VISIT PAWHUKA and look for copies of OUR Visit Pawhuska Magazine throughout town...
Pawhuska is located in central Osage County and is the county’s seat and largest community. The town began in 1872 when Osage Agent Isaac T. Gibson established the Osage Agency on Bird Creek in what was then, Indian Territory. The settlement was named in honor of Pa-hu-scah (White Hair), a chief of the Osage Tribe. The Indian Herald, the village’s first newspaper, was started in 1875, and the Pawhuska post office opened in 1876. America’s first Boy Scout troop was organized at Pawhuska in 1909. Pawhuska is the Capital of the Osage Nation and is home to the Osage Nation Museum which is the oldest tribally owned and operated museum in the United States. Annual community events are the Ben Johnson Memorial Steer Roping and the International Round-up club’s Cavalcade, the world’s largest amateur rodeo.
John Stink was an Osage Indian and a member of the Thunder Clan. His real name was Ho-Tah-Moie (Rolling Thunder). John turned away from civilization and lived a life alone in the Osage Hills. Born in Kansas, he moved to the Osage Reservation with his people in 1872. His campsite was near an Osage Catholic School, and he lived with his dogs away from prying eyes of society. Wearing his blankets and a headscarf, he went to town many times. Though he was wealthy, he gave no outward indication.
Rolling Thunder was caught between ancient ways and the new times where money flowed like black gold. During the times of Osage History where guardians were required by the government, he had a guardian. His guardian provided food and supplies in exchange for an oil royalty payment. John Stink required little since he lived as a child of the earth among the trees and under the stars.
In 1906, at allotment time, Ho-Tah-Moie received his allotment land. Though there was a house built for him, he would not live inside. He said ‘white man house make me sick,’ and he did not let his dogs live in the house either. He spoke Osage, and he visited with those who could understand him, as he lived across from the Pawhuska Country Club Golf Course.
Once, it is told that he bought a car, but he did not drive. He would sit in his car, but he would not ride in it. In truth, he desired nothing that money could buy other than bare necessities and a fence for privacy. He was a generous man, and he gave $1,000 to the American Legion Post 97, and he gave $1,000 to each of the local churches. Born in 1863, Rolling Thunder wanted nothing to do with civilized ways.
Nearly freezing to death, he was found by the Sisters of Loretto, Catholic nuns from a school nearby. Thought to be dead, yet he miracuously revived. Another time, he was thought dead, and he was buried on Bacon Rind Hill east of Pawhuska. He was buried in the traditional Osage manner with rocks surrounding him, and he again revived. He and his dogs were later regularly seen walking downtown, and he was considered a ghost. Rejected by most who saw him, he became a legend. During a rabies outbreak, the police shot two of his favorite dogs, and he went home to the hills never to return to town again. Some say one can hear his dogs baying in the valley on certain mystic nights near his old campsite, but who knows for sure?
Having supposedly returned from the dead twice, he was buried one final time in the Pawhuska Mausoleum in 1938, where the wealthiest people of town were buried. John Stink lived to be 75 years old, and he had seen the Oil Boom, the Osage Reign of Terror, the end of the Indian Wars, Wounded Knee, Geronimo’s surrender, cars, airplanes, telephones, trains and World War I. More information can be found in “The Legend of John Stink” by Kenneth Jacob Jump.
Stranger than all other crime tales is the tale of Elmer McCurdy. Deep in the heart of the Osage Hills, just over 100 years ago, one cold autumn morning in October, 1911, Elmer robbed the Katy (M-K-T) Train, at gunpoint, near Okesa, Oklahoma. Believing he was going to become rich from Osage Indian payment money he escaped with the loot and two bottles of whiskey to a nearby barn to hide. He only got $46. Alas, he had robbed the wrong train. Distraught, he began to drink the whiskey, and the deputies soon found him. In a shootout, three deputies ended the life of Elmer McCurdy, or so it seems.
Elmer was taken to Pawhuska Oklahoma, capital of The Osage, for burial. No family came forward to claim Elmer’s body. Embalmed, he stood in a burial basket in the funeral home for five years. Displayed for viewing, people came and went to see the outlaw, but no one paid the bill. Finally, two men from California, claiming to be family, paid the bill and the body was shipped for burial. The trail of Elmer McCurdy’s body is long and twisted. The two men were not family and in fact owned a traveling carnival show, so his corpse was displayed for money. For years the body meandered from place to place, all the time becoming more and more mummified.
After 66 years, in 1977, it was discovered that the dummy hanging in the Laff in the Dark fun house in California was really a body. The Six-Million Dollar man was being filmed, using the dummy. Elmer’s arm fell off while being handled, and authorities were called. It was a long investigation, but the trail finally led back to the Pawhuska Funeral Home, and the true crime story was revealed. Elmer was given a decent burial, sixty six years later, in Boot Hill at Guthrie, Oklahoma, near another very famous outlaw of early day Oklahoma history. His horse drawn carriage and his wooden box seemed decent after all. One of Osage County’s most famous longtime deputies, George Wayman, assisted in the burial proceedings.
All that remains of that long ago day is an old iron train trestle near Okesa and the tombstone at Boot Hill. The Elmer McCurdy story and other tales of The Osage may be found in the Osage County Historical Society Museum. One can view an iron train safe from the “old days” at the old Santa Fe Train Depot, now a museum, or a hand cuff key from a famous U.S. Marshal from the Indian Territory.