Monday, January 18, 2021

Sheriff Jessee "De-hn-yah" Sunday 1897

Sheriff Jessee "De-hn-yah" Sunday and wife Alice Elsey Hair 

Dear Friends,

Every once in a while, I'll hear a story that has an ending that I really didn't expect for one reason or another. Well, this is one of those stories. It has to do with the death of a Cherokee Nation lawman.

Jessee "De-hn-yah" Sunday was born sometime in 1853 in the Indian Territory. He lived to the age of either 43 or 44 before being killed on September 21st, 1897. While I've been unable to determine how long he was the local Sheriff of the Saline District, Cherokee Nation, Indian Territory, I've found out Sheriff Jesse Sunday is buried in his family plot in the Elm Grove Cemetery in Rose, Oklahoma, located in Mayes County.

According to the Oklahoma Law Enforcement Memorial: 

Jesse “Jess” Sunday - Sheriff

Jess Sunday was just completing a term as Sheriff of Saline District, and his half-brother, Dave Ridge, had been elected to take his place. 

About noon on Sunday, September 20, 1897, Sheriff-elect Dave Ridge was on his way to the Baggett store to pick up some items his wife had sent him for. Ridge ran into some friends and had several drinks with them. Realizing that it was late, about 6:00 p.m., and he still needed to get the items from the store, Ridge headed over to the Baggett store, which was closed. 

Desperate to get the items for his wife, he began banging on the door to the store. Tom Baggett and his family lived above the store. Baggett leaned out of the window above the store and told Ridge to leave because he was drunk. Baggett had closed the store early that day due to the rowdy drinking of several men and a warning there might be trouble later. 

As Ridge and Baggett argued over the closed store, a shot came from across the street, hitting Baggett and killing him. Ridge stayed around with a gathering crowd to help Mrs. Baggett and her four daughters. 

About an hour later, two witnesses, one of who was Sheriff Jesse Sunday's son, Andy, and Dave Ridge, met two men on a trail about 200 yards away from the shooting scene. The two men were Sampson Rogers and Wilson Towery. 

Ridge confronted Rogers with the fact that he had seen him fire the shot that killed Baggett. Rogers, enraged, then hit Ridge over the head with a whiskey bottle. Andy Sunday then stepped out and got the men to leave his uncle alone. Dave Ridge died from his head injuries that night.

Sheriff Jesse Sunday was about ten miles east of Saline guarding some prisoners when the killings occurred. Notified of the murders, he rode to Saline and began investigating. He deputized several men, including Wilson Towery and Cooie Bolin, who had witnessed the Ridge murder. 

Sheriff Sunday and deputy Bolin went to the nearby home of Jim Teehee to see if anyone there had witnessed anything. John Colvard and Martin Rowe were sitting on the porch, Colvard with a rifle across his lap. Sunday took the rifle away from Colvard without resistance, talked with the men, and was told they knew nothing of the killings. 

Bolin and Sunday walked back to their horses when Rowe opened fire on them, hitting Sunday. Sunday dropped Colvard's confiscated rifle, Bolin picked it up and began firing at the fleeing Martin Rowe while the wounded Sheriff Sunday was trying to catch his horse. 

Andy Sunday found his wounded father by a tree near the Teehee home the next morning. He took him to the Teehee home, where the sheriff died that night. Jesse Sunday was survived by his wife, Alice Elsey Hair Sunday, three sons, and three daughters.

Martin Rowe surrendered himself a month later. He was arrested, tried, and convicted of Sheriff Sunday's murder. 

So now, let's talk about the rest of the story. First, let's keep in mind when Sheriff-elect Dave Ridge confronted Sampson Rogers with the fact that he saw him shoot and kill Tom Baggett, Rogers hit Ridge over the head with a whiskey bottle and subsequently killed him. There is no mention of whatever happened to Rogers, who sounds like he got away with two murders. 

Also, remember, Martin Rowe opened fire and hit Sheriff Sunday, who ultimately succumbed to those gunshot wounds. Rowe was convicted of Sheriff Sunday's murder. But it's what happened after his conviction that shocks me. 

So now, since you're probably wondering why I found the ending of this story from the Oklahoma Law Enforcement Memorial so unexpected? Here you go. 

Martin Rowe was originally sentenced to death. But later, his sentence was commuted to 10 years in Tahlequah prison. Then Rowe escaped from prison and went to west Texas. About 3 months later, Rowe joined the U.S. Army.  Imagine that. The authorities found that he enlisted in the Army. 

Here's that part that I found absolutely incredible. While one would think that all the authorities had to do was pick him up and walk him back to prison, they didn't. No, they didn't. In fact, after Rowe joined the Army, all charges for escaping prison and the remainder of his 10-year commutation were dropped.

So for Rowe, after leaving the Army when his enlistment was over -- he was a free man. That's right, with all charges dropped, the man who murdered Sheriff Sunder, the man who left his wife a widow and their six children fatherless, left the Army after his enlistment as a free man.

And yes, people wonder what citizens were thinking when they used to take the law into their own hands and hang such killers.

Tom Correa 

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