Ghost Towns: Ingalls

Feb 7, 2014

In 1889 the town of Ingalls was settled in the unassigned lands almost overnight after settlers staked their claims in the Oklahoma Land Run. With some farming and a few oil strikes, Ingalls had a chance to thrive, but instead it suffered the same fate as dozens of other Oklahoma towns. The fate of a ghost town.

“Ingalls was just like any frontier town in that the coming of the railroad could make or break a town and unfortunately for Ingalls the railroad chose a different route,” says Dee Cordry. Cordry and I stand on Ash Street in front of an ancient firehouse. He says after the railroads came the town’s people left.

“And most of the time because lumber was so hard to come by if they left town they took their buildings or building materials with them,” Cordry says.

And now, all that’s left are a few dozen homes and lots of stories. One of those stories is the reason why the name Ingalls became infamous in Oklahoma Territory. Dee is a former OSBI investigator and amateur historian. We are literally just feet away from where a U.S. Deputy Marshall was gunned down by the ruthless Wild Bunch or the Doolin gang.

“Unfortunately three Deputy U.S. Marshalls were killed in the line of duty by the Doolin gang,” Cordry says, “And the Doolin Gang escaped they came out on top in that battle.”

The Doolin gang hid in Ingalls regularly because it was close to Indian Territory where most of the lawmen didn’t have jurisdiction and these were the kind of guys who needed an escape plan.

“They had been robbing trains,” Cordry says.  ”And they had more or less terrorized the country side with these train robberies.” “About a dozen Deputy U.S. Marshalls and Sheriffs Deputies came to Ingalls in two covered wagons and they had hoped to use the element of surprise.”

But no such luck. That morning the Marshalls drove their wagons into town posing as homesteaders.

“A Deputy Marshall is looking around and there’s a boy standing there and he asks the boy if he had seen any of the Doolin gang and the boy points right down the street and says, ‘Well there’s Blackjack right there. Of course Blackjack hears it and looks up and that’s when the shooting starts,” Cordry says.

“When you picture one of these famous gunfights from the past you’re thinking it’s a long process,” I say to Cordry, asking, “How long did this fight out here at Ingalls last?”

Cordry’s answer: “We don’t know exactly how long it lasted but an ordinary gunfight in the old west might have lasted only a few seconds or a few minutes. But this shootout here at Ingalls was the biggest gunfight there ever was in the Old West. Not just in Oklahoma but the Old West.”

Dee admits that’s just his opinion but  he adds there were about twenty heavily armed lawmen and outlaws involved in this fight.

Three of the deputy Marshalls were killed along with two of the town’s people. Two more town’s people were wounded and so was one of the gang members known as Arkansas Tom. Arkansas Tom was responsible for killing two of those Deputy Marshalls and he was the only gang member arrested. The other seven escaped.

“The orders were given to the deputy U.S. Marshalls to pursue the Doolin Gang and bring them in dead or alive and that’s what they proceeded to do and eventually they had captured or killed all the members of the Doolin Gang,” Cordry says.

And that was that. The gang was finished, Ingalls folded, and there’s nothing left to tell the story except the accounts of the town’s people who witnessed it, and an old stone monument dedicated to the three Marshalls killed.  You can also find streets named for the outlaws. There’s Doolin Street for Bill Doolin and Dalton Street named for Bill Dalton, another well-known member of the gang.

The cover of Dee Cordry's book, Alive If Possible...Dead If Necessary.

Cordry thinks it would be nice if there were streets named for the lawmen instead. He says men like them set the standard for our police today. To prove his point he brought up the killing of Bill Doolin.

“If they had just shot him down it’s doubtful that anyone would have said anything,” Cordry says.  ”They purposely allowed him an opportunity to surrender and he chose not to. But they gave him that out and today that’s what we expect our lawmen to do.”

He says these territorial lawmen passed down a culture of courage and fortitude when they pursued deadly outlaws out on the plains many times without backup.

Dee Cordry wrote a book about the lawmen involved in the Ingalls gunfight and others in Oklahoma - Alive If Possible…Dead If Necessary.