Among the stories of the Old West, few are more exciting than the manhunts that pitted frontier authority against those who would kill, plunder and rob. Back in those days, folks were spread out quite a bit and, at the same time, law enforcement was spread pretty thin, too. As you will see in these tales, the military had to sometimes step in, and armed citizens often had to augment the authority of their peace officers or, in some cases, handle a situation by themselves.

Keep in mind that these events occurred years before the Miranda case (1966) and other niceties that made life a little safer for law-breakers. And, lawmen were chosen for their courage, their ability to handle firearms, and their willingness to spend days in
the saddle while on the trail of outlaws. Formal training rarely existed.

Outlaws, lawmen and the winning of the West have graced a thousand songs and stories. The frontier West was rarely like it has been depicted in the movies and on television. But one thing that you can say for sure, it was always interesting.

Here are 10 of my favorite manhunt tales of those early days.

good bad guys true west
The lawmen and the desperados on both sides of the law lived, fought and died in all corners of the frontier West. Head out on an adventure and discover where history happened for these legendary men, including: (opposite clockwise, left to right): Heck Thomas (lower left) and posse, Bob Younger, Pat Garrett, Billy the Kid, Jesse James,
Will Roberts and Modoc warrior Black Jim.
– Photos Clockwise From Top Left: Heck Thomas Posse, True West Archives; Bob Younger, True West Archives; Pat Garrett, True West Archives; Billy the Kid, Courtesy Robert G. McCubbin Collection; Jesse James, Courtesy Library of Congress; Will Roberts, Courtesy Library of Congress; Modoc Black Jim, Courtesy Yale University’s Beinecke Library –

1. 1872 – 1873
U.S. Army vs. The Modocs
Redding, California to Klamath Falls, Oregon

In 1872, Modoc tribe members were extremely unhappy with their existence on the Modoc/Klamath reservation in Southern Oregon. They weren’t getting along with the Klamaths and the Indian agent wasn’t supplying the food and other necessities that had been promised. Finally, one of their tribal leaders, Captain Jack, led nearly 200 Modocs off the reservation to take refuge in the lava beds on the Oregon/California border. Almost immediately, complaints began coming in from area settlers about thefts and plundering by the Modocs.

In late 1872, or early 1873, the U.S. Army, under the command of General Edward Canby, stepped in to return the Modocs to the reservation. Canby’s original goal was to talk them in peacefully, if at all possible. Accordingly, he set up a peace tent near the lava beds and invited Captain Jack to come parley. Captain Jack may have had other ideas.

On April 11, 1873, Captain Jack and some of his men met with General Canby, Reverend Eleazar Thomas and other army officers. Some believe that Captain Jack went to the meeting with the intent to murder the soldiers, believing that this would make the army leave the Modocs alone, but the truth is, Modoc warriors pressured Jack into the planned attack. Regardless, an argument soon broke out and the Modocs began to pull knives and guns. In the melee, General Canby and Reverend Thomas were both killed before the Modocs fled back into the vastness of the lava beds.

In a series of skirmishes, the army was not winning, even though they were even using artillery on the Indians ensconced in the lava beds. However, many of the Modocs had had enough and, by early May, began to surrender. Captain Jack was captured on June 4, 1873. Following a military trial, Captain Jack and Black Jim, Schonchin John and Boston Charley were hanged. Some 150 other Modocs were shipped to Indian Territory. The army had won, but at a heavy price.

On the Modoc Trail of the U.S. Army and Captain Jack

Northern California and Southern Oregon offer numerous historic sites, scenic byways and heritage communities to explore on the trail of the tragic story of Captain Jack and the Modoc War.


Scenic Byway: Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway,

Historic Sites, Parks, Museums & Monuments: Lava Beds National Monument, Tulelake Museum, Tulelake, CA; Siskiyou County Historical Society, Yreka, CA; Klamath County Museum, Favell Museum, Klamath Falls, OR

Lodging: Winema Lodge, Tulelake, CA; Coffee Creek Ranch, Coffee Creek, CA; Lake of the Woods Lodge & Resort, Klamath Falls, OR

shonchin captain jack true west
The Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway to Lava Bed National Monument will lead the heritage traveler to the scene of battlefields of the Modoc War. After their capture on the trail, Schonchin John (left) and Captain Jack (right) were photographed at Fort Klamath before they were hanged in 1873.
–Carol Highsmith’s Photo of Lava Bed National Monument Courtesy California Tourism/Louis Herman Heller’s Photo of Schonchin and Captain Jack Photo Courtesy Yale University’s Beinecke Library –

2. January 1875
Pinkertons vs. Jesse and Frank James
Kearney to St. Joseph, Missouri

By 1875, the James-Younger Gang had been robbing banks and trains for almost ten years. In 1874, the Adams Express Company was so upset with their losses that they put the Pinkerton Detective Agency after the gang. Several Pinkertons were quickly killed when they tried to infiltrate Clay County, Missouri. It has been said that Allan Pinkerton was so furious that he swore to burn them out, if that’s what it took.

On the night of January 25, 1875, a posse led by Pinkerton investigators surrounded the home of Jesse and Frank James’ mother, Zerelda Samuel, believing that the two outlaws were present. Those same investigators later claimed that they threw a smoke bomb into the house to force the outlaws out. Their “smoke bomb” turned out to be a regular bomb that promptly exploded. The explosion killed a young half brother to the Jameses and mangled their mother’s arm so badly that it had to be amputated. Frank and Jesse were not even at home. The entire state of Missouri was infuriated by the attack; and while the Pinkertons were humiliated, they fought on with local authorities to try and capture the James Boys.

On the Missouri Trail of the James Boys and the Pinkertons

Western Missouri offers numerous historic sites, scenic byways and heritage communities to explore on the trail of Jesse and Frank James.


Historic Sites, Parks, Museums & Monuments: Jesse James Farm, Kearney; Pattee House Museum, Jesse James House Museum, Pony Express National Museum, St. Joseph; Jesse James Bank Museum and Clay County Museum, Liberty

Lodging: The Elms, Excelsior Springs; Whiskey Mansion Bed & Breakfast,
St. Joseph

3. September 7, 1876
Northfield vs. the James-Younger Gang
Northfield to LaSalle, Minnesota

We’ll never know for sure what caused the gang to rob a bank in Minnesota. It might have been to just try out new territory or it could have been the fact that Adelbert Ames, a hated former governor of Mississippi, lived there. Historians have suggested both ideas, but a consensus has never been reached.

Whatever the reason, the gang rode into Northfield like they had done in previous towns, with with some outlaws looting the bank while other gang members shot up the street to keep the townspeople at bay. This just didn’t work so well in Northfield because the citizens were already nervous about these strangers wearing gun belts and sporting rifles on their saddles.

In the bank, one employee refused to unlock the safe and was quickly killed. Another employee was wounded as he escaped the robbery. The gunfire in the bank had already attracted citizens out in the street. Instead of running, the citizens armed themselves and began to fight back. Outlaws Bill Stiles and Clell Miller were killed. And, as the rest of the gang made their escape with precious little loot, all of them were wounded, except for Frank and Jesse, who were amazingly unharmed.

Large posses were quickly on the gang’s trail, causing the Youngers and the Jameses to split up. Two weeks later, a posse caught the Youngers near La Salle, Minnesota. In the ensuing fight, Charlie Pitts was killed and Cole, Bob, and Jim Younger were captured, having been wounded again. Frank and Jesse were in the wind. And, to our knowledge, no one ever tried to rob a bank in Northfield, Minnesota, again.

On the Minnesota Trail of the James-Younger Gang

Southern Minnesota offers numerous historic sites, scenic byways and heritage communities to explore on the trail of the James-Younger Gang.


Historic Sites, Parks, Museums & Monuments: Northfield Historical Society, Northfield; Brown County Historical Society Museum, New Ulm; Watonwan County Historical Museum, Madelia

Lodging: Archer House, Northfield; The Grand, New Ulm; Grandstay Hotel & Suites, Madelia

james younger gang true west
Clockwise, left to right: Jesse James, Frank James, Bob Younger, Jim Younger, Charlie Pitts and Cole Younger spent years riding, robbing, fighting and hiding across Missouri and neighboring states after the Civil War. The spree came to a climactic end at Northfield, Minnesota, on September 7, 1876.
– Jesse James, Frank James, Bob Younger, Jim Younger, Charlie Pitts and Cole Younger Photos From True West Archives –

4. August 24, 1877
Texas Rangers vs. John Wesley Hardin
Comanche to Huntsville, Texas

Premier Texas gunfighter John Wesley Hardin had racked up a number of kills during his turbulent career. But he brought the full wrath of the Texas Rangers down on himself when he killed Deputy Sheriff Charles Webb in Comanche, Texas, in May of 1874.

John Wesley Hardin true west
A descendent of Texas revolutionaries, John Wesley Hardin was raised in southeastern Texas, the son of a Methodist preacher and pious mother. His propensity for violence began as a teenager and at the time of his death at age 42, Hardin allegedly had killed 40 men.
– True West Archives –

Tired of this sort of conduct by Hardin, the Texas Rangers put John B. Armstrong on his trail. With a nice piece of detective work, officers soon learned that Hardin’s Texas relatives kept receiving mail from a man in Florida. Armstrong soon learned that Hardin was hiding out in various towns on the Alabama-Florida line.

Investigator Jack Duncan and local officers located Hardin on a train in Pensacola, Florida. Legend has it that when he saw the long-barreled Colt in Armstrong’s hand Hardin yelled, “Texas, by God!” and went for his own gun. Armstrong promptly combed Hardin’s hair with that long-barreled Colt and shot another member of the gang who had pulled a gun. Hardin’s own gun had supposedly caught hung up on his suspenders, causing him to fail to get off a shot.

gonzales texas panoramio true west
After Texas Rangers captured John Wesley Hardin in 1877, his trial was held in Gonzales. A newer jail was built in 1885 and today is the Gonzales County Jail Museum, a stark reminder of gallows justice on the Texas frontier.
– Courtesy Alex Garrido, Historical_Gonzales-Texas, –

John Wesley Hardin was transported back to Texas, where he was convicted of murder and sentenced to Huntsville Prison, where he served 17 years. Just 18 months after Hardin’s release from prison, on August 19, 1895, Constable John Selman killed him with a shot to the back of the head in El Paso’s infamous Acme Saloon.

On the Trail of John Wesley Hardin

Texas offers numerous historic sites, scenic byways and heritage communities to explore on the trail of John Wesley Hardin and the Texas Rangers.


Historic Sites, Parks, Museums and Monuments: Bullock State History Museum, Austin; Texas Ranger Hall of Fame & Museum, Waco; Pioneer Village Living History Center, Gonzales; Old Jail Museum, Gonzales; Gonzales Memorial Museum, Texas State Prison Museum, Huntsville; Concordia Cemetery, El Paso

Lodging: The Driskill, Austin; Colcord Hotel, Waco; Alcalde Hotel & Grill, Gonzales; Woodbine Hotel & Restaurant, Madisonville

5. 1880
The Texas Rangers vs. Jesse Evans
Lincoln, New Mexico to Presidio, Texas

By 1880, Jesse Evans had about worn out his welcome in Lincoln County, New Mexico. The Lincoln County War had wound down and the law was making things too hot for Jesse and his friends.

fort davis true west
Cowboy turned rustler-gunman Jesse Evans fought on the side of the Murphy-Dolan faction in the Lincoln County War before fleeing to the Fort Davis, Texas, region (below) after he was involved in the murder of John Tunstall.
– Jesse Evans Photo Courtesy Paul Northrop/Fort Davis True West Archives –

Jesse and the boys decided that pickings might be easier in the Davis Mountains of west Texas. Being a bit short of funds, they rode in to Fort Davis and robbed the Sender & Siebenborn Store, as well as taking money from any citizens who happened by.  A posse was quickly formed but was only able to catch one of the outlaws.

Texas Ranger Sgt. Lamar Sieker quickly brought a detachment into the area and started an investigation. An informant told the Ranger that Jesse Evans and the rest of his gang were in the area of Presidio, some 100 miles south of Fort Davis. Leading a pack mule, Sieker and five Rangers headed south toward Presidio and the Chinati Mountains.

The Rangers spotted the outlaws as they rode toward the mountain and a running gunfight ensued. The outlaws took cover behind some boulders on the top of the mountain and began to pour the lead at the Ranger posse. Riding up to within forty yards of the gang, the Rangers fought back. Ranger Bingham was shot through the heart and Graham, one of the outlaws, also was killed. Jesse Evans and his two surviving companions wisely surrendered.

Jesse Evans was tried, convicted and sent to Huntsville Prison. After having served his sentence and been released, the outlaw disappeared.

On the Trail of Jesse Evans and the Texas Rangers

The road from Lincoln, New Mexico, to Presidio, Texas, offers historic sites, scenic byways and heritage communities to explore on the trail of Jesse Evans and his battle with the Texas Rangers.

Chambers: (Lincoln, NM);;;;

Historic Sites, Parks, Museums & Monuments: Lincoln Historic Site, Lincoln, NM; Presidio County Courthouse, Fort Leaton State Historic Site, Marfa, TX; Fort Davis National Historic Site, Fort Davis, TX; Texas Ranger Museum, Waco, TX

Lodging: El Paisano Hotel, Marfa, TX; El Fortin del Cibola, Presidio County, TX; Hotel Limpia, Veranda Lodge, Indian Lodge, Fort Davis, TX; Colcord Hotel, Waco, TX

6. July 14, 1881
Pat Garrett vs. Billy the Kid
Lincoln, New Mexico to Fort Sumner, New Mexico

In the aftermath of the Lincoln County War, Henry McCarty aka Billy the Kid, was sentenced to hang for murder and remanded to the Lincoln County jail until the execution could be carried out. In April of 1881, the Kid murdered deputies James Bell and Bob Olinger while making his escape.

pat garrett el paso true west
The history of law and order on the American Western frontier has produced few friendships—and rivalries—as fraught with mythology, intrigue and tragedy as that of Sheriff Pat Garrett (above) and legendary outlaw Billy the Kid (below).
– Pat Garrett Photo True West Archives/Billy the Kid Photo Courtesy Robert G. McCubbin Collection –

billy the kid true westFrom April to July, Sheriff Pat Garrett bided his time and gathered information that would lead to the Kid’s location. In July, probably from an informant, Garrett learned that the Kid was most likely in Fort Sumner, New Mexico Territory. Taking two deputies with him, Garrett quietly made his way to the old fort, now turned village.

At about midnight on the 14th, Garrett left his two deputies outside while he went into Pete Maxwell’s house to see what he could find out. While sitting and talking to Maxwell, who was already in bed, Garrett was shocked to see Billy walk into the room from a door that led to the outside. Garrett fired two quick shots, one of which hit the Kid in the chest and killed him.

Over the years, it has been argued whether the Kid had a pistol, a knife or was unarmed. To a frontier lawman, none of that mattered. On top of all of his other violent acts, Billy the Kid had killed two of Pat Garrett’s coworkers and, we may assume, friends—although many doubt Garrett and Olinger were more than professional acquaintances. Garrett’s attitude was that, if the Kid wasn’t armed, he should have been.

pat garrett billy the kid pete maxwell true west
While all of Fort Sumner’s original buildings (above) and Pete Maxwell’s house (inset), where Pat Garrett shot and killed Billy the Kid on July 14, 1881, are no longer standing, visitors can tour the historic site, which includes the Bosque Redondo Memorial Museum and two self-guided trails—the Old Fort Site Trail and the River Trail, onto the former grounds of the fort and reservation.
– True West Archives –

On the Trail of Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid

New Mexico offers numerous historic sites, scenic byways and heritage communities to explore on the trail of Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid’s final shootout.

Chambers: (Lincoln, NM);

Historic Sites, Parks, Museums & Monuments: Lincoln Historic Site; Ft. Stanton Historic Site; Fort Sumner Historic Site/Bosque Redondo Memorial; Hubbard Museum of the American West, Ruidosa; Old Fort Sumner Museum and Billy the Kid Museum, Fort Sumner

Lodging: Ellis Store Country Inn, Lincoln; The Wortley Hotel, Lincoln; Shadow Mountain Lodge & Cabins, Ruidosa; Billy the Kid Country Inn, Fort Sumner

7. March 24, 1882
Wyatt Earp vs. Curly Bill
Cochise County, Arizona

To say that Wyatt Earp was fed up would be an understatement. The Cowboys, as the folks in Cochise County, Arizona, called the outlaws, had murdered his brother Morgan and crippled his brother Virgil. As a deputy U.S. marshal, with a pocket full of warrants, Earp formed a posse and hit the trail. One could probably say that the outlaws’ civil rights were not high on his list of priorities.

wyatt earp tombstone true west
Wyatt Earp’s legendary life as a lawman in Tombstone, Cochise County, Arizona Territory, led to deadly rivalries with the Clanton allies, including Curly Bill Brocius.
– True West Archives –

On March 24, Earp led his posse up to Iron Springs (later called Mescal Springs) and rode right into the outlaws. Earp’s posse fled, thinking that he was with them. But Earp had unshucked a shotgun from his saddle scabbard and dismounted. About that time, Curly Bill Brocius took aim on Wyatt with his own shotgun. Curly Bill missed and Wyatt didn’t. Having fired both barrels of his shotgun into Curly Bill, Wyatt used his revolver to put a bullet into Johnny Barnes, who later died from the wound.

tombstone courthouse true west
Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park is (above) an ideal place to start a tour of Tombstone when on the trail of Cochise County history. Wyatt Earp rival John Behan was the first sheriff to work out of the courthouse when it opened in 1882.
– Courtesy Arizona Office of Tourism –

Wyatt’s clothes were torn with bullets, but Earp was not hit. Still under fire, he hitched up his gunbelt and rode to cover. Earp later found out that the outlaws had carried Curly Bill’s body off and buried it on the Patterson Ranch.

Some believed that Curly Bill was not killed in this fight, though Wyatt and others always maintained that he was. The fact is that Curly Bill Brocious was never heard from again.

rex allen statue true west
Cochise County native and last of the singing cowboys Rex Allen is commemorated with a statue (above) and museum in his hometown of Willcox, Arizona. Warren Earp was killed in a shootout in Willcox on July 6, 1900, and is buried in the town’s Pioneer Cemetery.
– Courtesy Cochise County Tourism –

On the Trail Wyatt Earp and Curly Bill

Southeastern Arizona’s Cochise County offers numerous historic sites, scenic byways and heritage communities to explore on the trail of Wyatt Earp and Curly Bill.


Historic Sites, Parks, Museums & Monuments: O.K. Corral and Historama, Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park, Boothill Graveyard & Gift Shop, Tombstone; Rex Allen Arizona Cowboy Museum & Cowboy Hall of Fame, Willcox; Bisbee Mining & Historical Museum, Bisbee

Lodging: Tombstone Monument Ranch, Tombstone; Virgil’s Corner Bed & Breakfast, Tombstone

8. 1886
Teddy Roosevelt vs. The Boat Thieves
Medora to Dickinson, North Dakota

The 1880s found future president Theodore Roosevelt ranching near Medora, North Dakota, along the Little Missouri River. One spring morning, as the ice in the river was beginning to break, Roosevelt found that someone had made off with the boat that he used to get to the other side of the river and tend to his livestock.

teddy roosevelt true west
Adventurous Theodore Roosevelt (above) bought the Chimney Butte Ranch near Medora, North Dakota, in 1883 after coming to the Little Missouri Badlands to hunt buffalo. After his wife and daughter died in early 1884, Roosevelt moved to his ranch, and made it his home off and on for the next few years.
– Courtesy Library of Congress –

Suspecting some neighbors who lived nearby, Teddy and two ranch hands quickly got to work and built a flat-bottomed scow so that they could go after the thieves. After three days on the river, Roosevelt and his cowboys came up on the thieves’ camp. He arrested three men that he identified as Finnigan, The Half Breed and The Old German. Then Roosevelt waited eight days for the river to thaw, spending the time guarding prisoners and reading books, all the time keeping a double-barreled 12-gauge between him and the outlaws.

Little missouriaka little muddy true west
The placid Little Missouri River (left) in Theodore Roosevelt National Park is frozen much of the winter, and during the spring thaw of March 1886, when Roosevelt and Bill Sewall and Wilmot Dow, chased the boat thieves on the ice-jammed river, it was a life or death adventure.
– Courtesy –

Finally, running short of supplies, Roosevelt decided to walk his prisoners overland to the sheriff in the town of Dickinson. Some 36 hours later, Teddy delivered his captives to the sheriff and, being a sworn deputy sheriff, collected his fees and mileage amounting to $50. He might have worn glasses and been from Back East, but the word soon got around that he was not one to mess with.

theodore roosevelt wilmot dow bill sewall true west
Ranch hands Wilmot Dow (left), and Bill Sewall (right) built a flat-bottomed scow with Theodore Roosevelt (center) to float downriver for three days down the treacherous Little Missouri in pursuit of the three thieves who stole Roosevelt’s boat from his ranch.
– True West Archives –

On the Trail of Theodore Roosevelt and the Boat Thieves

Western North Dakota offers numerous historic sites, scenic byways and heritage communities to explore on the trail of Theodore Roosevelt and the boat thieves.


Historic Sites, Parks, Museums & Monuments: Theodore Roosevelt National Park, The Château de Mores Interpretive Center, Joe Ferris General Store, North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame, Medora; Dickinson Museum Center, Dickinson

Lodging: Rough Riders Hotel, Medora; Bar X Guest Ranch & Horse Camp, Medora; 1026 Oasis Inn, Dickinson

9. October 1892
Coffeyville vs. The Dalton Gang
Meade to Coffeyville, Kansas

grat dalton emmett dalton true west
Brothers Emmet (above, left) and Grat Dalton (above, right) career as bank robbers ended in a hail of bullets after they tried to rob the Condon Bank (below) in Coffeyville, Kansas, October 5, 1892.
– Dalton Photos, True West Archives/Bank Photo Courtesy Coffeyville CVB –

northfield bank coffeyville true west

On October 5, 1892, the Dalton Gang pulled either the most daring stunt, or the stupidest stunt, of their outlaw career. Bob, Grat and Emmett Dalton, along with Dick Broadwell and Bill Powers, elected to hold up two banks at once in the Daltons’ old hometown of Coffeyville, Kansas.

The boys just made a few really stupid mistakes. They rode into town wearing phony-looking disguises that only called attention to them. They failed to case the banks ahead of time and did not have a good escape route planned. And they let Grat Dalton, not one of the sharpest knives in the drawer, be the leader in one bank.

dalton hideout true west
In Meade, Kansas, the Dalton Gang Hideout & Museum, is housed in the family home of Eva Whipple, the sister of the Dalton brothers, with the restored infamous escape tunnel below it open for tours.
– Courtesy Dalton Gang Hideout & Museum –

Things went to pieces in a hurry, with the double robbery taking too long. Citizens discovered the twin crimes and began shooting even before the gang got out of the banks. In the confusion, Grat Dalton killed the town marshal in an alley, and the gang killed three citizens.

Hemmed up in an alley, trying to get on their horses, the outlaws were converged upon by townspeople who killed the entire gang except Emmett Dalton, who was shot so many times that he should have died. It was said that Bill Doolin had also been with the gang, but had held back, claiming that his horse was lame. If so, it just shows that Doolin was a whole lot smarter than the rest of the Dalton Gang.

On the Trail of the Dalton Gang

Southern and Western Kansas, from Meade to Coffeyville, including a side trip to Dodge City, offers numerous historic sites, scenic byways and heritage communities to explore on the trail of the Dalton Gang.


Historic Sites, Parks, Museums & Monuments: The Daltons Defenders Museum, Condon Bank in Historic Perkins Building, Coffeyville CVB, Coffeyville; Meade County Historical Museum, Dalton Gang Hideout & Museum, Meade; Boothill Museum, Dodge City

Lodging: Regal Inn, Coffeyville; Lakeway Hotel: Bed & Breakfast, Meade; Boothill Casino & Resort, Dodge City

10. August 1896
Heck Thomas vs. Bill Doolin
Lawson to Guthrie, Oklahoma

heck thomas doolin true west
Deputy U.S. Marshal Heck Thomas had been tracking outlaws for two decades in Oklahoma Territory when in August 1886 he got a tip that escaped outlaw Bill Doolin was near Lawson. Thomas and his posse got the jump on Doolin and gunned the bandit down.
– True West Archives –

Bill Doolin’s turn finally came in 1896. After the demise of the Dalton Gang, of which he was a member, he formed his own wild bunch and kept on following the outlaw trade. Among other things, they shot up a group of U.S. marshals in Ingalls, Oklahoma Territory. Captured in Arkansas by Bill Tilghman, Doolin soon escaped from the jail in Guthrie.

bill doolin
Bill Doolin

In August of 1896, Deputy U.S. Marshal Heck Thomas set up surveillance on the home of Doolin’s father-in-law in Lawson, Oklahoma Territory. Late at night, the posse saw a man walking from the house, up a trail, in their general direction. When it was determined that it was Bill Doolin, the posse opened up. Doolin returned fire, but he was shot several times, and killed dead on the spot. Heck Thomas got the credit for killing Doolin, having centered the outlaw’s chest with a load of buckshot.

Folks have always debated if Thomas’s posse had called on Doolin to surrender. Most likely they did, but maybe, as in the case of Frank Hamer and Bonnie and Clyde, Doolin couldn’t hear them over the sound of the gunfire. We suspect that Heck Thomas didn’t much care.

carnegie library and museum guthrie true west
When on a law-and-order heritage tour of Oklahoma, don’t miss historic Guthrie, a cornerstone of state history. The Carnegie Library (below), built in 1901, is home to the Territorial Oklahoma Historical Museum with exhibits on the tumultuous, lawless days on the frontier of the Indian Territory.
– Courtesy Guthrie Chamber of Commerce –

On the Trail of Heck Thomas and Bill Doolin

Central Oklahoma offers numerous historic sites, scenic byways and heritage communities to explore on the trail of Heck Thomas and Bill Doolin.


Historic Sites, Parks, Museums & Monuments: National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, Oklahoma City; Oklahoma Territorial Museum, Summit View Cemetery, Logan County Historical Society, Guthrie; JM Davis Arms & Historical Museum, Claremore; Woolaroc Museum, Bartlesville

Lodging: Pollard Inn, The Stone Lion Inn, Guthrie; Colcord Hotel, The Skirvin Hotel, Oklahoma City

Jim Wilson is a retired Texas peace officer, a former sheriff and a lifelong student of Western history. The Big Bend country of West Texas is his home.

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