Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Three Guardsmen

It was January the ninth, 1944 in Guthrie, Oklahoma when Chris Madsen, the fighting Dane died at 93. Madsen was the last of the horseback Marshals to shuffle off this vale of tears. One of The Three Guardsmen who virtually ended the reign of the outlaw gangs of Oklahoma he had a very checkered past.

Although he claimed service in the Danish Army and even the French Foreign Legion before he came to the US in 1876 the reality is that he served time in Danish prisons for begging, vagrancy, fraud and forgery. The Danish government paid his fare to the US, a common thing back then. Madsen was one of the few who made the best of this new chance. Joining the Army he served fifteen years in the Quartermaster Corps, rising quickly to Quartermaster Sergeant of the Fifth Cavalry Regiment during the fights after Custer's Big Mistake. He was courtmartialed and acquitted once and was awarded the Silver Star during the Indian Wars. He was discharged (because he wanted out, not thrown out) and left the Army in Oklahoma where he joined the US. Marshall's Service.

Henry Andrew "Heck" Thomas was a Georgia boy, born in 1850 his family were Confederates during the big bloodletting of 1861-1865 and Heck was a courier for his Uncle , the Colonel of the Thomas Regiment. Unhurt during the Civil War he joined the Atlanta Police at age 17, a feat perhaps made easier by the fact that his daddy was the Town Marshall. Wounded during one of the periodic race riots of the early post slavery era he eventually got married and moved to Galveston., Texas becoming a guard for the Texas Express Company, taking charge of the money shipments on the railroads. He managed to save one big shipment from a robbery by the then-infamous Sam Bass Gang by hiding it in an unlit stove and packing dummy packages in the safe. By the time the robbers realized the packages were fake, the train was gone. Wounded during this robbery and shootout Thomas left the railroad and ran for Chief of Police in Fort Worth. Losing, by a very narrow margin he became a detective for the Fort Worth Detective Association, a collection of private eyes and stock detectives. Stock detectives drew a fairly small salary, though better than the normal $30.00 a month and found of the cowboy, plus a bounty for every cattle rustler and horse thief killed or jailed.

Thomas got his big break when he killed the Lee brothers, James and Pink, rustlers that had plagued The Chickasaw Nation up in Indian Territory as well as north Texas. He then went to work for The Hanging Judge, Issac Parker in Fort Smith, Arkansas. This was the court that had jurisdiction over the Indian Nation.

Bill Tilghman was a Kansas farm boy who became a buffalo hunter and then a lawman. Starting as a Deputy Sheriff in Ford County, Kansas under William Barclay "Bat" Masterson. Later appointed City Marshall he left after a short time because he couldn't stand the politics. There was a constant tension between the two factions, one that wanted Dodge City to remain a cowtown and the other that preferred the slower and more staid future as a farming community.

Tilghman thought he was leaving law enforcement when he got involved with the Oklahoma Land Rush in 1889. Instead his career was only begun. Settling on a ranch in Guthrie, OK he started raising fine horseflesh. Then duty called. Serving as a Deputy (city) Marshall in Guthrie He again was an exemplary officer. Tilghman accepted a position as a Deputy US Marshal and served in that position until 1910 when he retired as was elected to the Oklahoma State Senate.

Something that is mostly forgotten these days is how the Indian Territory and, later, Oklahoma Territory was governed. It started with The Five Civilized Tribes. The Cherokee, Creek, Seminole, Choctaw and Chickasaw Tribes each had their own Nation, complete with legislature, laws and police. These police, or light horse, however, could not arrest a white man, for anything. Only the US Marshals could. And the nearest base of the US Marshal Service was Fort Smith, Arkansas.

The local tribes had no real use for the white man's laws. With the memory of the Trail of Tears still fresh, the Indians just couldn't find too much sympathy for the poor, beleaguered whites. As long as a bad guy left the Indians alone no one went out of their way to assist the white eyes. As too the outlaws, well let's just say that quite a few, who were too ugly to the Indians, disappeared. The frontier, of course, was a dangerous place with snakes and bears and suchlike. No redskin would ever hurt a white outlaw! So, the outlaws left the Indians alone and used Indian Territory as a base, raiding farms and ranches for livestock, and towns for banks, stores and, of course, trains.

It did not help that the Indian Territory kept shrinking and more and more tribes kept being put in to the shrinking Territory. Kansas and Nebraska were the first to be carved out. Then they Cheyenne and the Kiowa, as well as the dread Comanche of Texas were shoved into the western part of the ever shrinking Indian Territory.

This was the world of Heck Thomas. Working under Judge Issac Parker, "the hanging judge" he joined a group of very hard men. I seriously doubt that any group of LEOs in American history have been in a more hazardous job that the Deputy Marshals of that judicial district. The law was severe back then and prisons were bleak. The gallows waited for many more crimes than the softer laws of today. Some wonder, perhaps, of the victims of today, wondering where their justice is but, alas, that is another story.

Thomas had already been wounded twice, in the line of duty, and he became a pretty serious customer. A bad guy got one chance to surrender with him, and Heck Thomas was very quick to ventilate a criminal trying to resist. Thomas was a fair lawman but he had a couple of rules, the most important was that if a man was worth shooting he was worth killing. The other two, Madsen and Tilghman were somewhat gentler.

Eventually a US District Court opened in Guthrie, Oklahoma Territory. This was toward the end of the horseback gangs. The Deputy US Marshal was chasing the Dalton Gang through the Territory. There were other lawmen on the trail but the bulldog was Heck Thomas. It was a long chase and Thomas never really caught up. He was so persistent that the Daltons tried for that one big score in Coffeyville, Kansas. Recognized while trying to rob two banks at once the robbers were in for a nasty surprise. The townspeople grabbed their shootin' irons and gave the Dalton Gang some of that Minnesota Nice that the James Gang got almost twenty years earlier in Northfield. Thomas got to Coffeyville in time to identify the bodies.

There were a couple of survivors of this gang, beside the Dalton brother that survived the shooting, Emmett who later claimed the "last big score" was so they could get far away from Thomas. Those survivors, led by "Wild Bill" Doolin became the Wild Bunch, one of the last big gangs. George "Bitter Creek" Newcomb, aka Slaughter Kid, Charley Pierce, Oliver "Ol" Yantis, Wm. Marion "Bill" Dalton, who wasn't involved in the Dalton Gang in Oklahoma but joined Doolin. There was also Wm. "Tulsa Jack" Blake, Dan "Dynamite Dick" Clifton, Roy Daugherty, aka Arkansas Tom Jones, George "Red Buck" Waighman, Richard "Little Dick" West, Wm. F. "Little Bill" Raidler. Eleven members of the gang that formed in 1892. All died by the gun.

The first robbery for the Wild Bunch was in Ford County, Kansas. The Stillwater town Marshal recognized Ol Yantis from the descriptions and the posse tracked him down and killed him in a shootout. Perhaps not the best beginning for a criminal gang.

By this time, Thomas, Tilghman and Madsen had worked together long enough to both gain trust in each other, and friendship. All three had the raw courage to stand up in a fight and all three had complimentary skills. Bill, because of his time as a buffalo hunter Army Scout was an excellent tracker. Chris, probably because of his years as a Quartermaster Sergeant, was good at the constant reports that, even then, hounded lawmen. Heck, well he was the best shot and was just the man needed when there was killing to be done. (Not that the others were shrinking violets)

The Marshals got a line on the gang in the late summer of '93. They were holed up in a sort of owtlaw town called Ingalls. Thomas, Tilghman and Madsen wanted to slip in and try their luck but the new US Marshal for the District, E. D. Nix just knew the situation required a bigger posse. In what became known as The Battle of Ingalls three Deputies were killed, along with two civilians. One outlaw was wounded and captured.

After that debacle the Three Guardsmen (although nobody knew them by that name yet) were taken off other duties and assigned to the Wild Bunch full time.

The game was pretty much over by the time Bill Tilghman tracked Wild Bill Doolin to Eureka Springs, Arkansas where he had gone to take the waters for the arthritis in his foot caused by a bullet wound. Tilghman dressed up with the black coat and reversed collar of a preacher, sholved his gun under his jacket and walked right up to Doolin, placing him under arrest. Then he just marched him to the train station and off they went, back to Guthrie. without worrying about minor details like extradition papers, no less.

The story continues.


Harvey said...

Great history lesson and a darn fair piece o' writin'.

More please.

Anonymous said...

Very nice. My great-uncle, Robert Osborn Sumter, was Sheriff in Atoka, OK. He was bushwacked and killed by bootleggers in 1933.