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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Friday, January 15, 2016


You can read about the history of the Doolin-Dalton gang here.

Scene from THE BANK ROBBERY (1908)

THE BANK ROBBERY (Oklahoma Natural Mutoscene Co., 1908)

DIRECTOR: William Tilghman;  PRODUCER: James Bennie Kent; CINEMATOGRAPHERS: James Bennie Kent and William Tilghman

CAST:  Al Jennings, Frank Canton, Quanah Parker, Heck Thomas, William Tilghman

Anyone who is familiar with the history of the American West in general, and Oklahoma specifically, will no doubt recognize the names listed above.  It is an interesting mix of ex-lawmen, an ex-outlaw, and the last war chief of the Comanche tribe.

True, technically this is not a movie about the Doolin-Dalton Gang.  However, Bill Tilghman and Heck Thomas were deputy U.S. marshals who were instrumental in the destruction of that gang. Frank Canton was a gunfighter and also an ex-lawman. 

The movie is a dramatization of a bank robbery filmed on location in Cache, Oklahoma.  It just so happens that Cache was the home of Quanah Parker, the famous Comanche chief who led his people in war, but later persuaded them to surrender and take up life on a reservation.  In the film, Parker is a member of the posse that pursues the hold-up men.  His daughter also makes an appearance and is shown walking into the bank just before the outlaws arrive.

And Al Jennings, well, Al was the leader of one of the last of the Oklahoma outlaw gangs.  His gang rode the outlaw trail for less than a year and they had to be the most inept bad men in the territory's history -- or any other region's history.

Four of the five members of the gang went to prison for five years -- and the fifth -- Little Dick West, who was the sole surviving Doolin-Dalton gang member still at large -- was tracked down and killed by a posse led by deputy U.S. marshal Chris Madsen.

Here's the great thing about this film: It can be viewed on You Tube.  And I must say, that for its time it is an example of rather advanced film making, especially when one considers who was responsible for its production.  The viewing of the film is enhanced by the narration that has been added, something that audiences who viewed the film in its heyday did not have privy to. The film was also made before titles were added to silent films in order to provide audiences with dialogue and exposition.  The lighthearted narration helps today's viewers to identify the principals and to understand what is transpiring throughout the film.

You can view the film by clicking on the picture below:


Bill Tilghman in a scene from PASSING OF THE OKLAHOMA OUTLAWS (1915)


DIRECTOR: William Tilghman;  TECHNICAL ADVISOR: Arkansas Tom

CAST: Arkansas Tom, Bud Ledbetter, Chris Madsen, E.D. Nix, William Tilghman

Once again a group featuring ex-lawmen and an ex-outlaw gather in Oklahoma to produce a film.  The lawman who did the most to wipe-out the Doolin-Dalton Gang was Chris Madsen, who with Bill Tilghman and Heck Thomas comprised the so-called "Three Guardsmen," deputy U.S. marshals who were responsible for ending the careers of most of the gang members.

Bud Ledbetter was a former deputy U.S. marshal and deputy sheriff who led the posse that captured Al Jennings and two other members of the Jennings Gang. One other member surrendered shortly thereafter and Chris Madsen and his posse tracked down and killed Little Dick West, who at the time held the dubious distinction of being the sole surviving at large member of both the Doolin-Dalton and Jennings gangs.

Arkansas Tom (real name Roy Daugherty) was a member of the Doolin-Dalton Gang.  He had taken part in the so-called Battle of Ingalls in 1893, which is recreated in the film.  

When U.S. marshal E.D. Nix received word that most of the gang was laying low in Ingalls, Oklahoma, a town that was often used as a refuge by the gang, he sent a huge posse led by 14 deputy U.S. marshals to either capture or kill as many members of the gang as possible.

When the shooting began, Arkansas Tom was ill in a room on the second floor of a hotel.  It was his covering fire that allowed all the other members of the gang, three of whom were wounded, to escape.  The posse suffered even more casualties, including thee who were killed. In addition, one civilian was mortally wounded.

Arkansas Tom, who was all alone after the other outlaws vamoosed on the double, gave himself up either, as some reports say, when he was stunned by a blast from the dynamite that was thrown into the hotel by the lawmen, or, as other reports say, when the lawmen threatened to resort to using dynamite to dislodge him from his hiding place.

Tom was sentenced to fifty years in prison, but was paroled in 1910 after serving almost twenty years.  Here he was five years later acting in a movie in which he recreated his role in the Ingalls battle.  Not only that, since he was the only member of the production crew who had participated in the shoot-out, he was listed as the technical advisor.

Like Al Jennings before him, Arkansas Tom had learned that crime did not pay, but that movies did -- and that it was a much less dangerous line of work.  No, wait. That's not true.  The ex- needs to be removed from outlaw in Tom's job description.

Two years after the film was released, Arkansas Tom was tried and convicted for robbing a bank in Neosho, Missouri.  Released in 1921, he robbed a bank in Asbury, Missouri that same year. Thereafter on the run he was killed in a gun battle with lawmen in Joplin, Missouri in 1924.

Why did he call himself Arkansas Tom?  Well, because he was born in Missouri. Okay, so I don't know.

Apparently a complete copy of this film does not exist.  This is unfortunate because the excerpt that is available is really a clear print, much more so than the THE BANK ROBBERY.

Through the courtesy of You Tube, you can view the excerpt by clicking on the picture below:

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