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William H. Evans. If there existed any imaginary boundary line between thievery and outlawry in Oklahoma’s wild west days, a little band of men known as the Swafford Gang almost obliterated it, for their operations over the Chickasaw, Choctaw, Pottawatomie and Seminole nations were marked by daring raids, holdups and probably murder. This was said to be the most daring little band of thieves that ever existed in the West, and their activities had been at white heat for about three years until one of their number was killed and two others captured on Delaware Creek, near Bromide, May 29, 1899. William H. Evans, then a posseman under Deputy United States Marshal J. H. Bridges at Tishomingo, led a party of officers in pursuit of the Swaffords, overtaking them on Delaware Creek, and the result of a running fight was the complete breaking up of the band.
The nagging of Evans at the heels of this band for weeks is important in a chronicle of the events of those stirring days. Evans had come up from Texas at the age of twenty-one and settled on a farm near Emmet, owned by Douglas H. Johnston, now governor of the Chickasaw Nation, and later establishing a ranch seven miles north of Tishomingo for Treadwell & Lucas. Thievery was rampant, and had been for years. The country was then being settled by respectable white people, and as communities grew the necessity for the elimination of the thieves became more apparent. It was this necessity that enticed Evans from a peaceful farm life to the exciting forefront of the law-enforcement life. He therefore hounded and made life generally miserable for law breakers. For a night and day he and his men had been on the trail of the Swafford band when they overtook them in a log house on Delaware Creek. Upon the approach of the officers the band mounted and fled into the timber, firing as they went. The officers returned the fire, killing Charles Hailey, a leader of the gang. This broke the organization, and Thomas Hailey and John Finley were captured. Arthur Swafford, eldest of the trio of that name, was wounded, but escaped. A year later he, in company with a noted outlaw, one Bert Casey, was killed by a sheriff of Pottawatomie County on the Canadian River, near Johnsonville. Walter and Oscar Swafford later were arrested and convicted, and thus ended the depredations of this band of outlaws.
Another event of the life of Mr. Evans illustrates the character of what was commonly accepted as justice in the early days of the Chickasaw Nation. A man known as “One-Eyed Ward,” who lived near Madill, killed a man named Harkey at Oakland. Evans, who at that time was serving as a deputy under United States Marshal Ben H. Colbert, arrested Ward and confined - him in the United States prison at Tishomingo. A few weeks later Ward announced his intention of making bond. Feeling was high against him and Evans advised him to remain in jail, saying he was sure to be assassinated. However, Ward was obdurate, and he made bond, returning to Madill. Three days later in the afternoon, while he was driving toward Oakland with R. J. Toppey, both men were shot from ambush and killed. Although an effort was made to locate the assassins, it was unsuccessful, and many pioneers in this section looked placidly upon the matter, in quiet intimation that the score was settled.
During his career as a United States officer Mr. Evans picked up the bodies of thirteen dead men, but he saw only three killed. He made twenty-six arrests for murder in four years. He recovered stolen horses over a territory extending as far north as Henryetta and as far south as Lindale, Texas, a distance of 200 miles from his headquarters, failing to recover only one stolen horse. At that time his duties were more than those of a county sheriff and all his deputies today.
Mr. Evans was born in Surry County, North Carolina, in 1872, and is a son of Thomas and Mary (Sparker) Evans. His father, who was a blacksmith, made wagons and shod mules for Confederate soldiers at Hillsville, Virginia, during the Civil war, returning after the war to North Carolina where he remained until 1885 and then moved to Fannin County, Texas. He died there at the age of seventy-seven, and his widow still lives at the age of eighty-two. She weighs 172 pounds, the identical weight she bore at the age of eighteen.
There are eighty-two children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren in the Evans family.
Mr. Evans began life as a farmer boy and attended the common schools of North Carolina and Texas. When he was twenty-one he came to the Indian Territory, where he did farm and ranch work until he entered official life. He served as an officer under Deputy United States Marshal J. H. Bridges, United States Marshal Ben H. Colbert and United States Marshal G. A. Porter. He settled in Madill in 1902, and a few years later entered the livery business. In 1907 he ran for sheriff of Marshall County on the democratic ticket, and was defeated for the nomination by 176 votes. A year later he was appointed special agent to Attorney General Charles West, and still later he served fourteen months in the secret service department in Oklahoma City, under Mayor Henry M. Scales. In 1911 he entered the real estate and farm loan business in Madill.
Mr. Evans was married March 27, 1901, to Miss Mary C. Raper, a niece of Marcus Raper, founder of the Town of San Marcos, Texas. They have four children, Irene, Douglas H., Murlin and Raymond. Mr. Evans has four brothers and two sisters. Mrs. J. N. Evans of Denison, Texas, is the wife of an engineer who has been in the service of the Katy Railroad for twenty years. Mrs. T. H. Benton is the wife of a farmer at Madill. James W. Evans is a retired claim agent for the Santa Fe Railroad Company, whose service continued over a period of twenty-six years. T. E. Evans is a farmer at Chillicothe, Texas. G. W. Evans is a farmer at El Centro, California. M. W. Evans is a real estate dealer at Lake Arthur, New Mexico.
Mr. Evans is a member of the Methodist Church, and his fraternal connections’ are with the Masonic order. He is a member of the Madill Board of Education, the Madill Commercial Club, the Madill United Charities Association, and the Madill Good Roads Club, all of which have a generous share in his attention. The family home is in Madill.