The infamous Joe McAlister

At the Western History Collection at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, this picture was catalogued in the Womack Collection among several extremely old photos of Alex before statehood. The only information they had about picture was that the man at the extreme right of the photo was Joe McAlister and the woman next to him (holding the child) was McAlister’s step-mother. The date of the photo is estimated at 1902. The location was marked unknown.

My attention was immediately caught by finally seeing an actual photo of the infamous Joe McAlister. This is his story…

Joseph Preston “Joe” McAlister was born in Texas in 1874 to John Grover McAlister (1844-1930) and Ann Eliza (Wallace) McAlister (1854-1879). Shortly after Joe’s mother died when he was five years of age, his father married again to Sarah Susan Hughes, born 1859 in Georgia. Sarah (Hughes) McAlister is the “step-mother” shown in the picture next to Joe.

Joe married Leta Laura Willard in Indian Territory on January 18, 1898, both of them reporting on their license that they lived at Alex in the Chickasaw Nation. Joe and Leta continued to live in Alex in 1900. Joe was a farmer who likely rented land from Red Alexander and was employed as a foreman on Alexander’s ranch.

John and Sarah McAlister also lived in Alex in 1900. Their residence (household 106 in 1900), which is likely shown in the picture, was located near Red Alexander’s home (household 104 in 1900). Joe and Leta lived nearby as well (household 110 in 1900), with their baby son, Leroy McAlister, born at Alex in 1900. In 1902, Joe and Leta had another child, a daughter named Gertrude.

The tall trees shown behind the building to the right in the photo suggest the McAlisters lived near Soldier Creek since there were few trees in the area at the time anywhere but on the creeks and the Washita River.

We know the McAlisters continued to live on Soldier Creek after 1900 because Joe made the newspapers for killing two men within the span of a single week. In a “Special Dispatch to the State Capital,” a Guthrie newspaper reported that Joseph McAlister shot and killed Samuel Howell, an African American man, at Alex on the afternoon of December 5, 1904. Joe surrendered to law enforcement, insisting that the killing was committed in self-defense.

Later that same month, a Dallas, Texas, newspaper reported that Joe shot another man at Alex five days later, on December 10, 1904. This victim was William Sampson and McAlister killed him during an argument over the cotton harvest.

The historical record does not suggest Joe McAlister was sanctioned in any way for these two killings. He and his family continued to live at Alex at least intermittently until 1910. They eventually settled near Lexington and Joe and Leta are buried there.

As for Joe’s father and step-mother, John Grover McAlister was a mail carrier at Alex around 1907. He eventually died in Texas and is buried there. Sarah (Hughes) McAlister lived to be 95 years of age and died at an unknown location between Alex and Ninnekah.

I estimate the date of this photo as 1902 or 1903. I believe, but cannot in any way prove, that the two youngsters shown in the picture are Joe McAlister’s two oldest children, Leroy and Gertrude. The woman with the baby at the far left of the photo is probably Leta (Willard) McAlister, Joe’s wife. Moving right, I have no idea about the identity of the next two people. The older man fourth from the left is likely J.G. McAlister, Joe’s father. The girls next to him are probably J.G’s daughters by Sarah, with the youngest being Nancy (nicknamed Nannie) McAlister. The young man tipping his hat is either William or Frank McAlister, both Joe’s half brothers.

This family seemed fairly typical for Indian Territory in 1903 or so.

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