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A Shot in the Dark
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Article By Mike Tower   

Emanuel Patterson, a black man, lived near Cherokee Town in the Chickasaw Nation. Patterson

was sort of a rough character with a mean reputation. On August 11, 1880, Deputy United States

Marshal Willard M. Ayers, armed a writ charging Patterson with Larceny, went to Patterson’s house

to serve the papers. It was late at night when the Deputy arrived at Patterson’s cabin, and instead of

announcing his presence, as was customary, Deputy Ayers began pounding on the door and

demanding admittance. Patterson readily admitted that he shot, and killed, Deputy Ayers, explaining

the deputy had demanded entry into his home in a rough and abrupt manner, without stating his identify

or purpose. Patterson told the court he thought the unbidden visitor was an enemy.


Hanging Judge Issac Parker, of the Fort Smith Court, did not buy Patterson’s story and told him

on October 20, 1887 that he would hang him in the Spring of 1888. Instead, Patterson’s sentence was

commuted to life imprisonment for heroism.


The story behind that is that it seems another prisoner, one ‘Bogles’, who was scheduled to be

executed for a particularly brutal murder, got hold of a guard’s pistol about 10 minutes before the

actual execution. Bogles dashed into his cell with the weapon, and his cell mate, Emanuel Patterson,

wrestled the weapon away and tossed it to a guard. The guards knew full well, from experience, that a

prisoner with a loaded firearm usually meant several someone’s would wind up dead. Patterson’s

action probably saved the lives of several inmates and guards.


(Source: Hell on the Border by S. W,

Harman, University of Nebraska Press, 1992; original publication in 1898. Law West of Fort Smith,

by Glen Shirley, University of Nebraska Press, 1968.)

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