George Walker Pound, Sheriff of Tobucksy County, Choctaw Nation


George Pound received his calling to a career pursuing criminals early, when bushwhackers entered the family's home and killed his father with a shotgun blast. The family had been sitting down eating supper. This was Pontotoc County, part of the old Chickasaw homelands in northern Mississippi, in the year 1863. George was thirteen.

"Bushwhackers" means regulators, the riffraff who stayed home to plunder and kill in the name of patriotic zeal. What had the father David Walker Pound done to draw the regulators' attention to himself? He was an outsider, born in Obion County in the northwest corner of Tennessee. He didn’t own slaves, nor had his father before him. He was sitting at home instead of off fighting. Eating supper, which would mean eating with his family: his wife, two daughters, and three sons aged ten to thirteen. And that's the thought that struck me when I heard this story--wasn't that a dainty dish to set before three teenage sons? And yet, the story that follows is not a vengeance story.

I first encountered the name George Pound about 1995 when I was working in the archives of the Oklahoma Historical Society, going through the index to the typescript volumes of a 1937 WPA series called Oklahoma and Indian Territory, Indian and Pioneer Historical Collection. Like similar work by the writers of the WPA’s Federal Writer’s Project--the most familiar being the splendid collections of slave narratives--this 116-volume series was an attempt to record the lives of the "other America" in the Great Depression, a rural America invisible to the urban privileged who still had jobs and money, an America composed of the poor, of agricultural workers, of the great ethnic minorities black, brown, and red.

Part of what stopped me was the shared surname, but I wouldn't have lingered as I did just for that. To my understanding at that time, the lack of a final -s on his surname suggested that George Pound and I came from unrelated lines. What held me and made me copy pages of the typescript was the laconic realism of the story of a white man (as the narrative called him and as I wrongly believed) who had been a marshal in Tobucksy County in the Choctaw Nation. I kept these notes for twenty-five years until just recently I happened across the Find-a-Grave online memorial for George's son Thomas, and I saw the blood link, distant but clear. Despite my mental reservations, even in 1995 I may have unconsciously felt a distant kinship. Also it may be that, reared as I had been on a diet of western movies and novels by Zane Gray and Louis L'Amour, I simply identified with the mild-mannered sheriff. Since the kinship line can be of no interest to the reader, I will say but one more word about it--a word about genealogical research.

The story of the bushwhackers' killing David Walker Pound can be found in a 1949 letter written by Cleburne Pound, the family's finest historian. Born in Arkansas in 1911, he died in Prague, Lincoln County, at the turn of the millennium. He was of the old school, a teacher who spent his summer's driving from courthouse to courthouse across the South from Virginia to Arkansas. If he knew his ancestors had lived in a county, he would stay there--a day, two days, three days--until he had located every record that referred to them. He was gray, patient, scholarly, meticulous--the ideal genealogist. He was also a gentleman, as I learned from personal experience. When I first became interested in family history, I wrote to Cleburne, who wrote back inviting me to drive down from Chandler to Seminole to visit him. At that time recently widowed, he had just retired from the Seminole school system--I think he had been a principal--and was living alone. For the better part of a long Sunday afternoon, he shared his work with me, demonstrating that flame of concentrated curiosity which is the heart of the true historian, and affecting me with the warmth. He gave me a 15-page typescript dressed in a judicial black robe of thick paper and probably his own composition, called The Name and Family of Pound, and as I left he went with me downtown so I could copy a 1941 essay on my own northern branch of the family.

Cleburne is on my mind as I write this essay, because when I say that the FAG memorial to his brother Taylor had at last made me understand the blood link between myself and George Pound, it was because a few days before I'd come across some of Cleburne's old work. Cleburne published his researches, but in obscure genealogical journals no longer possible to find. His admirers in the present digitalized day have excavated it and put it online. When you've gone through the databases and find your hunger for stories unsatisfied, then you look for a historian like Cleburne. Family history is a tree. It has roots and branches. "Things have roots and branches"--that's the poet Ezra Pound speaking. 

In Cleburne's old genealogy, which I found online, a researcher quoted from a letter Cleburne had written to a family acquaintance in which he told the story of the killing of George's father. What he wrote was: "David Pound was killed by bushwhackers as he sat at the supper table in his home." Cleburne could only have gotten the story from looking up George's wife, Carrie Messick Pound, who outlived her husband by forty years. 

Carrie Messick Pound

He drove to the village of Kiowa in Pittsburg County to visit her. In the 1940s when Cleburne collected the story, she was the only living person who could have known it. It had to have been Carrie who told Cleburne that the killing took place at suppertime. In the 1949 letter Cleburne states: "I have met Mrs. Caroline Pound, widow of George Pounds, and she gave me all the information she could regarding her husband's people. She is past 90 years of age, and is a [Choctaw] Indian. She is well-respected and has a good education." Cleburne should have mentioned that Caroline Pound’s mother was Sophia Colbert, of the Colbert family famous for political leadership in Indian Territory.

Born in Pontotoc County, northern Mississippi, in 1850, our subject's full name was George Walker Pound, and he died in 1917 in Pittsburg County, in what had been Indian Territory. Walker, which was George’s father’s name also, is a name everyone in the South knows--it's common and sometimes it carries the weight of historical figures. It's a name to reckon with. His two brothers were William Taylor Pound, the eldest, known as Taylor, and Thomas Pound, the youngest. No record exists for Thomas after 1860, leading to the conclusion that he may have died young--and to such speculation as follows. 

I said this was no tale of vengeance, yet these three young men were bound by an iron code of honor that required them to avenge their father’s murder. They would have started in pursuit of the killers when the learned of the killing--in the middle of the War, when Taylor was 15, George 13, and Tom 7. Tom was too young to fight, but he could hold the horses. He certainly wouldn’t have stayed home. The answer to who-went-where should be in the 1870 census, but it’s not. Only George figures in the census, and he’s in a boarding house in Sunflower County, Mississippi, famous for Parchman Farm. One of his father’s killers could have been serving time there, in which case he would be out in the work gangs and exposed to the young men’s bullets. The other two brothers could have been in the same boarding house, but if so Taylor as the oldest may have been wary of census takers and kept his head down. George was more naïve and let himself be counted. And Tom--it’s pointless to even guess. He died in these years, for he’s not in the 1870 census and never shows up later. It’s a dark story, which no light penetrates, for the avengers would never have told. We too must leave it shrouded in  decent darkness. The shears of Fate cut the tent ropes of his life, and the broker Hope sold him for nothing.

The speculation above may be right in its storyline but it’s wrong in its facts. This is borne out by an 1897 article from The Confederate Veteran, a magazine out of Nashville which began publishing in 1893. It became the official organ of the United Confederate Veterans and by 1900 had a readership of over 20,000 before fading away in 1932. The article honors George Pounds as

the youngest living ex-Confederate soldier, or rather the youngest regularly enrolled sworn-in soldier who was in the Confederate army at the time of the surrender. His name is George W. Pound, and he was enrolled at Okalona, Miss., in March 186[3] in Company ___, Capt. Tom Gill commanding, and surrendered at Gainesville Ala., on the 8th of May 1865. He was forty-seven years old on the 8th of February 1897, hence was only thirteen years and one month old when he enlisted, and fifteen years and three months when he was paroled. Pound was transferred and attached to the Eighteenth Mississippi Cavalry, and served in the Oxford raid. He then [was] attached to the Third Kentucky Cavalry, then to the Second Tennessee Cavalry (Company B), and was in the battles of Athens, Ala., Suphur Trestle, Pulaski, and Columbia, Tenn., and Martin's Factory, Ala. The Second Tennessee Cavalry will remember the little "kid" who rode the little mule across the Tennessee River in the Middle Tennessee raid.  

What this tribute means is that the story we began with about the boys seeing their father murdered at the supper table was fiction, at least as concerns the older two. George had already joined the Confederate Army, and if he had gone then his older brother Taylor would have been gone too.

Taylor and George both came to Indian Territory in Oklahoma, probably together, and their presence is well attested, for they were counted as Chickasaw Indians, enrolled "by blood" (their mother had been part Chickasaw), and the Dawes Commission had spawned a whole bureaucracy of population control. It was part of an elaborate apparatus whose ultimate effect, if not its aim, would be to chop the great open hunting ranges of the original Indian land grants into 160 acre farms called  allotments. These and the huge areas of “surplus” land could then be acquired by unscrupulous whites. (The story is eloquently told in book after book by Angie Debo.) That's the way the west was won in eastern Oklahoma. 

The Dawes-derived Chickasaw rolls show George Pound in the Chickasaw Nation in 1897, but he must have arrived two decades before. By 1875 he was married to Nancy Caroline "Carrie" Messick, who was born in 1855 in Kiamichi, Choctaw Nation (present-day Pushmataha County), which means that he was in the Choctaw Nation by 1875. 

Entries for George Pound and family in Dawes Census Cards for 
Five Civilized Tribes, 1898-1914: Chickasaw Nation, Chickasaw Roll

The Commission's recommendations had been enacted into law as the Dawes Act in 1887. According to the Dawes rules, a person who was, for instance, half Choctaw and half Chickasaw had to choose one nation and register simply as a member of that nation, forcing individuals to lose part of their inheritance and heritage. In violation of earlier treaties, the Dawes Commission registered tribal members in official rolls, and forced individual land allotments upon the Tribe's members allowing the "surplus" land to be ceded for white settlement. Many of the allotments were given under "guardianship" to third parties while the owners were underage. During the oil boom of the early 20th century, the guardianships became very lucrative; there was widespread abuse and financial exploitation of Choctaw individuals. Charles Haskell, the future governor of Oklahoma, amassed a fortune this way, as did other bankers and Indian agents, including some in my own natal Lincoln County.

The reason why George and his wife chose to settle near Kiowa is not clear. Nor is his career as a U. S. Marshal clearly defined. He was a Marshal under Isaac Parker, known aptly as the Hanging Judge, appointed to the Western District of Arkansas, headquarters in Fort Smith, in 1875.  Pound’s name occurs in Marshal posse roles in the thousand stories  circulating about pre-statehood Oklahoma outlaws, but the only documents that bear his name are writs and subpoenas served by him. The end of his career came in 1898, as the narrative below relates.

In the 1900 census, though George is Chickasaw by blood (probably a quarter), he appears as a Choctaw by marriage, and he and his wife are living in the Choctaw Nation, which is where the story I found in the Oklahoma and Indian Territory, Indian and Pioneer Historical Collection takes place--in the Moshulatubbee District east of Kiowa. At that time Kiowa was a village on the Texas Road, which ran from Denison Texas north to Kansas, crossing the Red River at Colbert, named for the ferryman Benjamin Colbert, a relative of George’s wife Carrie. Today Kiowa is in Pittsburg County, best known as the home McAlester State Penitentiary and its execution facilities.The Pound family, however, lived not by the prison (not established until after statehood) but east of Kiowa in an area first known as Peaceful Valley and then as Pounds Valley.

That’s how the narrator whose work I have remembered all these years entitles his story--“Pounds Valley.” His name is L. F. Baker. Born in Kentucky in 1884 and arriving as a boy in Indian Territory, Baker’s laconic recollections cover twenty pages. The material is homely, centered on farming and cattle ranching, with stories about church, cattle-driving, and the author's first paying job in the coal mines around Pittsburg. The story of George Pound comes apropos of nothing, following a story called "Church and Sunday Recreation." There’s continuity in the succeeding story, however, "The Result of Drinking," which features the cold-blooded murder of a "Choctaw Indian police" by two drunken brothers named Bob and Henry Thompson, one of whom features in “Pounds Valley.” Both stories reveal the brothers’ dislike of Indians and people of mixed blood like George Pound. That they also, as it will turn out, are also part Indian just adds to our sense of understated brutality.
Here is the story, copied from the original typescript.

Pounds Valley
George Pound was a United States Marshal who lived sixteen miles east of Kiowa. That was known as the Pound Valley and was on the Stringtown, Fort Smith route. George Pound resigned or quit being a U. S. Marshal thirty-nine years ago, 1898. (He was my father's brother, G.K.)

George brought a load of wild hogs to Kiowa to sell. Henry and Bob Thompson owned the meat market. That day, Henry was drunk. He came out to look at the hogs and they were poor. He said, "Nobody wouldn't bring hogs like that into town but a . . . " George told him that he shouldn't talk like that.

Henry left the wagon and went across the street, turned and started shooting at George. Everyone carried a gun in those days but they had to be carried where they could be seen. It was against the law to carry a concealed gun. George Pound had hidden his horse into town and someone else brought the wagon.

George ran to where his horse was, jerked his Winchester off of the saddle, and jumped behind a gate post that was in front of the livery stable. The bullets were hitting the iron hinges on that post right at George's head. He shot at Thompson but missed him, for his face was full of splinters. He took his glasses off, wiped his face and glasses, put them back on and shot Thompson in the abdomen. That stopped the fight.

Thompson was taken to the doctor and it was thought he would surely die for part of his intestines had come out.

George came back to town a week or two later and Thompson was getting well. George paid all the doctor bills and other expenses of Thompson's being laid up and they were good friends after that. When George came to town you would see them together on the streets.

When I made a poem out of this story, I cut out a bit of deadwood and colored the details: "He shot Henry right above the brass buckle on his levis," I wrote, which was probably true, and I wrote that Henry's "guts were dangling blue loops in the dust," which was also probably true, though neither were what L. F. Baker said. I also filled in the ellipsis with “you half-breed bastard,” making George’s reply notable for its mildness. I called the poem "Good Friends," and in 1998 published it in a book of poems called The Great Deep Fork Navigation Project. I thought well enough of the poem to keep it when in 2011 I did a second edition under the title Oklahoma Elegies. I also kept the companion poem, based on Baker's story about the Thompson brothers shooting down the Choctaw policeman Anderson Lewis.

But the story didn’t need my editorial touches. When George gets splinters in his eyes and stops to wipe his face and glasses so that he can see clearly to shoot, the scene glows with a homely realism that we don’t get in western film until the recent post-westerns of directors like Clint Eastwood in The Unforgiven and Quentin Tarantino in The Hateful Eight.  

This companion story confirms the picture of the sort of men the Thompsons were, and the reader needs to know, for in sentimental fiction the bad guys are usually more interesting than the good guys. The second sentence of the story gives the gist: "Bob and Henry Thompson were both drinking and raising trouble on the streets. Anderson Lewis went to them and advised them to get off of the streets as they were drunk. Henry started fighting him while he was on his horse. Bob shot him five times. Anderson pulled his gun and fired it three times, but didn't hit anyone. He fell off his horse dead."

These are the Thompsons we remember. No palaver, no foreplay, they just start shooting and they aim to kill. In the murder of Anderson Lewis, one of Bob’s bullets went through the victim and into Mrs. Sheer’s café across the street, drilling a hole in two cans of sardines. Later, when Bob enters the café to eat, he has to step across the laid-out corpse of Lewis. Mrs. Sheer is sitting there crying because Lewis, a good man, thirty-two years old with a wife and two small children, has been killed. Bob asks her what is the matter, “You want me to pay for the sardines?”  

“Jim Davidson and Bluker Holt arrested Bob and he played too drunk to go to jail so they put him on a horse and were on the way to the jail” when he spurred the horse and escaped. “The horse was found be he wasn’t heard of for seven or eight years.”

He went to Amarillo Texas, where nobody knew that he was an Indian. He made a good citizen and married the owner of a big ranch.

The he fell off of the water wagon and got drunk. He shot up the town and told everything, he was Chickasaw Indian and that he was a bad fellow to fool with. He had killed Anderson Lewis and didn’t care who knew it. . . . 

That was a year before statehood and a United States Marshal went after him. The trial was at McAlester and he received a ninety-nine year sentence. He was pardoned after he had served twenty years of it.

He had done ten terms before he died in the McAlester jail and had helped make several penitentiary breaks. . . . 
Bob Thompson was born and reared at Kiowa and these terms were for cow and hog stealing, but mostly for whiskey and several killings while in fights.

Such was Bob Thompson and his brother Henry of like temperament, and such was the mild-mannered, bespectacled George Pound, Sheriff of Tobucksy County in the Choctaw Nation. No sentimentality mars Baker’s portraits of these men. 

As to Pounds Valley, it’s a name I’ve never found on any map, but up through the early 1920s it was not infrequent in the local newspapers. As of this writing (May 2016), I have a correspondent who lives there and is a descendant of George’s brother Taylor. At eighty-six, she is sparing with words, but just this morning she wrote to say, “Pounds Valley is much the same as when I was a little girl. We usually see a wolf around the school house, fox, wild turkey, and once my brother and I saw a mountain lion (cougar) run up the side of Indian Trail Mountain, not too many years ago. It’s like time stands still here, and the people are very clannish and unfriendly.”

George Walker Pound, 1850-1917
Kiowa City Cemetery, Pittsburg County OK

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