Three-year-old suffered 15 skull fractures & broken nose and jaw in Rogers’ tiny home town
OOLOGAH, Oklahoma––“No man can be condemned for owning a dog,” alleged humorist Will Rogers, who also famously professed to have never met a man he didn’t like.
“As long as he has a dog, he has a friend,” Rogers claimed, “and the poorer he gets, the better friend he has. If there are no dogs in heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went.”
Born on the Dog Iron Ranch, two miles east of Oologah, Oklahoma, four years after his Cherokee parents Clem Vann Rogers and Mary America Schrimsher built the homestead, Will Rogers (1879-1935) might have changed his mind about both dogs and men, had he seen three-year-old Sivya White-Cook.
Week-long visit to father’s family became prolonged hospital stay
On November 20, 2020, Sivya White-Cook suffered 15 skull fractures and a broken nose and jaw, allegedly inflicted by her uncle Richard’s pit bull at her paternal grandmother’s home in Oologah, “and had to have part of her face reconstructed,” posted her maternal grandmother Jeannie Furst, of Lawrence, Kansas, to GoFundMe.
Sivya White-Cook, who lived with her mother Renee Cook in Lawrence, was attacked “during a week of visitation with her father,” Jeannie Furst explained.
“Her face and head are stitched, and she is also being subjected to a series of rabies shots, due to the lack of vaccination records for the dog. It is too early to tell if there are any brain injuries as a result of this attack,” Furst continued.
“Rogers County Sheriff Scott Walton says Sivya was with her father,” Michael White, “and grandmother,” Shannon White. “Initially the grandmother told deputies that Sivya had been attacked by a stray dog,” reported Jordan Tidwell of News On 6 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, forty miles south.
Grandmother told sheriff the pit bull was a stray
“She [Shannon White] later admitted it was their own dog who had attacked the little girl,” Tidwell added.
“The child had moved a food bowl, the grandmother sees the dog mauling the child, throws herself on the dog, and also gets bit,” Walton told Tidwell.
“We have a three-year-old victim here who did nothing wrong,” Walton continued. “I don’t think that little girl could visualize she was doing anything wrong when she moved a bowl of food away from an animal.”
Walton had prior experience with the Oologah branch of the Oklahoma pit bull subculture. Eight years earlier, in January 2012, Walton led a raid on the Oologah home of Steven Yeubanks, then 34, who was charged with cropping the ears of pit bulls without a veterinary license and “trading the dogs and stolen property in five states,” Tulsa World staff writer Zack Stoycoff summarized.
Suspect tried to skull pit bull victim with TV set
Walton was also among the many Oklahoma peace officers who were on the lookout for Benjamin Ryan Spence, 34, charged on November 10, 2020 with second-degree murder and assault with a deadly weapon, specifically three pit bulls, with bail set at $525,000.
Spence was finally apprehended on December 3, 2020.
Spence on October 22, 2020 allegedly set his three pit bulls on Curtis “C.J.” Wickham, 26, and then tried to slam homeowner Champaign Walker’s flatscreen television down on Wickham’s head as he lay dying.
“Witnesses told police Wickham was the ex-boyfriend of the owner of the home,” reported Kelsy Schlotthauer for the Tulsa World, “and that he had returned in search of his cellphone. Spence was the homeowner’s new boyfriend, and he answered the door ‘yelling’ and stepped out onto the porch before striking Wickham and starting a fight, police were told.
“One witness described Wickham ‘getting the best of Ben (Spence)’ before they heard Spence tell his dogs to ‘sik em,’ according to a probable cause affidavit.”
Earlier threatened to stab victim in the face
The affidavit, Schlotthauer wrote, “further states that a passerby overheard the commotion and tried to intervene by striking the dogs with a wooden plank, and that a neighbor fired a gun into the air as the passerby and the homeowner tried to ‘corral’ the dogs, but nothing deterred the animals,” or Wickham, apparently.
Walker reportedly told police that “the dogs had torn Wickham’s clothing from his body and he wasn’t moving” before Spence “grabbed her flat screen TV and threw it at him, narrowly missing his head,” Schlotthauer recounted.
“Investigators later recovered a text message Spence had sent to the homeowner the day before, threatening to stab Wickham in the face,” Schlotthauer added.
The Spence pit bulls were known to be vicious. Neighbor John Efird told media that, “They even killed my girlfriend’s daughter’s chicken,” leading to previous calls to police about the pit bulls’ behavior.
Walker’s three-year-old daughter was also present in the small wooden frame home during the fatal pit bull attack on Wickham.
Well-known to police
Both Wickham and Spence were well-known to police.
Wickham on January 7, 2019 was arrested as a passenger in a Chevy Malibu that had been reported stolen, after an eight-mile, 10-minute pursuit through downtown Sand Springs, Oklahoma.
Also arrested were the driver, Trey Coffee, 21, and fellow passenger Tanner Taube, 21.
Reported Tulsa Channel 2, “Coffee made numerous traffic violations, and then drove into an alleyway suspected as being an area used for fencing stolen metals. Police said Coffee tried to break into a home in the area after the pursuit ended, but was unsuccessful. About 100 pounds of [allegedly stolen] copper wire were found in Coffee’s vehicle. Coffee had also multiple warrants for his arrest, one of which was for walking away from a Department of Corrections halfway house. He was arrested on eluding, kidnapping, and multiple other complaints.”
The kidnapping charge was apparently filed because Wickham and Taube testified that they had asked Coffee to stop and let them out of the car.
Taube had previously been charged with possession of marijuana with intent to distribute, assault and battery, and larceny from a retailer.
Spence, whose pit bulls killed Wickham, had history of having been sued in 2012 for causing injuries to others in a car crash, and having been convicted in 2013 of possessing a firearm and ammunition after former conviction of a felony. The latter charge, according to court records, came after “Tulsa police officers observed him [Spence] and three others in a hotel room with drug paraphernalia,” and found after arresting Spence that he was also wanted on four outstanding misdemeanor warrants.
A charge of driving under the influence, leading to a personal injury accident, and a charge of obstructing a police officer were brought against Spence on September 15, 2019.
At least five girls mauled by pit bulls in three years
Meanwhile back in Oologah, Sivya White-Cook joined a rapidly growing list of little girls who have been killed or disfigured by pit bulls recently in small-town Oklahoma.
For instance, Rylee Marie Dodge, age 3, was fatally mauled by a pit bull in Duncan, Oklahoma, on January 14, 2018. Her grandmother was injured in attempting to rescue her. Her father, Jason Dodge, told Jarred Burk of RNN-Texoma that the family had only acquired the pit bull five days earlier.
Haylee Bischel, age 7, survived a mauling by two of a neighbor’s pit bulls that left her in critical condition on June 24, 2019, in rural Cleveland County, south of Oklahoma City.
Lily Davidson, age 9, was attacked and dragged by two loose pit bulls on October 14, 2019, after her school bus dropped her off near her home in Kellyville, an even smaller community than Oologah, about as far southwest of Tulsa as Oologah is northwest.
A three-year-old who was facially mauled 50 miles north of Oologah in Caney, Kansas on April 15, 2020 technically was not an Oklahoma victim, but Caney is right on the state border. The child was rushed to the nearest hospital, the Ascension St. John Jane Phillips Medical Center in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, before being transferred to a Tulsa facility for more advanced treatment.
Three seniors killed by pit bulls in four years
Not all of the recent victims, of course, are little girls.
Cecille Short, killed by two of a neighbor’s pit bulls while walking near her Oklahoma City home on April 6, 2017, was 82. The pit bulls’ owner, Demetris Burks, 32, of Oklahoma City, has yet to be tried on long-pending second degree manslaughter charges.
Karen Wilkerson, 76, of Broken Bow, Oklahoma, was on September 11, 2020 killed by two pit bulls apparently kept by one of her daughters.
(Details of the case appear in Pit bull advocate involved in breeding killed in South Carolina, the title of which pertains to a different case.)
Wilkerson died only a dozen miles from where retired Christmas tree farmer Cledith Ray Davenport, 79, also of a Broken Bow address, was allegedly killed by a neighbor’s pit bull/blue heeler mixes on December 14, 2019. One of Davenport’s schnauzers died in the same incident.
Other recent rural Oklahoma pit bull fatalities included Allen Bruce, 56, of Bennington, killed on September 28, 2019, and Victor Garces, 12, of Hollis, killed on December 13, 2019.
Garces may have been a schoolmate of Gage Thornhill, then age 4, who on October 19, 2013 suffered a skull fracture and multiple other injuries that left him unable to walk. The Thornhill attack came just a few blocks from where Garces’ mauled body was found.
Earl Tudor legacy vs. that of Will Rogers
Much of the Oklahoma pit bull mayhem, including that associated with drug trafficking, can be ascribed to the legacy of Earl Tudor (1893-1977), a much longer lived contemporary of Will Rogers, though it is unlikely the two ever met.
Rogers left Oologah in 1901, failed at ranching in Argentina, succeeded in show business as a trick roper in South Africa, and returned to the U.S. to perform at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904.
From there, instead of turning left to go home, Rogers turned right to go to New York City, where he made good in vaudeville. Rogers later crossed the U.S. to work in the Hollywood film industry, appearing in 21 feature films, while producing a weekly syndicated newspaper column from 1922 until his death, adding a weekly radio broadcast to his workload in 1929
“Lawyers and judges bought whiskey from him”
Tudor meanwhile reputedly engaged in bootlegging, gambling, organizing illegal prize fights, gamecock breeding, and, especially, in raising fighting pit bulls and dog fighting in Hobart, Oklahoma, diagonally across the state from Oologah.
According to longtime acquaintance, fellow dogfighter, and distant neighbor Randy Fox on Pit Bull Chat Forum, Tudor “was not always honest in his dogfighting. He knew all the tricks of the trade. Scotty Nelson said Earl Tudor stole things and said he committed various crimes and he could be right.
“I am from that county,” Fox said, “and lived 10 miles from Earls home. I don’t recall reading any of that in the Democrat Chief, the Hobart newspaper. I checked various records for his criminal doings and found none. So if he did these things, he didn’t get arrested for them.
“He was pretty slick at getting out of trouble,” Fox allowed. “You will have to remember that lawyers and judges bought whiskey from him also.”
Introduced others to dogfighting
Tudor notoriously got younger people started in dogfighting, including Danny Dewayne Burton, 76, now of Comanche, Oklahoma.
Burton, then residing in Duncan, Oklahoma, was at age 34, in April 1978, arraigned with three other men including fellow “name” dogfighter Donnie Wayne Mayfield, then 21, at Ben Wheeler, Texas, “after what may have been the largest raid in the bloody, secretive history of professional dog fighting in Texas,” according to Associated Press.
Altogether, the raid resulted in 235 arrests. Burton, Mayfield, and the two others arraigned with them were believed to have been the organizers.
That was scarcely Burton’s only bust. At age 49, in July 1994, Burton and Claudia Barbara Zimmerman, 21, also known as Claudia Barbara Davis and Claudia David, who lived with Burton, were charged with training 11 pit bulls for dogfighting.
While details of the case are unclear, Burton was released from the Federal Correctional Institution in El Reno, Oklahoma, on April 15, 1999.
Generation after generation, dog fighting, pit bull breeding, and selling “cur” pit bulls to fund the mayhem spread across Oklahoma. Now children––and many others––are paying the price.