History Features

The Real Rooster Cogburn

Remembering my great-grandfather’s role in the creation of a classic Westerns character.

apr11_real_cogburn

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John Franklin Cogburn, nicknamed “Rooster” by his Uncle Page, was my great-grandfather.

While he never packed a badge, Franklin was quite familiar with the operations of the deputy U.S. marshals riding out from Fort Smith, Arkansas. On June 21, 1888, Franklin, with the aid of his cousin Fayette, attacked a posse of those stalwart lawmen during a raid on moonshiners near Black Springs. Deputy Marshal J.D. Trammel was killed in the gunfight that followed.

Six foot three, dark eyed and a dead shot with a rifle, Franklin was as hard as the rocky mountain ground which reared him. The only authority the Cogburn clan recognized was God and a gun. Governments didn’t build your home, make your clothes, hunt your meat or defend your life. When it came to the Law, a man rolled his own from the makings of his individual ideas of right and wrong.

Franklin had lost his father from a disease incurred in a Confederate prison camp. As a teenager he fell under the influence of his Jayhawkeruncle, Henry Page Cogburn, the man who ran Gen. Albert Pike out of Arkansas in an attempt to steal the gold the general was said to have embezzled from the Confederacy.

Bad blood already existed between the Cogburns and Deputy Trammel long before that fatal morning in 1888. Trammel had been working undercover to identify moonshiners and...

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