BEN CRAVENS - OUTLAW.
Added information about Ben Cravens and others found on microfilm at the Arkansas City Public Library in April 2003. MAW...
Killed and Ben Cravens Wounded and Captured
SIXTEEN MILES FROM NEWKIRK
By Deputy Cox and Posse.—Will be Brought to Newkirk.
Arkansas City Daily Traveler, Friday, December 4, 1896.
NEWKIRK, Dec. 4.—Dynamite Dick, the notorious territory outlaw, over whose head hangs a reward of $3,000, was shot and killed in a fight with a number of deputy sheriffs, sixteen miles west this morning. Ben Cravens, a member of Dick’s band, and for whose arrest $500 was offered, was badly wounded and captured. The wounded bandit and the body of Dick will be brought to this city today.
The gang was reported to be in this city Wednesday last, and since then a posse of seven headed by Deputy Sheriff Cox has been on the trail. The posse came up with the outlaws at 8 this morning, and a fierce interchange of bullets immediately began. None of the deputies were hurt. The remainder of the gang escaped.
Instead of Dynamite Dick That Was Killed Near Blackwell.
Arkansas City Daily Traveler, Saturday Evening, December 5, 1896.
KANSAS CITY, Mo., Dec. 5.—A special to the Star from Guthrie, Oklahoma Territory, says: Later identification proves the outlaw killed near Blackwell to not be Dynamite Dick, but Black Craig, one of the most notorious highwaymen in the west, who has operated for years in the Indian Territory, Arkansas, New Mexico, and Colorado, having robbed hundreds of travelers, held up dozens of trains, and killed as many men. Ben Cravens, the other outlaw wounded in the battle, is dying.
STILL IN DOUBT.
Was It Dynamite Dick, Black Craig, Sam Craig, or a Stranger
Who Was Killed by the Posse in Kay County Last Week?
Arkansas City Daily Traveler, Thursday, December 10, 1896.
The dispute is still raging as to who it was that Cox and his posse killed near Blackwell last week. Members of the posse and their friends insist that it was the noted outlaw Dynamite Dick, for whom there was a reward of $4,000. Several deputy United States marshals and others say it was not. However, they are divided upon the question. Some say that it was Black Craig, Mosquito Dick, others a new outlaw, and still others Sam Craig. They all agree that an outlaw was killed and buried.
The posse claim that the deputy marshals are jealous because they did not make the capture as the reason they dispute that it was Dynamite Dick, and the marshals laugh at the charge. The United States jailer at Guthrie, who had charge of Dynamite Dick for several months, says the corpse he saw is not that of the noted outlaw.
Last night Deputy Sheriff Taylor, of Chautauqua County, was in the city. He has been down in Kay County on business. He says he knew Dynamite Dick well, and that the man killed near Blackwell is not the original Dynamite Dick of his acquaintance. He had a picture of the man killed, which he showed to acquaintances in this city, and told what the picture lacked to be that of Dick. He says the man killed was Sam Craig.
Deputy United States Marshal Joe Severn, well known in this city, says he never saw the corpse, but from the description given him it fits old three fingered Jack better than Dynamite Dick. He was pretty well acquainted with both outlaws and especially three fingered Jack. There have been several three fingered Jacks in the outlaw business, but his reference is to the original one and the most desperate. He says that old three fingered Jack is still alive and at last accounts he was in the Chickasaw country. But it was possible for him to have ventured to this community. Joe was rather in hopes it was Jack, as Jack has it in for him. Over four years ago he threatened to kill him at the first opportunity. Friends informed Joe of the threat, and since then he has been on the lookout for a shot from the rear. They never met but once, and that was in Guthrie. Three fingered Jack was blowing that he would kill Severn on sight when Joe walked onto him. He asked Jack who it was he was going to kill and Jack without answering reached for his gun. But the officer was too quick. He grabbed Jack around the waist, took the gun away from him, and beat him over the head with it until he was unconscious. He would probably have beaten him to death, but the crowd that gathered pulled him off. That was the last time he ever saw the original three fingered Jack.
The outlaw that was killed near Blackwell is described as having three fingers off on the left hand, leaving only the index finger. This corresponds with Dynamite Dick. On the right hand the end of the index finger is off and the next finger was shot off when the outlaw was killed. The index finger on the right hand does not correspond with Dynamite Dick.
This question is getting too deep for the common people, therefore we would suggest that in order to settle the dispute, if Dynamite Dick is still alive, that he so inform the public. Let him come forth from his hiding place and make himself known in some manner.
The original story that RKW printed up relative to Ben Cravens appears below.
BEN CRAVENS, OUTLAW.
The outlaw Ben Cravens was one of the suspects in the murder of George Montgomery, at Winfield, in 1901. He was never arrested for this murder; however, his story needs to be told as he did operate in Cowley County.
Ben Cravens began his criminal career as a bootlegger along the southern border of Kansas, including Cowley County, but was finally arrested in the Osage country by Frank M. Canton for cattle stealing. Canton took his prisoner to Perry where he placed him in jail. In less than a week Cravens broke jail and escaped, at the same time freeing several other prisoners.
He then started on a career of robbing banks, post offices, and country stores. He was considered one of the most reckless outlaws of the Territory and for several years was hunted like a wild animal. If cornered, his usual tactics were to make his escape in a running fight, and he was handy with a Winchester rifle even when running. His plan of operation was usually to have with him some young fellow with little experience, but ample nerve. Such he could ordinarily get rid of after having used him and appropriated the major part of loot to himself.
Cravens picked up a young fellow, Dick Ainsley, near the Sac and Fox Agency, and with him planned to rob a bank in Blackwell. The two outlaws went to Blackwell, examined the surroundings and the location of the bank which they intended to rob the following day. They then bought some supplies and went to a cabin in the woods nearby and made camp. But the officers in Blackwell had observed the suspicious looking characters, and after the outlaws had left town they organized a posse, and after dark followed them into the woods where they surrounded the cabin and secured positions where they could easily watch the door and window. They planned to make an attack at daylight.
The outlaws, somehow, learned that they were surrounded by armed men and determined to escape in a running fight. Filling their cartridge belts, they sprang out, firing as they ran. Cravens was shot down within a few yards while Ainsley traveled about forty yards before he was shot dead. Two bullets passed entirely through Cravens’ body, making ugly wounds which were then thought to be fatal.
The dead body of Ainsley and the wounded Cravens were taken to Blackwell where Cravens refused to talk about the dead man except to say that they called him Dick. From this the officers thought they had killed the notorious bandit, Dynamite Dick, who had some time before escaped from the Guthrie jail and who was still at large.
United States Marshal Pat Nagle of Kingfisher, Charley Colcord of Oklahoma City, and Frank M. Canton went to Blackwell, where they examined the body and recognized it as that of Dick Ainsley. The three then entered an adjoining room where the wounded Cravens was lying on a bed. Looking at Canton, the outlaw at once recognized him and said, “I know you, Frank Canton. You are the d d officer that put a bullet through the cantle of my saddle one night in the Otoe country.” Then he began to cough and bleed at the mouth. Canton gave him a drink of water and asked if there was anything he could do for him to relieve his suffering. “No,” Cravens replied, “I guess they got me this time.” It was not believed that the outlaw could live more than a few hours at most, but to the surprise of everybody he recovered. He was taken to Kansas where he was tried and convicted for highway robbery and sentenced to fifteen years in the state penitentiary at Lansing, where he was taken January 18, 1897.
After serving for a time, Cravens was placed with the coal mining gang with whom he worked several hundred feet below the surface. In the same gang was a notorious robber, one Joe Ezell, and the two planned their escape. With prison tools obtained in some manner, they fashioned two long-barreled wooden make-believe revolvers around which they neatly wrapped tinfoil. In the dim light of the coal shaft these appeared as murderous weapons. With these pieces of wood on November 16, 1900, they held up the guard stationed at the bottom of the shaft and disarmed him. After securing his arms and ammunition they forced him to give the signal for the hoist. Reaching the top of the shaft they made a break for liberty, and though guards shot at them from every direction, both escaped. Once out of prison, Cravens stole a horse and was soon back in the Osage country. Ezell was left to shift for himself.
Officer Canton learned of the prison break about the time Cravens crossed the southern line of Kansas and trailed him to his old haunts in the Otoe country and there lost the trail. He ran across a cowboy whom he knew, wrote a telegram and asked him to take it to the nearest telegraph station. This message notified the officers of the country that Cravens was again at large in the Territory.
Cravens had, in the meantime, gone into the vicinity of Kingfisher where he had induced a young farmer, Bert Welty, to go with him to rob a store and post office at Red Rock in the Otoe country. To avoid suspicion Cravens disguised himself as a farmer and Welty put on a woman’s dress and sunbonnet. In a light wagon which they had rigged up with a plow tied on behind, they drove across the country toward Red Rock, using their saddle horses for their team.
They reached Red Rock about dark, left their horses in the timber nearby and walked several hundred yards carrying their Winchesters. When they entered the store they found several people standing around. These the robbers quickly held up and robbed. Alva Bateman, the assistant postmaster, was standing in the rear of the store and while the hold-up was in progress, picked up a revolver and fired at one of the robbers but missed. The outlaws then opened fire on Bateman, killing him instantly. They then robbed the post office of several hundred dollars and made a break for their horses. A heavy storm had come on and the rain was pouring down in torrents accompanied by terrific thunder and lightning. The out-laws, under these conditions, experienced considerable difficulty in finding their outfit; but once found, the bandits drove at their utmost speed eastward. In the darkness they ran into a gulch and broke their wagon. They then jerked the harness from their horses, and saddled them. Welty had the loot in a sack. Cravens, now having no further use for Welty, pulled a shotgun from the wagon and fired point-blank into Welty’s face, who instantly dropped to the ground. Cravens, being unable to see distinctly in the darkness, but believing that he had killed Welty, secured all the money, mounted one of the horses, and leading the other, disappeared alone in the darkness. The darkness saved Welty’s life. When Cravens fired, the shot struck the side of Welty’s face, making a dangerous, but not necessarily fatal wound. Welty lay unconscious for several hours in the rain and then walked about ten miles to Black Bear Creek, where he entered the home of one Hetherington whose place had been one of Cravens’s hide-outs. This farmer summoned a doctor and cared for Welty until he was out of danger. Perry officers arrested Welty at Hetherington’s place. He was convicted of killing Bateman, and sentenced to life imprisonment for murder.
The officers at Perry had been immediately notified after the murder and robbery at Red Rock and some of them had reached the place that same night. Early the following morning Jean Branson, a Perry deputy sheriff, struck the bandits’ trail which, in the mud, was easily followed. The tracks of the two horses led eastward toward Pawnee. Branson followed the trail to where they led up to the house of a farmer named Cunningham. He observed two horses in Cunningham’s corral which had the appearance of having been hard ridden. Keeping himself under cover, the officer rode to Pawnee where he got the sheriff and a posse. They returned to Cunningham’s, surrounded the house, called Cunningham out, and asked him if Cravens was in the house. He denied that he was. Tom Johnson, a deputy from Pawnee, had taken a position in the open about ten feet from the door. With the muzzle of his high-powered rifle, Cravens pushed open the door, and quick as a flash, shot Johnson down with a mortal wound. He then jumped out, ran eighty yards across an open field of plowed ground, jumped over a bluff into a ravine and escaped. As Cravens ran across the plowed ground, Sheriff John Chrisman and deputy Joe Weariman, both good rifle shots, stood in the open and emptied their magazines, but the outlaw got away without a scratch.
For four of five years after this escapade, practically every officer in the Territory was on the alert for Ben Cravens. Heavy rewards were offered and he was the most talked-of outlaw in the country. He was accused of nearly every murder and hold-up where the criminals were not killed or captured. He was reported to have been seen in Texas, Old Mexico, Arizona, and New Mexico. But he had disappeared, apparently, completely.
What Cravens actually did after the killing of Tom Johnson near Pawnee was to go to Missouri and hire out as a farm hand under the name of Charley Maust. Here, he was considered a hard-working, honest sort of fellow. Evidently he had decided to “quit the road” and reform.
He married there under the name of Maust and his wife worked with him on the farm. But at last his old propensities broke loose. He stole a horse and was sentenced to a term of four years in the Missouri penitentiary at Jefferson City in November, 1908.
One day, while in the Missouri penitentiary, a barber who had been in the Lansing prison with Cravens, recognized him and notified the officers that the prisoner, Charley Maust, was none other than the notorious and long-looked-for Ben Cravens. The Bertillon (fingerprint) record of Cravens was then procured from Lansing, which on comparison with that of Charley Maust at Jefferson City, agreed in every particular. The Oklahoma authorities were then notified that the Oklahoma outlaw, Ben Cravens, wanted for murder, was in the Missouri penitentiary. Cravens was brought to Guthrie in November, 1911, where he was tried in the United States district court for the murder of assistant postmaster Alva Bateman, of Red Rock. Witnesses were subpoenaed to identify Cravens and Bert Welty was brought from the penitentiary to testify. Welty made a full confession, and though Cravens pleaded not guilty the evidence was complete and he was found guilty and given a life sentence in the Federal penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kansas, January 29, 1912. He continued to maintain that he was Charles Maust and not Ben Cravens until his death in the penitentiary.
[The above story about Ben Cravens was compiled by George Rainey.]