Goldsby, Crawford [Cherokee Bill] (1876–1896)

By: Paul M. Lucko

Type: Biography

Published: January 1, 1995

Updated: October 27, 2020

Crawford Goldsby, an Oklahoma outlaw better known as Cherokee Bill, was born at Fort Concho, Texas, on February 8, 1876, the son of George and Ellen (Beck) Goldsby. The elder Goldsby was in the Tenth United States Cavalry and claimed to be of Black, Sioux, Mexican, and White ancestry; Bill's mother was reportedly half Black, one-fourth White, and one-fourth Cherokee. By the time Bill had reached the age of seven, his parents had separated. He moved with his mother to Fort Gibson, Indian Territory, and later attended a school for Indians in Cherokee, Kansas, for three years. He also attended the Carlisle Industrial School for Indians in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, for two years, but some sources state that he could barely read and write.

After leaving school he returned to Oklahoma. Some of his biographers contend that he did not begin the exploits that made him infamous until the age of eighteen. Others, however, believe that he killed his first victim when he was only twelve. Biographers also are uncertain when he received the name Cherokee Bill. He murdered at least seven people and may have killed as many as thirteen. Certainly by the time he reached eighteen he had joined the Bill Cook gang in bank and train robberies. Bill later formed his own gang and also rode with such well-known outlaws as Henry Starr and Billy the Kid (see MCCARTY, HENRY). With the assistance of acquaintances who hoped to receive part of a $1,500 reward, federal authorities captured Bill and transported him to the federal district court in Fort Smith, Arkansas. There he received a capital conviction for the murder of an unarmed painter who happened to witness Bill's participation in a robbery. However, Bill's lawyer appealed the conviction, maintaining that Bill had not received a fair trial in the court of Judge Isaac Parker, a jurist known for his disdain for lawbreakers. After an unsuccessful escape attempt in which he killed a jail guard at Fort Smith, Bill received a second murder conviction. When the United States Supreme Court rejected his appeal of his first conviction, federal officials hanged him before hundreds of onlookers, on March 17, 1896. His last reported comment was, "I came here to die, not to make a speech."

Judge Parker characterized Bill as a "bloodthirsty mad dog who killed for the love of killing" and as "the most vicious" of all the outlaws in the Oklahoma Territory. Numerous publications recounted Bill's life of crime. After his death, his mother took his body to the Fort Gibson area, where he was probably buried.

Harry Sinclair Drago, Outlaws on Horseback (New York: Dodd, Mead, 1964). Rayford W. Logan and Michael R. Winston, eds., Dictionary of American Negro Biography (New York: Norton, 1982). Glenn Shirley, Law West of Fort Smith: A History of Frontier Justice in the Indian Territory, 1834–1896 (New York: Holt, 1957).


  • Law, Law Enforcement, and Outlaws
  • Outlaws, Criminals, Prostitutes, Gamblers, and Rebels
  • Peoples
  • African Americans
  • Native American

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Paul M. Lucko, “Goldsby, Crawford [Cherokee Bill],” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed January 22, 2022,

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January 1, 1995
October 27, 2020

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