Monday, June 26, 2017

Ben Cravens -- After The Blackwell Shootout

Ben Cravens
In my last article, The Blackwell Shootout 1896, we talked about how Dick Ainsley and Ben Cravens were shot up because they robbed a store in a nearby town -- and that Ainsley was thought to be someone else.

Prior to the Blackwell Shootout, all that's known about Ben Cravens is that he was born Benjamin Crede Cravens around 1864. While a teenager, it's said he wrecked havoc on the schoolhouse he attended. He was arrested and jailed, but escaped and ran away to Missouri. And yes, that would be his first escape with many more to come from jails and prisons.

In 1890, supposedly he drifted to Chatauqua County, Kansas, where he is said to have found stealing much more profitable than working a job making wages. One of the things he was known for at the time was that he joined a band of horse thieves. And believe it or not, after stealing horse, he worked as a bootlegger in southern Kansas counties. In fact, he was known to bootleg whiskey to the Osage, Kaw, Otoe, Ponca and Pawnee Indians in the Cherokee Outlet.

He was arrested in December of 1894 for bootlegging and selling whiskey to Indians and jailed at Guthrie, Oklahoma. And believe it or not, he escape on July 5th, 1896. But this time with four other prisoners including Dick Ainsley. And yes, soon he and Ainsley were in Kansas stealing cattle.

In the spring of 1896, they needed cash and supplies. So they broke into the store and residence of Ira Stout in Elgin, Kansas. They also robbed the store of P.W. Craig in Waunette, Kansas. After that they robbed the "Hopper and Tweedy" store in Hewins, Kansas. By November 18th, 1896, the two were out of cash and returned again rob P.W. Craig’s store in Waunette and the "Hopper and Tweedy" store in Hewins. During these robberies, one of the two stole a black horse in the process.

As I stated in the other article, the robbery of the Tweedy store netted the two $50.00 in cash and $300.00 in merchandise, including some shirts at $1.40 each. So yes, moving up to bank robbery in Blackwell, Oklahoma, would have definitely been moving up to the big time for the both.

Sadly for them, but luckily for Blackwell, they were shot and captured. After Dick Ainsley was shoot dead and positively identified by U.S. Marshals as not being the outlaw that Sheriff Deputy Cox thought he was, Ben Cravens was taken back to Kansas under the custody of U.S, Deputy Marshal Powell. That was December.

By January of 1897, Cravens was sentenced to 20 years at the Kansas State Penitentiary in Lansing. Yes, Cravens got 20 years for highway robbery near Elgin, Kansas. But believe it or not, on November 16th, 1900, Cravens escaped from Kansas State Penitentiary after using a fake gun made out of a piece of wood covered with tobacco and package foil.

Now for all of you who think this story sounds familiar. Well, it should. The infamous gangster John Dillinger used a wooden pistol to break out of a jail in Indiana in 1934. Yes, doing the same thing as Cravens. And no, I don't know if Dillinger took a page from Cravens escape book or just thought of it by himself. Either way, after his escape, Cravens loses the posse chasing him, steals a horse and is soon in the Osage Nation committing crimes.

So now Cravens escapes Lansing in 1900, he flees Kansas and heads to Indian Territory, the Osage Nation to be exact. It's said that there he reconnected with Bert Welty who he had met while they were in prison together. Six weeks later on March 18th, 1901, Cravens and Welty robbed a general store at Red Rock in Otoe Country.

Believe it or not, it is said that Cravens dressed himself to look like a farmer. And yes, Welty dressed up to look like his wife by wearing a dress and sunbonnet. Yes, that's how they held up the store. They robbed the store and the patrons. And supposedly they two stole $1,000 in cash, and took a bunch of store merchandise.

Frankly, I really would be surprised if a general store in 1901 kept $1,000 on hand. Or if what the store had on hand and what the patrons had on them amounted to $1,000. The only reason that I say that is that $1,000 in 1901 was a lot of money. In fact, $1,000 in the year 1901 is worth about $28,000 today in 2017. But with or with that amount of money, it was this robbery that through Ben Cravens into the big league of being a criminal.

During the robbery, Alvin Bateman, the store manager and assistant postmaster in Red Rock entered the store. Bateman was immediately told to put his hands up. Bateman was doing just that when Caravens and Welty saw that he had a pistol in one hand. It was then that Cravens and Welty shot Bateman several times.

The two killers escape in a wagon but when it overturned. It was then that Cravens tried to kill his partner. It's true. Cravens figuring that he can keep all of the loot and make his escape faster, he shoots Welty in the face with one barrel from his shotgun. Then he simply left him for dead, and rides off.

To the amazement of quite a few people, Welty’s injuries were not fatal and he walked around 10-15 miles to Black Bear Creek and the home of C.N. Herthington. That where Welty was was arrested. So he survived being shot in the face with a shotgun, he was arrested, and later received a life sentence in prison for the death of Bateman.

As for Cravens, he fled to the home of a friend, Isom Cunningham, just was a few miles south of Pawnee. Not knowing that Welty lived to tell the law where his no good partner was hiding out, Cravens was said to be shocked when a posse soon surrounded the house. But then, according to witnesses, "in a perfect hailstorm of bullets" Ben Cravens escapes. But no, not before he mortally wounded Deputy Sheriff Tom Johnson.

Deputy Sheriff Jack Murray later stated "The rapidity with which he (Cravens) worked his artillery was such that the firing made a continuous sheet of flame." It is said that Cravens would empty his rifle, fall to the floor, reload, came back up again and empty it again, then follow it up with his revolver.

After his getaway, the reward for "Bad Ben" Cravens went from $1,000 to $10,000. And that, well that made him one of the most wanted outlaws in the territory. Then, he simply disappeared from sight for a while.

Of course he was accused of robberies and murders in the surrounding states, but in actuality he was living in Missouri as farm hand. There he was considered a hard working recently married man. His was living under the alias Charles Maust. He and his wife worked a farm together.

But then, in Jefferson City, Missouri in November of 1908, he was sentenced to 4 years in prison for stealing either a horse or a couple of hogs. Either way, around 1911, near the time of his impending release, a barber at the penitentiary recognized Charles Maust as actually being Ben Cravens.

The barber there recognized him because the barber worked at the Kansas State Penitentiary in Lansing, Kansas, when Cravens was a prisoner there. He told his superiors. Then using the "Betillion System of Criminal Identification and his Kansas State Penitentiary records, fingerprint and photo records of the time, Charles Maust was positively identified as Ben Cravens.

Oklahoma authorities were notified of his whereabouts and Cravens was transferred to Guthrie in November of 1911. His new trial was held in Guthrie, Oklahoma. Tried and convicted for the murder of Alvin Bateman of Red Rock, Cravens maintained that he was really Charles Maust and not Ben Cravens.

So now, because Cravens refused to give his real name, the authorities began assembling witnesses who may have known him. Among the witnesses was Deputy U.S. Marshal Alfred O. Lund, who was days away from retiring. And soon, witness after witness was brought to the trial to identify Cravens. It was said to have been an "outlaw reunion" of sorts since around 50 of the nearly 200 witnesses called were known outlaws. And yes, Bert Welty was brought from his prison cell to testify in the case. He looked directly at Cravens and positively identified him. Not as Charles Maust, but as Ben Cravens.

Cravens was defended by attorney Al Jennings, who himself was a reformed outlaw who was pardoned by President Theodore Roosevelt. As amazing as it sounds, Al Jennings tried to introduce evidence to show that it has been a simple case of mistaken identity. That didn't really mater because on January 29th, 1912, Ben Cravens was sentenced to life in prison for the brutal murder of Alvin Bateman. Mostly because of Lund and Welty's testimony, Cravens was sent to the prison in Leavenworth, Kansas.

But no, that's not the end of the story. Cravens was once again in court in April of 1921. He still maintained that he was really Charles Maust, and not Ben Cravens. Then in a writ of habeous corpus presented in Kansas City, Kansas Federal Court, he maintained that he was Charles Maust and was illegally arrested and punished.

The writ also stated that Bateman's murder took place in 1901 when Oklahoma was still a U.S. territory, making the case fall under Federal Government jurisdiction. In 1907, when Oklahoma became a state, a provision was made stating all pending cases involving felonies in the Indian Territory should be tried by the new Oklahoma state courts. Cravens was tried in a Federal Court in Guthrie in 1908. His petition read that he should have been tried under state laws and not federal. So while he thought he was going to get out on a technicality, that didn't work and he stayed in prison when his petition was denied on April 6, 1921.

By the 1930s, his health began to fail. Because he didn't seem to have long to live, on October 17th, 1936, he was transferred to the Medical Center for Federal Prisoners in Springfield, Missouri. Then after spending an additional eleven years in prison, he was finally paroled in 1947. Yes, paroled after killing a man. So if you're wondering, yes it even took place back then.

Three years later, on September 19th, 1950, he finally died of old age. And believe it or not, it's said that even up to the time of his death, he still maintained that he was Charles Maust and not Ben Cravens.

If you remember from my first article The Blackwell Shootout 1896, I mentioned that Dick Ainsley and Ben Cravens were thought to be outlaws planning to rob the Blackwell bank.  I also talked about how Sheriff's Deputy Cox formed a posse. Alfred Lund was part of the deputized posse that initially went after Dick Ainsley and Ben Cravens.

After that shootout, Alfred Lund later served as a Deputy U.S. Marshal. He then became a Special Officer for the Santa Fe Railroad. That lasted for 12 years, before taking on the job of a Detective for the Santa Fe Railroad stating in 1913. He stayed in that position until 1921. On April 23rd, 1946, Marshal Alfred O. Lund died at the age 79.

And as for the last bit of trivia regarding this story, it is said that Alfred O. Lund's involvement in Ben Cravens' final conviction means that Lund is the first lawman in Oklahoma history to have both begun and ended his career confronting the very same criminal. Imagine that.

Tom Correa

1 comment:

  1. Ben Cravens was my great Uncle, my grandmother talked about him to me when I was a kid. He was hiding from the law when her and grandad were first married in Missouri.


Thank you for your comment.