahoma with the intent of arresting or putting an end to the Doolin Gang, believed responsible for numerous train and bank robberies over the previous two or so years.  The town of Ingalls and its surrounding area had become a haven for the Doolin Gang and Territorial U. S. Marshal E. D. Nix had resolved to end their crime spree.

According to Territorial U. S. Marshal Evett Dumas Nix:

“On the 1st day of September 1893, a party of deputy marshals who had been sent after these outlaws, by me, arrived in the vicinity of Ingalls, and the outlaws mentioned herein were at the time in the town and in the saloon of Ransom, where this man Murray worked.  As usual, the outlaws had received notice of the proximity of the deputies and they sent a messenger to the deputies inviting them to come into the town if they thought they, the deputies, could take them.

“The deputies accepted the invitation and after posting their forces, sent a message to the outlaws with a request to surrender and were answered with Winchester shots.  “Bitter Creek” ran out of the saloon in question and fired one shot toward the north, where some of the deputies were stationed, and turning, received the fire of the deputies which burst the magazine of his Winchester and wounded him in the thigh.

“In the meantime, a heavy fire was directed at the deputies by the balance of the outlaws from the saloon building, and the fire was returned by the deputies which literally riddled the saloon.  A horse was killed by the deputies which was tied in front of the saloon … the fire of the deputies becoming too hot for the outlaws, they escaped out of a side door and took refuge in a large stable mentioned.

“… Eight or ten horses were killed, and nine persons killed and wounded.  One deputy was killed outright at the first fire and two more died the next day.  Three outlaws were wounded and one captured.  The one captured was afterwards sentenced to fifty years in the penitentiary and is now serving time.”

—E. D. Nix, U. S. Marshal

The often-told story is that after George “Bitter Creek” Newcomb initiated gunfire, and was wounded by return fire, he fell into the street.  Rose Dunn ran out from the Pierce O. K. Hotel carrying ammunition and a rifle.  Rushing to Newcomb’s aid, she fired the rifle numerous times at the lawmen while Newcomb reloaded his revolvers, and that she helped him to escape death or capture.  The story is pure fiction.

Newcomb, having only fired two shots, did not need to reload his six-shooter.  Instead, the wounded “Bitter Creek” made his way inside Ransom’s Saloon.  This event was widely publicized in the press, which in those days, was highly sensationalized.  There is no evidence in the press, or in any of the lawmen’s official reports, that Rose Dunn rushed through a hail of gunfire to aid “Bitter Creek” Newcomb.  A rifle was later produced by Nix, which included an inscription, suggesting that this was the Winchester Rose Dunn fired at deputies.  If there was a rifle, it was the rifle Newcomb carried with him into the street from the saloon and used to kill a deputy.

This representation seems to agree with other photographs of the 1890s; women wore their holsters forward of their hip, almost centered on their lower abdomen.

The results of the gunfight were that George Newcomb, Charley Pierce, Dan “Dynamite Dick” Clifton, and “Murray” were wounded by gunfire.  Murray was captured and taken into custody.  Arkansas Tom Jones, responsible for the killing of Deputy Tom Hueston, was also taken into custody after Deputy Jim Masterson threw a stick of dynamite into the saloon, the explosion of which stunned Jones.

Gang members included Bill Doolin, Bill Dalton, Tulsa Jack Blake, Dan Clifton, Roy Daugherty (a.k.a. Arkansas Tom Jones), George “Bitter Creek” Newcomb (also known as Slaughter’s Kid), Charley Pierce, “Little Bill” Raidler, George “Red Buck” Waightman, and Richard “Little Dick” West.  Most of these men escaped the law that day, but only temporarily.

Deputy U. S. Marshals Tom Hueston, Richard Speed, and Lafayette Shadley lost their lives.

There is also a story that claims Rose Dunn escaped with the gang and dutifully tended to the wounds of George Newcomb and Charlie Pierce.  This is likely a fabrication because 15-year-old Rose Dunn continued to live with her mother and stepfather for several more years.

After the Battle of Ingalls, Oklahoma, federal authorities placed bounties of $5,000 (each) on the heads of the members of the Doolan-Dalton Gang.  US Deputy Marshal Heck Thomas killed Bill Doolin on 24 August 1896; Bill Dalton was killed by deputies on 8 June 1894; Tulsa Jack Blake met his fate on 4 April 1895; US Deputy Marshal Chris Madsen killed “Red Buck” Waightman on 2 October 1895 and Dan Clifton in 1896; despite being shot three times by Bill Tilghman, Little Bill Raidler survived his wounds and went to prison. Raidler died of natural causes in 1904.

On 2 May 1895, “Bitter Creek” Newcomb and Charley Pierce rode to the Dunn Ranch.  Why they rode out there is unknown.  Some have suggested that Newcomb went there to visit with Rose Dunn.  As previously noted, however, Rose wasn’t living at the ranch.  Also as previously mentioned, in addition to their ranching interests, the Dunn Brothers earned money as bounty hunters.  As Newcomb and Pierce dismounted their horses, Bill and George Dunn stepped out of the ranch house and shot Newcomb and Pierce to death.  It was a profitable day for the Dunn brothers.

Rose Dunn was later accused of turning George Newcomb in for the reward.  Her brothers claimed that no such thing happened, and contrary to all the stories told about her, Rose Dunn was never prosecuted for any illegal activities in association with the Doolin-Dalton Gang.  In 1898, twenty-year-old Rose Dunn married Charles Albert Noble, a local politician.  Around 1901, the Nobles moved away from Ingalls, Oklahoma.  Charles Noble passed away in 1930.  Rose Dunn Noble remarried Richard Fleming in 1946.  Seventy-six-year-old Rose Elizabeth Dunn Noble Fleming passed away in Salkum, Washington on 11 June 1955,  a possibly much-maligned woman whose only real mistake was an immature fascination with a noted gunman.

Sources:

  1. Lackmann, R. W. Women of the Western Frontier in Fact, Fiction, and Film.  McFarland, 1997.
  2. Rutter, M. Bedside Book of Bad Girls: Outlaw women of the old west.  Helena: Far Country Press, 2008.
  3. United States Marshals Service. History: Deputies versus The Wild Bunch.

Endnotes:

[1] Several sites record her birth in Oklahoma.

[2] There is some evidence that the five Dunn brothers became bounty-hunters in the 1890s.  We know their given names, but we aren’t sure about their familiar names.  According to some accounts, the bounty-hunters were William (Bill), George, Bee, Cal, and Dal.  “Bee” might have also referred to William.

[3] The sobriquet “Bitter Creek” comes from a cowboy song George frequently sang with the refrain, “I’m a wild wolf from Bitter Creek and it’s my right to howl.”  Newcomb was also known in some circles as “Slaughter’s Kid.”  George Newcomb may have kept a team of psychologists busy for years trying to figure him out.  He was reputed to be handsome, devil-may-care, and “too wild” even for the worst old west outlaws.

[4] Tilghman, Madsen, and Nix formed the Eagle Film Company in 1915 and began making movies that fictionalized or embellished their own careers; in order to do that, it was necessary to exaggerate or fictionalize the actions of the “bad guys.”  Nix also writes an account of this (and other) events in a book called Oklahombres. Again, neither Tilghman, Madsen, or Nix was present in Ingalls, Oklahoma on 1 September 1893.

About Mustang

US Marine (Retired), historian, writer.
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5 Responses to An Oklahoma Rose

  1. kidme37 says:

    Interesting story and I certainly agree on press and others embellishment. Seems they do that today a lot too 🙂

    -Pittsburgh Bob

    Liked by 1 person

  2. larryzb says:

    Regarding your opening remarks on liking history, it is instructive to bear in mind that if historiography is biased and not objective, the “history” written down in books or on display in video documentaries is liable to be propaganda to some extent. I know that to a military man that is distasteful, but it is true. History, official history that is, is often truncated and skewed and does not tell the whole story.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Andy says:

    Poor Rose. Her only crime seems to be that she was a normal teenage girl with an eye (and little else) for bad boys. As for the bad boys, it seems ultimately they all got theirs.

    Liked by 1 person

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