Depending on who you ask, Zeke Proctor is considered both a hero and an outlaw.
Cherokee citizens, area history buffs and others will get an opportunity to experience first-hand the re-enactment of the Goingsnake Massacre, a shoot-out that occurred April 15, 1872 during Proctor’s murder trial.
The Cherokee Nation History and Preservation program is seeking descendants of the massacre for the event slated Friday and Saturday, Nov. 8-9, in Tahlequah and Fort Smith.
“The Cherokee Nation has a deep and colorful history with the U.S. Marshal Service,” said Catherine Foreman-Gray, Cherokee Nation history and preservation officer. “Many of the men serving as U.S. deputy marshals out of Fort Smith federal court during the frontier-era were Cherokee. The Goingsnake Massacre is the largest single casualty for the U.S. Marshal Service, with 11 dying in that gunfight.”
Ezekial “Zeke” Proctor, a full-blood Cherokee and member of the Keetoowah Nighthawk Society, was being tried for killing Polly Beck and wounding Jim Kesterson in a shooting incident.
According to information provided by the Cherokee Nation, Proctor, whose home was in the Goingsnake District, now Adair County, went to the Sequoyah District to visit his sister, Susan. He discovered her husband had left her and her children and they were hungry. He made arrangements for them to stay with another relative, then set out to find Kesterson, Susan’s husband.
It has been said Kesterson was living with Polly Beck Hilderbrand in the Goingsnake District. Kesterson had been working at the Hilderbrand family mill on Flint Creek near Siloam Springs. When Proctor arrived, he found Kesterson and Hilderbrand together. He was angry, pulled his gun intending to shoot his brother-in-law, but Hilderbrand jumped in the way and was killed by Proctor.
The ensuing trial was highly charged due to the strong family ties of the accused victims and the jurisdictional dispute between the Cherokee and U.S. courts. A federal posse of 10 U.S. marshals was sent to attend the trial and arrest Proctor on federal charges if he was acquitted in Cherokee court. During the proceedings, shooting broke out in the crowded courtroom.
“Eight of the casualties were deputy marshals or their posse, and eight of those casualties were Cherokees,” said Foreman-Gray. “It is important for us to honor those men who made the ultimate sacrifice.”
U.S. marshal casualties included deputy marshals Jacob G. Owens, Black Sut Beck, Sam Beck, William Hicks, Jim Ward and Riley Woods; and posse members William Beck and George Seldridge. Cherokee casualties included Johnson Proctor, brother of Zeke; William Alberty, Proctor’s attorney; and Andrew Palone, Cherokee and Civil War veteran.
Proctor was acquitted in Cherokee court the day after the massacre, and the ruling was accepted by the U.S. courts, since the tribe had jurisdiction at the time and due to federal laws against double jeopardy. A second posse, made up of 21 deputy marshals, was dispatched and arrested several men believed to be involved in the killing of the marshals. The suspects were taken to Fort Smith, Ark., for trial, and eventually were released due to lack of evidence.
Anyone interested in attending the Nov. 8-9 event is asked to contact Foreman-Gray at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To read more about the history of Zeke Proctor and the Goingsnak Massacre, visit tinyurl.com/mw6nlj9.