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Murder Mystery: Tuck's Ferry in Love County, Oklahoma

Updated: Sep 5, 2023

Ferry boat
Tuck's ferry is depicted in the St. Louis Post Dispatch as the newspaper explained the murder mystery in 1925.

The demise of Tuck's Ferry in Love County, Oklahoma was the outcome of the ferry operator's murder.

I was looking around at some former ferry sites along the Red River and saw Thompson's Ferry at Horseshoe Bend in Love County, Oklahoma in a USGS map from 1943. However, on another later map, the road to the ferry site was marked as "Tuck's Ferry Road." Why the name change? The "Thompson Ferry," named after the nearby Thompson Ranch, ran the same ferry as Tuck did; the Tuck Ferry stopped running before 1930. That sounds like a mundane fact... except there's no such thing as humdrum when it comes to Red River Valley history, as you'll read below.

John Tuck ran the ferry at Horseshoe Bend between Love County, Oklahoma and Cooke County, Texas for nearly thirty years. He farmed along the Red River in Cooke County, but traded that occupation for ferrying sometime in the 1890s when he took over the Black & Robertson Ferry in the Chickasaw Nation. For over three decades, John Tuck ferried cattle drovers, covered wagon trains, gunslingers, moonshiners, and automobile tourists over the river.

Tragedy struck in 1925, when John and his son, Cuburt, were killed by a young man named Charles Starrett after Cuburt Tuck befriended a "young but troubled woman" who called herself Mae Tracy. Mae Tracy, which may have not been her real name, had been employed at Joe Tuck's restaurant in Marietta (Love County, Oklahoma) for a short time, but was dismissed by John Tuck, who was helping his son manage the business after the daughter-in-law fell ill. Mae Tracy opened her own restaurant and became friendly with a young soldier, Charles Starrett. One drunken night, Starrett entered Joe Tuck's cafe and started a fight with Cuburt. John Tuck defended his son, then called the Sheriff to remove Starrett. That same evening, Starrett returned and shot John and Cuburt Tuck to death.

That same night, Mae Tracy closed her restaurant and tried to flee Marietta. And that's how the murder of a old-time ferry man became sensationalized throughout the country: what did Mae Tracy know?

But that's not all! In August of 1925, Charles Sterrett petitioned the court to remove Judge W. F. Freeman from the case because he, according to Sterrett's brief, "is a man who... is a great lover of newspaper publicity" and is prejudiced against Sterrett. The OK Court of Criminal Appeals granted the petition.

Charles Starrett's (also spelled Starritt in some accounts) initial trial led to a 99-year prison sentence, but this was reduced to five years. Apparently, he and "Mae Tracy" married; I think she was running from domestic abuse and found her champion in Starrett, who killed the father/son duo for, perhaps, for this reason.

USGS map
After Tuck's murder, the ferry landing became known as Thompson's (USGS, 1943).
Tuck's Ferry Road at Horseshoe Bend leads to public lands.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch gave the murders a full-page treatment, with the woman receiving the blame.

Wooden shelter in dirt.
The ferry operator's dugout shelter at Tuck's ferry landing. Photograph taken by Dustin Holt.

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