Friday, June 23, 2017

The Blackwell Shootout 1896

On the morning of December 4th, 1896, a six man posse made up of one Oklahoma lawman and five local citizens cornered two suspected outlaws at what they believed was their hideout near Blackwell, Oklahoma. What followed would be a shootout that killed suspect Dick Ainsley, and wounded his partner Ben Cravens. The location was about three and one half miles northwest of town.

On November 27th, 1896, Dick Ainsley and Ben Cravens rode into Blackwell wanting to purchase supplies. It is also believed that the two petty criminals were there to case the Blackwell's bank. It was believed that they intended to rob the bank.

After picking up supplies, the two then left town and returned to where they were staying which was a small one-room shack next to a wooded ravine called Lost Creek just a few miles out of town. Lost Creek was dry and there shack lacked a well. So Cravens went to ask their neighbor, Bert Benjamin, for water. 

While getting water, Cravens asked Benjamin questions about the bank. Those questions made Benjamin suspect their intentions for being in the area. Benjamin is said to have answered Cravens questions only so far and no more. After his conversation with Cravens, he went to town to inform the local law about what he suspected.

Sheriff's deputy J. R. Cox listened to what Benjamin had to say. Cox was certain that Ainsley and Cravens were responsible for a recent robbery of a store in the town of Hewins, Kansas, about 80 miles away.  But even though that was the case, instead of organizing a posse immediately, he told Benjamin to go home and report back to him if he saw anything more of two -- especially if they act more suspicious.

On December 3rd, 1896, after sighting Ainsley and Cravens again, Benjamin reported back to Cox, who then raised a posse. His posse consisted of six men, himself, and Alfred O. Lund, Bill Sherr, John Hunter, Jay McClain, and Richard Clarke.

Dick Ainsley and Ben Cravens were suspected of cattle rustling, horse thief, and other assorted crimes including being highwaymen and robbing a store in a neighboring town. During the robbery of the Tweedy store, they made off with $50.00 in cash and $300.00 in merchandise, including some shirts that cost $1.40 each.

Of course cattle rustling alone could get a man hanged back in the day. One story on the two outlaws says that they both had reputations as gunmen, real bad desperadoes, men with a price on their heads. Another story says not much was known about either of them before the Blackwell Shootout. Fact is, more than likely, they really were just petty thieves.

Remember Bert Benjamin reported that Cravens asked him a number of questions about the inside of the Blackwell bank. Why Cravens did that instead of just going over to the bank to check it out for himself, no one knows, or no one thought to ask Bert Benjamin. See, it was Benjamin that got the ball rolling concerning Ainsley and Cravens.

Others who have written about this event say that Dick Ainsley went by the alias of "Buck McGregg" as well as the alias "Diamond Dick". They say his latter alias was because Ainsley wore a diamond ring, and had three of his fingers shot off during a gunfight with a group of dozen or more lawmen in Lincoln County. Of course, I don't know how anyone knows this since no one ever heard of those two before their encounter that December of 1896 in Blackwell.

Blackwell was established in 1893 and sits in Kay County. County Sheriff's Deputy J. R. Cox listened to what Bert Benjamin reported and was certain that Dick Ainsley and Ben Cravens were the outlaws responsible for a string of recent robberies. Deputy Cox also thought that Dick Ainsley was in reality ex-Doolin Gang member "Dynamite Dick" Clifton. 

Since the men were Bert Benjamin's neighbors, there was a real good possibility that he would see them again. And frankly, that's especially true if Ainsley and Cravens got thirsty again and needed to ask Benjamin for more water.

Well, on December 3rd, 1896, Benjamin returns to town and reports back to Cox that he saw Ainsley and Cravens again. What were they doing? Was it something suspicious? Did they break a law? No one knows! The story only says that upon hearing that Benjamin sighted the two men, that that was enough for Deputy Cox to raise a posse to join him on his hunt. Cox was eager because he thought Ainsley was someone else.

It's said that Alfred Lund became part of the posse because he had shown an interest in law enforcement. Lund was said to have campaigned to be city marshal and the town constable before that but was was beaten in past elections. Lund was the owner of a livery stable, and that the presence of such outlaws as Ainsley and Cravens gave him an opportunity to pursue a career in law enforcement without having to be elected. 

So now the Blackwell posse rides out and takes up positions along a riverbank just outside of town. They do this so that they could ambush Ainsley and Cravens if they ride into town. Yes, they are "lying in wait" to kill them even though the two hadn't done anything that anyone knows of for sure. 

Of course then here comes Bert Benjamin who finds the posse and tells Deputy Cox that Ainsley and Cravens are actually asleep at their cabin. So now, because Cox believes that there is now a risk of civilians being harmed in the event of a gunfight near the town, he decides to go to their cabin. So Deputy Cox asked Benjamin to lead him and his posse to where they're sleeping. 

It's now about midnight when the posse reaches the cabin where Ainsley and Cravens are sleeping. The posse then moves as stealthy as possible in the dark to a wooded area near a ravine. Believe it or not, this takes them close to three hours. It is about 3:00 am, on December 4, 1896, when the posse had finally made it to the wooded ravine. But then, they find out that Ainsley and Cravens had a dog tied out in front.

The dog starts barking and since Cox figures surprise is no long going to happen, he decided to split his men up to surround the place and wait until daylight to demand a surrender. So with that, Lund, Benjamin, Sherr and McClain then move through the brush in the dark to try to cover the front door and window of the shack. Deputy Cox, Hunter, and Clarke went around back to watch the back of the one room cabin and a small barn. Ainsley and Cravens had their horses in the barn. 

So now, the posse has decided to wait until sunrise to either arrest them or shoot them. For what, who knows? I still haven't figured out what Ainsley and Craven did, that is other than Cox thinking Ainsley was someone else who is wanted -- and maybe, maybe, they robbed a store in another town. 

Dick Ainsley is said to be the first of the two to wake and head outside to wash up and heed nature's call. He's the first to be spotted by the posse. Ainsley is seen going outside the front door with a Winchester rifle in his hands. He's headed to a water barrel to wash his face after waking up. The posse sees him lean his rifle up against the cabin while he washes his face. Then a moment later, Ben Cravens shows up at the front door coming out of their cabin. He too has a rifle. 

Friends, having rifles in itself does not mean anything. They could have been going hunting for meat. But that wasn't what Deputy Cox was thinking. To me, Deputy Cox saw what he wanted to see. He saw members of the Wild Bunch. He saw two badmen. He saw two armed killers. 

When Cox saw both men, he saw it as the chance that he was waiting for. So he shouts, "You're surrounded, throw up your hands!" 

In that instant, the two startled men raise their rifles. Some say they shot first, other's say Bert Benjamin shot first. Either way, with that shot all Hell breaks loose. Immediately three of the posse members turn and run. That includes Bert Benjamin. He instigated the whole fiasco and fired both barrels from his shotgun before turning and running home in fear. Sherr and McClain also skedaddles and run home.   

Alfred Lund is now on his own. He's alone at his position in front of the cabin. He watches as Ben Cravens is the first to be hit from fire coming from the direction of Deputy Cox and posse member Richard Clarke. Cravens was running back into the cabin and is hit with a rifle bullet that breaks his collar bone. It must have been Cox who shot Cravens because Clarke is armed with a shotgun as most of the posse members were that day. 

Lund then spots Ainsley's rifle barrel protruding out from behind the corner of the cabin. Before Ainsley could fire, Lund opens fire with his rifle which gets Ainsley to retreat to some cottonwood trees in the dry creek. Ainsley takes cover behind some trees and actually puts his rifle down to see who's shooting at them. 

While Ainsley is hunkered down taking cover, Lund comes around and finds Ainsley who instinctively reaches for his rifle. Lund sees this and shots Ainsley in the chest. It's said that the bullet that hit Ainsley passed straight through his body and actually struck and killed a cow about fifty yards further up the ravine. I don't know about that cow story, but Ainsley is mortally wounded and flat on the ground. 

While this is going on, Cox and Clarke were going after Ben Cravens. He was trying to escape through some tall grass on the eastern side of the creek. Richard Clarke shoots Cravens in the side with a load of buckshot and he fell to the ground. At this same time, Cox and the remaining posse member Clarke hears something and shoot. They hit Alfred Lund. Thankfully not killing Lund. 

Dick Ainsley is dead and Ben Cravens was badly wounded. Both are now in custody. Deputy Cox sent wounded Alfred Lund into Blackwell to telephone his superior, Sheriff H. C. Master, the county attorney, Dave Weir, and the coroner from Ponca City. 

Ainsley's body was taken to the Blackwell Hotel, and Cravens was held in a third-story room of the same building. During the interrogation of Ben Cravens, he didn't give them any information that would link he or his dead partner to any crime. All he does say is that his partner's name was Dick Ainsley.  

For some reason, it's said that Cox took this as confirming his suspicion that Dick Ainsley was indeed the "Dynamite Dick" Clifton. Especially since Clifton, who was a member of the Wild Bunch, was also missing three fingers. 

Because of the confusion caused by Deputy Cox, the U.S. Marshals office in Guthrie was informed and Marshal Evett Dumas Nix took five Deputies Marshals to Blackwell to see if they indeed killed Clifton. One of men that Marshal Nix took with him was Frank M. Canton.

As soon as they arrive in Blackwell, the U.S. Marshals were immediately taken to see Dick Ainsley's body. Marshal Nix looked at Ainsley and said, "I don't know this man, he isn't Dan Clifton."

After they identified Ainsley as not being Clifton, the Marshals went to see Ben Cravens. During their interview, Cravens began coughing up blood. Marshal Canton asked if there was anything that could be done?

Cravens responded, saying: "Yes, get my father here because I'm real bad and the doctors said I might not make it." Marshal Canton agreed and Cravens' father arrived from Iowa two days later. But surprisingly, Cravens survived his wounds. 

Though Cox made a horrible mistake which cost a man his life, people who viewed Ainsley's corpse claimed that he still was an outlaw. Some gave him the name "Skeeter Dick", while others said he must be "Three Fingered Dick". Then again, others said he must have been an outlaw since the law didn't make mistakes like that. As funny as it sounds, it is said that Deputy Cox insisted that he was Dynamite Dick, even after Ainsley's mother arrived in Blackwell, escorted by two Lincoln County sheriffs, and claimed the body of her son to take him home for burial.

As for the real "Dynamite Dick" Clifton? Fact is, Charles Daniel "Dynamite Dick" Clifton was a member of Bill Doolin's Wild Bunch and took part in numerous robberies committed by that gang. He was killed by U.S. Marshals near Checotah about a year later on November 7th, 1897.

As for Ben Cravens? Well, that's for next time.

Tom Correa


  1. not much has changed in a hundred years

  2. Ben Cravens was my great Uncle. He had a $10,000 bounty on him at one time and broke out of prisons twice, killing guards each time. He was captured and sentenced to a long prison term and died in 1948. I could be mistaken on the date.


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