Katie Dewitt James – The Rest of the Story?

My last post was about the murder of a distant cousin in 1905 – Katie Dewitt James. The post gave the basic story of Katie and her ill-fated trip to visit relatives after she had filed for divorce from her husband.

However there is so much more to the story. There is the story of young man who was said to have seen Katie’s body in the back of a wagon; a woman who supposedly claimed to have been a part of the murder – if her paramour is to be believed. There is also the curious reaction of her husband and his air-tight alibi that just happened to be provided by a friend who was also the local deputy sheriff.

The story of the young man who claimed to have seen Katie’s body in the back of a buggy is an interesting one, and one that seems to lend some credence to other stories told about the murder.

According to the nephew of George Cornell, the man who found Katie’s body in August 1905, a young man came to Mr. Cornell’s law office in Oklahoma City and detailed what he saw on the day of Katie’s murder.

On the day of Katie’s murder the young man was cutting fence posts near Deer Creek when he was approached by four people, 2 men and 2 women. He was asked to open the gate for them and as they passed by he saw blood dripping out of the buggy.  When one of the men noticed that the young man had seen the blood he raised the alarm and the group stopped. At first there was some disagreement among the group about how to handle the situation; one of the women consistently cried out for the young man to be killed to keep him from talking about what he’d seen however, one of the men said there had been enough killing and that he had another idea – an idea that if this story is true is somewhat gruesome.

In the back of the buggy a canvas tarp had been used to cover up the source of the blood. The man pulled back the tarp and revealed the body of woman with blood streaming out of head wound. The body was pulled from the buggy and the young man was forced to sever the head from the body with the axe he’d been using to cut fence post. Once the deed was done the group departed with a warning to the young man that he was now part of the murder and if told anyone he’d be strung up along with the rest of them.

Sometime after the young man told his story to Mr. Cornell, Mr. James and another man visited with Mr. Cornell at his office. When the topic of Katie’s murder and the young man’s story was mentioned, both Mr. James and his friend are said to have become uneasy.

The story told by this young man seems rather interesting because it brings back the idea that Mrs. Norton may not have acted alone. Could the four people this young man met have been Alta Hood, Fanny Norton, Katie’s husband and his friend the deputy sheriff?

Katie Dewitt James – Our Family’s Ghost

I’m not sure if every family can lay claim to a ghost but my family does. I didn’t know about our ghost until a few years ago when I was told by a distant cousin, but since then I have collected just about everything I can about our ghost: who she was, how she died, who were the other characters in the story.

Our ghost was a young mother named Katie DeWitt James; Katie was the daughter of Lucy Slack and Henry DeWitt; Lucy Slack was the sister to my 2nd Great Grandfather Jesse Slack.

Katie was born in Iowa in 1874 and was an only child from all I’ve been able to learn. Throughout her life she had a very close relationship with her parents.  Katie and her parents moved to Kansas sometime 1885 and 1895. When Katie was of age she worked as school teacher. Lucy Slack died about 1895 while the family lived in Kansas.

In 1900 Henry and Katie moved to Dewey county Oklahoma where they both began to homestead in the newly opened territory. By all accounts Katie was a model member of society; she was popular and well liked. In 1901 Katie married Martin Luther James. In May of 1904 Katie gave birth to their only child, a daughter named Lulu Blanche.

It’s difficult to tell what kind of relationship Martin Luther and Katie had; I haven’t been able to find anything to document the early days of their courtship or marriage. What I do know is that by 1904 the marriage had become stormy with the couple frequently engaged in arguments that at times may have become physical.

On the 29th of May 1905 the James’ were engaged in an argument when, according to Katie’s divorce pleading, Martin Luther “brandished a chair” and told Katie “You ought to die; I have a notion to brain you with this chair.” On the first of July Martin Luther went into town, telling Katie he would get drunk and come back and “Show who was running things around there” and give Katie something to remember. While Martin Luther was in town Katie arranged for a friend to stay with her. The two women were in bed when Martin Luther came home late that night, drunk and shouting for them to “get out of there.” A physical altercation took place between the two women and Martin Luther. Martin Luther was struck in the head and received a large gash that required medical attention. Martin Luther’s divorce pleading gives a slightly different account, but the basic facts remain that a rather violent fight occurred on the night of July 1, 1905.

After the fight Katie fled to her father’s homestead with her young daughter. On July 6th Katie formally filed for divorce from Martin Luther. The following day Henry Dewitt took Katie and her daughter to train station in Custer City and placed them on the train; Katie was to stay in Ripley with her Aunt and Uncle until the situation cooled down.

Here is where the mystery begins. When the train arrived in the town of Weatherford Oklahoma Katie got off the train with a woman by the name of Fanny Bray Ham Norton. Why Katie got off the train in Weatherford with Mrs. Norton, and whether or not Katie and Mrs. Norton knew each other prior to that day is unknown. All we know is Katie got off the train and the two women stayed at a hotel operated by Mrs. Norton’s sister America and her husband William Moore.

When they checked in Mrs. Norton introduced Katie as Mrs. Smith. Prior to going up to their room Katie purchased some writing paper; in the process she displayed to both Mrs. Norton and her sister the contents of her wallet – $23, a sizable amount in 1905.

The following morning Katie and Mrs. Norton rose early. Mrs. Norton hired a buggy, telling people the two women were heading for Hydro and would be back in three hours. The only description we have of what happened on the trip comes from Mrs. Norton who claimed that while they were out the women were met by a man and two women in a covered wagon and that Katie and her daughter left with these other people.

Katie’s body was found a few months later. Custody of Lulu Blanche was eventually given to her father Martin Luther, though Katie’s father fought vigorously for custody of Katie and for control of her estate. Lulu Blanche died in 1913 – it’s unlikely she ever really know what happened to her mother.

Katie’s ghost is said to haunt the area of Dear Creek near the place where she died. Perhaps she’s still out there trying to protect her daughter from whatever really happened that day.  A search for “Dead Woman’s Crossing” will bring up several sites with information on the murder of Katie James. Maybe one day I’ll finally come across that one piece of information that will clear up the mystery that surrounds Katie’s murder but until then my family and I still have our ghost.