Tonight it will be the story of "The Going Snake Massacre"
Eleven people were killed! It was a true shootout.
Zeke Procter was a Civil War veteran who had- it was adjudicated later-accidentally shot and killed "Aunt" Polly Beck. The fight began with Beck supporters and Procter supporters armed to the teeth and at the trial.
This trial had been moved to the "Whitmire school", seemingly in anticipation of trouble.
A real lead laden bloodbath here, folks.
Ezekiel Procter was a full blood Cherokee, an ex-Union soldier, and a pretty good with a long gun or a Colt's revolver. Arrow straight, tree tall, and battle hardened he was not one to be trifled with.
This incident got its genesis from a gunfight involving Jim Kesterson and Zeke at the old mill home of Kesterson (Hildebrand-Beck Mill) on February 13, 1872. The hatred that sparked the gunfight has multiple stories as to its origin. Kesterson was married to a woman known as Aunt Polly she was originally a Beck. Polly had married a man named Kesterson who been been killed in the Civil War. She came from a proud Cherokee family like Procter.
One account says that the Procter and Beck families hated each other over Civil War allegiances. The Becks being strongly southern in their allegiance and the Procters were unionists. Another has Zeke with very strong and proud Indian "nationalist" ties and vehemently disapproving of Polly's marriage to Kesterson, a white man. Another has it that their cattle (stock) issues between Kesterson and Procter. What follows is likely accurate, one should realize that "Mary" and "Aunt Polly" are the same person.
"One day Zeke dropped by to visit his sister Elizabeth. He was surprised to find her and her children alone and hungry with not much of anything in the house to eat. He learned that her husband, James Kesterson, had deserted her and their children. He took Elizabeth and her children to live with other family members. There is no record of why James left his family and moved out. Ezekiel Proctor was very angry with James for leaving his sister in this condition. After leaving Elizabeth, James had found a job with Mary Hildebrand and later married her.
Story has it that on Tuesday, 13 February 1872, Zeke with his wife and children while possibly visiting other family or friends in the area, may have thought it to be a good time to have a talk with Mr. Kesterson and decided to visit the mill. He dropped by the local watering hole and had a few drinks to help fortify him before he reached the mill. Also some people say Zeke had received complaints that Mary and James had been letting their cattle run loose and they were destroying crops of nearby farmers.
When Zeke arrived at the mill it didn't take long before he and James were in a heated argument. James reached for his gun but Zeke, being faster, beat him to the draw. Mary, who was trying to stop the men from fighting jumped in front of her husband, James, placing herself between the two men just as Zeke's finger pulled the trigger and discharged the 45. Mary caught the bullet in the chest and fell between the two mortally wounded leaving James a widower. Zeke fired off two more shots at James putting two holes in his coat as he fled to the second floor of the mill not knowing if Mary was dead or alive. He was also wounded by one of those two bullets.
Zeke knowing he had committed a crime went to the neighbor's house and confessed to his family what he had done. He then went to the home of Jack Wright the current Sheriff of the Goingsnake District to turn himself in. Being there were no jails Zeke was sent home with guards until his trial. "
This mill is the Hildebrand-Beck Mill replacement. It was built around 1900 as the original had been washed away in floods. It stood many years, obviously in disrepair.
The Massacre. . .
The Beck family, although Cherokee knew well that Procter was a big man in the community and that Cherokee courts often decided in favor of the defendant. The Beck patriarch, Aaron Beck, among other family members, convinced Kesterson to go to Fort Smith, Arkansas to seek a writ of arrest for Procter for assault with intent to kill. It was granted on April 11, 1872. Strangely Kesterson just disappears? So, two Deputy United States Marshals leave Fort Smith with instructions that IF AND ONLY IF Zeke is acquitted are they to serve the warrant. These deputies are accompanied by Beck family members, a "posse" if you will. Several of the Becks had accompanied Kesterson but evidently only the Becks rode to the trial site with the deputies. This group of Becks and supporters get referred to as a posse. And in later recitations even as US Marshals. I suspect that the figure of two deputies may actually be wrong. In fact I think three of four may be the proper number of LEGITIMATE deputies?
They go immediately to to the little schoolhouse where the trial is taking place. Less windows and better escape doors. The Cherokees knew this thing would not end well. Procter's supporters are inside the courtroom, well heeled. Beck's are outside in the schoolyard armed to the teeth.
Into this ride the deputies with the "posse".
It appears that the deputies both acted correctly and courageously in trying to follow their orders. But the Beck "posse" took control. Guards who were already in place were ignored, the deputies were ignored. Uh-huh. The Becks and their supporters in the "posse" burst threw the doors and hell grabbed them.
The Beck leader who erupted into the courtroom was Surry Beck. He was rolled in with a double barreled shotgun. Always a solid choice in these situations! He drew a bead on Zeke but before he could drop the hammer Zeke's brother, Johnson Procter, grabbed the barrel, for his trouble he received a one way ticket to oblivion courtesy of a lesad bath. He took a full bore to the chest. So, long. . . The second barrel left a hole in Zeke's leg. Surry was not big on game play it appears he meant business. A general melee ensued. Zeke grabbed a guard's gun and VERY likely killed at least one of the "posse". Surry was severely wounded but managed to escape. The firing went on for fifteen minutes and left a trail of dead. Gruesome!
The judge, Sixkiller, was shot, Zeke's defense attorney was killed, and Andrew Palone court clerk was also a victim.
This story gets shaded in some places, making it an attack by 10 deputies sent by the Feds to storm the courthouse and take Procter. You can decide for yourself.
Shotgunner Surry Beck:
A newspaper account from someone who walked upon the scene just as it ended, fascinating.
"From time to time we have chronicled the postponement of the case of Ezekiel Proctor charged with the murder of (Mary) Polly Hildebrand, the last trial being set to come off last Monday, the 15th instant. We had business there, and arrived about half past 1 o'clock. And what a sight met our gaze when we rode up to the small school-house where the court had been called. Three men were lying just before the door-step in those negligent and still postures so terrifying to the living. Dark pools of blood issuing from each told the horrible story of the manner of their death. In the house, lying side by side, with their hats over their faces, lay three more bodies----one, all that was left of an old and valued friend (This may have been Mose Alberty the defending attorney). A few steps off, to the right of the door, lay the body of a man with light hair and blue eyes, which betokened his white extraction (probably George Selvidge). Next to the chimney, behind the house, was another, and near by, partly supported against the wall, was a man groaning in the anguish of a desperate wound probably William Beck). In the bushes, a little further off, was yet another corpse of a youth who had staggered there to die. Looking at the living we saw the presiding judge, B. H. Sixkiller, with his wrist bandaged, where he had been seriously wounded by two bullets. The prisoner was limping about with a bullet in the bone of his leg below the knee. Others were wounded more or less. At the nearest residence was lying, desperately wounded, Deputy Marshal Owens, a man generally respected on both sides of the "line". Some of the badly wounded we did not see, they having fled or been taken care of by their friends. The spectacle which harrowed our sight was the most awful, without any comparison, that we have ever witnessed."
In my opinion this is accurate accounting, roughly. It is from accessgeneology.com:
"Some members of the Beck family convinced James Kesterson to go to Fort Smith Arkansas and seek a writ for the arrest of Proctor for assault with the intent to kill. He did this on April 11th. After James filed the writ he disappeared and no one knows what happened to him. The court sent two deputy marshals with the writ for arrest to the trial. They were only to arrest Zeke if he was found not guilty.
Several Beck family members had accompanied Kesterson to Ft. Smith and they returned with the Deputy Marshals to Indian Territory and thus to the Whitmire School and arrived just after the trial had began.
The Judge sat at a small table at the rear of the one room schoolhouse facing the door to the west. Joe Starr, the court clerk, sat to the Judge's left and Mose Albberty, Proctor's attorney, sat to the right of the Judge. Proctor was sitting next to his attorney and one of his guards stood near him. The jury sat to one side of the room.
The one room schoolhouse was packed with spectators and many that could not get in were milling around the building on the outside.
Just as the trial began the Deputy Marshals and the Beck posse arrived. There were 4 guards outside of the building to keep out unwanted intruders. Deputy Owens told the posse not to try and enter the courtroom and remain peaceably outside until the court's decision was made. Surry Eaton Beck seemed to take command of the posse as they neared the building. There were other family members and friends who were waiting and the two groups merged as they went to the door of the school.
Surry or "White Sut" Beck had a double-barreled shotgun and he forced his way inside and others followed and the guards were over powered. They burst into the courtroom, guns in hand. "Sut" aimed his shotgun at Zeke. Johnson Proctor, Zeke's older brother, grabbed the gun barrel and one of the barrels went off and he received the full charge in the chest and immediately died. The other barrel then went off wounding Zeke in the lower leg below the knee. Zeke grabbed a guard's gun and began to fire it.
Surry Eaton “White Sut” Beck who led the assault was severely wounded but managed to escaped on horse back. Deputy Marshall Donnelly stated that Deputy Marshall J. G. Peavy helped Beck escape to Cincinnati, Arkansas. He had a close encounter there with Proctor’s friends, who were looking for him, but he narrowly escaped them.
Then pandemonium broke out as the Beck and Proctor factions fired wildly. The fight lasted about 15 minutes and the wounded, dead and near dead lay everywhere inside and outside of the school. Most of the Beck faction fled and so did just about everyone who could get on a horse and ride.
Nine were killed outright and two died the next day. An unknown number had minor wounds. William Beck and Deputy Owens were mortally wounded and were carried across the street to a private home where they died a short time later. Owens stated before he died that he tried to stop the battle but could not. The lady who owned the house across the street got her sons to hitch up the mules to the wagon and with the help of others loaded the wagon with the dead. They laid them out on their front porch till family members could come and claim the bodies.
The wounded were taken inside and treated, the best she could by Mrs. Whitmire who was a widow.
The dead were:
1. Johnson Proctor (Died immediately, older brother of Ezekiel)
2. Samuel Beck
3. Jesse "Black Sut" Beck (my great grandmother's first husband. She was left with a son about a year old. Her mother had died in February at the mill and now her husband was gone too.)
4. Defense Attorney, Mose Alberty
5. Andy Palone
6. William Hicks
7. Jim Ward
8. George Selvidge (married to Sabra Beck)
9. Riley Woods
10. Deputy Marshall Owens (severely wounded and died the next day)"
This story gets shaded depending on the agenda of the teller. Truly many make it about the Federal government trying to impose on Cherokee Courts. There is truth there. There is also truth that Deputy Owens died after trying to stop the marauders from entering the "courtroom". Nothing can take away from the fifteen minutes of absolute death that occurred. Facts. I guess because no one walked off 20 paces and slapped leather that this is dismissed by the old west debunkers too, but it happened. Indeed, at least eleven died in a maelstrom of lead.
The very next day the court reconvened and acquitted Zeke Procter. He later went on to serve as a Deputy US Marshal for Isaac Parker, "The Hanging Judge".
Headstones for two of the Beck brothers killed in the massacre:
This was another good story!! I enjoy reading them.
Thanks again Mr.Gibson as I sure do like the history lesson. If you ever put all this into a book I sure do want a copy...
Team .30-30 # 390
Old Pharts # 45
Florida Marlin Owners
Marlin 1973, & a 2003 .30-30's.
Glenfield 1977, .30-30.
If you come to take my guns, you better bring your own...
I'm seriously thinking about gathering them up and fixing typos, left out words, etc. and printing them up to send to family and friends. I have 45 pages of them at Ruger.
The two other gun forums I post made the thread a sticky, easier for me to keep up with what I have posted.
Looks like a lot of interest here and you guys are very liberal with your "Thanks". A guy named Cajun, here, always thanks me for every post as do you guys. I appreciate it fellas.
We love the old time tales, eh? Said it before and I'll say it again, Marlin lever actions and the old west are like peanut butter and jelly
Last edited by Gibson66; 12-20-2012 at 10:41 PM.
Another great tale. Keep them coming. I was fascinated by the picture of the house. There is a house in an old ghost town near White Sulfur Springs MT That looks just like it. It supposedly was the gentleman's sporting house. It seems like an unusual design but being from the same general time frame maybe is not as uncommon as I thought. S.
Team 444 #295
Thanks guys for the kinds words. I'll and get up another one tonight or tomorrow.
You realy do have some history, thanks so much for writing this stuff for us to read. cheers