May 2, 1895
On this day two unlucky outlaws fell victim to the shadowy Dunn brothers, part-time bounty hunters, full-time cattle rustlers.
George “Bittercreek” Newcomb and Charlie Pierce may have thought it was a simple social call when they went to the Dunn’s ranch to see 16-year-old, Rose Dunn, romantically involved with Newcomb.
And so it was that the Dunn’s gunned down Rose’s suiter and his friend without warning or preamble for the sole purpose of collecting the $5,000 reward on each of them. It was a sizeable amount, in the neighborhood of $300,000 today. Whether Rose was aware of their scheme to ambush her boyfriend is debatable. Brother Bill claimed she was not involved in the plan.
The large reward was commensurate with the notoriety both Newcomb and Pierce had achieved. They, along with Wild Bunch founder, Bill Doolin, (left) were rumored to have been ousted from the Dalton gang three years earlier after a botched robbery in Adair, Oklahoma Territory. Retreating to their hideout in Ingalls, Oklahoma, the gang engaged law enforcement in a deadly shoot-out known as the Battle of Ingalls.
Both Newcomb and Pierce were wounded during gun fight but managed to escape. Accounts vary; one reports that three lawmen and two bystanders died, another claims it was two lawmen and three of the gunmen. Whatever the body count, it earned Newcomb and Pierce a place on the most wanted list.
The line between lawman and bounty hunter in 1895 was murky, at best. A ruling in 1872 by the Supreme Court in Taylor v. Taintor awarded bounty hunters equal, if not greater status with law enforcement. It granted them broad powers of search, seizure and incarceration without benefit of due process. Apparently no questions were asked when the Dunns presented the bodies of the desperadoes for payment.
Despite the unsavory reputations of the two outlaws, local citizens began to question the tactics used by the brothers. Operating a frontier style “guest ranch,” their patrons were rumored to have disappeared, for certain robbed and possibly murdered.
The episode, however, prompted Sheriff Frank Canton (left) to arrest brother Bill Dunn on suspicion of rustling, which then prompted Dunn to ambush Canton. One account claims Dunn took two shots at the famous sheriff stepped out of a restaurant in Pawnee, Oklahoma and missed both times. Another reports the would-be killer never even had time to draw his gun. The lawman was either faster or a better shot. Bill’s death was ruled self-defense and effectively ended the Dunn’s bounty hunting enterprise.
Following a five-year walk on the wild side, sister Rose got respectability. Dubbed “Rose of the Cimmeron” by the popular media, she married local politician Charles Noble in 1897. The couple and two of the Dunn brothers, John and George, moved to New Mexico, hoping to leave the Doolin legacy behind.
Later photo identified as Rose Dunn
But George, too, met a suspicious and violent end. He and John operated a ranch together and George worked for a nearby rancher, as well. In September of 1918, he rode out to collect back wages from his employer and never returned. His horse wandered home covered in blood. George’s body was never found and while the family always believed the rancher was implicated in his death, no one was ever charged.
Brother John managed to outlive the family’s notorious past. He moved to Salcum, Washington, married and raised a large family there.
Following the death of Charles Noble in 1930, Rose remarried. She and her second husband, Richard Fleming, lived in Salcum, Washington, as well. She died in 1955 at the age of 77 and was buried in Salcum.
The Washington Irving Trail Museum, 3918 South Mehan Road, Ripley, Oklahoma, features an exhibit on the gunfight at Ingalls involving George Newcomb and Charlie Pierce. How did a museum connected to the author of the New England classic, “The Legend of Sleepy Hallow” wind up in Oklahoma, you might ask. In 1832, Irving went West with Jesse Bean’s U.S. Rangers, detailing his adventures in “A Tour of the Prairies.”
In addition to the Ingalls exhibit, the museum’s “History’s Forgotten Treasures” is a potpourri of artifacts from ranch life to campaign posters to a 37-pound meteor and other facets of Oklahoma’s past. Admission is free and it’s open Wednesday through Saturday: 11 to 5 and Sunday: 1 to 5. For more information go to washingtonirvingtrailmusuem.com, or call (405) 624-9130. Appointments are suggested, since the museum may experience irregular hours. Note: Irving’s “A Tour of the Prairies,” is still available in digital, audio, hard cover and paperback editions and still receiving five-star reviews.
© Text Only – 2018 – Headin’ West LLC – All photos – public domain or fair use.