Legendary Lawman Sam Sixkiller
Photo credit: Historical Archive
Many of the characters in these articles only came to me via the circuitous way I do my research. More often than not, I run into the name of individuals hidden within the stories of others. This is the case this month, but I have to admit that his name is what really drew me to look into the history of this lawman… none other than Sam Sixkiller.
Sam Sixkiller was born in the Going Snake district of the Cherokee Nation sometime in 1842 (what is now Adair County, Oklahoma). His surname was given to his ancestor (probably a Great Grandfather). According to legend, in one of the fights between his nation, the Cherokees, and the Creeks he killed six men before being killed himself. He was called Sixkiller from this point forward and the name descended from father to son until befalling young Sam.
At the onset of the Civil War he served with the Confederacy as a private in the 1st Cherokee Cavalry but at the age of 19 switched to the Union Army and served under his father, 1st Lt. Redbird Sixkiller. In 1875 Sixkiller was appointed as the High Sheriff on the Cherokee Nation and Warden of the National Penitentiary. He was also commissioned as a Deputy U.S. Marshal and, being full-blooded Cherokee, was allowed to pursue fugitives inside the reservations.
On February 12, 1880, Sixkiller became the first captain of the United States Indian Police headquartered at Muskogee. He also held a position as a special agent for the Missouri-Pacific Railroad. As the Chief of the Indian Police he commanded 100 men and had a reserve of another 300. Captain Sam Sixkiller was also a Knights Templar and paraded with the Knights at their annual encampment at St. Louis. In light of his reputation and achievements he was not an imposing figure. He stood only 5 feet 8 inches (in his boots) and weighed in at 200 pounds. During his tenure as Captain he had to deal with bootleggers, cattle rustlers, murderers, train robbers, and all manner of lawless characters.
The most notable apprehension for Sixkiller was the notorious outlaw Dick Glass. Early in June, 1885, Sixkiller alone with Captain Charles LeFlore of the Choctaw Lighthorsemen, along with Deputies Gooden and Murray and a Cherokee rancher named C. M. McClelland formed up a posse and tracked Glass into the Creek and Seminole Nations. Apparenty, Glass’ gang had run into Dennison, Texas to procure a load of whiskey. The posse would lay in wait at Colbert’s Landing on the Red River. Captain Sixkiller ordered the men to surrender and a gunfight ensued. Dick Glass and Jim Johnson were killed (some accounts claim by a double load of buckshot). The driver of the wagon was apprehended a short while later after surrendering to Policeman LaFlore.
According to legend, Marshal Bass Reeves took his commission with the intent of killing Dick Glass (or bringing him to justice… I’m sure). On this day he would miss his chance and Captain Sam Sixkiller beat him to it.
On Friday, December 24, 1886 around 4:00 PM Alf Cunningham (while drunk) tried to pick a fight with Creek Lighthorseman, Tom Kennard. He was unable to shoot Kennard, as a Mrs. Renfro was able to retrieve his pistol from him before the altercation. At approximately 4:30, Cunningham enlisted the help of his brother-in-law, Dick Vann. As both men were unarmed they went about trying to procure firearms at the local store. Shopkeeper C.W. Turner, seeing that were drunk and up to no good, refused to sell the men pistols. This led the pair to spot city marshal Shelly Keys. They bludgeoned Marshal Keys, and probably would have shot him had there not been witnesses, and set off with his shotgun and pistol.
At this same time Deputy Marshal Sixkiller was descending the steps outside of Turner & Byrne’s store after retrieving some medicine (he wasn’t feeling well). Cunningham and Vann approached Sixkiller and Cunningham leveled the shotgun at him. Sixkiller knocked the firearm to the side and avoided harm only to be shot repeatedly by Vann. The two men sped off and were reportedly not found by the ensuing posse. Although some state that they found justice at a later date, more than like at the hands of Martin and Luke Sixkiller. Sam Sixkiller was dead at the scene.
Captain Sixkiller’s funeral took place on Sunday morning at 11 o’clock at the M. E. church and was conducted by Cherokee lodge A. F. and A. M., of Tahlequah. The turnout was such that the church could not contain it as friends and fellow lawmen would come from every part of the Territory. The procession following the service was one of the largest ever assembled in this part of the country.
About The Author:
Charles Bennett was born in our Nation's Capital and grew up in the Maryland suburbs. Mr. Bennett has been working in all aspects of the publishing industry since the late 1980s primarily in the fields of commercial photography and magazine production. Moving to California in 1992 to attend college resulted in B.F.A and Masters degrees. California also supplied Mr. Bennett with his wife. The two of them are avid sports persons and participate in shooting, scuba diving, surfing, running and bicycling. As a long time hobby Mr. Bennett has studied the legends of American law enforcement which led to his writing these columns.