|Palmer, Thomas Jefferson
Field Worker: John F. Daugherty
Date: July 19, 1937
Interview # 4890
Address: Davis, OK
Born: February 16, 1871
Place of Birth: Boone County Arkansas
Father: G. W. Palmer, born in Georgia, Farmer
Mother: Margaret Chambers, born in Georgia
My parents were G .W. Palmer and Margaret E. Chambers Palmer,
both born in Georgia. (Dates unknown). Father was a farmer.
There were six children in our family. I was born on February
16, 1871, in Boone County, Arkansas. I had friends living in
Webbers Falls, Indian Territory, in the Cherokee Nation and I came
to see them in 1887. I liked this new country so well that I
I got a job on a ranch belonging to Frank Vore and rode
after cattle for a year.
One very cold night, John Brown, a United States Marshal,
came to the place where I was living and arrested me. I was
just a lad, and they had a warrant for Tom Palmer for introducing
liquor unlawfully into the Indian Territory. I knew they had
the wrong Tom, but I went with them. When daylight came they
gave me a good looking over and turned me loose. It was my
uncle they were looking for.
He had a small log hut built in the cane breaks at the junction
of the Arkansas River and Dirdy Creek. There were portholes all
around his little log hut, through which they shot at anybody trying
to molest them.
Each day a small steamer called the Winnie Mae came by.
As it went west, it was loaded with freight, dry goods, groceries,
etc., for the towns in the Territory. As it came back east it
carried cotton, prairie hay, wheat and oats to Fort Smith.
There was whiskey on this boat each day for my uncle who was a
bootlegger. They always rolled it off down a gangplank and
away they went. Then uncle and his partner would carry it into
their hut and sell it during the night.
I went to a dance south of Webbers Falls one night and Belle
and Sam Starr were there. Sam had decided to kill another
Cherokee Indian* across the log heap fire built in the yard. Belle
was to tell Sam when to shoot. When the time came the other
Indian was ready for him and they both shot about the same time,
both dying soon after. That stopped the dance.
I was acquainted with Tom Starr. I've heard him tell
of his narrow escapes many times. He often evade officers by
hiding in a thicket and turning his horse's shoes with the conks to
the front. when the officers got on his trail they went in the
opposite direction from what he was traveling. I heard him
tell once of being in Texas. He became a friend of a merchant
and one day they went on a fishing trip. The merchant had
taken some newspapers along, and during the time they were fishing
he was reading. He suddenly stopped and looked Tom over from
head to foot. Then he read some more and looked at Tom again.
Finally he said, "Here's a large reward offered for Tom Starr,
and you are just like this description of him. Are you he?'
Tom replied that he was not and knew nothing about Tom Starr.
At last he asked, "What if I were Tom Starr? What would
you do?" The man replied, "I'd try to help you to
get away. I wouldn't arrest you." Tom would have
killed him right there and taken the buggy and team and escaped into
another section of the country, had he not answered as he did.
One evening about dusk, a man rode up to Tom's house and he was
sitting on his porch with a Winchester, ready to shoot. He
said, "Go back. Get on your horse and leave here."
The man replied that he wanted to stay all night. Tom
told him he'd kill him if he didn't get away. The man ran back
to his horse, and Tom said, "Now you can come back and spend
the night." He took no chances on keeping someone who
would try to arrest him, but he decided when one ran, he was not an
There were many Indians near Webbers Falls. All the
merchants kept at least one Indian clerk to wait on their Indian
I married Minnie Fowler in 1893 and moved to Sorghum
Flat, south of Davis in 1898. I have lived near
Davis since that time. We have six children.
*(Ed. Note - Just before Christmas, 1885, people from a
large area gathered for a dance at Aunt Lucy Surratt's in the edge
of the Choctaw Nation. The dancers were inside the cabin with
the overflow squatting around a fire outside. Sam came up with
six shooter in hand to Frank West, his cousin, with whom he had been
feuding and asked him why he shot a horse from under him a time
back. Frank arose with Winchester in hand and fired. Sam
shot as he fell, and when the smoke cleared both were dead.
Observers said Belle let out a few hoops, shot in the air a few
times and continued to dance.)
Transcribed by Brenda Choate and Dennis Muncrief, March, 2001