THE AMERICAN WEST (mostly): Fact and Fiction (mostly fiction)

"NOBODY GETS TO BE A COWBOY FOREVER." -- Chet Rollins (Jack Palance) in MONTE WALSH (NG, 1970)

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Tuesday, January 12, 2016


They were duelin', Doolin-Dalton
High or low, it was the same
Easy money and faithless women
Red-eye whiskey for the pain

Go down, Bill Dalton, it must be God's will
Two brothers lyin' dead in Coffeyville
Two voices call to you from where they stood
Lay down your law books now, they're no damn good

Better keep on movin' Doolin-Dalton
'Til your shadow sets you free
And if you're fast and if you're lucky
You will never see that hangin' tree

Well, the towns lay out across the dusty plains
Like graveyards filled with tombstones waitin' for the names
And a man could use his back or use his brains
But some just went stir crazy, Lord, 'cause nothin' ever changed


On October 5, 1892 five men rode into Coffeyville, Kansas, a town located in the southeastern corner of the state.  Three of the men were brothers: Bob, Grat, and Emmett Dalton.  Coffeyville was their hometown.  Riding with them were Bill Powers and Dick Broadwell. They had come to do something that not even the James-Younger Gang had ever attempted to do.  They planned to rob two banks simultaneously.

When the smoke cleared and the dust settled that day four townsmen and four outlaws were dead.  Among the outlaws only Emmett, wounded more than twenty times, was still alive, but just barely.

Rumors persisted that there had been a sixth rider and that he had escaped. The rumors were based on testimony by a farm couple who said they saw six men riding into town just before the hold-up and statements by another person claiming that he saw a rider making a successful getaway during the shoot-out between the outlaws and the townspeople.

Emmett, who did survive, and who was tried and convicted and sent to prison, always maintained that there was no sixth rider.  But the rumor wouldn't go away.  Although nobody came forward to identify who that legendary rider might have been, subsequent events led many to believe that it was Bill Doolin. One theory was that he had been charged with the responsibility of holding the horses and that when all hell broke loose he didn't hang around but made tracks out of town.  Another had it that his horse came up lame before the men reached town and that he went off in search of another horse and missed the whole shebang.

Neither of those scenarios hold up under close scrutiny and it is more than likely that the mythical sixth rider is just that -- a myth.  But Bill Doolin was real.  He may not have been at Coffeyville, but he had been a member of the Dalton Gang.  And after the citizens of that community decimated that gang, Doolin didn't waste any time in organizing a new gang. He was assisted in this effort by Bill Dalton, another of the infamous brothers, and the result is what came to be known as the Doolin-Dalton Gang.

Bill Doolin

Bill Dalton

BILL DALTON (1866-1894).
Bill Dalton was not living in Kansas when his three brothers were riding the outlaw trail in that state and in the Oklahoma Territory to the south.  He had moved to California where he was married and was living a respectable life as a farmer, one who was also studying law.  He had even been elected to the California state legislature on the Populist Party ticket. Of course being a member of the legislature did not in and of itself make one respectable.

The Populist Party was an agrarian movement that blamed big business for the hard times that farmers, ranchers, and small businesses were experiencing in the years before the turn of the century.  And it was the railroads that were identified as being the primary culprits. Bill Dalton hated them with a passion.

But did he hate them enough to rob one?  Well, perhaps.  He had been joined in California by brother Grat who had left his stomping grounds to the east in order to put some distance between him and the U.S. marshals who were keeping a close watch on him.  He may have been accompanied by brothers Bob and Emmett, or they may have joined him later, but it isn't clear that that was the case.

A fireman was killed during a train hold-up in February, 1891, and Bill and Grat were arrested.  There is suspicion that Bob and Emmett were involved as well, but it was never proved for they were never caught.  Bill was tried and acquitted, but Grat was convicted. However, on the way to prison Grat escaped and eventually made his way back home to rejoin Bob and Emmett and other members of the gang in holding up banks and railroads, primarily in the Oklahoma and Indian territories. 

After the death of his two brothers and the capture of another in the Coffeyville fiasco in October, 1892, Bill Dalton came home and met Bill Doolin. 

In 1890, Congress passed the Oklahoma Organic Act which partitioned the Indian Territory by creating a separate territory to be called Oklahoma.  The new territory essentially encompassed everything in the former Indian Territory except the lands belonging to the so-called Five Civilized Tribes: the Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Seminole.  The intent was to eventually combine the two territories into a single state.  In 1907, the state of Oklahoma was admitted into the Union and the Indian Territory ceased to exist.

BILL DOOLIN (1858-1896).
Bill Doolin was born in Johnson County in western Arkansas.  In 1881, he became a cowboy in the Indian Territory where he worked with other men, who, like him, eventually found themselves riding the outlaw trail.  They included the likes of George "Bitter Creek" Newcomb, Charley Pierce, Bill Powers, Dick Broadwell, Bill "Tulsa Jack" Blake, Dan "Dynamite Dick" Clifton, and Emmett Dalton.

Doolin's first reported run in with the law occurred in Coffeyville, Kansas when an attempt was made by the local authorities to arrest him and his friends for public drunkenness.  Elsewhere such behavior might have been overlooked, but Coffeyville just happened to be located in a dry county.

In the melee that followed two lawmen were wounded while trying to confiscate Doolin and his friends' liquor.

Soon thereafter Doolin joined up with the Daltons.  He was probably too smart to participate in their hare brained scheme to rob the two banks in Coffeyville, despite the rumors that in fact he had been a sixth rider but had successfully vamoosed to fight and rob another day.

After the failed Coffeyville raid and the death of four of the outlaws and the capture of the seriously wounded Emmett Dalton, Bill Doolin began recruiting his own gang, and because one of its members was Bill Dalton, it is commonly known as the Doolin-Dalton Gang, but also as The Wild Bunch (not to be confused with the Butch Cassidy-Sundance Kid Wild Bunch) or the Oklahombres. Comprising the nucleus of the gang were men who, like Doolin, had been members of the Dalton Gang and had not participated in the Coffeyville raid.

In a three year spree, the gang robbed banks and trains in Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and the Indian Territory.  After holding up the bank in Spearville, Kansas on November 1, 1892, the gang took refuge near Orlando in Oklahoma Territory at the home of the sister of gang member Ol Yantis.  Later that month a sheriff's posse tracked Yantis to that location and in a shoot-out they killed Yantis, making him the first gang member to be killed.  There would be other gang members -- many others -- that would suffer the same fate.  Of the eleven outlaws who rode with the gang at various times, only two lived into the 20th century, but only because they had been captured and were in prison when the new century began.

In March 1893, despite the fact that several bank and train robberies followed Spearville, Bill Doolin married Edith Ellsworth in Kingfisher, OT.  They would have one son. Not long after his marriage, Doolin was seriously wounded in the foot during a train robbery near Cimarron, Kansas.

What came to be called the Battle of Ingalls occurred on September 1, 1893. Today practically a ghost town, Ingalls in the 1890's was a wide-open town and a safe haven for fugitives on the run.  It was one of the places that the Doolin-Dalton gang felt secure.

But the territory's newly appointed U.S. marshal, 32-year old E.D. Nix, had different plans for the gang holed up in Ingalls.  Nix sent fourteen deputy marshals to Ingalls in an attempt to clean out the Doolin-Dalton gang.  

U.S. marshal E.D. Nix
In the ensuing gun battle three deputies were killed along with two citizens.  Three outlaws -- Bitter Creek Newcomb, Charlie Pierce, and Dynamite Dick Clifton -- were wounded, but managed to escape.  

Arkansas Tom Jones was captured after being stunned by dynamite that was thrown into the hotel where he had taken cover.  As it turned out, Jones (real name Roy Daugherty) outlived all the other members of the gang.  He was tried, convicted, and sentenced to fifty years in prison. However, he was pardoned in 1910 after serving fewer than twenty years.

Arkansas Tom
In 1917, he was tried and convicted for robbing a bank in Neosho, Missouri.  After being released in 1921, he robbed a bank in Asbury, Missouri that same year.  Tracked to Joplin, Missouri he was killed in 1924 in a gunfight with lawmen.  He outlived all the other gang members, but his life still ended much like the rest of them.

In the wake of the Ingalls shoot-out, Marshal Nix organized an elite group of one hundred deputies whose primary job was to, one way or the other, wipe out the Doolin-Dalton Gang.  The most famous of the deputies were Heck Thomas, Chris Madsen, and Bill Tilghman, who were so successful in the pursuit of the gang that they came to be called "The Three Guardsmen."  

Nix gave the following directions to his deputies: "I have selected you to do this work, placing explicit confidence in your abilities to cope with those desperadoes and bring them in -- live if possible -- dead if necessary."

Heck Thomas (1900)

Bill Tilghman (1912)

Chris Madsen (date unknown)

It was the beginning of the end for the gang.

  • In June 1894, Bill Dalton was killed by a posse at his home near Ardmore, OT.
  • In April 1895, Tulsa Jack Blake was killed by U.S. marshals near Ames, OT.
  • In May 1895, Bitter Creek Newcomb and Charley Pierce were killed near Pawnee, OT by bounty hunters.  
  • In September 1895, Little Bill Raidler was captured by Bill Tilghman.  He was sentenced to prison and was paroled in 1903 because of ill health due to severity of the wounds he had received at the time of his capture.  He died the following year.  Like Arkansas Tom before him, he had lived into the new century -- and for the same reason.
  • In March 1896, Red Buck Waightman was killed near Arapaho, OT by a posse led by Chris Madsen.

But what of Bill Doolin -- the gang's leader?  What was he doing while his men were being picked off one by one?  Well, as one would imagine, he was hunkering down.

He and Little Dick West hid out in the New Mexico territory during the summer of 1895.  Later that year, he and his wife traveled to Eureka Springs, Arkansas so that he could use the baths to ease the rheumatism in his foot caused by the bullet wound that he had sustained two years earlier.  Early the following year, he was captured in one of the bathhouses by deputy U.S. marshal Bill Tilghman.

Doolin was arraigned in Stillwater, OT on murder charges stemming from the gunfight at Ingalls in 1893.  He pleaded not guilty.  He was locked up in the Guthrie jail to await trial.  He and Dynamite Dick Clifton and twelve other prisoners were able to break out of the jail.

After his escape, Doolin was hiding out near Lawson, OT., where his wife and small son were staying with her mother.  On August 24, 1896 he was waylaid outside the home by a posse led by deputy U.S. marshal Heck Thomas.  When he refused to obey a command to surrender and began firing at the lawmen he was killed by a shotgun blast fired by Thomas.

As per usual, Doolin's body was placed on display in Guthrie and photographs were taken.  He was buried in the Boot Hill section of Summit View Cemetery in Guthrie.  His widow filed an unlawful death damage suit against the marshals, but it was dismissed.

Bill Doolin

  • In November 1897, Dynamite Dick Clifton was tracked down near Checotah, IT and killed by a posse led by deputy marshal Chris Madsen.
  • In April 1898, Little Dick West, the gang's last remaining fugitive at large, was tracked down in Logan County, OT by a posse led by deputy U.S. marshal Chris Madsen and was killed in a shoot-out.  He is buried in Guthrie near Bill Doolin.



  1. Nice job. These guys were the inspiration for a clutch of movies, some good ones.


  2. Thanks Colin. I am in the process of putting together a couple of posts on those films. I have already added one post concerning a couple of interesting silent films and hope to get to the sound films in the near future.