In the latter part of the 19th century, the area now known as the state of Oklahoma was overrun by bank and train robbers, bootleggers, thieves, and murderers. U.S. Marshal E.D. Nix and his deputies gained recognition for their efforts and success in bringing some law and order to this otherwise lawless land. But after Oklahoma became a state, lawlessness still persisted to a great degree. And enforcing the laws in this fledgling state was largely the responsibility of the officers of the various cities and counties.
These lawmen, if successful, had to be of the same caliber as the old-time badmen handlers they followed, such as Tilghman, Reeves, Hart, and Thomas, to name a few. They had to think on their feet. Keep a cool head, and be extremely capable gunmen. Most importantly though, they had to be every bit as fearless. One such lawman to emerge, who fit that description, was a "chief lieutenant" to Carter county's sheriff, Buck Garrett.
This deputy never used his Christian name. A statement made by J.A. Gilliam concerning the shooting death of of an Ardmore police detective, in December of 1921, was witnessed by D.M. Ballew. Newspaper articles reporting the deputy's death gave his initials as "E.M.". It's easy to imagine why the discrepancies occurred, because everyone called this man, one of Carter county's most widely known men, Bud.
David Monticello "Bud" Ballew, the son of Bryant and Mary (Thurman) Ballew, was born in 1877. He and the family moved into the I.T. in 1890. They lived in the Wilson area, where Bud was practicaly raised on a ranch. And because of his ranching experience, he became as fine a horseman as any. As an adult, he married Fannie Harper, and they had homes in both Wilson and Lone Grove. Besides working as a deputy sheriff, Bud operated a ranch where he raised cattle for himself and others. He also speculated in oil leases. This noted killer of Ardmore stood 5'11", and had curly red hair. More often than not, he wore a wide brimmed, dust colored cowboy hat, and high topped "cow boots". Known to be as fond of diamonds as his friend Garrett, he often wore a large diamond tie-tac.
His character was "belied by his cherubic expression". He feared no man. Deputy Ballew was credited with as many as eight killings during the course of his career. Bud wore two pistols, but he was known as a "one gun man". The one gun was a .45 revolver, which "he fanned as he drew." He generally "got in the first shot", and that was "all he required."
Most of deputy Ballew's work was with the rough characters "who flocked to the oil fields", and he first made newspaper headlines when he killed Pete Bynum on November 18, 1915. Bynum, the "Boss Badman of Wirt", was in the act of a holdup in that town, when Ballew intervened. As Bud entered "the joint", the masked outlaw fired at him, hitting him in the stomach. Deputy Ballew quckly returned the favor. In the gun battle that followed, Bynum and another man were mortally wounded. Ballew, Bynum, and Alison were taken to the Hardy Sanitarium. Bud's wound, "while frightful" was not serious. Bynum's and Alison's (the man unlucky enough to be sleeping in a room next to a gunfight) were: They died that night.
Ballew's prowess as a gunfighter proved fatal for others in the years that followed. For instance, when sent to arrest Steve Talkington, "noted gunman and lawbreaker", Talkington resisted and Ballew "got in the first shot", killing him. Then, again at Wirt, Bud gunned down another lawbreaker by the name of Hignote. Following this, deputy Ballew and a fellow officer, Fred Williams, fired at and killed James Perle as he attempted to escape their custody. In another incident, east of Ardmore, Buck Garrett overtook Thomas and Mills after the two highwaymen had robbed Jim Taliafero. A fight ensued between Garrett and Thomas, and while "Dusty" Mills circled the men as they fought, trying to get a clean shot at the sheriff, Ballew arrived. Mills turned to fire at him, but he was too late. The deputy fired first, and another desperado fell victim to his .45.
"Bud Ballew killed no man except in a clear case of him or me", and in each instance, the "killing was done when seeking the arrest of the party". However, there was one exception to the last rule--Dow Braziel. Braziel served at one point as a deputy U.S. marshal. At another, a special officer for the revenue service. Braziel's method of making an arrest may have caused the death of at least one "special officer"--Oscar Alexander, in 1916. Alexander was killed when he, Braziel, and two others attempted to arrest two bootleggers, the Love brothers, as they were returning from Texas late one night with a load of whiskey, in a desserted area near Hoxbar. The Love's claims that they were never asked to "halt" (as Braziel claimed), but were immediately fired upon as they approached the officers in their hiding places-- and were only defending themselves against unknown assailants, when Alexander was killed--caused quite a stir. During the trial, in the latter part of 1916, there had been much speculation by Ardmoreites about its outcome. "Owing to the circumstances of the case." Braziel was not popular enough to win his bid for Ardmore's Chief of Police that year, and this example may help to explain why. An attorney for George and Mose Love, during their trial for the murder of Alexander, attempted to use Garrett's popularity, and Braziel's lack of it, to defend his clients by making this statement:
If Buck Garrett, your sheriff, had gone after these boys he would have brought them in and there would not have been a shot fired and there would not be homes in Ardmore in mourning on account of death.WhileGarrett and Ballew did not enforce the prohibition laws as aggressively as Braziel, they were still well liked and respected by the citizens of Carter county. However, Braziel did have his following, and they encouraged the lawman to enforce the prohibition laws to the letter. These acts, for whatever reason, were the cause of a feud between Ballew an Braziel. And so, the event that occured on January 31, 1919, came as no surprise to the citizens of Ardmore.
Braziel was no longer an officer (although considered one due to his long service with the federal government) that January mourning, when, at 6:40 am, Ardmore's police chief, L.L. Segler, and deputy Ballew entered the California Cafe.According to his statement, "Chief Segler said he entered first, and Bud Ballew was right behind him. He noticed Braziel standing on the east side of the room, next to Mill street, and before he could realize" what was happening, "Braziel fired a shot and another immediately followed." "Bud Ballew then began shooting": He fired six shots in all. Dow Braziel fell to the floor, dead. Upon examination at the Hardy Sanitariun, his body revealed all six shots took effect. Three wounds in the left arm, one in the head, one in the heel, and the fatal shot had entered the right side of Braziel's body, "which went through the liver and kidney."Ballew was arrested and taken to the county jail. When informed of the police chief's statement concerning the pistol duel between Ballew and Braziel, the deputy stated, "that was about the way of it", and that he was sure Braziel had been shooting at him and not Segler. Bud made bail and was released. Statements made by chief Segler and other witnesses relinquished Ballew from further legal action.
Sheriff Garrett's and his chief lieutenant Ballew's names appeared numerous times in local newspapers. But, their involvement in the Clara Smith case won them noteriety on a grander scale. An article, "Ardmore Oil Milionaire Jake Hamon's Death still a Mystery", that appeared in the Centenial Edition of The Daily Ardmoreite, on June 21, 1987, gives this account of the case:
The writters reporting the case felt they had been transported back into the past when they arrived in Ardmore, and saw Garrett and Ballew. The two lawmen seemed to belong in the wild west of the late 1800's--not the civilized world of the 1920's. The writters were fascinated by them and wrote articles about the sheriff and his deputy, which were pubished world wide. Thus the Carter county lawmen became known "from Peking, China to London, England as the two remaing specimens of the wild west sheriffs of the movie reels and yellow backed novels."
On November 21, 1920 Ardmore oil king and potential political power Jake L. Hamon stumbled into Hardy Sanitarium with a gunshot wound.
The prominent Ardmoreite claimed he had been cleaning a gun when it went off, injuring him. Six days later, he died.
Although the incident happened in a small, insignificant town north of the Red River, headlines all over the United States screamed. Hamon was not just a rich oil man from a small town. He was a Republican National committeeman and was slated for a post in President Warren Harding's cabinet.
Thus began probably the most sensational story and trial to ever come out of Ardmore in its 100 years existence. The drama not only drew local attention, but writers from prominent newspapers all over the nation flooded the town to cover the scandalous story.
Hamon's lover, Clara Smith Hamon, was alleged from the beginning to have fired the fatal shot into the body of Hamon. The oil king and his secretary, Clara Smith Hamon, had been staying at the Randol Hotel in Ardmore for some time.
According to an account written in The Daily Oklahoman before the trial on March 10, 1921, Clara may have shot Hamon to protect herself from his alleged brutality toward her. However, others believe the secretary shot Hamon because he was breaking off their scandalous love affair. The story alleges that Hamon claimed to have shot himself to avoid a scandal he knew would occur if the "real story" ever got out.
Clara disappeared the day after the shooting, and the people of Ardmore became more convinced that she was the one who fired the fatal shot. The sheriff at the time, Buck Garrett, was believed to have known Clara's whereabouts, but he would not divulge the information with reporters.
Historical reports show that a prominent Chicago newsman, Sam Blair, found out that Clara was in Mexico, and he went there to talk to her. His hunch was correct, but before he could convince her to come back, she had already made arrangements with the sheriff to return.
Sheriff Garrett escorted her back to Ardmore to stand trial for the shooting of Hamon. Newspaper reports show she was let out on a $12,000 bond, which was signed by some of the most prominent businessmen and professional men of Ardmore, reportedly, not that they believed her innocent, but thought she might have been justified.
Information against Clara was filed by County Attorney Russell Brown. The case was brought before District Judge Tom Champion.
Clara's defense team consisted of some Ardmore heavyweight attorneys of the day - Jimmy Mathers, Charley Coakley, Joe Ben Champion, (twin brother of the judge hearing the case) and attorneys from Fort Worth and Chicago.
The prosecution team was headed by state Attorney General Prince Freeling, assisted by H.H. Brown and Russell Brown.
Testimony went on for seven days and the decision was left up to the jury on March 17. After only 39 minutes of deliberation, the jury filed into the court and handed a verdict of not guilty...
The notoriety Ballew received from the Smith case "got under his shirt." Afterwards, Bud seemed to try harder to live up to the old-time badman image. Subsequently, he began to practice a "reprehensible habit" more frequently. This "habit": Riding through Ardmore, and other smaller Carter county towns, intoxicated, yelling, and shooting off his pistols into the air was "unnerving" to the citizens,but never resulted in anyone being injured.
In 1922, Bud Ballew's name once again made the newspapers nationwide. Articles titled "Noted Killer Of Ardmore Slain By Ex-Ranger", "Ballew's Guns Silent", among others, reported biographical information about him, and the details of his death.
Ballew and his 18 year old son had gone to Wichita Falls, Texas to attend a rodeo "at which Bud and probably his son intended to enter in the riding contest." While there, Ballew was visiting with two friends from Lone Grove at their place of business, the Denver Domino Parlor. At about 1:35 p.m., on Friday ,May 5, 1922, the police chief of that city, J.W. McCormick, a former Texas Ranger, and possibly two of his men, went to that location, after receiving a call repoting a disturbance. As the lawmen entered the domino parlor, (the ex-Carter county deputy) Bud Ballew was sitting at the bar "joshing with the boys." McCormick approached him from one side, and a detective from behind and to his other side. "According to Chief McCormick", when Bud was told he was under arrest, he replied, "You are out of luck" as he reached under his coat. It was at that point, five rounds were shot into Ballew's body before it hit the floor. Immediately afterwards, his body was taken to an undertaking establishment and embalmed.
"On word of the killing reaching Hardy Sanitarium", "Pilot Askew and undertaker Herbert Harvey flew to Wichita Falls" in a plane used to transport patients. They left Ardmore "at 3:15 Friday afternoon." Bud Ballew's remains were back in Ardmore by 8 p.m. that night. Once there, mourners greeted the plane. Among them were ex-sheriff Garrett, Bud's wife Fannie, and his son, Dorris.
The details given reguarding Ballew's death became questionable, once his body arrived home. Chief McCormick's claims were met with opposition. His statement that "all four shots" fired into Ballew "entered from the front" from his .38 caliber pistol, and that "the hole in the back of Ballew's head was caused by a bullet emerging from the skull, after it had entered the left eye", appeared incorrect. Upon examining the x-rays taken of Ballew's body, Dr. Hardy felt that one of the slugs that ended the ex-deputy's life was of a different caliber that the gun used by McCormick.
Moreover, Buck Garrett's statement that "Bud Ballew was murdered. Five shots and all from the back--he didn't have a chance", and articles like "Noted Killer Of Ardmore Slain By Ex-Ranger", which appeared in the May 6, 1922 issue of the Houston Post, giving this report, added fuel to the fires of controversy:
One of the bullets penetrated Ballew's left hand, tearing through his heart and coming out just below his left shoulder. A second shot went through his right breast, coming out through the right shoulder. A third shot went through his abdomen, while two of the five bullets penetrated his back, one going into the body just below the left shoulder and coming out through the abdomen. The fifth entered Ballew's head, just behind the left ear, and came out near his mouth on the right side.
While the argument over who shot, and from which angle, may never be laid to rest, it cannot be argued that the circumstances of Bud's death contains at least a few ironies. The first, Ballew had killed an ex-lawman during his tenure as a deputy sheriff, and was killed by an officer, after his own career as a lawman had ended. The second, J.W.McCormick, while serving as a Texas Ranger, and later as Chief of Police in Wichita Falls, had never killed a man, untill that day. Bud Ballew, who had "eight notches on his gun", was his first. And the last, perhaps the most significant irony, the revolver of this noted killer, the revolver of a man who often shot first never left its holster, while five bullets entered his body.
Bud Ballew is buried near the gates of the Lone Grove Cemetery, in Lone Grove, Oklahoma. He is not as widely known as Heck Thomas, Bill Tilghman or many other Oklahoma lawmen of old, but Bud was their equal in every respect. Ballew helped bring law and order into an otherwise lawless Oklahoma county. Let's not forget him. Lest we forget one of that states most colorful and fearless lawmen.