Saturday, November 29, 2014

No Excuses! Make Something Good of Your Life: The Remarkable Story of the Marlow Brothers

The five men pictured above are the Oklahoma Marlow brothers. From left to right are George, Boone, Alfred (Alf), Lewellyn (Epp), and Charles (Charley), all sons of Dr. Williamson Marlow and wife Martha Jane, a relative of Daniel Boone. This picture is from 1880 and taken on the grounds of Fort Sill in southwestern Indian Territory, now Lawton, Oklahoma. The father, Dr. Williamson Marlow (not pictured), provided medical treatment to cowboys driving cattle up the Chisholm Trail. Dr. Marlow also farmed while his sons herded horses and the wild mustangs that roamed the prairies, selling many of the horses to the United States Army headquarters at neighboring Ft. Sill. By all accounts, Dr. Marlow, his wife Martha Jane, and the five boys were esteemed by the locals as an honorable family. The short story that follows revolves around the two brothers on each end of the picture above - George (far left) and Charley (far right).

If you have ever been to the mountains of Colorado, near cities of Crested Butte or Telluride, there is a small community called Ridgway, Colorado. Charley and George served as law enforcement officers in that area, but only after a series of setbacks, losses, and the scarring of their personal reputations, circumstances that would have left most people full of hopelessness and despair. Not the Marlow brothers. Charley died in 1941 and George in 1945. Upon George's death by natural causes on July 3, 1945, the Montrose (Colorado) Daily Press wrote,
"The wildest Western fiction magazines have never produced men of greater courage or more daring and remarkable incidents than were enacted in real life by these famous brothers.…Arriving in this country, the Marlows were always perfectly law-abiding citizens and earned hundreds of friends, not one of whom was ever let down."

The Accusations

In 1888 the five Marlow sons were accused of horse-stealing in Indian Territory (Oklahoma), a
charge later proven to be unfounded. Rival horse traders played a role in attempting to shut down the Marlow brothers profitable horse trading business through these false charges. Nevertheless, four of the five brothers (George was gone on a business trip) were escorted by United States deputy marshals to the federal court in Graham, Texas in order to stand trial. In 1888, there were no federal courts in Indian Territory (Oklahoma).

Upon hearing his brothers were in jail in Texas, George made his way to Texas to plead their case, but he soon found himself in jail as well. Boone Marlow was able to escape and make it back to Indian Territory where he later died after being poisoned by rivals. Because of Boone's escape, federal marshals decided to move the remaining four Marlow brothers to a more secure facility in Weatherford, Texas.

The Ambush

On Saturday, January 19, 1889, the four Marlow brothers were handcuffed together - George to Lewellyn and Charley to Alfred - and guards prepared to move the brothers to Weatherford, Texas.

Shortly after leaving the city of Graham, a hidden mob ambushed the defenseless and unarmed Marlow brothers. When the firing commenced, the guards ran to join the mob while the brothers leaped from the wagon, still handcuffed together, and armed themselves with guns they'd managed to take from guards before they fled. In the horrific gunfight that ensued, Lewellyn and Alfred were killed.

Though George and Charley were seriously wounded, they managed to retrieve a knife from an ambusher that had tried to sneak on them from their flank. The surviving brothers used the knife to remove the chains which tethered them to their dead brothers (gruesome details omitted). George and Charley managed to escape using the wagon in which they'd been riding.  Three members of the mob which ambushed the Marlow brothers were killed and a number of others wounded.

Several members of the mob were later prosecuted and convicted for their deadly assault upon the unarmed Marlow brothers. After escaping the ambush in Texas, George and Charley forsook their home in Indian Territory and made their way to Colorado where they established a couple of small farms. The Marlow brothers, like they had in Oklahoma, became good neighbors. They even began working in Ouray County, Colorado as law enforcement officers because of their expert horsemanship and marksmanship, not to mention the trust the locals had given these two men.

Two years after the shootout in Graham, Texas, the governor of Texas received word that the Marlow brothers were in Colorado. The Texas governor sent marshals to arrest Charley and George in Ridgway, Colorado. The Marlow brothers came to meet the marshals knowing that the horse thievery charges had already been proven false. They refused to surrender to the Texas marshals, proclaiming that they were the ones who had been wronged in Texas. The local sheriff asked for intervention from governor of Colorado, and after a few telegraph exchanges, the Texas marshals left without the Marlow brothers. This prompted the locals to declare, "the next time Texas seeks the Marlows, they'd better send 2,000 Texas rangers instead of two." A petition circulated among the inhabitants of Ridgway, Colorado avowing "the Marlow boys are known by the signers to be good and law-abiding citizens of Ouray County. They deserve the support of all citizens in their endeavor to be freed from persecution."

Texas decided to leave the Marlow brothers alone.

The Aftermath

George and Charley Marlow settled in Colorado and both had large families. They became successful small ranchers and were involved in community activities, serving as lawmen in Ouray County, Colorado for more than a decade. They were instrumental in putting down a labor strike in Crested Butte, Colorado with the infamous Doc Shores. They were known for their ability to chase and capture stagecoach robbers through their expert horsemanship, and they often assisted their neighbors in cattle round-ups. Their most famous arrest involved a local murderer who was believed to be 'armed and extremely dangerous."

Eventually Charley relocated to California to be near his adult children. He died on January 19, 1941, 52 years to the day of his wounding in the Graham, Texas ambush. George continued to live in Colorado, passing away on July 3, 1945.

In 1891, after sentencing ambushers to prison for their part in the attack on the unarmed Marlow brothers, Federal Judge A. P. McCormick said:
"This is the first time in the annals of history where unarmed prisoners, shackled together, ever repelled a mob. Such cool courage that preferred to fight against such great odds and die, if at all, in glorious battle rather than die ignominiously by a frenzied mob, deserves to be commemorated in song and story."
The judge was prophetic.

In 1965 John Wayne starred in The Sons of Katie Elder, a movie loosely based on the Marlow brothers. The town that would be incorporated around the original homestead of Dr. Marlow and his five sons in 1898 would take the name Marlow, Oklahoma. Several books have been written about the Marlow brothers, and their exploits have been put to song.


Being a pastor I am in a position to see catastrophic, unexplainable, and hurtful circumstances enveloping individuals. It is not uncommon to see people falsely accused, verbally shot at by enemies while completely defenseless, facing the loss of all things loved and cherished, even reputations, and finding themselves having to start all over again.

There are two responses. One can either give in to hopelessness and despair, or one can put the past behind and start again. The Marlow brothers are an example to me that no matter what comes your way, it is possible to begin again. Franklin D. Roosevelt said, "Hope is the conviction that there is a better life, a better world, beyond the horizon."

To all my friends who feel despair because of their circumstances, I offer the Marlow brothers as an illustration of the axiom Martin Luther gave nearly 500 years ago:
"Everything that is done in the world is done by hope."
Don't lose your hope. There is a better future just over the horizon. Make something good of your life, no matter how dark it seems to you right now.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for the encouraging words. There are much needed.

Pege' said...

Wade, you are such a wonderful story teller. I really enjoyed this. You are can loose everything ...and all is well..but if you loose HOPE...all is lost. I lost HOPE was a night from hell that I will never ever forget...but i will testify it will NEVER happen again.

Wade Burleson said...

Thanks, Peg - and Anonymous!

Lee Enochs said...

Pastor Wade, can God save a non-Southerner who hates cowboy boots, hats and George Straight's music?

I wrote something about this on my blog at:

M. Joy said...

Inspiring story. Thank you!!

Paul Burleson said...


I'm neither Wade nor am I answering for him. But to answer your question... "Can God save a non-Southerner who hates cowboy boots, hats and George Straight's music?"...Because of His abundant mercy, I would say "yes", but I can't say why He would want to. ;)

Wade Burleson said...


The above is a good answer! :)

Anonymous said...

Cool story and great application; I'm gonna go back and watch "Sons of Katie Elder" for about the 100th time but this time with the Marlow Brothers in mind.

Shawn said...

As I read that I kept thinking-Sons of Katie Elder!

Anonymous said...

Wade, do you think it is possible that one must lose all hope to truly let go and leave God in control of things. I know personally I try everything I can to do what's right and fix things but ultimately always fail. It is when I "lose hope" that I'm able to let go and honestly say it's in the Lord's hands and His will be done. It seems at that point I can accept whatever His will is be it what I hoped for our not. If I could only learn my lesson sooner and leave it up to Him from the beginning. - CD

Rex Ray said...

Enjoyed this remarkable story. I enlarged the picture of the brothers to 500%, and the brother you named “Lewellyn” is spelled “Sewellyn”.

I now walk with a cane in one hand and a crutch in the other. I’ve had a ‘venous ulcer’ on an ankle for 15 months partly due to a good doctor making a mistake. I relate to the point of your post of “hope”. Of course it helps when Mayo Clinic said it’s getting a lot better. :)