The Killing of the Lee Boys

The Killing of the Lee Boys

The end of a violent gang of desperados.


Heck Thomas and Jim Taylor both fearless deputy marshals got on the trail of the Lee Brothers after the shoot out in which Jim Guy, Billy Kirksey and the Roff Brothers were killed.  The $7,000 reward put up by Alva Roff brought many people to bear against the Lees.  In this time period, U.S. Deputy Marshals were not paid a salary.  They received $3 a summons or warrant served and six cents a mile travel expenses.  The only rewards they could recover were those posted by private individuals, companies, the Nations or States.  They could not receive any federal rewards since they already worked for the government.  

Heck Thomas, U.S. Deputy Marshal

According to the Indian Pioneer Paper of Mrs. Lou Brittenberg, "There were some boys by the name of Lee, who were cattle thieves. They had killed the brothers of Mr. Roff, and were stealing his cattle. He told Heck Thomas and Jim Taylor if they would kill these boys he would give each of them a thousand head of cattle. The Lee boys had lived in a small log hut without any doors. They crawled in through a window, and had post holes through which they shot at anybody approaching their cabin. They finally moved out of this log hut and stayed in a ravine. One morning Heck and Jim, who was a deputy under Heck, rode up to our house for breakfast. Heck and I had been sweethearts in Georgia twenty years prior to this. We hadnít seen each other during this time, and neither of us knew the other was here. Heck had been gone from Georgia, and we didnít know where he was until he rode up and asked for breakfast. He told us he was expecting to find the Lee boys soon. That day Heck and Jim were hiding near the ravine where the Lee boys were concealing themselves and they saw a man cautiously making his way toward the ravine, and as the Lee boys were eating their lunch, Heck shot one and Jim shot the other. The lunch carrier disappeared in the shrubbery and they didnít find him. Mr. Roff drove up two thousand head of cattle and gave these cattle to these two officers."

The Indian Pioneer Paper of Robert C. Rowe has an account of the task of hauling the bodies back from the scene of the killings.  "When the Lee brothers killed Roff and six of his cowhands north of Ardmore, they sent a man to Pete Goodson, who lived near there to ask him to bring his wagon and haul them to the Roff Ranch at Ardmore.  Pete told the man that he didn't have time.  When the man returned and told the Lee boys that Pete refused to go, one of them went to Pete's house and commanded him to go.  He tried to talk about other things and the Lee boy told him he must go.  He said, "Here is seventy-five dollars.  I'm paying you ten dollars for each of the dead men and five dollars extra."  Pete saw there was nothing to do except go.  He hitched his team to the wagon and drove to the scene of the murder.  He said it was the most terrible experience he ever had.    They loaded those seven men in his wagon like dead cattle and he hauled them to the ranch headquarters in Ardmore."

The Indian Pioneer Paper of J.S. Ferguson tells of a run-in with Ed Steine in his saloon and the Lee boys. "Not long after we located here (Price's Falls), I went back to Texas to help move a friend to the Territory.  When I reached Red River the water was high and I unhitched my mules and started across on one of them.   The ferry was at the opposite bank, and I couldn't find the ferry man.  When I got across I went to Ed Steens' Saloon and as I approached, the Lee Boys, who were noted desperadoes and cattle thieves, rushed out and covered me with their Winchesters.   They asked what I was doing there and I told them.  They escorted me to the ferry and found the man for me.  We ferried across and got my wagon and other mule, and I was glad to get away from there."

The story of the end of the Lee brothers goes something like this.   Jim  and  Pink  had  a  brother ( could this have been their brother-in-law Ed Steine?) that lived in the area of Delaware bend.  This may have been the ranch of Tom or possibly another brother. This is where Heck Thomas and Jim Taylor set up their base camp.  Jim and Pink knew that Heck Thomas was on their trial.   They decided to head south from the Yellow Hills to Delaware Bend to their brother's place and find the two lawmen where they would shoot it out with them.  As was the custom of the time, Thomas and Taylor stopped at the farm of Strather Brown to eat dinner.  They were informed that the Lee brothers had passed just a short time earlier.  Thomas, Taylor and Jack Brown started in pursuit of the Lees in hopes they could catch them before they made it to Steine's Store.  From a high bluff above the John Washington Ranch, they spotted the Lee brothers in the  pasture below.  Entering the deep gully that concealed them from the Lee boys, they approached within a short distance of the outlaws and ordered them to surrender.  Knowing that Judge Parker was waiting for them, the outlaws preferred to shoot it out then and there.  When the firing ceased, Pink Lee was dead, shot through the head, and Jim  Lee was badly wounded continuing to fight to the last fatal shot.  None of the officers were wounded.

Heck loaded the bodies of the Lee brothers into a borrowed wagon and headed for Gainesville.  Stopping in front of the sheriff's office, Heck saw a man sitting in front of the office.  He asked "Are you the Sheriff of Cook County?"  Sheriff Ware admitted he was.  Then he asked " is this the Cook County Jail?" Sheriff Ware said it was.  Thomas then introduced himself.  "I'm Heck Thomas, deputy United States Marshal operating on a roving commission out of the United States Court at Paris, Texas.  My partner is Jim Taylor of Indian Territory who rides the Chickasaw and Choctaw nations as deputy United States Marshal for the Paris Court."

The sheriff said "Well I'm glad to meet you gentlemen, but who are your friends there?"  "Them" said Heck "is what is left of Jim and Pink Lee, bad hombres from the Indian Territory.  Smokey Joe is still laying back there at Seville's Bend.  He ain't going nowhere."  Heck then said "What I now want is a receipt from you for the delivery of the bodies of Jim and Pink Lee, delivered here to the front door of the Cook County Jail."  The sheriff did not know the Lee brothers by sight and had to call others who did recognize them as being Jim and Pink Lee.  The Sheriff gave Heck Thomas the receipt for the bodies and Heck and Jim collected their reward.  And that is the end of the story of Jim and Pink Lee.

The following is a report from the Indian Journal of Eufaula, I.T. on the shooting:

Indian Journal
September 7, 1885

Ever since the killing of the Roff brothers and Jim Guy, the Lee boys have been terrorizing the southern part of the Chickasaw Nation and their sudden death has been momentarily expected.

On Monday last, the news arrived that Heck Thomas, a detective of Forth Worth, and Jim Taylor and Jim Shattles, of Delaware Bend, killed them. We give Thomas' story as told before a coroner's jury:

"Proceeding before the jury of inquest, H. A. Thomas being sworn, said: "I live in Fort Worth. About 10 o'clock yesterday morning I was informed by John Strother that the Lee boys were near his house and thought that they had cut his pasture fence. I tried to find the Lee boys then, but failed. Between 12 and 1 while at dinner, a runner came and told me the Lee boys were riding through Strother Brown's pasture. Jim Taylor, Jim Shattles and I commenced looking for them at once.

About 2 or 2:30 o'clock we saw them half a mile off. They were off the horses and on the ground, but we couldn't tell what they were doing. We hurried in that direction, but we couldn't see them after we had got on the hill, and when we struck the land between Strother Brown's and John Washington's pasture, we saw they had cut Strother Brown's pasture and were cutting John Washington's pasture across the land. We had a spyglass. We got as close as possible, about forty or forty-five yards and ordered them to surrender. They dropped their nippers and fired at us. As Pink tried to throw another shell in his gun he was killed. We all three were shooting at them and couldn't tell which killed him. About a second or two later Jim was shot by one of us and badly wounded. Jim Lee fired ten shots in all. I shot about sixteen shots-kept shooting till Jim quit. Don't know how many shots struck the Lee boys. No one did any shooting at the Lee boys accept Jim Taylor, Jim Shattles and myself. Jack Brown saw part of the shooting but
didn't do any of it.
Heck Thomas


Contributed by Dennis Muncrief, February, 2002.


The McGalliard Papers, Ardmore, OK library

The Chronicles of Oklahoma

The Indian Pioneer Papers, WPA, Monnett Hall, University of Oklahoma

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