Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Did you know Tom King was a woman?

Everyone knows Belle Starr, but how about Flora Quick?

According to Nancy B. Samuelson, writing in the National Association for Outlaw and Lawman History, Flo usually dressed as a man, and was mostly known in the Twin Territories as Tom King.

Our own Jacquie Rogers knows of Tom King and her alias of Flora Quick, but many do not. Still, she/he was outlaw enough for yarns by the hundreds to spring up around the country—problem is, few can be substantiated.

Harold Preece, author of The Dalton Gang, wrote several articles about Tom King. One was titled Dalton’s Bandit Bride. Starts to sound like Duckbill Hickock and Martha Jane Canary, doesn’t it?

Preece claimed that King was the smoothest and shrewdest of any woman outlaw, and compared to her, Belle Starr was merely a sly frontier slut. He said King was a regular member of the Dalton Gang who spied for them and stole horses for them. King was in love with Bob Dalton, it seems, so after he met his death in Coffeeville, she went on to form her own gang.

According to Samuelson, “Preece went on to claim Flo was killed by a posse near Wichita, Kansas, in 1893, and was buried in the family plot in Cass County, Missouri. His Tom King stories were spun from his imagination, using nothing but hot air and perhaps some old timer’s unreliable recollections.”

Chris Madsen said he arrested Tom King several times, as did Bill Tilghman and Heck Thomas. But, says Samuelson, there is no evidence first that Tom King knew the Daltons, or that any of the “Three Guardsmen” ever arrested her, took her to jail, or had any contact with her.

So what’s the real story?

The first record of Tom King alias Flora Quick alias Mrs. Mundis alias China Dot is found in the Oklahoma State Capital, a newspaper in Guthrie, on May 26, 1893. A.G. Baldwin was in Oklahoma City yesterday and saw Mrs. Mundis, who once lived in this city, but is now in jail on the charge of horse stealing, having played the romantic role of “Tom King.” She is still dressed up in men’s clothing and essays to play the mail part by whistling a tune occasionally.

Newspapers of the day say that Flo was the youngest child of Daniel Quick, a wealthy farmer from Holden. He apparently died in 1889 and left an estate of 2,400 acres and some $13,000 in personal property. Flo’s marriage, some report, was to a worthless man, John Ora Mundis, whose sole objective was to latch onto her share of the estate. Sometime later, the couple announced that they were “bad, bad people and not to be trifled with.”

Tom King’s career seems to have started with horse stealing in May 1893. In jail, she met up with train robber Earnest Lewis and rapist William Roach. They broke out of jail together. At this time, Tom King alias Mrs. Mundis, was 18 years old, 4’8’’ in height, and weighed about 130 pounds. Svelte she was not.

King stayed out of jail until July, when she was arrested by Deputy Morris Robacker in front of the Baxter & Commack livery stable in Guthrie. He took her back to Oklahoma City (and may have collected a $50 reward).

Once again she escaped, and Sheriff Fightmaster chased her into the Osage country and jailer Wise captured her coming out of a cornfield near Yukon. A day later she was at large again.

 It’s interesting to note that while Tom King was arrested and jailed on charges of stealing horses several times, she was never convicted. She also escaped from jail more than the average person incarcerated. One wonders how.

Just listen to this newspaper article. (El Reno Herald) The report that a deputy sheriff eloped with Tom King is too ridiculous to think of. It is worse than a hallucination.

The story was false. But that didn’t keep the press from having a hay day. At least two other newspapers carried the story, and since then, nearly every article or story about her has some version of the elopement tale (including this one).

The Watonga Republican wrote of her: Tom King’s name is Mrs. Mundis. She rides astraddle and takes whiskey straight . . . The way the authorities of the territory identify Tom King is by her feet. She is terribly pegeon-toed . . .  It would be awful if Miss Tom King should take it into her head to read that Old Maid settlement in the strip . . .  As an editor in Oklahoma has expressed it, “Tom King just inserted herself in a pair of pants and lit out. . . Tom King and the average Oklahoma jail do not speak as they pass by.

In early 1894, reports said Tom led a gang that robbed stores. Then she was captured in Fredonia, Kansas. Bill Tilghman was assigned to bring her and her accomplice, Jessie Whitewings, back to El Reno. Thing is, reports said Flo was pregnant. Newspapers scoffed, but jailers tiptoed and seemed not to know what to do. Then she was released, and she fell from sight for some months.

More legends were made through newspaper reports in 1895, in the Coffeyville Daily Journal, for example. She was said to have been a gang leader and to have been a horse thief extraordinaire. The State Capital, a newspaper in Guthrie, wrote: . . . She is the leader of a gang of thirteen desperate characters who are operating along the eastern border, stealing the best horses. They do not bother with anything except the best, and run them into the Seminole and Choctaw countries. “Rabbit,” a famous racer owned by Bill Chenault, was stolen by the gang, but was recovered by the payment of $200. Flora’s alias is Tom King, and she dresses in men’s clothes and has the appearance of a 20-year-old boy. She rides like a Centaur and is a splendid shot with a Winchester or revolver.

Then came news of her death.

She was killed in Clifton, Arizona, in late January 1903. She claimed to be part Cherokee and lived with a Chinese man named Jim Mannon. This led to her becoming known as China Dot. She tired of Mannon and took up with a man named William A. Garland. The two quarreled in a room in the back of Salvadore Sirrianni’s saloon. Garland shot Tom King four times, then blew the top of his own head off. Both were addicted to opium, it seems. No one seems to know where Flora Quick alias Tom King is buried.


(This was taken from a much more detailed article by Nancy B. Samuelson in the Quarterly of the National Association for Outlaw and Lawman History.)

11 comments:

  1. Now there is fodder for several yarns. Makes you wonder just how she got out of jail so many times, though. I could speculate but this is a family blog. (Isn't it?)

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  2. She was amazing, and I've always wondered whether she enjoyed the outlaw life, or if she had some other motivation for continuing on this path, despite many opportunities to give it up. Nice article, Charlie!

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  3. Charlie, you have managed to do the impossible. I was born and raised in Oklahoma, in fact, lived for many years in Seminole, OK (in Seminole Cty. of course) and went to school there all my life and I have never heard of Tom Quick. So now, I have learned about an outlaw that by all rights, should have been taught about (YOU'D THINK!) in our school system here, if nowhere else! Just amazing. I loved this article. Now I must research for myself. Thank you for enlightening me about my own home state and the history of it.
    Cheryl

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  4. Charlie, I meant to say Tom King--fingers and brain--not working together.
    Cheryl

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  5. This is the kind of story that begs to be researched and researched and just enjoyed. Thank you for bringing this fascinating person to public attention. Doris

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  6. Definitely a wealth of stories there. Interesting article Charles.

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  7. Thanks, Charlie. One more character from the "Territories" already rich with those to spin tales about. Good grist for the mill.

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  8. Thank you for a great post and thorough research. I've lived most of my life near Yukon, OK, and never heard of Tom King. Very interesting.

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  9. Flo was A family ancessor. I live down the road from her childhood home in Johnson co mo. Flo was shot in the back fleeing a bank robbery in AR. My great aunt found her headstone in a cemetery around Huma az.

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