Blue Duck - Outlaw

Bluford "Blue" Duck ?–1895

Early Oklahoma outlaw Bluford "Blue" Duck's story, like many others, is interviewed within the legends of two other more famous western personalities; Judge Isaac Parker and outlaw queen Belle Starr. In researching the life of Blue Duck, it was difficult separating fact from fiction. Very little has been written about the man, and often what has been written is contradictory. I first became interested in this little known outlaw when I came across a reference to him while doing research on another project. Having been an admirer of author Larry McMurtry and his novel "Lonesome Dove", which as most Oklahombres members are likely to remember features a prominent Indian outlaw named Blue Duck, I became instantly curious when I came across his name. My attempts at determining whether McMurtry got the idea for his outlaw character from accounts of the real Mr. Duck proved fruitless. However, knowing McMurtry's penchant for borrowing from real life events it is entirely possible that this occurred. The first known reference to Blue Duck tells of his family living on Rogers Creek west of present day Oologah. This was during the late 1870's when Blue Duck was in his teens. Some accounts purport Blue Duck as being a white man, but most generally agree that he was Cherokee. Blue Duck's name in Cherokee was Sha–con–gah Kaw–wan–nu. In a story which has been widely written about but is largely thought to be false, Zoe Tilghman, in her 1926 work "Outlaw Days: A True History Of Early Day Oklahoma Characters", refers to Belle Starr, prior to the year 1880, interrupting a poker game in Dodge City, Kansas after her current lover lost $2000.00 in that same game. Belle is alleged to have covered the poker players with her revolver and made off with not only the amount of money in question but the entire stakes on the table. Belle's lover who lost the money in the first place was thought by some writers to have been Blue Duck. Most of the information available today indicates that this is highly unlikely to have occurred. Belle did not meet and marry Sam Starr until 1880 and it is probable that Blue Duck and Belle did not even meet until several years later. The next major event in Blue Duck's life changed it forever. On June 23, 1884, in the Flint District of the Cherokee Nation, Blue Duck and another fellow named William Christie, both drunk, rode up to where a young farmer named Samuel Wyrick was working in his field. Blue Duck emptied his revolver into Wyrick, reloaded, and then fired again at an Indian boy who was working for Wyrick. Duck then rode over to a neighboring farm and shot at but missed the neighbor. Deputy Marshal Frank Cochran arrested Blue Duck and William Christie for the murder of the Wyrick boy. The two outlaws were tried at Fort Smith in Judge Parker's court during January of 1886. Christie was acquitted and Blue Duck was convicted. Judge Parker sentenced Blue Duck to hang from the gallows on July 23, 1886, two years and one month after the crime had been committed. Blue Duck's attorney, Thomas Marcum, appealed to the President of the United States for a commutation of Blue Duck's death sentence to life in prison. While awaiting his date with the hangman, Blue Duck posed for what has become a widely publicized photograph of himself with Belle Starr. Author and historian Glenn Shirley, in "Belle Starr and Her Times", reports that Marcum hoped to call attention to his client's plight by having him photographed with Belle Starr. Marcum allegedly told Belle it would make Blue Duck feel better when he faced the noose. Shirley states that there is no proof that Belle had known Blue Duck prior to having her picture taken with him and she did not see him afterward. In "Outlaws On Horseback", Harry Sinclair Drago wrote that this photograph was taken after Blue Duck's return from prison. This is incorrect. Blue Duck's luck took a turn for the better. His death sentence was commuted and Judge Parker committed him to the Menard Penitentiary at Chester Illinois "for the term and period of his natural life". Drago writes that Blue Duck served less than one year in prison before Belle Starr was able to get him released. This is also incorrect. Archive records from the Illinois Department of Corrections indicate that Blue Duck, inmate number 2486, was admitted to Menard Penitentiary in Chester, Illinois, on October 16, 1886 serving a life sentence for murder. Blue Duck was pardoned on March 24, 1895. It is interesting to note the reason for the pardon was not given and the entry was hand written into the prison record. Blue Duck's prison record does much to dispel some of the myth about the man. It is obvious that the photograph of Blue Duck seated next to Belle Starr was not taken after his release from prison. Belle was killed in 1889, long before he was released. The prison records also make Drago's assertion that Blue Duck was murdered "by some party or parties unknown" sometime during 1887 false. In fact, Drago goes so far to say Blue Duck was probably killed by Sam Starr, jealous over Blue Duck's relationship with Belle. Sam Starr was killed in December of 1886, a few months after Blue Duck was sent to Menard. Shirley writes that Blue Duck developed consumption and was pardoned by President Cleveland on March 20, 1895. Blue Duck was given only one month to live and was released so that he could die among friends. It is generally believed that Blue Duck did indeed die shortly after his release from Menard. Blue Duck's short but violent outlaw career ended like many others. If it had not been for the photograph taken of him and Belle Starr, and the notoriety and wild speculation it caused, he more than likely would have passed through the annals of history as just another docket number in Judge Parker's court records. As luck would have it, the photograph more than likely saved him from death on the gallows and allowed him to live for almost ten more years. That same photograph also fueled a larger than life image of him being one of the many lover's of Belle Starr the Bandit Queen.