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Oklahoma Journeys

Zeke Proctor Murder Trial, April 15, 1872


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This week, blood, bullets and revenge! The popular image of Indian Territory is one of American Indians, pioneering lifestyles, and occasionally violent outlaw behavior. Sometimes the popular image isn't always correct, but in the case of Indian Territory, it's usually more right than wrong. The trial of Zeke Proctor combines all of these elements, and that's the topic of this week's Oklahoma Journeys from the Oklahoma History Center.

From the Oklahoma History Center, this is Oklahoma Journeys. I'm Michael Dean.

The Hildebrand, or Beck's Mill, in the Cherokee Nation, near present day Flint,Oklahoma, was the focal point for the various nearby residents. It was a large structure with high quality millstones imported from France. It was also the site where Zeke Proctor in 1872 attempted to shoot a person but instead shot and killed Polly Beck Hildebrand. The death was accidental, or so Zeke Proctor claimed, but that didn't stop the Beck family from setting out to avenge the death of Polly. The situation quickly escalated into a feud between the Proctor and Beck clans, two of the largest families in the area.

The dispute came to embody not only revenge for the shooting but also the conflict between Cherokees wishing to retain more of a traditional lifestyle and those wishing to move into the contemporary white society. Involved in the dispute as well were some lingering grudges from the Civil War era that had never completely died down. Regardless of Zeke's intentions, the shooting and death of Polly Beck put him on the run from the Beck family. Zeke Proctor was often described as a outlaw type, always armed and dangerous, and was known to have been responsible for the death of more than a few people. It was assumed that this situation would result at some point into gunplay, but no one knew exactly when or where.

Zeke Proctor's trial was set for April 15, 1872, and to reduce the possibility of foul play, the trial was moved to a small one room school house near Christie in the IndianTerritory. The single room of the school was packed with the public there to watch the proceedings and then surrounding the school were various members of both the Proctor and Beck families all armed and awaiting the verdict. Into this mix came a posse of heavily-armed Beck family supporters. They shoved their way into the schoolroom and opened fire on Zeke Proctor.

What occurred next in this week of April 1872 can only be described as a bloodbath. In the small one-room building with only a single window and one door, more than a dozen people simultaneously began shooting at each other. Miraculously Zeke Proctor survived but eleven others didn't. Members of the court met quickly the next day to find Proctor innocent of all charges before hurriedly leaving for safer locations. Due to the Beck family's desire for revenge and some vaguely worded legal issues, Zeke Proctor remained on the run for several years but later received a full pardon from President U.S. Grant.

You'll find this story and plenty more just as interesting in the research library of the Oklahoma History Center on NE 23rd Street, just east of the state capitol in Oklahoma City. Oklahoma Journeys is a production of the Oklahoma History Center, dedicated to the collection, preservation, and sharing of our state's past. I'm Michael Dean.