The Century Chest Collection

Medal and Historical Account of Indian Territory at the time of the Opening

(Transcribed from the original)


the kindness of the English Lutheran
City, and at their invitation, I deposit
in their "Century Chest", in this year 1913,
life of my brother George E. Thornton, who was
deputy U.S. Marshal of Indian Territory. I also herewith deposit with them for you a gold star which a group of his friends in that city presented to him for bravery about the year 1890.

It seems fitting that this record and star should be given you for preservation since they are a part of your own history and bear witness of a man who for years stood between your people and border ruffianism and lawlessness, and who finally gave his life in the performance of his perilous duty. He who made this sacrifice was one of your earliest adopted sons, and he lived, worked and died hoping that in some day, perhaps in yours, social justice and order would be so far advanced that violence would give place to that brotherhood for which men yearn. He enforced the law as it was, but looked forward to the law as it ought to be.

George Edwin Thornton was born in Peoria, Illinois in 1858 of the union of William Augustus Thornton and Elizabeth Mueller Thornton. His paternal grandparents were Elihu Thornton and Mercy Williams, and those on his mother's side, Adam Mueller and Sarah Middleton.

As a youth of fourteen he launched forth for himself going to Chicago, Illinois. Applying himself industriously he devoted a considerable portion of his savings to the help of his parents and younger brothers and sisters at the family home in Peoria, for his father, a Mexican war veteran, did not enjoy the best of health. Next the spirit of youth and adventure carried him westward and he became a prospector and miner in Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Old Mexico, and was also a peace officer in New Mexico and Arizona during Indian troubles. For a time also he herded cattle on the Pecos river in Texas, and in 1887 he took up permanent residence in Oklahoma, where he built up a modest business as a government freighter, serving also as deputy U.S. Marshal. He also held the first franchise with Oklahoma City for sprinkling the streets of the town but using the same wagons for a fire department which he operated without money or price whenever a fire broke out anywhere within reach of his volunteer fire department.

He had built a small home on the open prairie, and in 1889, when Oklahoma territory was thrown open for settlement, one minute after the hour of noon on opening day, while the great body of land and opportunity hunters were still at the territory boundary line, he staked the 160 acres about his home as a regulation homestead, but such was the land hunger of the people at this time and such the rush and confusion, that many contesting claimants had staked Oklahoma City lots on Thornton's homestead. In 1891 this tract had become a part of the site of South Oklahoma City. A memorable contest ensued, which was appealed from court to court until the last decision in the case was made by the Department of the Interior, ruling that even though Thornton as a government officer was properly in the territory before its opening, yet that this very advantage disqualified him as a homesteader. It was his intention to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, but on October 29th, 1891, while attempting the arrest of some outlaw Creek Indians, near the Sac and Fox Indian agency, he was shot.

I was only sixteen at the time of this tragedy and I only remember its victim as a boy remembers an elder brother. I recall his occasional trips to the old home in Peoria, his thoughtfulness of our parents, the love he inspired in his brothers, and sisters, and his concern that the younger ones should make the most of themselves. But youth though I was, whenever he came to visit us, I could see that he brought with him a breath of the free, rugged spirit of the open West.

George Thornton was a plain nature-taught man of the prairies and mountains made strong by lessons learned at first hand. He could organize a pack train and conduct it hundreds of miles from railroad or settlement through country infested by Indian and white desperadoes; he could go alone on dangerous trips after dangerous men; he could camp alone amid the wild creatures in mountain solitudes. Yet in spite of years as frontierman, prospector and scout, in his heart he cherished high ideals of which he said little but thought much. The blood of Roger Williams, the founder and first Governor of the State of Rhode Island, flowed in his veins. In his lonely life, taught by antipathy, at the sight of some of the excesses of the west, he achieved a certain austerity which won men to him, and fitted him for his time and the work he did.

As the youngest of our family I needed him as a boy, left early motherless one needs the elder brother, but he was taken away. I find consolation, however, in a belief which he also held and which helped to make him what he was – a belief which he expressed in a letter to our eldest brother William: "The separations caused by death are only temporary, and the consolations of religion and reason teach that we shall meet again in a better and purer world than this. In the meantime we must endeavor to live up to those principles of life which were taught us by our dear mother, so that if the departed do view the actions of the living she can have no cause to suffer for our conduct."

For further side lights on the character of George Thornton, and reasons why his memory should be cherished by Oklahoma, I offer the following quotations from the press of his time:

"Marshal George E. Thornton left for Washington, D.C. Wednesday in the interests of his candidacy for the marshalship of the new Territory. Oklahoma throws her moccasin after Thornton for luck. The press, the people, the Territorial Republican Central Committee indorse him for his appointment. If President Harrison respects the wishes of a vast majority of the 70,000 citizens of the Beautiful Land, he will make George Thornton our first marshal. Thornton represents a type of manhood peculiarly western. Rugged honesty, faithful adherence to duty, and cool courage are his three chief virtues. The greater part of his life has been passes along the Mexican border in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona as a prospector, and much of the time deputy U. S. Marshal and sheriff's posseman. He knows how to deal with the "bad man" of the frontier. His official duties have thrown him in contact with some of the most desperate characters of the southwest. It is questionable if Thornton knows what fear is. To him the people of Oklahoma City owe the remarkable security of the settlement. His vigilance, courage and honesty are honored by us all. His hands were untainted by bribes freely offered by men of influence and means who sought his services and protection in the dishonest acquirement of town lots. A feeling of thankfulness and pride will pervade Oklahoma in the event of Thornton's appointment as marshal. We have weighed him in the balance and he is not wanting in any of the qualifications desired."
---Oklahoma Chief.

"George E. Thornton is the unqualified choice of the Republicans of Oklahoma City for U.S. Marshal. He deserves his honor by his thorough work at the opening of the territory. There is no opposition to his appointment arising from this part of the territory. *** He is able and deserving and the honors, if bestowed upon him will be placed where they belong. The good he has done for our city will long be held in grateful remembrance by the good people of our town and vicinity."
---Oklahoma Times.

"The excellence of the appointment of George E. Thornton as marshal of Oklahoma territory, if made, is admitted by every newspaper in Oklahoma, with but one or two exceptions. Mr. Thornton is the only man in Oklahoma whose appointment would give almost universal satisfaction, and the appointment of an outsider would be very distasteful to the people."
---Kingfisher New World.

Following are some of the quotations which appeared after the death of the deputy marshal:

"Word reached this city yesterday that Marshal George E. Thornton had been killed while attempting to arrest three Creek Indian desperadoes. A little later in the day, his posseman, arrived and confirmed the report. At 4:30 o'clock the body arrived from Guthrie, having been carried there from the scene of the killing, eleven miles east of the Sac agency.

"Marshal Thornton and his posseman left this city Tuesday with warrants for the arrest of Capt. Willis for horse stealing; Sam Lasley for horse stealing and another Indian, name unknown, for the murder of another Indian on Quapaw last winter. They were all Creeks and all resided in the same vicinity eleven miles east of the Sac agency. Thornton and his posseman left the Sac agency about 12 o'clock Thursday night and rode out to Capt. Willie's place, reaching there about 5 o'clock. The two Marshals separated and rode around the house meeting again at the rear door. They dismounted and going to the door Thornton pushed it open and both stepped quickly inside with drawn revolvers. A match was struck and nobody discovered except a squaw and several children. The woman motioned North giving the Marshals to understand that Capt. Willie had gone north. The went out and rode fifty yards south to an empty building which was entered and searched, a match being struck to afford light.

"Nobody being found there they again mounted and started southeast toward Sam Lasley's. When within seventy-five yards of the buildings three shots were fired from ahead of them. The fire was returned, and the horses were spurred up to within twenty yards of the Indians, two more shots being fired by each of the marshals while moving up. Both dismounted and continued firing, their assailants still keeping up a steady fire from the corner of the house, corner of the stable and directly in front in the timber

"Thornton had fired three or four shots when he dropped over resting his hand on his knee and said, "Fred, I am sick." He raised up and fired another shot and then sank back on the ground. The Indians seemed to have run out of ammunition and ceased firing about the same time. Thornton's life had already departed, although less than a minute had elapsed since he had been shot.

"An examination showed that the ball had entered the right side under the right arm, the arm having been raised at the time, and ranging back and downward passes out below the left shoulder blade.

"It was quite dark when the fight occurred, and the location of the assailants could be determined only by the flashes and the reports.

"Commissioner Lee Patrick sent the remains to Guthrie. At Guthrie the Odd Fellows and Knights of Pythias took charge of the remains and prepared them for shipment. At the depot here fully 1,000 people gathered to meet the remains. They were carried to Meacham's undertaking establishment, where more than 1,000 people viewed them."
---Oklahoma City Times-Journal.

"In the death of George Thornton this territory loses an officer, unsurpassed in every quality of his profession. Brave as human courage can build heroes; true as the highest sense of honor can make men; free as a child from every vice; gentle as a woman in every act, he lived an unsullied life and met an unfeared death. His name was a synonym for justice and law and his life a faithful service for their upholding. In the future history of Oklahoma no name will stand higher and no memory beyond that of George Thornton."
---Oklahoma City Gazette.

"George E. Thornton is dead. When a brave, pure, strong man falls at his post of duty, done to death of assassination skulking in dark places and striking with the hidden hand of the coward, it is fitting that we bare and bow our heads in momentary reverence and regret, while our hearts say silent prayer for the repose of the white soul fled. It is fitting that the CHIEFTAIN lay this passing tribute upon the fresh-heaped grave of this one of God's humble noblemen—a melancholy pleasure which friendship owes the departed.

"George Thornton was our friend. Living, we loved him; dead, we hold his honored memory sacred. Of his life, years agone, we know little; of his family connections, nothing. It is enough to know the man.

"The murdered man, whose breast never felt the heart flutterings of physical fear, was gentle and modest as a girl. Charitable to a fault, too proud to stoop to mercenary groveling, too honest to soil his clean palms with unclean gold, he died poor. Here was man whose overruling principle and monitor was duty to the death. George Thornton would have ridden alone into the deadly cross-fire at Balaklava, without a tremor, without a mental prayer, without a blanching of his swarthy face. Never foolhardy, always cautious to a degree consistent with circumstances, he had a coolness in extreme peril which would almost pass for recklessness. Physically he was built of steel, tempered by a life of exposure and outfoor (sic) exercise. The grip of his hand was something fearful. He had none of the petty vices of mankind. He never drank intoxicants, used tobacco or gambled, and his mode of life was simple to frugality. His constitution seemed impervious to the elements and he rarely knew a day's sickness. There was that in his make-up which made his enemies respect him and calumny hide its hideous head in his presence. Sensitive to an unwonted degree, he was an implacable hater when wronged or betrayed, and policy never made him play the hypocrite.

"He could look his maligners squarely in the eye and brand the lie upon their foreheads. He never allowed the breath of slander to dim the lustre of his honor. His heart was full of the religion of humanity. There was no selfishness in his nature. What others wantonly or basely tore down, this simple trust built up again in his heart.

"As an officer dealing with criminals of the most dangerous type, Marshal Thornton has few peers in the Indian Territory service. He was a born detective, crafty and dogged in pursuit, the dread of desperadoes and lawbreakers. Throughout the length and breadth of Oklahoma his name had become synonymous with law and order. During the turbulent times in Oklahoma City's early history, he stood alone between public peace and bloody riot. This man, by a wave of his hand and a word, could do more toward quelling the gathering storm than Captain Stiles and a hundred bayonets. He was respected so by the love and fear of the populace that his control over them was marvelous.

"He was merciful always and courteous in his treatment of hardened criminals whose hearts were black with hatred and muttered threats against their intrepid captor, but he never allowed his magnanimity to relax his vigilance for one moment. His respect for fair play was so great that he was prone to take grave chances in giving hunted outlaws an "even break" for their lives He lived in constant peril of assassination.

"A nature like George Thornton's had no business in the cess pool of politics. He never knew the rudiments of political cunning. We say it here, and sorrowfully, that this was his weakness. Always his political adviser and supporter, we have a right to speak thus. He had a vanity, and ambition which could never be gratified and which always rankled in his bosom. Oklahoma, after its organization, owed him an office for which he was pre-eminently qualified. He became an office seeker, urged on by zealous friends. He was a factionist, uncompromising and indefatigable as a fight. Oklahoma was torn by factions and scourged with office seekers. Knowing nothing of machine politics, too proud and pure to drag himself in the slime, he was sacrificed on the altar of party, by the hands of his friends.
"George Thornton was quiet, almost taciturn in disposition, especially in public. He hated a braggart. A desperate man, having passed much of his life on the wild frontier, the principal in many bloody encounters, he detested the affection in dress and manner common to border bullies. His nature had received deeply the impress of his vocation. For years he was a prospector in New Mexico and a cow-puncher in Texas. The solitude, the hardships, the hazardous emergencies of his life had moulded his nature into a rugged nobility, a magnificent manhood. Under the silent stars, by the flickering camp-fire, in scorching sun a chilling frost, in rain and tempest action and repose, he became a philosopher. Thoughtful, a great reader, a student of human nature, a searcher for truth, a champion of right, this plain, blunt man dwelt close to nature and to God. There was more true chivalry in his being than ever inspired the knights of song and story. He made an ideal of woman, holy as Madonna, faithful as Ruth, chaste as Lucretia. Never married, never a lover, almost bashful in his modesty, he held the honor of the sex sacred as a dead mother's memory and dearer than life. To speak lightly of virtue was to incur his marked displeasure; to insult woman was to court his vengeance. Even to the fallen and abandoned he was singularly considerate.

"He was not a religious man, in the orthodox sense, though a student of the bible. He was hardly an agnostic, never an infidel. There were quaint superstitions hidden in his heart. His life was influenced by presentiments and dreams. He felt he was to die on this his last scout. He went to a minister of the gospel and told him his forebodings, requesting that he preach his funeral sermon, even selecting the text himself. Then this great, undaunted heart, with duty leading on as a will-o-the-wisp over a haunted grave, went solemnly forth to meet the somber spectre, death.

"The picture is before us now, horrible as Eugene Aram's dream, awful as a creation of Dante. Forth through the chill dark pall of night he rides, now speaking low words of cheer and courage to his companion in danger, now patting the nervous neck of dear of "Billy", his faithful little horse. The shadowy trees along the trail are angry wraiths; the wind that bites his cheek is dank and dismal as though blowing over a cemetery; the dew on his saddle horn is as drops of blood; the pitying stars seem beckoning him to immortality. Suddenly, without warning, comes a flash of fire, a report, the sickening music of a bullet near his face. Another and another, from three directions. Dismounting, the officers gave fire for fire, their aim uncertain, the emergency desperate. Fate had at last moulded a bullet for George Thornton's breast. It struck him blindly, at haphazard, and he fell. "Fred, I'm sick," he murmured simply, fired as the spirit winged its flight into the unknown, and died with smoking gun. Under the paling light of the stars, in the gray, scarcely defined dawn, a pale, set face, homely but lovely in its nobility of soul, looks mute reproaches at remorseless death. Somewhere, out in the infinite tomorrow, a beautiful spirit mingles with the kindred dead. Ah, it is pitiful---horrible.

"God rest you, George Thornton. This world sees your like but rarely. The generality of men were not cast in your heroic mould, but it does us good to gaze on such examples, even though they reproach our shortcomings and make us feel our depravity. We are glad to have known and loved you---proud to this feebly honor your noble memory."---Chickasaw Chieftain, Ardmore

"George Thornton was a notable man. Under different circumstances of rearing and education he would have been a very distinguished man. He was a man of unusual intellectual force and of prodigious moral force. He was a born leader and commander. His native strength of character and power of will attached man to him and made them do his bidding.

"A child of the frontier, his blood was full of its simple and rugged strength. He loved the storm and the tempest, the solitude of the forest, the wild brakes of the mountains. A pioneer by nature and by practice he preferred the free and somewhat rude society of the newest west to the amenities of the older civilizations. But while in his simple and strong personality he was an ideal product of the frontier, he was free from its vices. The corrupting waves of depravity and demoralization that carry so many men in new communities to ruin, swept against him in vain. No vicious habit found lodgement in him.

"As an officer he knew not fear. Indeed he knew not prudence. He loved danger and he courted it. His dearest pleasure was to be hot on the trail of some desperate malefactor. The more perilous the enterprise, the greater the zest with which he undertook it. He would not turn his back on danger to save his life. The last time of peril came and as usual he strode straight into its arms with unfaltering front. And so he died.

"He had his faults. We all have. But in the death of George Thornton the world loses a pure, simple-hearted, brave and heroic man."---Oklahoma City Times-Journal.

"All that was mortal of poor George Thornton was shipped to Peoria yesterday while the assembled hundreds united their voices in singing the Doxology as the train slowly steamed away from the station bearing the body of as brave and as faithful an officer as ever gave up his life in the service of his country.

"The funeral ceremonies that preceded the shipment of the body were probably the most impressive that ever occurred in Oklahoma City. From the time of its arrival from Guthrie Saturday afternoon the body laid in state at Meacham's undertaking establishment and nearly every citizen of Oklahoma embraced the opportunity of looking for the last time upon the features of the dead officer.

"The funeral services were announced to take place at the Baptist church Sunday morning at 11 o'clock but long before that hour the edifice was crowed, and many were obliged to remain standing throughout the service.

"It was a few minutes after 11 o'clock when the head of the funeral cortege filed into the church, preceded by Rev. L.C. Goodrich and Undertaker Meacham. Then followed the corpse enclosed in a handsome black broadcloth casket trimmed in silver and borne by Messrs. Wood, Pimm, Bayles, M.S. Miller, Mitchel and Gates. Eight deputy marshals followed the remains as honorary pall-bearers. The Knights of Pythias, 25 strong came next, the Odd Fellows, 40 strong, bringing up the rear. The casket was deposited carefully in front of the pulpit which was draped in deep black caught up with white satin bows and the pall-bearers and members of the fraternal orders took the seats which had been reserved for them in the center of the church.

"The impressive hush which followed was broken by the soft chanting of the hymn, "Beyond the Sowing and the Reaping," by the quintette composed of Mrs. Chapell, Miss Adah Curnutt, W.E. Scott, A.C.Scott and Otto G. Bekemeyer. When the last strains of the hymn died away Rev. Nichols, pastor of the Baptist church read a portion of the scriptures which was followed by the hymn, "I'm But a Stranger Here," by the quintette.

"Rev. Goodrich, pastor of the Christian Church, Delivered the sermon, which was more of a practical lecture upon real Christianity drawn from the moral and upright character of the dead officer and in respect for whose memory the vast audience had assembled. It was only a few days before he met his death that the dead officer met the minister, and probably he had then some premonition that life was soon to be taken away from him, for he earnestly requested, in the event of his death, that Rev. Goodrich preach his funeral sermon from the text' "But man dieth, and wasteth away; yea, man giveth up the ghost, and where is he:"
---Oklahoma City Journal.

The remains of George E. Thornton were laid beside those of his mother in Springdale cemetery, Peoria, Illinois. His surviving brothers and sisters at this writing are: Mrs. Lina A. Peppers, Oklahoma City; Oliver C. Thornton, Portland, Ore.; Roger W. Thornton, Peoria, Ill.; and Walter M. Thornton, Seattle, Washington.
Respectfully submitted,
Walter M. Thornton. (Signature)
Seattle, Washington.
April 22, 1913

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