Note: If you’ve read my blog any length of time you know that I don’t mind unpacking the skeletons from the family closet. You might ask, “Why?” My response would be a three part answer. First, those who are wise learn from the mistakes of others and I want the younger generations of the family to learn from the mistakes of those who came before them. Second, you remember what you’re entertained by and I want you to remember our family history and pass it on. Third, what my ancestors did doesn’t bother me. I wasn’t them, I didn’t influence them nor did they influence me, I didn’t know them- what they did doesn’t reflect who I am. I have the opportunity to make my own decisions and my own path in life- just like they did and just like you do. We will all give an account for what we’ve done at some point or other.

I’ve made my own mistakes for which I will be judged. I am not, therefore, passing judgment on my people when I write their stories. My goal is never to judge, shame, or disrespect. Only to tell the tales with which I’ve been entrusted. Because, as the saying goes, those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it. One more thing. I think it’s wise to remember that not everyone who is accused (or even convicted) is truly guilty. Innocent people get convicted on a somewhat alarming basis. An important aspect of the conviction is the honesty of those in control of the legal system at the time of conviction as well as the ways laws are written. Whereas I think all evidence should come in, the law disagrees- but that’s a story for another time and another place. So with respect, I present to you my 2nd great grand uncle, Willard DRAKE.


“…For all who take the sword will perish by the sword…” Matthew 26:52, The Holy Bible

Willard Nelson Drake

Willard Nelson DRAKE is my 2nd great grand uncle on my father’s side. He went by “Red”. Red only lived 33 years. But what he did with those 33 years- well, let the record speak for itself…

All my life I remember hearing only a few stories about Red, all of them told to me by my father and grandmother. This is what I knew about Red at the beginning of my research. I knew that Red was killed in South West City, McDonald County, Missouri by a police officer. The story goes that Red was getting a hair cut at the barber shop in South West City. While he was in the chair, the officer came in and wanted to talk to Red. Red reached into his jacket to get a cigar out of his shirt pocket. The officer thought Red was reaching for a gun (Red did, after all, have quite a bad reputation by this time) and the officer shot him dead. Red (like many of those, I hear, in the earlier generations of my Drake family) loved to fight and drink and was in trouble most all of his life. Indeed, newspapers of his day described my family (the Drakes) as having “a bad reputation”. I would ask you to keep in mind the truthfulness of today’s media and the bias of their reporting, but it seems to have been well-known in the community that they really did like to drink and fight. But one last note- remember that according to studies, a thing has only to be repeated 7 times to become a part of a believed (and contrived) narrative. If you hear and repeat enough times that someone is guilty (or loves to fight and drink, or….), they become guilty in popular opinion.

Don’t let anyone tell you what to think. Just read on, and decide the matter for yourself.

The Early Years

Willard was born on 30 June 1879 at Coy, McDonald County, Missouri. He was the third child born to William and Hester Ann Eglentine (MITCHELL) DRAKE. He had six biological siblings (all brothers) and the family adopted one girl- Perlie A. CALVIN. Willard went by the name Red although I don’t know at what point in his life he took that name. I have yet to find an official record that references him as Red, although there are a couple of newspaper articles referencing him as Red. True to his name, he had reddish brown hair. He had “azure blue eyes” to go with that red hair to complete the look he inherited from his Irish ancestors. He had a “sharp pointed nose” and “outstanding” ears according to a physical description of him that would some day be printed about him in The Leavenworth Times newspaper. To my great excitement I was able to find a photo of Red at the age of approximately 19. Here he is, the 19-year-old Red Drake:

Photo from Willard DRAKE’s inmate file located at NARA in Kansas City, Missouri. A big THANK YOU to archivist Eric Chasco for my copy!

From the stories I’ve read about Red, I imagine he was a handful right from the get-go. One of those kids that are going to learn everything the hardest possible way, never listen to anyone, and always get his own way- no matter who he has to take down to get his way.

The Other Early Years: Kate, Before Willard

I made contact with the wife of my 3rd cousin once removed (Kerry- wife of the great-grandson of Cynthia Katherine “Kate” JONES THOMPSON DRAKE). I found her through because she posted information about Kate, Richard (Kate’s first husband), and Willard on Ancestry. What follows is a little about Kate’s life before she married Willard, as submitted by Kerry on

Cynthia Katherine JONES went by “Kate”. Kate was older than Red by 4 years. Kate is believed to have been Native American. She had black eyes and darker-toned skin and pierced ears. She was a tall, slender woman.

( originally submitted by ‘kujayhawkfan’. I’ve contacted this contributor and am waiting to hear back from him/her.)

It is believed that older generations of Kate’s family had come from Georgia on the Trail of Tears. In Mid-August of 1896, at the age of 25, Kate married 60-year-old Richard THOMPSON. The marriage was not a good one. Richard was a drinker and he and Kate fought frequently. Sometime around 1900 in a drunken rage, Richard shot Kate intending to kill her. Kate was holding one of their babies at the time she was shot. The shot hit her hip instead. She lived with the physical effects of that shot the rest of her life. Richard was arrested and convicted. He was sent to Leavenworth in 1898- the same year that Willard was sent to Leavenworth. You read that right- they were there together. Kate took the opportunity to divorce Richard while he was in prison.

1898- The Leavenworth Years: Willard, Before Kate

While Kate and Richard were living out their years together, Willard was doing what Willard did. Drinking and getting into trouble with the law. The earliest record I could find for Willard other than a census record was a May, 1898 newspaper article. During the week of 15 May 1898 Willard was arrested but he escaped from then-Deputy Constable BARKER. He hid out but stayed in touch with his dad, William DRAKE. On Monday, 23 May 1898, U.S. Marshal Heck BRUNER was passing through the area. While there, he heard about what Willard did and determined to catch Willard and bring him in. He stopped by William DRAKE’s home and told William that he wished to arrest a man with whom Willard was acquainted and he would pay Willard a fair amount of money to go with him and help capture this other man. William was convinced that Marshal BRUNER was being truthful and took the marshal to Willard’s hideout. Willard went with Marshal BRUNER to do the work. By the time they reached Grove it was dark and the pair stopped over to spend the night, having to share a room and a bed. Red woke up the following morning to find himself handcuffed to the bed. Red came to the sudden realization he had been played by the marshal. Marshal BRUNER took Red on to Vinita where Red had a hearing in front of a federal judge. I have been unable to locate an article stating what Red was originally arrested for or what his punishment was for that crime plus the escape. (This incident was reported in the 26 May 1898 edition of The Springfield Missouri Republican found on Although I was unable to find a record of what Red did in May of 1898, family oral history says that Red assaulted a police officer and tried to kill him- possibly shooting the officer during the assault.

The next time I find Red, he is being sentenced for “Assault to Kill”. The Indian Chieftain article of 13 October 1898 (found on says that Willard was sentenced to 5 years “at hard labor” for an “assault to kill” incident that happened “over near Southwest City”. Again, I haven’t found any other articles that explain what happened although I’m sure there were several if he assaulted an officer.

The morning of 5 October 1898, Willard and 22 other prisoners were brought up to Vinita from Muskogee to be heard in Judge THOMAS’ courtroom. Willard was in jail on a charge of Assault with Intent to Kill. He pled ‘not guilty’ and was held over for trial. (Vinita, Indian Territory’s paper, The Daily Chieftain, Vol. 1 No. 3.) The following day the same newspaper reported the following:

Found at

United States Marshal Leo E. BENNETT was in charge of getting the prisoners up and to Vinita (from Muskogee) for Court on the morning of 6 October. As an aside, Marshal BENNETT had quite an exciting history if you want to Google it. (One interesting tidbit about him is that the famous black lawman Bass REEVES worked for Marshal BENNETT.) Willard’s trial and jury was the first one up on the docket in front of Judge THOMAS. His trial gives new meaning to our 6th amendment right to a speedy trial. By noon, Willard’s trial was over. In the space of less than 5 hours, he was convicted and facing time in Leavenworth.

After his conviction Willard sat in jail (probably in Muskogee) until the trial term was over and it was known which prisoners would be taken to the federal penitentiary. On the night of 29 October 1898 (a Saturday night) those prisoners were taken north by the marshal with the exception of 13. I’m assuming there was not enough room for the final 13 because the article in the Indian Chieftain on 3 November 1898 stated the remaining 13 would be taken when it was “convenient” for the marshal to do so. Willard went with the first group of prisoners.

On 30 October 1898 Willard was received into Leavenworth Penitentiary and assigned inmate number #1386. His inmate file gave his occupation as ‘farmer’. It says his sentence expired officially on 7 October 1903 but with good time he could be out as early as 7 December 1902. I’ve looked over Willard’s inmate file several times. There are things I wish it had that it doesn’t but I’m grateful for what it does say. Willard’s family did not abandon him while he was in prison. There are several pages logging letters that he received and sent to family and friends. My first and immediate thought upon seeing those were that I wish I had just ONE letter listed on that log! Family members who maintained contact with him included his brothers Gilbert, Alonzo (my 2nd great-grandfather), and Charlie; his sister, Annie (possibly sister-in-law? Alonzo was married to Mary Anne BAKER who went by Annie); his dad listed as both “W. D. Drake”, “W~~~M Drake”, and “William Drake” and his mom whose name is not listed at all but only indicated as “Mother” in one instance and, I believe, the “E. Drake” is also her but can’t prove it by the spreadsheet; and a cousin, Gertrude DRAKE. Friends also kept in touch including Cora BAKER (also listed as Carrie BAKER), Charles SUTTER, White MITCHELL, Russell SHANNON, W. A. KINSEY, and Judy THOMAS (Judy’s from Muskogee- could she be Judge Thomas’ relative?!). Although the family all came from in and around South West City, McDonald County, Missouri, I was very surprised to see the variety of addresses for the friends who wrote to him. His friends’ addresses included not only South West City, but also Nicholia, Idaho; Cattey, Indian Territory; Adair, Indian Territory; Bonham, Texas; Napanucka, Indian Territory; and Muskogee, Indian Territory.

Continuing through the file I found Willard’s Violations docket. His offenses are five pages long! He frequently created disturbances in one form or another. He was fond of laughing (loudly), leaving when he wasn’t supposed to, smoking and chewing tobacco, fighting and inciting fights (throwing rocks, using profane and vulgar language, disobeying orders, writing and passing notes and then refusing to surrender said notes when ordered to do so, striking prisoner #56 over the head with a pillow (pillow fights in prison?!), having contraband in his cell (including a knife and a lead pencil), being absent from roll call without permission, lying (especially when confronted about doing what he wasn’t supposed to be doing), inattention/gazing out the window, loud whistling, “wasting bread” (prison hooch, anyone?), insolence, taking others’ possessions (including a guard’s book and an inmate’s tobacco), pushing/crowding/cutting in line, mocking/shaming others (both inmates and guards), and neglecting/shirking work duties.

He was most in trouble for talking, though. Talking in the cell room, in ranks on the Yard, during work hours, in solitary cell, during work hours, talking repeatedly/constantly, talking with prisoner #2746 during work hours (continually), talking in line on the yard, “unnecessary talking” in line, talking to prisoner #2141 at noon time, talking in the shop to prisoner #2776, talking on the stairway when leaving the shop, talking in the shop…talking, talking, talking!!! There’s another full page of talking violations. The boy couldn’t shut up! I get it, he’s 19, he’s under strict guidelines- but he put himself there and his inability to follow directions was staggering.

You might be wondering what he could possibly be talking about so much. Well, there was one more massive violation that I haven’t mentioned yet and it could be the cause of many of those conversations, loud laughing/whistling, those disturbances that created distractions, and those incidences of cutting in line to be next to a particular prisoner. On 7 November 1901, Willard participated in a massive prison break from Leavenworth!

Until next time- and I can’t wait!!
~Lisa @ Days of Our Lives blog

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