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The Murder of Charles W,, Estes
State Game Warden

By Carlos Gomez and Dee Cordry

Charles W. Estes became a Deputy State Game Warden for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation on January I, 1911. He lived with his wife in Jenks, Oklahoma and enforced the game laws in Tulsa County. It is unknown if Estes had any prior law enforcement experience. He was about 40 years old when he became Game Warden. Estes' responsibilities as Game Warden included enforcing the game laws in the area of Turkey Mountain on the west side of the Arkansas River, described as being about five miles south of Tulsa in 1911. Today , Turkey Mountain is near 71st Street and the Arkansas River in Tulsa. The area was known as a location for hunting ducks along the river. Residents of the area also were aware of "suspicious looking characters" and suspected a gang of counterfeiters or moonshiners to be operating nearby. "Everyone who is acquainted with the lay of the country says that it would be an ideal place to carry on such work."

Early on Sunday morning, February 26th, 1911, Estes left his home in Jenks to investigate complaints of hunting at Turkey Mountain on Sundays, in violation of the game law prohibiting hunting game on Sunday. He told his wife he would return in the afternoon. Estes was armed with a Colt revolver in a scabbard with a cartridge belt.

Arriving on horseback, Estes went to the top of the mountain. Neighborhood residents had already heard gunshots several times that morning and it was believed that two duck hunters were in the area. Estes apparently left his horse at the top of the mountain in an area overlooking the tracks of the Midland Valley railroad and proceeded on foot down the side of the mountain.


Between 1 and 2 p.m. that afternoon, a person in the area named Matt Lee heard two gunshots. When he went in the direction of the gunshots, be found a horse which was later identified as belonging to Estes. Lee continued down the mountain. At about 2 p.m. he discovered the body of Estes. The Game Warden had been shot once in the abdomen. "Lee rushed away for aid, returning soon with some men who lived in the neighborhood."


Tulsa County Sheriff W. M. McCullough and his deputies investigated. Initially, it was theorized that Estes may have been shot, perhaps accidentally, by the two duck hunters thought to be in the area. But that theory was quickly dismissed. The body of Estes was found laying downhill in an open area with nothing to obstruct the view of Estes or any hunters. The tracks of the Midland Valley railroad were nearby. When the body of Estes was removed to Tulsa and examined by a surgeon, a 33 caliber rifle bullet was recovered from the body. At the scene of the shooting, an empty .33 Winchester shell casing was found 15 feet from the location of the body. At the location of the empty shell casing, footprints were found in the soft dirt showing that the killer, who had large feet, had walked from the railroad tracks to within 15 feet of Estes, paused, and then walked back to the railroad tracks.

Officers concluded that Estes had walked down the mountain and could clearly be seen by the killer, who fired at least once with the rifle from the railroad tracks. A second shot was fired, either by the killer -who missed,or by Estes, but the revolver was missing from the scene so officers could not determine if Estes was able to return fire. The killer then walked from the railroad tracks to within at least 15 feet of Estes and then ejected the empty shell casing from the Winchester. Estes had been shot once, the bullet entering the front abdomen and not exiting his back. The revolver, cartridge belt, and money were stolen from Estes. The killer may have left footprints leading directly to the body and those footprints may have been obscured by Matt Lee and other persons who were first to arrive at the scene.

Sheriff McCullaugh and County Attorney Mulloy told the newspaper "they have clues upon which they are at work and which, they expect, will result in the arrest of someone or the throwing of some light on the case." However, in March 1911 a small racial uprising led to the death of a Tulsa County Sheriffs Deputy. This apparently prevented officers from continuing to investigate the murder of Estes. "The coroners inquest Failed to throw any light on the shooting." The death certificate of Estes lists the cause of death as: "gun shot by some one unknown." Charles Estes was buried in Stonewall, Oklahoma. Research to this date indicates his murder was never solved.

On Friday May 17, 1996, the name of Charles Estes was added to the monument of Oklahoma peace officers killed in the line of duty during the annual memorial service in Oklahoma City.
On Sunday, June 3, 2001, the first Game Warden to lose his life in the line of duty, Charles W Estes was honored at a memorial service along the Arkansas River just across from the mountain where he perished.

The memorial, located at 5800 S. Riverside Drive in Tulsa was the result of hours of hard work by Tulsa County Game Warden Carlos Gomez. Gomez envisioned a memorial for Estes over a year prior and worked diligently to secure a location and funding needed to complete the project. With help from the Oklahoma Game Warden Association, Estes' nephew Bobby Tiptop and River Parks employees and benefactors, Gomez has created a monument that will stand for generations and secured that future sportsman and others will know the price that Wildlife Officers can pay for simply doing their jobs.

The memorial consists of a Bronze Plaque located inside of a large boulder that stands at the end of a small walkway. Boulders on each side of the memorial will serve as benches and lights will shine down from a large cottonwood tree located near the memorial. The plaque reads as follows:
" WHAT VALUE DO OUR LIVES HAVE WITHOUTRICH, AND IT WAS FOR ALL OUT BETTERMENT AND THIS BEAUTY THAT GAME WARDEN ESTES GAVE HIS LIFE. HE WAS THE FIRST OKLAHOMA GAME WARDEN TO DIE IN THE LINE OF DUTY PROTECTING OKLAHOMA'S NATURAL RESOURCES. FROM THIS VERY SPOT, YOU CAN LOOK ACROSS THE ARKANSAS RIVER AND VIEW TURKEY MOUNTAIN WHERE ON FEBRUARY 26, 1911, WARDEN ESTES WAS AMBUSHED NEAR THE MIDLAND VALLEY RAILROAD WHILE INVESTIGATING ILLEGAL HUNTING."

Portions of this article were reprinted from Oklahombres, Winter 96 Edition, Pg 12-13 with permission from the Author.

 

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