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Summit View Cemetery in Guthrie, Oklahoma has a "Boot Hill" section containing the graves of numerous outlaws. Some of the gravesites are complete with gravestones while others are unmarked. Five of the better know outlaws have well-lettered gravestones marking the graves of Bill Doolin, Elmer McCurdy, Charlie Pierce, Bert Casey and Richard "Little Dick" West. But, in the same line with the gravestones for Pierce, Casey and West lies another stone of the same size, shape and lettering. This stone reads: "Tom Capers, Shot by Ben Howard, Nov 6, 1897". While much has been written about the five better know outlaws, this author could find nothing regarding a Tom Capers in the literature. To solve the mystery the author visited the Oklahoma Territorial Museum in Guthrie and examined records maintained by the Oklahoma Historical Society in this facility. Thanks to the help of Ms. Sharen Y. Bowers, of the research office, the author was able to view a local newspaper of the period recorded on microfilm. This review uncovered the mysterious Tom Capers and his claim to fame in November 1897. The story is best told in the reports of November 3 and November 5, 1897 in a local Guthrie newspaper of the era.
The Daily Oklahoma State Capital
November 3, 1897, page 4
Quarrel Over Fifty Cents Results in
Cutting and Shooting
Tom Capers Will Die
And Burt Henderson Will Have a Hard
Time as the Result of Ben Howard's
Deadly Aim - Capers Used a Knife
"About 8 O'clock last night in the "Cotton Exchange" saloon on Division Street, occurred one of the bloodiest quarrels ever recorded in the history of the city, from the results of which Tom Capers is now lying at his home in West Guthrie, with four bullet holes in his body with no hope of recovery, and Burt Henderson is lying at his home in East Guthrie with a bullet hole through his body, and Ben Howard is in the county jail awaiting the results of his deadly bullets.
"About 7:30 Tom Capers entered the saloon with several other Negroes and commenced shooting craps in the back room. Burt Henderson was running the money which was bet on the game. Capers made a bet of 50 cents on the turn of the dice. He lost, and Henderson picked up the money, when Capers claiming he had been cheated. Capers made a motion as if to get a knife, when Henderson struck at him with a large stick which he used in handling the dice. Just at this time Ben Howard, proprietor of the saloon, appeared in the door between the saloon and gambling room with a 38-calibre revolver and began firing. Three balls took effect in Capers head and one pierced his back. He fell to the floor and Henderson in trying to get out the door was struck in the back by a stray bullet. Deputy Sheriff Chas. Carpenter heard the shooting and arrived on the scene a moment after the last shot was fired and hustled Howard off to the county jail. Capers had succeeded in reaching Howard with his knife before being shot. Howard's coat was cut in several places, but was not hurt.
"Tom Capers was moved to the home of his sister in West Guthrie and Drs. Cotteral and Williams were called. He had tow ugly wounds in the head - one just over the right eye and one in the back of the head. Another bullet had torn through the flesh of his chin, and another was just buried in the flesh of his back. At 3 O'clock today he was still alive but with no hope of recovery. He is the brother of Councilman John Capers, of the West Fifth ward. He is 30 years of age and is known to the policemen as very quarrelsome, having figured in police court several times.
"Burt Henderson was placed on a cot in the rear of the saloon, where he remained all night. This morning he was taken to his mother's home, Mrs. Sallie Adams, on Capitol Hill. He is resting easy today and it is not thought his wound will prove fatal. Henderson was recently released from the penitentiary, where he served on year for grand larceny. He is said to be very quiet and always seeks to avoid trouble."
The Daily Oklahoma State Capital
November 5, 1897, page 4
CAPERS is DEAD
Died This Morning From the Effects of
Ben Howard's Bullets
"Tom Capers died this morning at 6:45 from the effects of the bullets of Ben Howard, who shot him Tuesday evening. A postmortem is being held this afternoon in Judge Strang's office.
"Burt Henderson, who was accidently shot in the back, is getting along nicely."
Capers' gravestone in Summit View Cemetery - Guthrie lists the date of November 6, 1897 which is the day he was buried after being shot on November 2, 1897. The newspaper account of the shooting would seem to indicate a case of "self-defense" on the part of Ben Howard. Brief review of The Daily Oklahoma State Capital did not reveal any charges being filed against Howard. Capers was probably buried in the Boot Hill section of Summit View because of his indigent status and the unwillingness of his sister, or other members of his family, to pay for burial (this is just speculation). But, this once local Guthrie small-town troublemaker now resides side-by-side with some of the most well known outlaws of his day.
[Note: The transcriptions from The Daily Oklahoma State Capital newspaper are exactly as they appeared in the press and no attempt was made to change the text to improve grammar or syntax.]
20 April 2001
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