McClain County, Oklahoma
Historical & Genealogical Society

203 West Washington
     Purcell, Oklahoma 73080


The only sheriff killed in action, Johnny Ratliff, was shot on Main Street in Purcell, in a gunfight with Lester Rains, who shot Ratliff with his own gun. Ratliff was rushed to Oklahoma City by train, but expert surgical efforts failed and he died the next morning. Lester Rains was fatally shot by other officers.

John Eddington Ratliff was born in Williamson County, Texas, October 4, 1874. His parents were Robert and Mary Ann (Mullins) Ratliff. He moved to Kansas with his parents when a boy, later coming to Indian Territory. He went to Oklahoma Territory in 1889, but later turned to Indian Territory where he lived at Dibble for twelve years coming to Purcell when first elected sheriff. He was serving his third successive term when he was killed.

He died on May 9, 1925. His second wife, Myrtle Southward, and a grown son survive him. His first wife, Martha Miracle, died in 1903. Seven children were born to this union, four dying in infancy. Robert died in 1917, Winters in 1923 and James is living in Purcell. In addition to his wife and son, Mr. Ratliff is survived by his brother, Jimmie A. Ratliff of Washington, OK; 2 sisters, Mrs. Lucy Perry and Mrs. Callie Clark of Foraker, OK; and two little grandsons, the children of his son, Winters, according to the obituary in the Purcell Register. The family stated that Winter's widow, the former Bonnie McElderry, married a man named Zimmerman, and the boys' surname was changed to Zimmerman.

Rains had recently been treated at University hospital for epilepsy and released. Saturday afternoon he was discovered on Purcell's Main Street brandishing a knife and demanding that he be arrested. Ratliff went to the assistance of Ed Daugherty, undersheriff, who was attempting to arrest the man. In the struggle his gun was seized and he was shot with it.

On May 1, 2003 a Memorial Dedication Ceremony was held by the McClain County Law Enforcement Association and a Commemorative Emblem, Patch and coin were presented to descendants. The insignia set was presented to the McClain County Museum where it is now on display.

This information was taken from newspaper accounts, his obituary and family records.

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This page was updated: Tuesday, 11-Sep-2018 01:05:25 MDT

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