A short documentary by two Oklahoma filmmakers recounts a rough-and-tumble era of Indian Territory 

Days before their trial was to start, four men were dragged from an Ada jail by an angry mob.

Shortly after midnight on April 19, 1909, the vigilantes made a public statement against rampant lawlessness by tying nooses around the necks of Jim Miller, Joe Allen, B.B. Burrell and Jesse West, and lynching them from the rafters of livery stable behind the jail.

The four men were accused of murdering A.A. "Gus" Bobbitt, a rancher and former United States deputy marshal, who died from gunfire in an ambush months prior.

The hanging is the focus of "Death of the Old West," a documentary produced by Oklahoma filmmakers Mark Bratcher and Will Boggs. The film debuted last year on OETA-TV to mark the 100th anniversary of the lynching and has since been picked up by PBS.

"Death of the Old West" explores a small slice of Oklahoma's outlaw history, specifically the dramatic characters that inhabited small towns like Ada, which bordered Indian Territory. While the lynching is central to the film, it's largely used to illustrate the arc of public opinion and the tragic duality of life in Oklahoma just before and after statehood in 1907.

Most of the film's historical research was compiled by Bratcher, who employed scores of photos and testimony from family members and historians to set the scene: a time and place where most decisions were made for money and a landscape with financial opportunities that routinely blurred the line between lawman and outlaw.

Bobbitt was among those blurry characters. He was respected " possibly feared " by many in the community, but Herman Kirkwood of the Oklahoma Outlaws and Lawmen Association reminds the filmmakers that things weren't so simple in towns like Ada.

West and Allen were business partners eager to capitalize on the town's rapid growth. The pair made an unfortunate association with Bobbitt, who Kirkwood said was later suspected of cheating the pair out of whiskey, money and some grazing rights near the South Canadian River.

West and Bobbitt's rivalry boiled over in 1902, when West's 13-year-old son, Martin West, was gunned down by a black Seminole. Bobbitt defended the gunman by saying the shooting was done in self-defense, which enraged West and set into motion much of the vigilante momentum stirred when the ex-lawman was later shot and killed.

The documentary pairs Bratcher's historical perspective with new footage filmed by Boggs, who edited the documentary and pieced the film together with interviews and documents that are read aloud.

"Death of the Old West" could have easily been expanded to a feature that dug even deeper into the banks of the South Canadian, but the end result is tight and concise.

The documentary is available as a DVD. For more information, visit www.dustbowlfilms.com. "Joe Wertz

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Joe Wertz

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