Short, not Twain

Short, not Twain

No one would blame you for taking a glance at the photos above and wondering: “When did Mark Twain get arrested?” The answer is never. The man in the photos was not Twain, but a gentleman who went by the name “H.J. Short.” The photos were taken when Short was booked into Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary in 1900 to serve a term of three years at hard labor for larceny. Only his initials identify him in his prison records, but a little research disclosed the fact that his first name was Hulette, which explains why he preferred to go by his initials.

Samuel Langhorne ClemensSeptember 1-2, 1867, Pera, Constantinople

Twain in an 1867 photograph by Turkish photographer, Abdullah Frères

Of course big mustaches were all the rage in those days, but whether or not Short cultivated his resemblance to the famous author, who was a generation older, is an intriguing but unanswerable question.

The prison records describe H.J. Short as a physician by trade with a nervous disposition. At 5’ 7” tall and 123 lbs., he was emaciated. He suffered from anemia and a chronic cough. The prison doctor decided that the cough was caused by tuberculosis. The diagnosis meant that the 30-year-old was “physically incapacitated from the performance of manual labor” in prison. There’s no way to know if he was really sick or if he starved himself to appear to be ill. Luckily for him, his poor health status got him freed from prison in the form of a pardon issued by President William McKinley. He was released on October 12, 1900.

Short’s Leavenworth records make for interesting reading and indicate there was a pattern in how he avoided serving much time in prison. On May 30, 1898, he was sentenced in the Eastern District of Texas to two years in prison for assault with intent to kill. Less than two months later he was pardoned from the Texas prison because he was “fatally ill with consumption” (aka tuberculosis). Obviously he didn’t die, because on May 31, 1900 he was received at Leavenworth. Details of both crimes are scant, but one news report indicated the federal sentence stemmed from the theft of cattle.

Dr. Short ad - Newspapers.com

Short’s 1896 ad in The Marietta Monitor

Short may also have been involved in insurance fraud. In 1896, not long after moving to Marietta in Indian Territory (now Oklahoma), his house went up in flames. He, his wife Lizzie, and son Maury, were not in residence at the time of the fire. Neighbors quickly put out the blaze. The damage to the building and furniture amounted only to $100, but the local newspaper reported that, providentially, the good doctor had $1,600 insurance on his medical library, which he claimed was destroyed in the fire.

He did not stay out of legal trouble for long after he was released from Leavenworth. A few years earlier in his native Mississippi, he’d forged the names of several prominent men to a promissory note valued at $3,500. He stopped paying interest on the note, which brought it to the attention of law enforcement, and the forgery was discovered. In February 1901 he was arrested in Marietta and returned to Mississippi to face charges.

Evidently he found a way to mollify the law (possibly tuberculosis came up again) without much, if any, jail time, because by December 1902, Short and his family moved to Pryor, I.T., from De Leon, Texas. The Pryor Creek Clipper noted his arrival, writing: “He [Short] appears like a pleasant gentleman and one who is skilled at his chosen calling and we are glad to number him among our citizens.”

I didn’t unearth any later criminal activity of Short’s, so one can only hope the newspaper’s optimism proved to be correct.

By 1910 Short had given up the practice of medicine and had returned to Marietta with his wife and son. He worked as a “stockman,” earning his living raising cattle (hopefully the animals were purchased legally), and he owned his home, free and clear. He died in 1912, 12 years to the day after he was received at Leavenworth — not bad for a man believed to be at death’s door in 1900.

Featured photo: H.J. Short, Leavenworth inmate photo, 1900. Collection of the National Archives at Kansas City, Missouri.

Before Pretty Boy

Before Pretty Boy

This photograph from the collection of the Missouri Historical Society caught my eye quite awhile ago. I followed up by investigating the men in the photo, one of whom turned out to be a well known character in the history of American crime. The picture was taken very early in his “career.”

Here’s the story: https://mohistory.org/blog/pretty-boy-floyd/

Enjoy!

 

The Freedwoman

The Freedwoman

Mary Snowden and Cynthia Walton, two dusky damsels of Eufaula, who have been awaiting trial in the Muskogee jail on a charge of assault to kill, were tried by a jury and the result was a verdict of guilty as to Mary Snowden and acquittal as to Cynthia.

Muskogee Phoenix (Muskogee, Oklahoma), December 7, 1899

Mary Snowden was sentenced to five years hard labor and costs in the federal penitentiary after she was convicted of assault to kill. The 21-year-old had been married for just over a year when she became prisoner #2040 at Leavenworth. Details of the crime were not reported in the newspaper, which likely means the victim was also a person of color.

Matthew Snowden

Matthew Snowden, Leavenworth inmate photo

Her husband, Matthew Snowden, was a Creek Freedman. (Matthew’s mother had been a slave of Creek Indians. Emancipated slaves and their children were enrolled as tribal citizens). Matthew had served two stints at Leavenworth by the time he married Mary. Their marriage didn’t last long. In 1902, while she was still in prison, he got married again and the following year he was married a third time. By 1907 Matthew was incarcerated for assault to kill at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary. His brothers, Littleton, Joseph and Horace, also served prison terms.

The Wichita Beacon newspaper described Mary and the Snowden brothers as “members of a band of cutthroats and outlaws.”

According to her marriage license, Mary’s maiden name was Grimmett and she was born in 1879 in Indian Territory. In 1896-97 she was listed with her mother, Mary Hill, on the Indian Territory Census, living in Tahlequah in Cherokee County. Based on her almond-shaped eyes, straight hair and high cheekbones, Mary probably had both Native American and African American ancestry.

Mary appears to have been unfazed by the prospect of going to prison — she stared confidently at the camera with the hint of a smile on her pretty face. Officials at Leavenworth described her as “colored” with “l. mulatto” skin tone, good teeth, dark brown eyes, black hair and a short, slender build. Her religion was Baptist and she was literate. At the time of her incarceration, both of her parents were deceased and she had no children.

Aylesworth Album Collection. - Photographs. - Box 1. FREEDMEN DANCE DURING ENROLLMENT AT FORT GIBSON

Part of what’s intriguing about Mary is what she’s wearing — the tiny, striped straw hat and coarsely woven shirt. A photo taken at a dance during the Freedmen’s enrollment in the Five Civilized Tribes at Fort Gibson, shows the clothing worn by freedwomen around the turn of the century — the small hat and the puffy-sleeved shirt with its ruffled collar are visible. Mary’s beaded necklace is the part of her outfit that may signal her Indian heritage.

Like most of the 12 women sent to Leavenworth, Mary was transferred to the Kansas State Penitentiary at Lansing, Kansas, because the federal penitentiary had no facilities for women. If she behaved well and earned “good time,” she would’ve been released in February 1904. Otherwise she would have served her full sentence and been freed in December 1904.

In 1906 she married James Brice, an African American man 12 years her senior. In August 1908, Mary was shot in her thigh (“Williams Causes Darktown Terror”) during an altercation with a jealous, drunken lover named Bub Williams. The wound was described as severe and may have been fatal because, although there was no announcement of her death, Mary’s husband was listed as a widower on the 1910 census.

Mary’s mugshot was one of a handful of early Leavenworth inmate photos that were re-photographed and made available online by National Archives staff. That’s lucky, because her photo is currently missing and may have been stolen from the National Archives in Kansas City, where the Leavenworth inmate files are held.

Featured photo: Mary Snowden, Leavenworth inmate photo, 1900. Collection of the National Archives.

Pink’s Story (Part 2)

Pink’s Story (Part 2)

Continued from Pink’s Story (Part 1)

Pink Bruner was serving a life sentence at Leavenworth Penitentiary for the murder of Marshal Hugh Myers in May 1900, though everyone agreed he was not the man who pulled the trigger.

As part of the Curtis Act, a federal law that resulted in the break up of tribal governments, Pink, his mother, Rose, and his siblings were enrolled as members of the Chickasaw Nation in 1898. Rose, born in 1842, had been the slave of Holmes Colbert, according to her Dawes card. As Chickasaw Freedmen, Rose and her children each received an allotment of 40 acres of land in Indian Territory in 1906. The following year Indian Territory merged with Oklahoma Territory to become the state of Oklahoma.

Pink’s 40 acres, in Pontotoc County, Oklahoma, was in the center of an oil belt and had value far beyond ordinary farmland. It was worth about $1000 — a fortune for a man in his circumstances.

The Leavenworth warden received many letters from people on the outside who wanted Pink’s allotment. Some claimed, incorrectly, that it was about to be sold for back taxes.

Moman Pruiett

Moman Pruiett, find-a-grave

Pink’s attorney at his murder trial was an ex-criminal with a violent streak named Moman Pruiett. Moman was a talented but controversial criminal lawyer who bragged that of the 343 murder cases in which he’d defended the accused, 303 of his clients were acquitted. Unfortunately for Pink, he was one of Moman’s 40 clients who’d been convicted.

Moman probably had saved Pink from the hangman’s noose, but he claimed Pink owed him his allotment in payment for both his legal representation during the trial and as payment for work on a pardon or commutation of his sentence — prior to actually achieving a result. Pink tried desperately from prison to hold onto the only thing he had of value, and he refused to turn his allotment over to Moman Pruiett or anyone else.

The third suspect in the Myers murder, Ben Cage, using the alias Floyd or Walter Alexander, was jailed for drunkenness in Wewoka, Oklahoma, in July 1915. While in jail Ben boasted that he was the triggerman for the Myers murder. It was reported that Ben was tried in August 1915, but there was no record of his conviction and imprisonment. More than 15 years elapsed since the crime occurred, and in order to try him the court had to rely mostly on transcripts from Pink’s trial.

Pink’s sentence was commuted in March 1917 and he was released from Leavenworth. Lawyer Pruiett and E.G. Hall, an Oklahoma City businessman appointed his “first friend” out of prison, fought over the title to Pink’s land. It’s unclear which man finally managed to get his hands on Pink’s allotment, but without a doubt one of them did.

He dropped his nickname and returned to using his given name — Legus — after he was released from prison. Over the years he worked as a porter in a Muskogee grocery store, a laborer for a soft drink company in Oklahoma City and finally ended up living with a cousin and farming in Econtuchka, Oklahoma.

100 years has passed since Pink’s release from prison and Econtuchka is now a ghost town. Legus “Pink” Bruner’s burial place is unknown.

Featured photo: Pink Bruner’s second Leavenworth Penitentiary mugshot, taken prior to his release in 1917, National Archives, Kansas City, Missouri.

Pink’s Story (Part 1)

Pink’s Story (Part 1)

From Friday until Tuesday night the U.S. Court has been engaged in the trial of Pink Bruner for the killing of Hugh Myers, city marshal of the town of Davis, on May 5, 1900. The evidence showed that Bruner and two other negroes went to Davis on that evening, filled up on whiskey, and rode out of town firing their pistols in the air. That Myers followed them half a mile out to a lonely spot and was shot and killed. The government claims that it was done in pursuance of a conspiracy to entice Myers out of town and kill him, and while there is no evidence Bruner did the actual shooting, he was in the plot and helped on with the game; and it must be confessed that the prosecution made a very strong case.

The Davis Weekly News (Davis, Indian Terr.), May 30, 1901

Marshal Hugh Myers road out to the west edge of Davis, a small town in Indian Territory, on a Saturday night in early May of 1900 to investigate gunshots. There he found three black men: Pink Bruner, Lyman Mahardy and Ben Cage. Myers exchanged gunfire with the men and took a bullet to his abdomen. He was able to get back to his home but the wound was fatal and he died within the hour. Before he died he told his family he believed he’d wounded one of the men.

Pink was wounded in his left leg above the knee.

The next day Pink was captured after he sought treatment for his leg wound. Lyman was also located and taken into custody. Ben Cage escaped.

Bruner family freedman role

Dawes Census Card (#431) for Rose Bruner and her children

Pink was a nickname. His given name was Legus and he was born in the tiny town of Sasakwa, Indian Territory, the oldest child of John Bruner and Rose Colbert Bruner. His father was a Seminole Freedman and his mother came from the Chickasaw Freedmen. The Chicksaw follow a system of matrilineal descent in which children are considered to be part of their mother’s clan.

Maintaining his innocence in Myers’ shooting, Pink claimed Lyman had a grudge against Myers and planned to kill him after luring him to a remote spot outside of town. Ben Cage was also indicted for the murder, however he remained at large.

The cases of the two men were separated and Pink was tried first. He was found guilty of first-degree murder on May 23, 1901 and sentenced to 99 years in the federal penitentiary.

Lyman’s trial was delayed until the following June. On June 28, 1902, he died in jail, apparently still awaiting trial. Death records were not kept until 1908, after Oklahoma became a state, so the cause of Lyman’s death is unknown.

Meanwhile 22-year-old Pink Bruner headed to Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary in Kansas to begin serving a life sentence.

Continued in Pink’s Story (Part 2).

Featured photo: Pink Bruner’s Leavenworth Penitentiary 1901 mugshots, National Archives, Kansas City, Missouri