URIAS CANTWELL
Alias
Presley 'Toppy' Johnson
By
David and Nancy (Cantwell) Hawk

When Tom Cantwell died in Tulsa Oklahoma in 1946, his daughter found two letters in his billfold that he had carried for nearly half a century. The letters were datelined (1) Lordsburg New Mexico Jan 1st 1897 and (2) Rio Bonita Ranch Dec 14th (no year). They were signed "your brother, P Johnson". Genealogical resources had provided a history for all of Tom's siblings except for two brothers, Pleasant and Urias. On strength of the letter 'P' it was assumed that P Johnson was Pleasant Cantwell. It was further assumed that he lived and died in the Lordsburg NM vicinity. Close re-examination of the letters and further research have shown that neither assumption was correct.

Whoever translated the handwritten letter to a typed version missed a key notation. P Johnson told Tom to write to him at Morenci Arizona. Presley Johnson is found in the US Census records for Graham Co Arizona in 1910, 20 and 30. Sharyn (Cantwell) Baker, found a Gila Valley newspaper article from 1930 about the death of a local rancher, Presley Johnson, locally known as Toppy Cantroll. The article noted that Presley Johnson had a sister in Lawton Oklahoma, Mrs SE Parsons. SE Parsons was Sarah Elizabeth Cantwell. Still assuming P Johnson to be Pleasant Cantwell, in 2005 we placed a gravestone for him in Union Cemetery, Safford Arizona.

The Safford newspaper printed a follow up article to the one written in 1930 along with pictures of the gravesite and two grandnieces (Nancy Cantwell Hawk and Sharyn Cantwell Baker) placing the stone.

Later we received a communication from Peter Brand, a writer in Australia, who had done research on the outlaws of New Mexico, including Toppy Johnson. Following up on Mr Brand's information led to many months of research and a whole new understanding of P Johnson. Peter Brand was not the only writer interested in Presley 'Toppy' Johnson. F Stanley's The Kingston New Mexico Story addressed the escapades of Toppy Johnson, as did James McKenna in The Black Range Tales. Phillip Rasch compiled a wealth of old newspaper articles and published an essay on Toppy Johnson in The Real West magazine. Those sources give a good accounting of Toppy Johnson's escapades and activities from early 1880 to the mid-1890s. All stories have a beginning and an end. Those writers could not have known Toppy Johnson's beginning and, lacking the research information available today, they missed the call on his end.

In the early 1850s, James and Anna (Johnson) Cantwell along with three young sons moved from Madison County Arkansas to a homestead near Neosho, Newton County Missouri where a fourth son, Urias, was born on January 21st 1853. The family remained there for a few years, returning to Madison County Arkansas mid-1850s. By 1860 they had added three more children to the family and had emigrated to Parker County Texas. In 1870 they were living along the Brazos River in McLennan County Texas and three more children had been born and one had died.

In 1872 most of the Cantwell family returned to Arkansas, this time settling in Ft Smith or in the Indian Territory near Ft Smith. Public records have been found establishing that all the children were in and around Ft Smith at one time or another except for Pleasant and Urias. Family legends have been passed down that indicate problems with the law occurred in Texas that caused one of these to flee south and the other fled west. Apparently these two changed their names, as was not unusual for fugitives at that time, and lived out their lives under assumed names, except at the very end when Presley Johnson was also known as Toppy Cantroll. After the 1870 census, there is no further trace of Pleasant Cantwell aside from one report that he at one time (1920s) visited his cousin George W Cantrell who lived near Okemah, Oklahoma.

By 1883, Urias Cantwell, under the name Presley 'Toppy' Johnson was cutting a wide swath in (present day) Sierra County New Mexico. He had established a ranch near Kingston with good grass, water, and a herd of some 200 fine longhorn cattle. He owned several houses in Kingston along with butchering pens and a meat market. His estimated worth was $30,000. Real estate, ranching and meat marketing were not Toppy's only endeavors. His reputation as a cattle rustler was well known in southeastern New Mexico. F Stanley in the Kingston NM Story says that a visitor to present day Kingston can make his bed under a tree and visualize the Kingston that was in the days of the miners and Apache war chief Victoria – “if he lies still enough, he will hear the thunder of many hooves as Toppy Johnson, rustler deluxe steers the thundering herd in his direction….”

An article in The Lone Star, El Paso Texas, February 10th 1883 addresses the extent of cattle rustling in west Texas and southern New Mexico. “Cattle stealing is becoming so prevalent in the adjoining counties of New Mexico that there is hardly any use engaging in the stock business there. The owners of herds along the Rio Grande from the Texas line to Paraje have been robbed until they begin to talk seriously of organizing and hunting down the thieves. Lincoln and Grant counties (New Mexico) have also been plundered and such a feeling exists against the thieves that they will probably in the future be summarily dealt with when caught. Large quantities of beef have been butchered at night in the woods along the river above and below Rincon, loaded in cars and shipped to this city……The thefts are becoming so frequent and bold and are retarding the legitimate stock raising interests to such an extent that the most stringent measures are called for……” and “Major AJ Fountain of the New Mexico militia informs us he has been authorized by Gov Sheldon to call out a sufficient force to hunt down the cattle thieves that infest the southern portion of New Mexico, that he has called out the Mesilla company of 40 men and will pursue the thieves to the death…….”

Toppy Johnson was particularly wanted by Major Fountain. Not only did he lead a band of rustlers himself, in addition, most of the cattle stolen by the Kinney gang and other thieves were processed through Toppy's butchering pens and meat shop. Toppy also provided a supply of mutton for those with such a taste, the sheep being either stolen by Toppy or purchased from those who stole them.

On March 21st 1883, Major Fountain with the militia companies of Captains Van Patten and Salazar launched their effort against the New Mexico rustlers, capturing and subsequently killing two of Toppy's contemporaries, John Watts and William Gilliard (alias Bill Bush) March 22nd. On March 23rd the Kinney gang was rolled up and transported to jail in Las Cruces. In a dispatch from Major Fountain at Nutt, New Mexico, to Governor Sheldon: “I have just arrived here. Have been sixty hours in the saddle. My men killed a prisoner who attempted to escape last night. Have two prisoners, Irwin and Colville. The latter has made important disclosures. Hank Brophy, Baldy Johnson (this refers to Toppy Johnson) and thirteen others who had determined to make a stand fight near Kingston broke up on my approach and fled to the mountains. I am reliably informed that they have fled toward the Mexico line. I will push on to Cruces, obtain fresh horses and endeavor to head them off.” On March 29th a detachment of Captain Salazar's company reported from Palomas Lake, 90 miles southwest of Mesilla on the Mexican line that Brophy, Johnson and the other fugitives had already passed there. In fact, the rustlers never made a dash for Mexico. They scattered amongst the hills and within ten days, according to the Santa Fe newspaper, “returned to the Kingston area and were carrying things with a 'high hand' – more desperate and defiant, warning the citizens to keep quiet or suffer death”. June 15th, Major Fountain again launched an expedition to capture the fugitives in the Kingston area, sending Captain Salazar's men in squads of 3 or 4 to block the mountain passes south and west, while he and Van Patten's company approached from the northeast. Their plan, purpose and destination were known several days in advance and acting on that, the sheriff of Dona Ana County, Guadalupe Ascarate, sent deputy Dave Woods to Hillsboro and Kingston. Deputy Woods arrested Toppy along with others and placed them under bond. The citizens were irate at having to fund a useless militia expedition. There are no news accounts of any action taken after the men were placed under bond.

In April 1884 Toppy was indicted for purchasing 200 head of sheep, knowing them to have been stolen. He was tried in Grant County, with the judge directing acquittal based on the facts that it was not proven he knew the sheep were stolen and that the sheep had been stolen in Dona Ana County, therefore there was a question of the proper venue.

June 6th 1884. Deputies Davisson, Cantwell, and Houghton were dispatched to the Lake Valley area in response to a request from the Grayson Cattle Co for assistance in dealing with a band of rustlers. Toppy Johnson, Jim Johnson, Fred Bowman and a Sullivan were arrested at Kingston, Lem Ball at Lake Valley. Others escaped to the hills with the lawmen in pursuit.

June 12th 1884. Cattlemen of the upper Rio Grande and the Fairview community organized a county wide roundup, seeking both their herds and the rustlers who had been preying on them. Twelve men were found with cattle not belonging to them and they were herded up with the cattle. Part of the company went to Kingston and once again arrested Toppy. All the captives were transported to Hillsboro and held there in the hotel. Toppy's bail was set at $11,000.00 on eleven counts. He did not make bail and was held along with seven of his gang. The men were subsequently transported to Las Palomas for a preliminary hearing before Judge Kahler, prosecuted by a Mr Elliot of Kingston and defended by P O Lydon. Strong evidence was presented against the defendants and most of them were bound over to appear before the next term of the district court. Toppy's bond was set at $7500 and he, along with eight others, were held under guard in Hillsboro. On June 28th Toppy and six of his gang were taken to the Santa Fe jail to be held there until called for by the courts or until the new jail in Hillsboro could be fitted with steel cages for the security of prisoners.

A write-up in the June 30th 1884 Santa Fe New Mexican Review gives this account of Toppy Johnson: “The alleged leader of the gang and a man who came into notoriety about the time of John Kinney's capture. He is a tall fellow with dark hair and beard, a red face and blue eyes. He has a pleasant address, gives orders and is readily obeyed by his associates and looks you square in the eye when talking. None of them look like 'bad men'. Johnson says he has been harshly treated by the press in the southern part of the territory; declares he and his associates are not guilty and says they will surely be acquitted at their forthcoming trial in November. Johnson owns a fine ranch near Kingston and a number of dwelling houses in the town. He is a butcher by trade and is estimated to be worth $30,000. He could easily have given bond, but preferred to remain with his companions in jail until the time of the trial.”

In the Chloride Black Range of July 4th 1884: “Toppy Johnson and his gang have sworn dire revenge on all those engaged in their capture provided they get their liberty. The officers and stockmen will take good care that the penitentiary throws its protecting arms about and holds them in its embrace for a good long term of years.”

From the Chloride Black Range of August 1st 1884: “The sheep men of this section have been at Kingston looking through the herds and pens of Toppy Johnson and they find the peculations of this now notorious person were not confined wholly to cattle. Beef was the staple article at his butcher shop, but to supply the occasional demand of the Kingston people he generally kept a little mutton on hand. If he was out, it was because there was snow on the ground. J B Newman wandered down to Johnson's corral where he found six of his own sheep and some of Tafoya's. He notified Tafoya who reconnoitered and discovered eight sheep in the herd and nine skins on the fence bearing his brand more or less effaced. This adds another count to the case against the rustlers.”

The Silver City Enterprise of September 12th 1884 quoting an article in the Santa Fe Review: “A Review scribe learns that rustlers have of late run off as many as 1500 head of cattle in Sierra County. They are supposed to have driven them into the western part of Grant and Socorro counties.” Then “There is no truth whatever in the above paragraph. While Toppy Johnson and his gang had things pretty much their own way at Kingston there is no disputing that a large number of cattle were stolen, but since Johnson's arrest we doubt there have been ten head of stolen cattle driven into or out of Grant and Socorro counties.”

On November 9th 1884 newly elected sheriff Tom Murphy and 3 deputies retrieved Toppy and five of his gang from Santa Fe to attend trial in Hillsboro starting on the 10th.

From the Sierra County Court Record Book A the following indictments were handed down for Toppy:
November 20th 1884
Case Numbers 57 and 58, Territory vs. P Johnson alias Toppy Johnson – Larceny of Cattle.
November 21st 1884
Case Numbers 67 and 68 – Larceny of Cattle;
Case Number 69 Larceny of Sheep;
Case Number 69 – Larceny of Sheep;
Case Numbers 72, 75, and 76 – Larceny of Cattle;
Case Number 80 – Having and Receiving Stolen Cattle;
Case Number 82 – Receiving Stolen Cattle;
Case Number 84 – Larceny of Cattle;
Case Number 137 – Selling hides from Stolen Cattle (No indictment found)

Santa Fe New Mexican Review of December 1st 1884 reports that Toppy Johnson and men will not be tried until the next term of court – reason for the postponement not given. On December 4th, bail was reduced 50%.

December 5th issue of the Silver City Enterprise reports that Toppy and others of his gang escaped from the Hillsboro jail. On December 12th the Enterprise reports that the gang has been recaptured.

April 16th 1885 P Toppy Johnson found guilty and sentenced to five years in the Territorial Penitentiary. Incredibly, there was not a word written in the Hillsboro newspaper about the trial, only a note several days later that Johnson and gang had been found guilty and sentenced.

The Santa Fe New Mexican of October 10th 1885 ran a story of a breakout at the penitentiary in which Toppy Johnson made a break for freedom, was shot, slightly wounded and immediately recaptured. However on October 14th, Warden Gregg reported that Toppy was not involved in the breakout and spoke well of Toppy's behavior stating he had never behaved badly and was doing his best to work out his hard lot with every intention of being at better citizen when he becomes free.

The Record of Convicts from the New Mexico Territorial Prison gives the following data for Presley 'Toppy' Johnson:
Received: April 20th 1885
Term Began: April 16th 1885
Term Ends: April 15 1890
Crime: Larceny of Cattle
Race: American
Age: 32
Weight: 155
Height: 5 ft 11 in
Eyes: Light Blue
Hair: Dark
Complexion: Light
Foot Size: 6
Teeth: Good
Where From: Neosho, Newton Co Missouri
Occupation: Carpenter
Married or Single: Single
Religion: Protestant
Church of Parents: Same
Father Living: No
Mother Living: Yes
Age of Self Support: 17
Habits:
Temperate: Yes
Intemperate: No
Use Tobacco: Yes
Can Read: Yes
Can Write: Yes
Previous Imprisonment: No
Nearest Relative or Friend: J E Askew of Kingston
Remarks: Released under new good time law March 15th 1889

This Record of Convicts gave us our first hint that Presley Johnson was Urias Cantwell, not Pleasant as had been assumed. His age at 32 years in 1885 corresponded with Urias' birth year of 1853 and the where from of Neosho Newton County Missouri agrees with where the family lived at that time. Another look at the US Census data for 1910 and 1920 confirmed ages equal to birth years of 1853/52.

James McKenna noted in the Black Range Tales that each time Toppy was arrested and released from custody he went directly back to mauling on the herds of the cattle barons and one can see that from the frequency of his arrests and re-arrests enumerated above. Toppy nonetheless maintained his innocence and swore that he was only retaliating against the big cattle outfits for framing him and forcing the loss of his ranch and freedom. He insisted that both before his prison term by refusing to bail out of jail assuming he would be acquitted and in his conversations with James McKenna after his release from prison. He told McKenna “There was a time, Jimmy, when I owned a fine ranch with plenty of grass and water for my two hundred head of cattle. I expected to marry and settle down, and I'd be making a good living for a family today if it weren't for the big cattle outfits. The big cattlemen wanted me out of the way. First they accused me of branding their calves and then they ran off my cows and calves to pay me back – so they said. Finally they burned my cabin while I was away and framed me in a shooting scrape. As long as I was under a cloud I made up my mind I might as well have the game as the name. The big cattlemen made me an outlaw. McKenna says he believed Toppy as did many others who knew him in better days. At the time Toppy visited McKenna he was again running from the law – on the hike – as he put it, with a large reward offered for his capture.

McKenna said of Toppy: “He was a well-educated Texan, tall, straight and lean. His bald head had less hair than a billiard ball and was a fine mark for the officers of the law who were out to get him. He was the last man in the world I would have picked for an outlaw.” (The physical description of Toppy given by McKenna, the earlier news article account and data from the prison record would be an apt description for his brothers as well. They were all tall, slim, straight with light blue eyes and bald, with the exception of Joe Cantwell who tipped the scales at close to 300 pounds.)

Worth $30,000 when he went to prison, Toppy was destitute when released according to F Stanley in the Kingston story. As a return favor for helping him when he was down and out, James McKenna purchased Toppy a pair of boots and a supply of tobacco. Toppy thanked him with tears in his eyes. That same night, Toppy headed out.

McKenna, Stanley and Rasch all agree that shortly after his visit with McKenna, Toppy joined up with Will 'Black Jack' Christian's gang. They all seem to conclude, without really saying so, that Toppy was killed along with most of Christian's gang in a shootout with Sheriff Bob Leatherwood's posse in Arizona. There was one shootout in Skeleton Canyon following a Nogales bank holdup in August 1895 and another in Black Jack canyon in 1897. Christian himself was killed in the latter fracas. In neither account is Toppy Johnson mentioned.

Two pieces of evidence indicate Toppy was likely wounded in the 1895 incident. One, the newspaper account of his death in 1930 states he had been a local (Graham County Arizona) resident for 35 years. Second, when he wrote the first letter to Tom Cantwell in January 1897, he was in the process of establishing his ranch on Bonita Creek. That he had been shot prior to arriving in the Safford/Morenci area is most likely true. An old man, Cowboy Earven, told us in 2005 that Toppy was 'a damned old outlaw' that had been shot by the law and holed up in a cave up on the mountain (Turtle Mountain). Cowboy was a lad of 8 years when he helped his father and brother haul Toppy out of mountains to the hospital in Solomonville the day he died. What is known of his life after settling on Bonita Creek comes from the two letters he wrote to Tom Cantwell:

Lordesburg New Mex

Jan the 897
1

Dear Brother
I recun you think I hav fur got you but not so. I has been to (?) auction to buy cattel and will leav her to morrow for home. I stay at home for some time when I get their & will be glad to hear from you all threw the summer I would have liked to come see you but cannot. I start the ranch on the river this spring if you can come out hear next summer I would be glad we plant corn in August so you can come in the summer & plant corn & I sow alfalfa this spring excuse a short letter my re gardes to all my love to ma writ soon P Johnson
To Morencie Ari
as before Yours as ever
PJohnson

2nd Letter
REO BONETA RANCH
Decber the 14th

Dear Brother
It has bin some time cence I hard from you I hav bin attend ing to my Mining property but am at home now & will stay hear for some time I am thinking of taking out a ditch on the River 8 miles from here if so I has plenty of work for some time to come the flood last fall injured my crops but did not injure my orchered if they are any persimmon trees their wish you wood send me 12 small sproutes I want all kindes of fruit times is prity good hear the mines shut down for to put in 2 moor smelter stack will start up the first I am getting good prises for what I have $1.00 apeice for pumkins Chikins is $7 and hav bin all fall I think tak out a ditch watering 1000 acors of ground then I be fixed all the time to come this is a good country to live in.

I will cloes for this time hoping to hear from you soon gave my regardes to all the folks & tel them to writ I remain your true friend &brother

writ as before

PJohnson
p.s. Send the persimmon trees buy express cod & I take them out hear

In addition to maintaining contact with Tom Cantwell, Toppy apparently corresponded with his sister, Sarah E Parsons. After he died, Graham County authorities found evidence of his sister in his cabin. Whether he corresponded with other of his siblings is not known, but he did ask Tom to have them write.

We do not know where the mining property referred to in the second letter is located. Rex Owens who had done survey work for the Bureau of Land Management in the vicinity of Toppy's homestead found evidence of prospecting, but nothing hinting of a mine or mines. Since Toppy was “away” tending his mining business, and as he received his mail at Morenci, his mining property was probably near there.

According to Cowboy Earven, Toppy lived for several years in a cave on Turtle Mountain before building a cabin on Bonita Creek, about a mile south of the San Carlos Reservation. A corner of the old cabin still stands. Toppy is not found in the 1900 US Census. In 1910 he is listed in the Bonita Creek Voting District 11. His age is given as 57 and his occupation is farming. He is still single. In 1920 Toppy is a lodger in the household of Gilbert Webster and his wife Hannah in San Jose District 4. He is 68 years old, single, and occupation is Farmer. In 1921 a tragedy occurred at Toppy's cabin on Bonita Creek. The family of Ed Fulcher was living there trying to establish a horse ranch. Mrs Fulcher committed suicide and was found by a couple of young cowboys who had dropped by hoping for a meal. They strapped Mrs Fulcher to a door and tied that on the back of a mule, then set off up Turtle Mountain to Morenci. When the body was brought to Morenci, Ed Fulcher was at the hospital attending to a son who had been shot in a gunfight near Mule Creek, New Mexico. Then in 1930 Toppy is again living at his ranch, Single, Retired and gave his age as 81. He was enumerated on April 21st, about 2 weeks before he died. The following account of his death is from the Valley Farmer Newspaper of May 9th 1930:

Headline: 'Toppy Johnson' of Bonita Creek Dies in Hospital
Sub Headline: Was Brought to Safford On Wednesday On a Cot Lashed to Two Burros And Died a Few Hours Later
Presley Cantroll, familiarly known in Graham County for thirty-five years as "Toppy" Johnson, aged 84, a rancher in the Bonita Creek section, north of the Gila, was found unconscious in the yard of his ranchhouse on Tuesday by the son of Jim Earven, of Solomonville, and a companion.

Cantroll was removed to the ranch of J.W.Earven three miles distant where he was given attention and young Earven left for Safford to notify the county authorities.

On Wednesday the aged man was brought to Safford on a pole cot lashed to the backs of two burros and placed in the local hospital where he was attended by Dr Platt, county health officer. The patient was so far gone when he reached the hospital that he was beyond medical attention and died at eight o'clock that night.

"Toppy" was in Solomonville on or about April 17th and visited with his old friend J. W. Earven who tried to persuade the old man not to return to his ranch situated just south of the reservation fence on Bonita Creek. Toppy insisted on returning to his ranch however and left Solomonville about April 26th. The first of the week the son of Mr Earven took out some provisions for him and found him in the condition described above.

"Toppy" Johnson as he was called had been a rancher in that section for thirty five years and at the time……….head of cattle estimated at between fifteen and twenty five head. Among his effects it was discovered that he had a sister living at Lawton, Oklahoma, Mrs S E Parsons. She was sent a telegram by County Attorney Rogers, advising her of her brother's death but up to the time of going to press, no reply had been received. Funeral services will be held at 2:00 o'clock this afternoon and burial will be in Union Cemetery.

Death Certificate gives Cause of Death: Peritonitis Contributory: Ruptured Bladder

There are age discrepancies in the above account and in the 1930 census. Toppy was 78 when he died, not 84.

We obtained copies of Toppy's probate record from the Graham County Court Clerk's office. When he died, he had an unpatented claim on 160 acres lying along Bonita Creek in the Sanchez district. Since it was an unpatented claim, after he died, the land went back into the public domain and was subsequently claimed by the Earvens. Cowboy Earven ranched it for years and said he still owned it, but it actually now belongs to the Bureau of Land Management and lies within the Gila Box Riparian Conservation area. There are BLM roads that pass within a couple of miles of Toppy's cabin, but without a 4 wheeler or a mule, one cannot get there. The final approach to the cabin is a 1.5 mile hike down Midnight Canyon, and another 3/4th mile up Bonita Creek. The BLM ranger for that area strongly discouraged us from attempting the trip.

The disposable part of Toppy's estate consisted of 14 head of cattle and 8 range horses. It was noted in the court papers that the cattle were branded CT on the left hip and the horses CT on the left shoulder. The livestock were rounded up and sold at auction by Special Administrator, AT West to a TW West for a total of $420.00. It was known by the court that Toppy had a sister named SE Parsons living in Lawton OK and a telegram was sent to her. She apparently never received the telegram (Sarah Elizabeth at the time lived in Shawnee with her daughter, Bertie Knouse) or did not respond to it. At any rate, after Mr West paid the charges against the estate, there was $19.20 left which went to the Graham County Treasurer. Charges were as follows:

O'Bryan and Rawson Undertakers (burial) 91.00
Morris & Squibb Hospital (Medical care) 30.00
Jim Earven (bringing Pleasant to Safford) 50.00
AT West (rounding up cattle, 3 men, 3 days) 30.00
AT West (rounding up horses (2 men, 2 days) 20.00
AT West (care of animals, pending sale) 35.80
Appraisers, WA Peck, Seth Dodge & JM Talley 9.00
AT West (services as estate administrator) 50.00
Charles Rogers (attorney fees) 75.00
County Treasurer, Aaron W Nelson, residue of estate 19.20
unclaimed by heirs

As is the case with most genealogical efforts, this probably is not the end of the story. We still would like to find out what happened to the property Urias owned in and around Kingston New Mexico and will endeavor to do so in subsequent visits to the area. We also would like to locate the mining property of which he wrote. Most of all we would now like to find a trail leading to Pleasant Cantwell who for so many years was assumed to be P Johnson and move his grave marker from Safford to the proper location, wherever that may be. We need also to properly mark the gravesite of Urias Cantwell, alias Presley 'Toppy' Johnson.

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Family of James Cantwell and Sarah Anna Johnson Cantwell
Unfortunately we have no pictures of Urias, but we do have photos of his sister, 6 brothers and his mother.

Sarah Anna (Johnson) Cantwell 1829 - 1898. Picture taken at Ada Oklahoma shortly before her death at age 69. Mother of Urias Cantwell/Presley 'Toppy' Johnson.

William Bluford Cantwell 1847 - 1947 and his wife Jane (Bailey). Oldest brother of Urias Cantwell. Veteran of the Civil War. Buried Oak Cemetery Ft Smith, AR.

Pleasant Cantwell
Joseph Henry Cantwell 1850 - 1932 and his wife Sarah Frances (Taylor) Cantwell. JH was a drover on the Chisholm Trail during the 1870's. He admired the country along the Red River near Walters OK, but being leery of the Comanche Indians, when he and his family moved from Coryell Co Texas to the Indian Territory they settled in the Ada area. Later, he had a farm near Walters. Joe and Sarah were the grandparents of Oklahoma Governor and US Senator Robert S Kerr. Buried Rosedale Cemetery Ada OK.

Urias Cantwell, Buried Union Cemetery Safford AZ.

George Cantwell Buried somewhere in McLennan or Parker Co TX.

Abington Parsons and his wife Sarah Elizabeth (Cantwell). Ab and Sarah were married in 1870 when she was barely 13 years old. Veteran of the Civil War. Buried Highland Cemetery Lawton OK.

James Riley Cantwell 1857 - 1894. A younger brother of Urias. James R was a farmer near Ft Smith Arkansas and a part time Deputy Marshall. While serving warrants out of Ft Smith in Indian Territory, he was shot and left for dead. Two young Indian men carried him to Ft Smith where he died several months later from his wound. This picture was taken about the time of his marriage in 1884. No picture of his wife, Elizabeth Partain, exists. Buried Oak Cemetery Ft Smith, AR.

Calvin Price Cantwell 1862 - 1940, younger brother of Urias and Nancy Hawk's grandfather. He was a Deputy US Marshall out of Muskogee Oklahoma, appointed by Marshall JJ McAlester. In his later years, he was a farmer near Elmore City Oklahoma. Buried Rosedale Cemetery Ada OK.

Stephen Gilbert Cantwell 1864 - 1942 and his wife Jessie Ida (Green). A younger brother of Urias. Stephen had some trouble with the law in the late 1880s and early '90s. He was tried and acquitted of Assault with Intent to Kill and later for Capital Murder, again was acquitted. (See documents below). From the descriptions given of Urias by James McKenna and one of the newspaper writers, Urias probably resembled Stephen moreso than his other brothers. Buried Little Cemetery Seminole Co OK.

Thomas Francis Cantwell 1869 - 1946, youngest brother of Urias and the recipient of the two letters mentioned in the essay. Tom was a Ft Smith Constable all of his working years. Buried Tulsa OK.

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Additional documentation on Stephen G. Cantwell:

From the National Archives folders for Western District Court.

1889 – Assault and Battery with Intent to Kill

On October 21, 1889 at Oak Lodge, Choctaw Nation, Indian Territory, Stephen G Cantwell assaulted William Wallace with an iron bar.

On October 22, 1889 Calvin P Cantwell and John McEachim signed a $600 bond for Steve.

His trial was held in the Western District Court of Arkansas on October 26th 1889 his attorney was Wm McCravens. First witness was Henry Stiff or Stith:

“I was present when a part of the difficulty occurred. The first I saw of it, Wallace asked Jim Justice for some tobacco. Justice replied that he did not use it. Wallace was drinking and he said by God you might have to use it. Justice asked him if he thought he could make him use it. Wallace said you goddamned son of a bitch I can whip you in a fair fight. He commenced taking the things out of his pocket getting read to fight. I stepped down to the blacksmith shop and when I came back, they were fighting. Just as I came up Wallace kicked at Justice and fell down and as he got up Cantrell hit him and said Goddamn you fight a man. I do not know what he hit him with and I turned around and went away. When Cantwell hit Wallace he sort of squatted down and put his hands up to his head and commenced bleeding. When I turned away from there I went down to the blacksmiths house, in about 10 or 15 minutes Will Stalcup and Ingram came along with Wallace holding him up and helping him along. I went along with him a piece and then went back with him and held the lamp for him to dress the wound.”

Absalom Whitaker being duly sworn says:

“I live at Oak Lodge IT. I was called in to see Wallace the night of the fight. He had a cut on the front of the head. I examined him to satisfy myself that the skull was not fractured. It is possible that there might have been some indentification of the skull. I saw him again day before yesterday and he was better then but still in bed”

There were other witnesses subpoenaed, but no testimony was recorded in the package we received. It is not clear what the disposition of the case was, on the back sheet is a note that the case was 'discharged'.

From the testimony given, I would assume that perhaps the Justice involved was either a young man or boy and Steve considered it an unfair fight, weighing in with his iron bar.

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From the Western District of Arkansas Circuit Court August 1891 Term

On the 26th of September 1891 near Claremore, Cherokee Nation, IT, Stephen shot and killed Edward Johnson and was charged with murder.

Witnesses subpoenaed were:
John Weaver – lived near Claremore, IT
James Gentry – lived 12 miles SW of Claremore
Irvin Taylor – lived near Inola, IT
Joe Desio (sp?)
George Ferrell
John Watson
James Watson

On September 28th the US Attorney for the Western District asked for a writ of arrest and on that same day, Deputy US Marshall served the writ of arrest at Wagoner, IT and took Steve into custody.

On the 29th of September, Stephen Wheeler, US Court Commissioner signed an order for SG Cantwell to be delivered US Jail in Ft Smith and held until his case could be discharged in due course of the law. On that same day, Deputy US Marshall RA Malone delivered Steve to the keeper of the US Jail.

John Weaver was required to post a $400 bond against the subpoena requiring him to appear at 10 am on October 15th as a material witness. The others were promised a $250 fine should they not appear.

Telegram traffic in this case:

From JA Weaver dated Inola 9/26/1891 to Yoes, Marshall. “SG Cantwell shot and kill Ed Johnson he has left here for Wagoner.”

From JH Mills dated Claremore IT 9/26/1891 to Jacob Yoes. “Send US marshal to Inola with warrant to arrest a man named Cantrell who killed a man near Inola named Ed Johnson both are white men.”

From RA Malone, Deputy dated Wagoner IT 9/27/1891. “I have arrested SG Cantwell charge murder killed one Johnson 20 miles west of here yesterday wire me soon as writ is issued.”

In the trial transcript, it is noted the trial was started on October 3rd 1891, which conflicts with the aforementioned date and time specified for JA Weaver above. Steve was represented by attorney JH Rogers, Esq.

Weaver's testimony:

“Johnson and I rode up to my camp together. In a few minutes Cantwell came. Johnson was setting on a bale of hay. Cantwell called Johnson out. I did not hear the first talk. They got to talking loud. It seems that Cantwell had sold Johnson a machine (word not clear and part of it is off the paper) and Johnson had not paid him for it, that was the way I understood it. Cantwell said that he ought to have paid him a month ago. Johnson did not deny owing the money, but claimed that he had been beaten out of some hay and would not pay it until that was straightened up. Cantwell said you go get Taylor and we will measure the hay over, Johnson refused to do this. They were cursing each other, Johnson was inside the wire stretched around the tent. Cantwell told him to come out that he did not want any trouble with him inside there. Johnson had his knife open whittling on a stick and Cantwell had a stick in his hand. Cantwell's wife said to me take the wire down from between them and see who is the best man. Johnson spoke up and said Goddamn him I am not afraid of him and started out. As he started out Cantwell said shut up that knife and give it to this man. Johnson said Goddamn you I won't do it. He kept going out of the passageway and there was an axe lying there, he stooped over as if to pick it up and as he was stooped over Cantwell hit him with the stick. It did not knock him down. Johnson raised with the axe in his hand and Cantwell ran and Johnson raised the axe in both hands and threw it over-handed at Cantwell. Cantwell looked back and Johnson was coming after him. Cantwell made a short turn to his wagon and told his wife to give him his gun. She did not hand him the gun, but Cantwell grabbed it and drew it up to his armpit and called to Johnson to stop. Johnson did not stop but kept going until he got to the axe and stooped down and picked up the ax and drew it up in both hands. Steve told him to stop and throw down the axe. Johnson replied Goddamn you I won't do it, shoot me. Cantwell then fired and Johnson fell and died instantly. The shot took effect in his neck and face. Cantwell helped his wife into the wagon and he drove off. His wife said you have ruined me for life or something of that kind. Cantwell replied I can't help it. It had to be done. I went immediately to Gentry's and informed him about it and he went up there and I then went and informed others. Cantwell and his wife and two small children, Johnson and myself were all that were present at the killing. Johnson lived on the Fox Taylor place about two miles from my camp. Johnson was a white man apparently. I have heard that he claimed citizenship in the Cherokee Nation.”

Cross examination

“I do not know what become of Johnson's knife. I understood that it was found shut up in his pocket. Cantwell was probably three or four steps from Johnson when Johnson threw the ax. I think the handle tipped Cantwell's shoulder. The ax passed on beyond Cantwell about ten steps from where Johnson threw it. Johnson and Cantwell were about 10 steps apart when Cantwell fired.

Testimony of RA Malone, Deputy US Marshall: “I live at Claremore. I went to Johnson's house about 3 or 4 o'clock in the morning after he was killed, the main wound seemed to be in his chin or a little under it. It seemed to have been made with small shot, the bulk of the load went in at one place. I found Cantwell at Wagoner the day after the killing. I told him I was a US Marshall and to consider himself under arrest. He said all right, he told me that he expected to be arrested and I believe he told me that he intended to come down to Ft Smith and give himself up as soon as he got to the railroad where he could leave his wife. He had but very little to say about the killing, he did not deny it.”

John Weaver recalled says “Johnson lived about 2 miles from my camp on Verdigris. Cantwell had been living about a mile from the camp. Before the difficulty or before the fight, Cantwell started off and said I will be back here by the 15th of Oct and I want you to have that money for me. Johnson replied Goddamn you I won't and went on talking about Taylor not measuring the hay right. It was then that Cantwell's wife said take down the wire from between them and Cantwell walked up to the wire and Johnson seemed to get madder than ever and said Goddamn him I ain't afraid of him and started on out at the opening in the wire. The distance from Cantwell to Johnson where the shot was fired was about the same as from where Johnson threw the axe to where it fell.”

The commissioner, Stephen Wheeler, set bond at $2000, requiring Steve to be present on October 15th 1891 to answer the charge.

Other notes: (indecipherable) and then cont'd to Nov 19th.

A final note: “We the jury find the Defendant Stephen G Cantwell not guilty as charged in the within indictment” /s/JR Norcott 12/21/'91

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At Presley Johnson's gravesite. Unfortunately, at the time we believed Presley to be Pleasant Cantwell, when in fact later research shows he was Pleasant's brother Urias. At some point in the future we intend to have the grave properly marked.
Sharyn (Cantwell) Baker and husband RC. Sharyn lives in Arizona and was instrumental in tying Presley Johnson to the Cantwell family. We met them in Safford when we placed the (wrong) stone at the gravesite.

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