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The above photo was featured in the article "BLOODY CADDO", by Louise Riottee. (TRUE WEST, June, 1970) From that article--and a few others verifiable online--the following information was gathered:

"WOBBLIN' WILLIE"

By Stephen Riner

This article is dedicated to Loise Riottee whose articles about the lawmen and outlaws of southern Oklahoma are still referenced today, and to Luther Ford who was accidentally shot and died as a result of a shoot out involving "Wobblin' Willie".

Also you will notice the names of the participants in the shoot outs will be spelled differently. This was done purposely because the various sources I gathered the material from spells them as written in this account. Too, if you read all the articles online, you will find that a couple of dates are different. The dates chosen in this article are used because they will cross reference in at least two different places.

Next I would like to add that all of the material gathered was gathered doing Goggle searches so you, the reader, can do searches yourselves. By searching key words and dates provided in the following article you too can read the material and draw your own conclusions. Lastly, I would like to say some of the material is lacking in detail--but others are very long and detailed. I have used the material to the best of my ability to present as clear and brief as possible a picture of this character we call "Wobblin' Willie".

The next two paragraphs contain information from "Bloody Caddo" and give us an idea of this man's disposition and a sense of the environment in which he lived.

"Ardmore was a hang out of horse thieves, train robbers, and every type of character found on the frontier." It "wasn't very big, but it was the largest town that Indian Territory could boast of, and even then, nobody could boast very much."Its main artery was called Caddo Street" where a number of "establishments of entertainment and refreshment" were. The endless fist fights and shoot outs that took place in these "joints...earned for these few blocks the sobriquet of Bloody Caddo."

The story of "Wobblin Willie" Balleau is a good example of the type of blood shed that took place on Caddo with regularity. Willie really deserved his nickname of " Wobblin', but although drink often caused him to wobble more noticeably that wasn't the real reason for the nickname" Willie had suffered "a bullet wound in his leg...at an early date, which partially paralyzed him".Willie frequented a basement "gambling hall and bootlegging joint" located on the corner of Main and Caddo--"The DewDrop Inn". He was often drunk, and had an "embittered disposition", but "drunk or sober nothing seemed to affect his aim." He wasn't one to back down from anyone, According to stories about him, "he had killed at least seven people--two of them women."

The Daily Ardmoreite dated September 21, 1911, is one in which details the trial of Ballew's killer. From it we learn a little more about Ballew's character. In brief, he would be seen hanging around a county attorney's home, basically stalking him. Ballew made threats towards him. Also, he was often at the court house wanting subpoenas to be issued for a variety of reasons. And at one point about one hundred and fifty to two hundred subpoenas were issued because of Ballew. Not one of which resulted in a single indictment! His disposition is legendary, but let's move on to what "Wobblin' Willie" is best known for.

Irb was a member of a family who owned another Caddo Street joint, the Fourches, who most likely supplied the DewDrop Inn with booze. At any rate, there was bad blood between Balleau and Irb Fourche, and who knows why, in this day and time. It could have been over anything, big or otherwise. For what ever reason, they got into a fight at "The DewDrop Inn". By the time the two made it outside and into the street, guns were drawn and lead was flying. Irb didn't stand a chance Willie shot him. Irb died on bloddy Caddo. (Riottee)

According to several articles in the Daily Ardmoreite, May 13, 1907 is the date this shoot out occurred. There are different testimonies given by a variety of people but they do not exactly corroborate with the account given in "Bloody Caddo". In fact testimony was given stating Irb did not have a gun on him. Some say that Ballew and Irb had seen and talked to each other just minutes before the shooting, At least one witness said that Ballew threatened Irb that afternoon. And another story was told by a witness that he threatened to kill the Foshee boys. In the above referenced article we find that Jonas Foshee was the other shooter that day not Irb. After seeing his brother shot, Jonas Foshee ran out into the street from his joint with a shotgun and a sixshooter and began firing wildly. Ballew fired a couple of shots back at him but did not harm anyone. On the other hand, Jonas accidentally shot a young fruit vendor from Russia by the name of Greenburg. Luckily his wounds were not fatal and a full recovery was expected.

From Daily Ardmoreite articles dating from May 13, 1907 through February 11, 1909, Ballew claimed a conspiracy to kill him had been hatched and the Fochees and others planned to carry that out the day Irb was killed. He made bail by September 2, 1907, and was back on the streets, and back on Caddo. Even though Mathers was said to shred the defense Ballew's case based on conspiracy proved fruitful. "WM. Ballew is acquitted" reads the caption above the article about the case. Ironically Ballew would stand trial for this incident during February of 1909 while John and Jonas Foshee stood trial for another shoot out involving the Fochees and Ballew.

At any rate, let us move on to the next melee that happened on December 1, 1908.The incident was reported the next day in the Daily Ardmoreite December 2, 1908.The next two paragraphs are from that article unless otherwise noted.

Here is the account Ballew gave of the events leading up to the shoot out. He stated that he was there talking to John Bonner that morning about a rental contract. (in latter testimony given in February, 1909,he would clarify this by saying a rental contract on the Dew Drop Inn.) Furthermore, Ballew stated he was standing in front of a barber shop when he was approached by a man named Battle Lindsay. He told Ballew to come to Bonner's joint. Ballew was reluctant but went anyway. Once "they reached the door of the joint there was a crowd in the rear...he (Ballew) was shot before he realized what was going on and that he was shot from the back...Dr. Hardy says he was shot from the front. When the first shot was fired Ballew drew his pistol but before he could use it he became blind." We learn from "Bloddy Caddo" that Dr. Hardy removed "32 buckshot out of Wobblin' Willie Baleau" that day. The wounds while frightful were not fatal.

John Foochee immediately ran into the street after the shooting occured. Jonas Foochee felt someone would do harm to his brother John. He insisted that John be transported in the wagon of John Bonner to the jail. Once he was at the jail he surrendered.The only statement he would make the day after the shooting was, "I was the one who did all the shooting and that's all I have to say." Upon further investigation the case became more complex.There were reports of up to four shots being fired. Also evidence revealed that some shots were from different angels and could not have been fired by John. This led to the arrest of Jonas Foochee, Bob Cotton, and Battle Lindsay. Later, Knox Collins would be arrested as well.

From that same December article we learn that a policeman, Smith Redmond, was wounded in four places by stray shots. He was running towards a 12 year old boy trying to get him out of harms way once he heard shots being fired. He was hit at that time and fell backwards. This is tragic enough but the real tragedy is the young man he was running to save was hit in the back and fatally wounded. He hollered three times and then was silent.The young man's name was Luther Ford. He lived for only minutes after "three buckshot had entered his back".

This article being about mainly Ballew and to a large extent his rivals the Fochees gives cause to only give information about their trials and convictions, and not the others arrested in the Luther Ford case. From numerous articles published in the February, 1909, additions of the Daily Ardmoreite we learn how the cases of Ballew and the Fochees turn out . As I have already pointed out Ballew was acquitted for the killing of Irb Fochee. John Foshee went on to stand trial for the murder of Luther Ford and was given a life sentence. By the way, Ballew testified in the case. Jonas Fochee pled guilty to a lesser charge of manslaughter and was sentenced to ten years. Public sentiment ran high at the time the Fochees faced charges, but public sentiment changes with time.

There are several different stories being told to this day about the demise of "Wobblin' Willie"--that's the stuff legends are made of. However, the only one I can substantiate is from a Daily Ardmoreite dated September 21, 1911. This article details the testimony given by Ballew's killer, James Mathers. He shot Ballew on September 15, 1911 in the Grand Jury room of the Carter County court house. Ballew died after he stumbled into an outer office with sheriff Garrett at his side. Garrett arrived just in time to grab Ballew's pistol causing his last shot to go wild and not hit its intended victim, James Mathers . Dr. Hardy was called but Ballew died before he arrived. Ballew had been shot twice. One of the wounds fatal, the other superficial according to Dr.Hardy's testimony. The question of why a man of James Mathers stature would go so far as to kill a man still remains to be answered.

As i have pointed out Ballew was a thorn in Jimmy Mathers" side. During Ballew's trial for the killing of Irb Fochee he had even let people know that he aimed to kill Mathers who was one of the prosecutors of the case. Mathers asked Ballew's attorney to talk some sense into the man. He did and apparently it was affective. This threat,however, I believe gives rise to the stories that "Wobblin' Willie" threatened Mathers during his murder trial, pulled a pistol on him either in chambers or in the court room, and that is when Mathers either pulled a pistol from his desk drawer or wrestled one away from someone near him in the court room and killed Ballew--as the stories go. Well the straw that broke the camel's back, so to speak, was a matter concerning a horse.

Again, from testimony given during Mathers' trial for the killing of Ballew as recorded in the Daily Ardomoreite September 21, 1911. From this article we learn that "Wobblin' Willie" was in town the day before the shooting and had let it be known he was in town to get something from Mathers and if he didn't he would kill Mathers. He saw Ballew hanging around the court house that next morning and was nervous. He did not take "Wobblin' Willie's" threats lightly. He even told Judge Russel he was going to leave the court house. Russel told him he had every right to stay and go about his duties. Further stating that he would send "Mr Garrett along with me" and if Ballew started any trouble Garrett would eject him from the court house.

Mathers reluctantly went about his duties. At one point he entered the Grand Jury Room. Ballew followed shortly thereafter. Ballew then went into the stenographer's room then reappeared saying to those present, "This is private". Everyone except Mathers left the room. After walking into the typewriter room and back into the Grand Jury room, Ballew sat down near his desk in an office chair. At that point he went on at least a ten minute rant which included him asking Mathers if he had "that warrant". The warrant he spoke of was for Bill Jennings who Ballew lost a court case to over the ownership of a horse. Ballew wanted the case retried and maintained the other party had stolen his horse. The reason for Ballew's urgency in the matter was because the statue of limits would run out that day.

As he sat there he began to curse Mathers calling him an "ignorant s-of a b--". Also he said to Mathers, "You will never get out of this office until you get me that warrant!" At a point during this diatribe Mathers said to Ballew he had spoken to Ballew's own lawyers--at that point a horrible look came upon "Wobblin' Willie's" face that struck fear in the heart of Mathers. Ballew said to Mathers that he would never be the means of issuing another warrant and drew his pistol. Ballew being crippled in his left side caused him to stumble and fired a wild shot. At that time Mathers grabbed a pistol that had been in his desk drawer then stumbled over a chair himself and as he looked up Ballew was on his feet drawing a bead on him with his pistol Mathers then fired at Ballew. Garrett arrived at that same time and grabbed Ballews gun. Ballew fired leaving powder burns on Garrett's hand. The shot did not find its intended target. It went wildly into an outer office. Seeing Ballew was injured he eased "Wobblin' Willie" to the floor outside the Grand Jury Room. Garrett asked the dying man who to call and he said Dr. Hardy. "Wobblin' Willie" Ballew died before Dr. Hardy could reach him.

So how did the trial come out? Well according to the above referenced newspaper the jury deliberated for six and one half minutes and the verdict was NOT GUILTY! But that's not the end of the story.

Recall I mentioned public sentiment changes...with time. This is the case in the accidental shooting and death of young Luther Ford by the Foochees. According to The Daily Ardmoreite September 19, 1911, at the behest of a committee of concerned citizens, led by Senators Allen and Hurst, acting Governor J. J. McAllester granted pardons to both John and Jonas. This was said to be on account of the recent turn of events--the killing of William Ballew by Carter county attorney James Mathers. He killed Ballew on a Friday. McAllester pardoned Foochees the next day. But wait there's more!

Carter county employee and Oklahoma historian Butch Bridges recently reported he has found the grave of "Wobblin' Willie":

Willie is buried beside his mother, Gemmima Ballow, in the family plot in Lone Cedar cemetery (row 9) north of Ada at Francis, Oklahoma. William M. Ballow 2/11/1871 - 9/15/1911 Gemmima Jane Smith Ballow 3/25/1840 - 8/10/1918 David Ballow 1/28/1869 - 2/6/1939 Walton A. Ballow 10/23/1873 - 12/6/1939

Once again even after over a century "Wobblin Willie" proves to be a slippery son of a gun. I have seen his name spelled Ballew and Balleau. One newspaper account even list his name as Bill Bailey--your guess is as good as mine on that one...There is evidence that I feel substantiates Bridges assertion that his name is spelled Ballow. From the Shawnee News September 18, 1911, we learn that "Wobblin Willie's" brother "Dave" arrived in Ardmore from Francis and took the body "to that place for burial". I leave you to "do the math" on this one.

I would like to say I hope you find this article on one of southern Oklahoma's legendary bad boys at least informative and hopefully somewhat entertaining. In conclusion, as a man once told me, this is my story and I'm stickin' to it.



Authors note:

The Gateway to Oklahoma History will be your best source for newspaper articles

Copyright (c) April, 2013 Stephen Riner This article is not to be reprinted in part or in whole without the consent of the author.


Steve Riner