Convent-educated Rose Ella Dunn was approaching her fifteenth birthday in 1893 when she fell in love with an outlaw named George “Bitter Creek” Newcomb. At that age she may have been a bit rebellious but not too young for romance. Newcomb, who was handsome and had an edge to him, came from good parentage, but somewhere in his upbringing he jumped over the line to the wrong side of the law. He was a good eleven years older than Rose.
Rose had four brothers, who taught her to ride and shoot, and she met Newcomb through them. A couple of her brothers rode both sides of the law. The Dunn boys owned a ranch near Ingalls, Oklahoma, and their home was a known hangout for the Doolin and Dalton gangs. Newcomb rode with the Daltons until they were wiped out in 1892 in Coffeyville, Kansas. He then joined the Doolins and participated in at least five robberies—both bank and train—and several murders.
“Bitter Creek” Newcomb quickly became smitten with Rose because of her beauty and calm manner. He called her “The Rose of Cimarron.” She was loyal to her love and his gang and supported their outlaw lifestyle, often providing them with food and other supplies at their hideouts.
“The Rose of Cimarron” is most famous for what she allegedly did during a shootout between her lover and the law on September 1, 1893, in Ingalls.
Newcomb and other gang members were drinking at George Ransome’s saloon when thirteen lawmen surrounded the area and ordered the bandits to come out with their hands held high. One of the outlaws yelled, “Go to hell!” And all hell did break loose as the guns started to blaze.
Three marshals died during the shootout. Newcomb was wounded. So was gang member Charley Pierce. Western legend has it that Rose saw her lover lying in the street, so she grabbed up a rifle and two ammunition belts and made her way to him through a barrage of fire power. One story tells of her standing over Newcomb firing the rifle until he could reload his six shooter. Actually, his Winchester had been hit by a shot from Deputy Dick Speed’s rifle and was rendered inoperable. One account went so far as to say Rose killed the three marshals as she rescued Newcomb, but that was never substantiated. Speed was killed by Arkansas Tom Jones, who was captured during the skirmish.
Both Newcomb and Pierce got away with the help of Bill Dalton, Bill Doolin, Dynamite Dick and Red Buck who sent a hail of bullets over the street in order to cover their pals’ escape. “The Rose of Cimarron” hid out with the remnants of the gang for a time, nursing their wounds.
After that, the law placed a $5000 bounty on Newcomb’s and Pierce’s heads. The two bandits met their end at the hands of Rose’s brothers who had turned bounty hunters. The Dunn boys killed the pair for the money, claiming to have shot then during a fire fight. The condition of their bodies told a different story.
George “Bitter Creek” Newcomb was buried outside of Norman, Oklahoma, near the South Canadian River. The river changed course over the years and even flooded, washing away Newcomb’s grave.
Rose was never called into account for her actions and lived out the rest of her life as a respectable citizen. She was married for 33 years to an Oklahoma politician named Charles Noble. Sixteen years after his death, she married Richard Fleming. Her second husband claimed that she was a friend to the outlaws but had never been romantically involved with any of them.
“The Rose of Cimarron” died in 1955 in Washington State, where she had lived with Fleming. She was 76. She is buried in Salkum Cemetery in Lewis County, Washington.
Photograph courtesy of Liz Freeman