Prior to statehood, Oklahoma served as a haven for many legendary fugitives. Cattle thefts, bank robberies and murders happened frequently, and stories passed down connect several Potawatomi families to famous outlaws. Some accounts indicate the Bourbonnais family hid Frank and Jesse James in their cabin. For one Potawatomi family, the association with Indian Territory criminals turned deadly.
An Oklahoma Territory newspaper called The Evening Gazette reported on Dec. 27, 1890, “Yesterday afternoon while the chimes of a merry Christmas were still ringing in the ears of the children of this world another bloody crime was recorded on Oklahoma’s sanguinary calendar. Another man was killed and to-day seven little children in his home mourn for him and refuse to be comforted.”
A Potawatomi named Pete Anderson became a deputy the morning after Christmas 1890, hours before a shootout with Indian Territory outlaws sealed his fate.
In 1871, Pete and his wife Julia came to present-day Oklahoma from the Potawatomi reservation in Kansas. They were some of the very first Citizen Potawatomi to make the trek south. Years prior, Pete served as a scout and helped select a new 30-square-mile reservation between the North and South Canadian Rivers. After the death of his wife, Pete worked as an agriculturalist, farming his family’s allotment near present-day Choctaw, Oklahoma.
As a child, Citizen Potawatomi Nation member Tommy Craig Anderson became interested in his heritage and family legends. The gunfight between his great-great-grandfather Pete Anderson and the Bly gang became one of his favorites to explore.
“I think I was always interested in our old family stories because dad was such a good storyteller, and we lived fairly close to where all the stories took place,” T. C. Anderson said. While researching one day, he learned more about his family’s history.
“I found a newspaper article in the Oklahoma Historical Museum from December 1890 that reported on the incident, and that confirmed many of the details of our oral tradition,” he said.
According to T.C. Anderson, Pete became involved with controversy during the April 22, 1889 Land Run. Pete’s allotment sat along the western border of Pottawatomie County, and as many as 1,000 wishing to stake their claim gathered near Pete’s land, including Frank M. Gault, C.F. Johnson and John Reed.
Once the land run began, Gault said he rode 14 miles on his horse in an hour and 10 minutes to become one of the first to stake claim in Oklahoma City. Many protested Gault because witnesses argued they saw his group use relay horses. John Bly, a notorious outlaw, also allegedly saw Gault’s cowboys near Crutcho and Soldier Creeks at noon. Gault was able to keep the land, but that did not stop the Bly Gang from harassing Gault and others in the area.
Bly’s gang included James Bly, Givens Bly, James. D. Barnett, Richard Burchfield and Charles Wilson. The Evening Gazette’s article described John Bly as “being a crack shot. He’s powerfully built with a clear, cold deliberate eye which tells of the dogged determination that slumbers in his soul.”
The men quickly formed a reputation in the area by harassing settlers and cattlemen, and the Bly Gang’s wrongdoings went unabated for many years.
“John Bly had been named as an illegal saloon keeper in October of 1890 by the Sac and Fox Agent,” T. C. Anderson said. “There had also been a lot of cattle theft near Choctaw and the 7C Ranch.”
Christmas Day 1890, Sheriff DeFord deputized Gault and Pless Gilbert in Oklahoma City and gave them the task to capture Bly.
The Evening Gazette reported, “Bly has been arrested several times but has always escaped conviction in some way or other.”
Gault was the nephew to 7C Ranch’s owner, William McClure, and Gault wanted to end Bly’s illegal influence in the area.
“Pete Anderson’s allotment was a mile or two south of the 7C Ranch,” T. C. Anderson said. “Gault was also authorized to swear in his own deputies, and when he arrived near Choctaw, he deputized Pete Anderson and Frank Cook.”
Anderson and Cook were both Potawatomi, and once they became official possemen, the group traveled further east into Pottawatomie County until they came upon some men.
After hearing shots fired, the officers dismounted and began moving toward the source.
“Across a ravine and in front of them a man was discovered standing with a Winchester in his hand,” The Evening Gazette reported. “The Gault party crossed the ravine and made directly for the fellow who commanded them to go back at the same time dropping down amid the scrub oaks.
“He opened fire and the first bullet struck Pete Anderson square between the eyes killing him instantly. Gault and Cook went down behind the bushes and welted away at the fellow who had precipitated the battle.”
As both sides continued to fire, the area around them became warm.
According to The Evening Gazette article, “Finally the man’s gun went up as a flag of truce, and he called out to Gault that he was shot. The officer had him throw away the gun and march up under cover of a red-hot Winchester.”
The man before them was none other than John Bly.
“In our family story of the incident, I had always heard that Pete was shot between the eyes when he looked up over a log where he had taken cover. I thought maybe that could have been a little bit of an enhancement to the story,” T. C. Anderson said, confirming his family’s oral tradition.
“Pete Anderson, the man killed, is well known in this city by a great many of the business men who speak the highest terms of him,” The Evening Gazette reported. “He was a man of considerable means and well known all over the Pott country.”
After arresting John Bly, authorities took him temporarily to Kansas before transferring him to the federal prison in Guthrie, Oklahoma, to await trial. The Oklahoma State Capitol newspaper in Guthrie, Oklahoma, reported on Dec. 31, 1892, that Bly died in the Guthrie jail from tuberculosis before the Anderson murder trial scheduled for April 1893.
Although T. C. Anderson uncovered facts that support his family’s story, he still desires to know more, especially Pete and Julia Anderson’s resting places.
“There’s a cemetery at Choctaw, The Elmwood Cemetery, which is on land once owned by Pete’s friend Frank Cook who was with Pete when he was shot. We thought Pete might be buried there,” T. C. Anderson said. “On the other hand, Pete’s wife, Julia, died during childbirth of Ben Anderson, and we think she was buried near Wanette, where the CPN show her allotment to be.”
Some believe Pete rests near his wife Julia, but none of the Anderson family knows for sure.
“Most of the children lived at Sacred Heart Mission,” he said. “A cousin, Mary (Anderson) Daniels, married William Daniels, an attorney, who became the guardian for the youngest kids. The kids mostly stayed near their allotments near Choctaw, but Grandpa Anderson didn’t talk much about his dad Pete.”
While the Andersons may not know Pete’s official resting place, the Oklahoma Law Enforcement Memorial honored Pete for his service and provided a headstone in his memory in 2007, helping keep this story alive for generations to come.