If you google the name Cherokee Bill you’ll come up with a bio of a very bad man named Crawford Goldsby who is not at all related to me or anyone I know. The man I’m related too was not bad, he wasn’t perfect but he wasn’t evil. He was my Big Mama’s father which makes him my great, great-grandfather. Another search done personally yielded a picture of a very dark black man in one of my children’s history books. It was clear the man in the book was not him. My ancestor William Reel looked more like Juan Valdez without the burro.
When he was around 12-yrs. old he shot a Sheriff on the courthouse steps. Right in front of God and everybody. The victim had stolen Bill’s mother’s cattle and branded over her brand. The court found in her favor and the cattle baron didn’t like that. Despite being told to stay home that day, Bill decided to head down to the courthouse anyway. He arrived to hear his mother being called out of her name by this wealthy man in front of everyone. She only had a few cattle by comparison yet he felt it necessary not only to steal from her but to call her names in public when her cattle were returned to her. Bill took offense, and shot him with his rifle. One shot, and the man paid the ultimate price for his greed.
It was open and shut, Bill was incarcerated for murder. The kid was fed dry beans and water in jail. His mother went to visit and they would not allow her to bring him food. He was being starved to death. She couldn’t take seeing her son die like that so she sent message to a relative to bring some of his “gang” to help get him out of jail.
Jesse James, Bill’s cousin by marriage, and his men showed up in the small town where he was being kept, and the boy was turned over to them without incident. Of course, they had to then take Bill with them. The town was never going to forget what he had done.
For many years after, he rode in the Militia. I know that sounds bad, however from his writings it seems like they were doing a pretty good thing. Bill wrote of returning stolen cattle to the war widows who had been pillaged. That was his job. He says he grew tired of war and death and was relieved when it finally ended.
He had a very soft heart and couldn’t stand to see people in need. He rescued an orphan boy who was huddled near a wood stove in a saloon. He bought him a bath and clothes and sent him off to a good school. He even kept track of him for a while until he was sure he was doing good on his own. A doctor was playing poker in another saloon, and Bill saw he had two little girl orphans that he was mistreating terribly. The doctor was fat, had plenty of money and good clothes, but the girls were hungry, and dirty and ragged. They were also scared and still in shock from witnessing their parents massacre.
Bill set his mind to save those little girls and placed himself at the table opposite the doctor. He won every dime the doc had on him, some of his apparel, the “good” doctor’s medicine kit, his watch, and of course the girls. He again bought them baths and clothes. Then, he sent them back to their relatives in the east. He goes on to tell about how he met an old “Uncle” in a hollow and gifted him the bag full of pharmaceuticals and tools. It would seem this was divine intervention as “Uncle” was the healer for his community.
I in no way am insinuating my relative should own the name solely, I say it’s a free country. However, at least give the good guys equal billing with the bad guys. I want to hear more about the good guys!! Who cares about this other character?