There are some people who are just mean. You can’t look at it any other way. Cullen Montgomery Baker was one of those mean men…a cold-blooded and ruthless killer who left a long trail of bodies across the American Frontier. Baker was a Confederate guerrilla during the Civil War, but he didn’t want to give up the fight once the war was over, so afterward he ambushed reconstructionists, killed former slaves, and generally terrorized the states of Texas and Arkansas for four years.

Born in Weakley County, Tennessee, on June 22, 1835, to John Baker and his wife, Elizabeth, his father was an honest but poor farmer who also owned cattle. The family moved to Clarksville, Arkansas soon after he was born. Times were no better there, so in 1839, after just a few years, the family moved to Texas, eventually settling in Davis County. There, things looked like they might get better when his father received a land grant of 640 acres, but even with the acreage, the family was still poor, and because of his homespun trousers and bare feet, Cullen was teased by students at school, probably triggering his anger. Though he was a slender and withdrawn youth, he began to fight back. It was at this time, that he obtained an old pistol and a rusty but workable rifle. He practiced diligently until he was very proficient with both weapons.

At the tender age of 15 years, Baker began to drink whiskey. Emboldened by alcohol, he began to challenge both boys and men who annoyed him to “go for your guns.” As often happens when people get hooked on alcohol, he spent much of his time in saloons, where his quick temper got him into several brawls. Soon, he was well known as a hard drinker, a braggart, and generally a quarrelsome and mean-spirited young man. He almost learned his lesson in one fight, when he was knocked unconscious by a man named Morgan Culp, who hit him in the head with a tomahawk. This incident seemingly calmed his temper for a little while, or maybe scared him a little bit, but that wouldn’t last.

Baker was rather a spontaneous man, and so some weeks later, on January 11, 1854, while still wearing a head bandage from the tomahawk incident, Baker married 17-year-old Martha Jane Petty and settled down to a quiet farming life. It looked like the marriage might have been the turnaround moment for him, but he grew tired of this routine and was back to his old ways just eight months later. One night when he was out drinking, he got into an argument with a teenager named Stallcup. As the discussion devolved, Baker became enraged. He grabbed a whip and beat the boy nearly to death. For that, Baker was charged with the crime. He went to the home of witness, Wesley Bailey, and shot him in both legs with a shotgun. He then left him lying in front of his house. Bailey died a few days later, but before Baker could be arrested for the murder, he fled to Perry County, Arkansas, where he hid out at the home of his mother’s brother, Thomas Young, for almost two years.

While there, not bothering to lay low, he stabbed a man named Wartham to death in an argument about horses in 1856 and fled back to Texas. His stay in Texas was short-lived, when he learned he was still wanted for murder in the killing of Bailey, so he returned to Arkansas. While he was gone, his wife Martha gave birth to a baby girl, Louisa Jane, on May 24, 1857. Returning to Texas briefly the following year, he retrieved his wife and daughter. Unfortunately, his wife died on July 2, 1860, and Baker took their child to Sulphur County, Texas. He left her with his in-laws, and that was the last he saw of her. I’m sure his in-laws were thankful for that.

In November 1861, Baker joined Company G of Morgan’s Regimental Cavalry to fight in the Confederate Army. In July 1862, he married a second time to Martha Foster, who was unaware he was wanted for murder. Baker’s name appears on the muster roll for September-October 1862, and he actually received pay through August 31, but by January 10, 1863, he had deserted and was listed on the muster roll as such.

It was at this point that Baker joined a guerilla group called the “Independent Rangers,” loosely associated with the Confederate Home Guard. My guess is that the Confederate regular army was a little “too tame” for his kind of fighting. The guerilla group suited his style better, as their objective was to pursue and capture deserters from the Confederate Army. That work held no real interest for Baker, but it allowed him a certain measure of freedom to do what he really wanted to do, which was to take advantage of most of the men being away at war and committing atrocities of intimidation, rape, theft, and violence. Any man who had property was considered an enemy and was declared to be a Union man to Baker, and therefore fair game. The attacks in some areas became so bad that everyone who could, left the area. Then, shortly after Baker joined the “Independent Rangers,” they began an ongoing feud with another band called the “Mountain Boomers,” who were Union guerrillas…basically having their own war between the North and South. Both bands ran throughout Arkansas, robbing, burning, and murdering indiscriminately…and fighting with each other.

In November 1864, a small band of mostly old men, women, and children, who were trying to escape from the turmoil, started west with their teams and valuables. When the group crossed the Saline River in the Ouachita Mountains, Cullen Baker and the Independent Rangers caught up to them. Baker’s story was that he and his men considered the group’s attempted escape “unpatriotic,” but, in reality, they needed little reason to harass them. When the group refused to return to their homes, Baker drew his pistol and shot and killed their leader. He then assured the rest of the group that he would not kill anyone else, if they agreed to return to their homes. But being the liar he was, as soon as the settlers returned to Baker’s side of the river, he led his “Rangers” in shooting and killing nine other men and stealing all the valuables. The event became known locally as the Massacre of Saline.

It was at this point that the local citizens had had enough. The began to organize and make active preparations to take out the murderous gang. However, being the stellar, brave men they were, when the ruffians got word of this, they ran, taking their booty and the many horses and mules they had stolen with them.

At the end of 1864, Baker was seen in a saloon wearing a Confederate hat in Spanish Bluffs, Arkansas. He was approached by four African American Union soldiers who asked for identification. With his pistol drawn, Baker turned to face them, shooting and killing a sergeant and the three other soldiers. One report tells that when the war was over, as he was making his way home, he came upon a group of travelers in Sevier County, Tennessee. In the group was a black woman who he began to verbally harass and then shot and killed her.

Following this rampage, he settled down with his wife Martha near the Sulphur River area in southwestern Arkansas, where he became the manager of the Line Ferry. Again, this break from the violence was short-lived. Martha soon took ill and died on March 1, 1866. Apparently, Baker very much-loved Martha and grieved her loss deeply. Still, losing his second wife didn’t stop him from proposing to her 16-year-old sister, Belle Foster, just two months later. Belle rejected his proposal and instead married a schoolteacher and political activist named Thomas Orr. This enrages Baker, who began to harass Orr, trying to pick fights with the man, hitting him over the head with a tree limb, and going to his school to ridicule, curse, and threaten the man in front of his students. I’m sure Belle Foster was thankful she married the man she did, after seeing the horrible acts of the man who had married her older sister.

Reconstruction had begun in Arkansas and Texas around this time, and Baker despised the idea. He and another outlaw named Lee Rames organized a gang that operated out of the Sulphur River bottoms near Bright Star, Arkansas. Baker continued his acts of robbery and murder, along with the Rames gang. They were said to have killed at least 30 people, many of whom were outnumbered, ambushed, or shot in the back. Baker and his gang also traveled to Texas, where he killed John Salmons in retaliation for the killing of Seth Rames, who was the brother of gang member Lee Rames. Baker also killed WG Kirkman, a Reconstruction official, and a man named George W Barron, who had previously taken part as a member of a posse hunting him. Baker was “happy” to kill anyone who annoyed him, or who might have annoyed someone he knew, or might have done the slightest thing against him…real or perceived. The gang continued their outlaw spree in Queen City, Texas, and Texarkana, Arkansas.

On June 1, 1867, he returned to Cass County. In need of supplies, Baker entered the Rowden General Store, helped himself to some items without paying. The proprietor, John Rowden rode with a shotgun to Baker’s house and demanded payment. Seemingly compliant, Baker said he would come back and pay him, but on June 5, he killed Rowden instead. Again, Baker fled to Arkansas, where he recognized by a Union sergeant when he boarded a ferry. He killed the Union officer, but a private was able to get away and reported the murder. With the eyewitness account, Baker became a hunted man, pursued relentlessly by Union forces.

On July 25, 1867, following an argument with several Union Soldiers near New Boston, Texas, which quickly escalated to violence, Baker was shot in the arm in a gunfight in which he killed army Private Albert E Titus. A $1,000 reward was set for his capture, dead or alive.

In December 1867, Baker went to Bright Star, Arkansas, where he met up with several men who were planning a raid on the farm of Howell Smith. They were upset because Smith had hired several freed slaves. In the attack, one of Smith’s daughters was stabbed, another clubbed, and a black man was shot and killed. Still, Smith resisted, and in the ensuing shootout, several of the raiders were wounded, including Baker, who was shot in the leg.

On October 24, 1868, Baker and his gang were reported to have been involved in the killings of Major P J Andrews, Lieutenant H F Willis, and an unnamed black man in Little Rock, Arkansas. Wounded in the attack was Sheriff Standel.

By this time, Baker’s co-leader, Lee Rames, began to get nervous about Baker’s leadership style and felt that his actions would lead to the downfall of the entire gang. Rames defied Baker, who backed down, and the gang broke up in December 1868. All members, except “Dummy” Kirby, sided with Rames. Baker and Kirby went to Bloomburg, Texas, to the house of Baker’s in-laws in January 1869. It would be there that Cullen Baker and “Dummy” Kirby would die on January 6, 1869.

Exactly how they were killed is unknown. One version says that “his father-in-law and friends laced a bottle of whiskey and some food with strychnine and both men died from poisoning. Afterward, their bodies were riddled with bullets. Another version says that Thomas Orr, with whom Baker had long feuded, led a small band of men who ambushed Baker and Kirby at the Foster home, shooting and killing them.” In reality, it doesn’t matter how they died, because so many people were glad that Baker was gone, that after the men were killed, their bodies were dragged through the town of Bloomburg and then taken to the US Army outpost near Jefferson, where they were placed on public display. Thomas Orr was said to have collected some of the reward money offered for Baker. Baker was buried in the Oakwood Cemetery in Jefferson, Texas. Though he was a deserter from Morgan’s Squadron, the Confederate cavalry unit is shown on his grave marker.

Some people have romanticized him for his defense of the “Southern honor,” but the reality is that Baker was a ruthless killer who killed anyone who angered him, regardless of their loyalties. It is thought that he killed between 50-60 people, and authorities and historians alike rank him among the most ruthless killers who ever lived.

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