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By Darlene Platt
Ben Cravens was not only an outlaw, but one that seemed to have nine lives. His outlaw reign saw him escape capture, jail, prison and violent death at the hands of Oklahoma lawmen.
Benjamin Crede Cravens was born around 1864 and was uncontrollable as a child. Revenging disciplinary action taken at school, he returned to wreck havoc on the schoolhouse. Cravens was arrested and jailed, only to escape, hiding in the Ozarks of Southwestern Missouri.
In 1890 he drifted to Chatauqua County, Kansas where he worked as a cowboy, though it was said that he "...never seemed to like cowboy life.". He found thievery more profitable than a job after he joined a band of horse thieves. He familiarized himself with the Osage, Cherokee and Creek Indian nations, developing friendships that would be beneficial to him.
The outlaw career of Ben Craven’s began as a bootlegger in southern Kansas counties. He eventually bootlegged whiskey to the Osage, Kaw, Otoe, Ponca and Pawnee Indians in the Cherokee Outlet. He was arrested in December, 1894 for these practices and jailed at Guthrie, Oklahoma only to escape on July 5, 1896 with several other prisoners including Bill Doolin, "Dynamite Dick", W.H. Jones and C.E. Lawrence. Cravens took refuge in Kansas but was soon back in the outlet stealing cattle. In the spring of 1896, he broke into the store/residence of Ira Stout in Elgin, Kansas. He was also accused of committing a robbery at the store of P.W. Craig in Waunette, Kansas and the Hopper and Tweedy store in Hewins, Kansas. November 18, 1896, Cravens returned to again rob Mr. Craig’s store and the store of Hopper and Tweedy. The robbery of the Tweedy store netted $50.00 in cash and $300.00 in merchandise, including some "...$1.40 shirts..." During these robberies, Cravens stole a black horse from Fred Gaddie.
In December 1896, Ben Cravens and a sidekick named Dick Ainsley aka "Three Fingered Dick" aka "Diamond Dick" aka "Skeeter Dick" aka "Buck McGregg", were making plans to rob a bank in Blackwell, Oklahoma Territory. The outlaws rode into Blackwell, scouting the town and buying some supplies. They rode 3 1/2 miles northeast to an abandoned shack on the edge of a wooded ravine. Since there was not a well near the shack, Cravens rode to the Bert Benjamin place for water. While there he inquired about the inside of the Blackwell bank for whatever reason. Cravens inquiries did not go unnoticed and were reported by Benjamin to Blackwell Deputy Sheriff Josh R. Cox . Cravens and Ainsley left the area so Cox told Benjamin to inform him if they returned.
On December 3, 1896, Cravens and Ainsley did return and Cravens was identified by the black horse he had stolen from Gaddie. Sheriff Cox felt certain they intended to rob the Blackwell bank and fearing innocent people could be harmed if they made it to town, he formed a posse. The heavily armed posse, including Alfred Lund, Bill Sherr, John Hunter, Jay McLain and Richard Clarke, surrounded the shack where Cravens and Ainsley were.
At sunrise Ainsley came out of the shack, looked around and feeling safe began to wash his hands. A few minutes later, Cravens emerged and Lund yelled to the outlaws that they were surrounded, ordering them to "....throw up your hands." Cravens grabbed his gun and ran for the corner of the shack. In an exchange of gunfire, Cravens was hit by a bullet that broke his collar bone. He was shocked because this was the first time he had ever been seriously wounded.
Ainsley, forced out of his hiding place ran for a nearby dry creek bed. Lund took aim, shooting Ainsley in the chest, severing the arteries to his heart, killing him instantly. The bullet then reportedly exited his body, killing a cow 50 yards further away.
|The Outlaw with Nine Lives
Benjamin Crede Cravens
Cravens refused to give up as the posse pursued him. He was hit one more time as a shotgun blast ripped through his side, going through his lung. Badly wounded and bleeding, Cravens could not continue to fight. He was taken to Blackwell with wounds thought by all to be fatal. He admitted to his identity but would not reveal the identity of his deceased partner, other than to call him "Dick". Speculation ran rampant that the deceased outlaw was "Dynamite Dick", a partner of Bill Doolins, who had a $3,000 reward on his head. United States Marshal Pat Nagle, Charley Colcord and Frank Canton went to Newkirk and identified the dead man as Dick Ainsley, not "Dynamite Dick". Marshals Canton and Colcord went to Blackwell to interview the severely injured Cravens. His wound was covered with a rag but when Cravens coughed "the rag flew up and blood spurted all over everything near him." Canton told Cravens, "Well, they got you." Defiantly Cravens yelled at Canton "Hell no, you can’t kill me." Cravens aging father traveled to Blackwell after hearing of his son’s serious wounds. He had been unaware of his sons movements for six years. Fred Gaddie came from Kansas and identified Cravens as one of the men who robbed the Hewins store and stole his black horse. Cravens, an able bodied man in the prime of his life, used one of his nine lives as he recovered from his wounds. He received a 20 year prison sentence at Lansing, Kansas penitentiary. He was considered a man of more than ordinary intelligence with good business qualifications. His stature was "bow-legged, heavily mustached and droopy-shouldered". Cravens would not remain in a prison for long. He escaped from Lansing in 1900 by using a piece of wood carved in the shape of a gun and covered with tobacco package foil.
The escaped convict Cravens entered Indian Territory and started a new phase of his criminal undertakings. In Kingfisher County, he found young Bert Welty who he had met while they were in prison together. Welty was eventually pardoned and his mother later said he had been "behaving himself". She pleaded with Cravens "not to take her boy away from her." Cravens replied "You need not be alarmed, I would be the last man on earth to harm your boy." Six weeks later on March 18, 1901, Cravens and Welty committed a robbery at Red Rock in Otoe Country. Cravens, dressed as a farmer and Welty as his wife, wearing a dress and sunbonnet, held up a store. They robbed the patrons, stole $1,000 and took numerous articles of merchandise.
During the robbery, Alvin Bateman, store manager and assistant postmaster entered the store. He was told to put up his hands and he complied but with a six shooter in one hand. Bateman was shot several times by both Cravens and Welty. The two reportedly escaped in a wagon, but when it overturned, Cravens shot Welty in the face with a shotgun, leaving him for dead. Welty’s injuries were not fatal and he walked around 10-15 miles to Black Bear Creek and the home of C.N. Herthington, where he was arrested. Welty received a life sentence for the death of Bateman.
Cravens fled Red Rock to the home of a friend, Isom Cunningham a few miles south of Pawnee. A posse soon surrounded the house and "in a perfect hailstorm of bullets" Cravens made his escape, but not before mortally wounding Deputy Sheriff Tom Johnson. Jack Murray, another Deputy Sheriff stated "The rapidity with which he (Cravens) worked his artillery was such that the firing made a continuous sheet of flame." Cravens emptied his rifle, fell to the ground, reloaded, came back up and emptied it again followed by his revolver. He made a getaway and the reward for Cravens now went from $1,000 to $10,000, making him one of the most wanted outlaws in the territory.
Cravens disappeared from sight. He was accused of many more robberies and murders in surrounding states, but actually was in Missouri hired out as a farm hand. He was considered an honest hard working fellow who married under the name of Charles Maust. He and his wife worked a farm together, but the outlaw blood still ran through his veins. After stealing a horse he received a 4 year prison term in Jefferson City, Missouri in November, 1908. Around 1911, near the time of his impending release, a barber at the penitentiary recognized Maust as Ben Cravens. The barber worked in Lansing, Kansas when Cravens was a prisoner there. The Betillion (fingerprint) records of Cravens were sent to Missouri where Charles Maust was positively identified as Ben Cravens. Oklahoma authorities were notified of his whereabouts and Cravens was transferred to Guthrie in November 1911. Tried and convicted for the murder of Alvin Bateman of Red Rock, Cravens maintained he was Charles Maust, not Ben Cravens. Witnesses were brought to the trial to identify Maust/Cravens. It was said to have been an "outlaw reunion" since around 50 of the nearly 200 witnesses called by the government were known outlaws. Bert Welty was brought from his prison cell to testify in the case, and positively identified Charles Maust as Ben Cravens. Cravens received a life sentence for the murder of Alvin Bateman and was sent to Leavenworth, Kansas January 29, 1912.
He was once again in court in April, 1921, still maintaining he was Charles Maust, not Ben Cravens. In a writ of habeous corpus presented in Kansas City, Kansas Federal Court, he maintained that he was Charles Maust and was illegally arrested and punished. The writ also stated that Batemans murder took place in 1901 when Oklahoma was still a territory, making the case fall under Federal Government jurisdiction. In 1907 when Oklahoma became a state, a provision was set out that all pending cases charging major crimes in Indian Territory should be tried by the new Oklahoma state courts but Cravens was tried in a Federal Court in Guthrie. His petition read that he should have been tried under state laws, not federal but his petition was denied on April 6, 1921.
Back in prison following his appesal, the aging outlaw’s health began to fail. He was transferred to the Medical Center for Federal Prisoners in Springfield, Missouri on October 17, 1936. After spending an additional eleven years in prison, he was finally paroled in 1947.
Three years later, the last of his nine lives ran out on September 19, 1950 when nature and old age accomplished what life theatening wounds and Oklahoma lawmen couldn’t. At the time of his death he was still maintaining he was Charles Maust not Ben Cravens.