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Reprinted from “Hometown” magazine, March 1991. Copyright 1991, Ohnick Enterprises

 Our First Citizen, Hoodoo Brown

by Nancy Ohnick

I started out to write about the cattle trails through Meade this time, but it seemed like everywhere I looked, I kept running on to Hoodoo Brown, whose story seems to be a history lesson in itself. My research found me at the Meade County Courthouse, in old Meade newspapers, and books at the library and museum. The best account of this colorful character comes from a book called Lost Trails of the Cimarron, which I located in the library of the Meade County Historical Museum.

A little life history…. 

George W. “Hoodoo” Brown was born in Newton County, Missouri, March 20, 1847. At the age of eighteen, he volunteered for service in the Union Army and served with the 3rd Regiment of Missouri Volunteers. Following several engagements he fell sick at Little Rock and later rejoined his outfit in Tennessee. When the war was over his unit drew horses for service on Dakota’s northern plains. Here, he first fought Indians and learned the ways of the Plains Indians.

When he was discharged, Brown left Illinois, going west to Abilene that fall of 1868 and working at the shipping yards established by Joseph G. McCoy. Later he helped drive a herd of cattle to Colorado, at which time he first saw Dodge City. After cowboying, bullwhacking and freighting to Forts Harker, Dodge and Hays, Brown and a friend, the scout Charles (Jack) Stilwell, were hired by General Carr to accompany elements of the 7th U.S. Cavalry to the Republican River in a scout against Indians. Brown was with the cavalry from the Republican to the Washita before being discharged from duty, and served with scouts, “Buffalo Bill” Cody, Lt. Silas Pepoon, Wild Bill Hickock and others in the campaign.

Following his discharge as a scout, Brown went west to Denver. Soon he took up buffalo hunting to supply the army posts with meat, which led to the killing for hides. He was engaged in hide-hunting in 1871-72 when he started a saloon business in Dodge, the second business in the new town. Brown hauled plank wood from Fort Hays to construct his small building, a shack on the south side of the tracks and near the bank of the Arkansas where it was handy to get water to cut his whiskey with, as well as for the Texas men to water their livestock.

George W. "Hoo Doo" Brown

By 1873, Brown was back at the buffalo hide business, one which he followed until the end of the buffalo herds, killing his last buffalo in the year 1885, the same year Meade became a town.

It was around 1875 when the Jones & Plummer trail was established between Ft. Dodge, Kansas, and Ft. Elliott, Texas. This trail was apparently named for the Jones & Plummer Cattle Co., which brought it’s cattle from the Texas Panhandle on the Canadian River to Dodge City. It was used as a freight and stagecoach route between these and intermediate points until the coming of the railroad forced its closure in 1887. According to an account published in the Meade Globe Press in 1971 by E.E. Innis, the route extended south and west from Ft. Dodge, across Mulberry Creek south of Dodge City, down through the present main street of Fowler, along the east side of the Crooked Creek valley to present Meade. It crossed the Cimarron River near the old Busing crossing, the Beaver River just north of Beaver, and from there, south and west to Ft. Elliott.

Brown’s connection to Meade….

It was in the winter of 1877 that Hoodoo Brown and another freighter spent a bitterly cold night on a high, rounded, windswept hill just east of where the town of Meade now stands. On this hill lies Graceland Cemetery which on the west side overlooks the city park across the road from the banks of Crooked Creek.

As the two shivered beside their freight wagons in their buffalo robes, the other freighter pondered why no one had thought to build a road ranch at this spot on the trail. There was no other road ranch closer than Jim Lane’s place on the river at Beaver City to the south. Brown thought the matter over in the night, and by morning he had decided to start up such a road ranch. He would have been thirty years old at the time.

Hoodoo Brown erected a sod cabin to serve as his store. He built a second one to house his family, his wife, Sarah, and his three children, Nellie, Sonny and Grace. The soddies he located at “The Wells,” as they were called, or artesian springs. A half mile downstream he erected strong corrals to hold the ox teams and mule teams of the freighters. In a nearby meadow he cut hay for winter feed. At this location Brown dispensed flour, meal, bacon, dried fruits, gunpowder and guns, rope, harness, saddles, ox yokes, canned foods, spices, tobacco, sugar, tea and the thousand and one items used by the people on the frontier. His customers were the freighters from Mobeetie and Fort Elliott, plying between there and Dodge, and the cattlemen who brought their herds to Dodge for shipment.

In 1885 when this part of the state was opened for homesteads Hoodoo applied and was issued a land office receipt for the NW ¼, Section 12, Twp. 32, Range 28. He and his wife, Sarah, sold the property before they received their patent from the U.S. Government which was dated December 28, 1889.

Brown operated his road ranch until the closing of the trail in 1887, at which time he moved to Meade and operated a hotel with a partner, Charles Edwards. It was here in 1887, that his daughter, Grace, for who Graceland Cemetery was named, her brother and a sister of Mrs. Brown, died of scarlet fever. They were buried on the Brown homestead. On September 15, 1888, the Browns deeded 40 acres of their homestead to the Graceland Cemetery Association.

It would have been shortly after this that the Browns left Meade, for Hoodoo is reported to have made the rush into Oklahoma in 1889. Still later he was reported living on a good farm near the town of Henrietta, Oklahoma.

We found accounts in the Meade Globe News of Brown’s returning to Meade in 1924 for a visit.  He would have been seventy-seven at that time. According to the report, “Needless to say some interesting tales of pioneer life in Meade County will be related, when those who survived gather for an ‘experience’ meeting.”

A man of reputation…

Hoodoo Brown has been given the dubious distinction of being a “gunman,” at least by one western writer. There is little to support his statement, though Brown was a hard-bitten frontiersman, perfectly capable of taking care of himself in any given situation. He once told of an Indian coming to his camp and asking for food. The hunters shared their buffalo meat with the visitor. Questioning him, they found that his own camp was a couple of miles downstream on the creek where they were camped. While two of the hunters remained at the campfire, entertaining the Indian, the other three took their guns and crept down to the Indian camp. Though it was late for feasting they found the Indians, four of them, eating buffalo ribs and steaks, talking and laughing. The hunters quietly talked the matter over among themselves. They felt that the Indian lad who visited them had been a scout to see where their camp was located and that an attack was planned upon them for that night. The hunters silently took beads on the Indians and shot them down before they could escape.

Brown, recounting the massacre many years afterward, said that they told no one about the matter, feeling that the Indians would have massacred them had they not beat them to it. As a sort of atonement, they let the Indian at their camp go free the following morning. It was a period of “kill or be killed” on the frontier, and they took no chances.

At a later time while Hoodoo Brown was operating his road ranch east of Meade he killed a man under somewhat unusual circumstances. Two men rode up to his soddy on a black night. As Brown heard the horses approach, one of the men called out, “Hoodoo!” Opening the door a crack, Brown saw one of the men quickly rein his horse and turn it into some nearby trees and bushes where he sat waiting. Now suspicious, Brown stepped out the back door with his double barrel shotgun and gave the rider a blast. He fired the other barrel at the man nearest the soddy as he leaped to his horse from the ranch yard, dropping him into the yard, dead.

According to Bernard Lemert, son of Laben Lemert, who was a member of a stockman’s group that investigated the incident, they found that the dead man had worked for Brown previously and that Brown owed him a considerable sum of money, some said $700. The shooting had its strange aspects, but when the evidence was all in, Brown was exonerated by the cattlemen. In that age, one never rode up close to a man’s door (either at a cow camp or a ranch) without halooing from a distance first and being invited to ride in. To announce your arrival was the friendly thing to do, but to draw a householder from the safety of his abode while a murderous companion lurked in the shadows waiting to kill him was an old trick, too old to catch a wise old fox like Hoodoo Brown.

Hoodoo Brown was arrested for this murder of “Crazy Burns” in 1889. He was taken to Kingfisher, Oklahoma, for the trial, since he was a resident of Oklahoma at the time. On December 26, 1889, the Dodge City Times carried the following story:

Several years ago Hoodoo Brown ran a road ranch a few miles south of Dodge and had at one time a large number of cattle. At that time, the cattle thieves were very numerous and many cattle were stolen. There was then a man here who went by the name of Crazy Burns, and who when full of whiskey was a dangerous man. Burns with several other thieves started out to steal Mr. Brown’s cattle, and Brown and his men waited their coming, being appraised of the fact. When the thieves saw these men, a general fight commenced with six-shooters and rifles. After the fight was over, it was discovered that Crazy Burns was killed, but the cattle were not stolen from Hoodoo Brown. Last week Mr. Brown, who has been in Oklahoma for some time, was arrested for the murder of this man Crazy Burns and will have his preliminary trial at Wichita on next Saturday. Mr. Merriam Brown, a brother of Hoodoo Brown, has been in the city most of the week gathering facts of the case in order to have his brother released. Hoodoo Brown is known by all old-timers here, having lived in this country for over twenty years, and being always an honest, upright citizen, during his stay here, the people propose to see that he is not allowed to suffer for the killing of a man like Crazy Burns, because there is no testimony to show who it was that killed him. It certainly is an outrage for having him arrested, and we hope to hear of his being released when his trial takes place.

Obviously George W. “Hoodoo” Brown was exonerated in the killing of Crazy Burns. After all, he did return to Meade some years later and it is known that he was writing historical features for the Kansas Historical Society and various newspapers a few years after the trial was to have taken place.

Brown is credited for having left some of the best-written accounts of the pioneer days in southwest Kansas, the Neutral Strip and eastern Colorado. In one such account of his buffalo hunting days he told of a trip into the Neutral Strip (No Man’s Land) with a friend and fellow buffalo hunter, John Goff. Although room does not allow for us to relay it here, it is certainly recommended reading starting on page 26 of Lost Trails of the Cimarron by Harry E. Chrisman. (Meade Library has this book… or it can be purchased at www.prairiebooks.com )

 

 

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