The Dalton Gang: A Daring Bid to Become Famous

Last week we saw how a dashcam video led police to capture the murderers of Constable Darrell Lunsford. This week, we again take a trip back in time to the Old West. We’ll see how the Dalton Gang tried to become famous by robbing two banks at once. Spoiler alert: the attempt led to disaster.

The Dalton Brothers

Brothers Robert (Bob), Gratton (Grat), Emmett, and William (Bill) Dalton formed the nucleus of the Dalton Gang. They were four of twelve children born to saloon keeper James Lewis Dalton and his wife, Adeline Younger. Adeline was an aunt of Cole and Jim Younger of James-Younger Gang fame.

Robert "Bob" Dalton ca. 1889 (National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
Robert “Bob” Dalton ca. 1889 (National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

The boys grew up near Kansas City in Western Missouri, close to the border with Kansas. Their father, Lewis, was often away for months at a time, running racehorses in California. Eventually, all his sons made the trips with him. But Lewis wasn’t all that successful racing horses. He ended up gambling away the family home in Belton, Missouri, after which Adeline bought a piece of land near Kingfisher in Oklahoma Territory.

William "Bill" Dalton (U.S. Marshal's Museum)
William “Bill” Dalton (U.S. Marshal’s Museum)

In 1880, brother Frank Dalton became a deputy U.S. Marshal for Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma), based in Fort Smith, Arkansas. Toward the end of 1887, a bootlegger he tried to arrest shot and killed Frank. Afterwards, brothers Bob and Grat took over Frank’s position, hiring Emmett to look over prisoners.

Gratton "Grat" Dalton (Public Domain)
Gratton “Grat” Dalton (Public Domain)

The Brothers Become the Dalton Gang

At first, Bob and Grat earned good reputations as marshals. But after he killed a man in the line of duty, Bob began to drink heavily. Then the brothers started stealing horses, their first foray into illegal activity.

During the night of February 6, 1891, two masked men held up a Southern Pacific passenger train near Alila, California. The robbers didn’t get any money, but the expressman accidentally killed the fireman. Though unidentified at the time, Bob and Emmett later told brother Littleton that they had held up the train. Thus, was the Dalton Gang born.

Grat Dalton didn’t participate in the Alila robbery (his horse had gone lame). But through undue influence from the railroad and a corrupt defense attorney, he was convicted anyway. Just before sentencing, he and two other prisoners escaped from jail.

Meanwhile, back in Indian Territory, Bob and Emmett were recruiting members for a larger gang. They began planning their robberies, which meant their future crimes were more successful than the Alila holdup.

The Dalton Gang Raids Coffeyville, Kansas

Bill Dalton was ambitious. He claimed he would “beat anything Jesse James ever did—rob two banks at once, in broad daylight.” They planned to hold up the C.M. Condon & Company Bank and the First National Bank in Coffeyville, Kansas. Bob and Emmett were to take the First National Bank. Grat and gang members Dick Broadwell, and Bill Powers would knock over the Condon Bank.

The Condon Bank, Coffeyville, Kansas (Kansas Historical Society)
The Condon Bank, Coffeyville, Kansas (Kansas Historical Society)

On October 5, 1892, the Dalton Gang rode into Coffeyville. Despite improvised disguises, townspeople quickly recognized them. A storekeeper saw them and yelled, “The Daltons are robbing the bank!” Forewarned, the two hardware stores in town began passing out rifles to the alerted citizenry.

Four members of the Dalton Gang lie dead after the ill-fated Coffeyville robbery. Left to Right: Bill Power, Bob Dalton, Grat Dalton, Dick Broadwell (Cramers Art Rooms of Cherryvale, Kansas)
Four members of the Dalton Gang lie dead after the ill-fated Coffeyville robbery. Left to Right: Bill Power, Bob Dalton, Grat Dalton, Dick Broadwell (Cramers Art Rooms of Cherryvale, Kansas)

Before they even left the bank, armed townspeople began shooting into the banks. When the gang tried to exit the banks and make their getaway, they walked into a hail of bullets. The gunfire killed Grat and Bob Dalton, Dick Broadwell, and Bill Powers. Emmett Dalton suffered 23 gunshot wounds. Four townspeople also died in the melee.

Law officers hold up the bodies of dead outlaws Bob (23) and Grat (31) after their attempted robbery in Coffeyville, Kansas (Kansas Memory)
Law officers hold up the bodies of Bob (23) and Grat (31) Dalton after their attempted robbery in Coffeyville, Kansas (Kansas Memory)

Epilogue

Emmett Dalton survived his wounds only to find himself sentenced to life in the Kansas State Penitentiary in Lansing. He served 14 years before receiving a pardon in 1907. Then he moved to Hollywood, California where he became a real estate agent. Also, he wrote two books and occasionally did some acting. In 1918, he played himself in an early film version of his first book, Beyond the Law. He died in 1937 at the age of 66.

Emmett Dalton prison photo, 1892 or 1893. Note prison number 6472.
Emmett Dalton prison photo, 1892 or 1893. Note prison number 6472.

Bill Dalton waited in vain for the gang to return from Coffeyville to help them escape. He continued his outlaw career, forming the Doolin-Dalton gang with Bill Doolin. Deputy U.S. Marshals killed him when he tried to escape capture on September 1, 1893.

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Jesse James: Unexpected Death of an Old West Outlaw

From last week’s blog about a homicidal son, we return this week to the Old West. Jesse James was a notorious bank and train robber. You might expect him to have died as a result of his violent calling. However, Robert Ford, one of his own men, gunned him down from behind.

The Early Years of Jesse James

Jesse Woodson James was born on a farm near Kearney, Missouri in 1847. Jesse was only fourteen at the beginning of the Civil War. He stayed home while his older brother Frank joined Confederate guerrilla forces operating in western Missouri and eastern Kansas. Frank eventually found his way into the guerrilla band led by the infamous William Clarke Quantrill. Quantrill’s Raiders were responsible for a particularly gruesome massacre of pro-abolitionists at Lawrence, Kansas on August 21, 1863. Jesse, by then sixteen, joined his brother in late 1863 or early 1864.

A young Jesse James in 1864 (Library of Congress)
A young Jesse James in 1864 (Library of Congress)

The end of the Civil War in 1865 did not bring peace to Missouri. Clay County, the James brothers’ home, had supported the Confederacy. This did not sit well with the occupying Union forces. Supporters always said that it was harassing Federal soldiers who drove the James brothers to crime. Perhaps that was true, or maybe they simply had a predilection for lawlessness. Regardless, the brothers began participating in and then engineering a series of robberies. In 1869, Jesse and Frank teamed up with their cousin Cole Younger and his brothers to form the James-Younger gang.

A later studio portrait of Jesse James (Library of Congress)
A later studio portrait of Jesse James (Library of Congress)

Outlaws and Badmen

The James-Younger gang was reasonably successful at robbing stores and banks. Then they decided to strike out in a new direction. On July 21, 1873, they robbed a Rock Island Railroad train at Adair, Iowa. For this robbery, the donned Ku Klux Klan garb. But this was just a disguise; they never had any serious association with the Klan.

The Cole-Younger gang came to an ignoble end on April 24, 1874. The gang planned to rob the First National Bank of Northfield, Minnesota. But the citizens of Northfield fought back fiercely. Frank and Jesse barely escaped with their live from the bungled robbery attempt. The other gang members were either killed or captured. The Northfield raid effectively destroyed the Cole-Younger gang. Jesse and Frank headed to Nashville, Tennessee (where Jesse took the name “Thomas Howard”). Frank seemed to want to settle down, but Jesse remained restless.

Jesse migrated to St. Joseph in northwestern Missouri, where he teamed up with brothers Charley and Robert Ford. Jesse trusted the Fords although, according to Robert, he had begun to harbor suspicions about them. Also, Robert was secretly negotiating with Missouri governor Thomas Crittenden to turn Jesse in. The large reward offered by the State of Missouri and the railroads had proved too tempting. Jesse didn’t know this, of course.

The “Dirty Little Coward” Shoots Jesse James

It is doubtful that many of his neighbors realized that the man who lived with his family at 1318 Lafayette Street in St. Joseph, Missouri was really the infamous badman Jesse James.

Jesse James's home at 1318 Lafayette Street, St. Joseph, Missouri
Jesse James’s home at 1318 Lafayette Street, St. Joseph, Missouri

On the morning of April 3, 1882, as his mother made breakfast, Jesse took off his gun belt and turned away to dust off a picture. Seizing his chance, Robert Ford shot Jesse in the back of the head, killing him instantly. A popular ballad about the event included these lines:

Well, that dirty little coward that shot Mr. Howard
He laid poor Jesse in his grave

Epilogue

Ford himself came to a bad end ten years later. One Edward O’Kelley fired both barrels of a shotgun into him in Creede, Colorado.

Frank James survived. He surrendered to authorities and was acquitted in trials in Missouri and Alabama. He was never extradited to or tried in Minnesota for the deaths that resulted from the botched Northfield raid. Thereafter he worked odd jobs, including that of AT&T telegraph operator. He retired to the family farm where he conducted tours for twenty-five cents a head. He died there on February 15, 1918 at the age of 72.

Frank James in his later years
Frank James in his later years

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John Wesley Hardin: Ruthless Old West Killer

Last week I told you about modern-day killer Colin Ferguson. This week, we take a trip back to the old West to meet John Wesley Hardin. He’s not as famous as, say, Billy the Kid or Wyatt Earp (they had better publicists). But Hardin was a prolific killer. He claimed to have killed 42 men. Contemporary newspapers put the count at 27.

Ferrotype mirror image of John Wesley Hardin (Public Domain)
Ferrotype mirror image of John Wesley Hardin (Public Domain)

John Wesley Hardin — A Violent Boyhood

John Wesley Hardin entered the world near Bonham, Texas in 1853. His father, a Methodist preacher, named his son after the founder of the Methodist denomination. The Civil War broke out when Hardin was eight years old. The next year, when he was nine, he tried to run away with his cousin and join the Confederate army. His father dissuaded him with “a sound thrashing.”

John Wesley Hardin
John Wesley Hardin

When Hardin was 14, he got into a fight with classmate Charles Sloter, a boy Hardin described as a bully. Sloter wrote something on the chalkboard disparaging a girl at the school. History doesn’t record what the writing said, but Sloter then claimed Hardin had written it. Hardin denied it. According to Hardin, Sloter punched him and pulled a knife. Hardin had a knife of his own and stabbed Sloter in the chest and back, nearly killing him.

Hardin’s First Killing

In November 1868, Hardin and a cousin engaged in a wrestling match with a former slave named Major “Mage” Holshousen. During the match, Hardin and his cousin threw Holshousen to the ground, cutting his face. Hardin claimed that the next day, the former slave “ambushed” him as he rode past. Hardin then shot Holshousen five times with his Colt .44.

Union troops occupied Texas in the wake of the Civil War. More than a third of the state police were former slaves. Hardin’s father felt a fair trial for killing a black man would be impossible, so he urged Hardin to go into hiding. Some historians believe Hardin wouldn’t have had any problems with an all-white jury, but he left anyway.

John Wesley Hardin
John Wesley Hardin

According to Hardin, while he was on the run, authorities discovered where he was hiding. They sent three Union soldiers to arrest him. Hardin laid in wait for the soldiers and killed two of them with two blasts from a double-barreled shotgun. The third soldier ran, and Hardin pursued him. The soldier shot at Hardin, hitting him in the arm. Hardin shot the man dead with his pistol.

Outlaw on the Run

By now, John Wesley Hardin was a full-fledged outlaw. He roamed around Texas and, for a while, even taught school in the tiny town of Towash. The students had a reputation for being unruly and frightening off teachers. But Hardin earned their respect—and attention—by carrying a revolver to class.

On January 20, 1875 the Texas Legislature authorized Governor Richard B. Hubbard
to offer a $5,000 reward for the apprehension of John Wesley Hardin.
On January 20, 1875 the Texas Legislature authorized Governor Richard B. Hubbard
to offer a $5,000 reward for the apprehension of John Wesley Hardin.

Respectability wasn’t in Hardin’s future, though. On January 5, 1870 (some sources say Christmas Day, 1869), he got in a card game with Benjamin Bradley. He had a run of luck and Bradley threatened to “cut out his liver” if he won again. Hardin was not armed and left. Later, though, the two men found themselves facing each other in the street. The classic “walkdown” made famous by books and movies was, in fact, quite rare in the old West. They occasionally occurred, though, often among southern gunmen as a continuation of the idea of the “gentlemen’s dual.” Bradley fired and missed. Hardin shot Bradley in the head and chest, killing him.

John Wesley Hardin Kills a Man for Snoring

In the early 1870s, the fugitive John Wesley Hardin (using an alias) met James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickok. Hardin admired the lawman-gambler and the two became friends. Hardin claimed that on one occasion, Hickok arranged for one of Hardin’s cousins to escape from jail.

In 1871, Hickok was the town marshal of Abilene, Kansas, a rough-and-tumble Cowtown. On August 6, Hardin checked into Abilene’s American House Hotel after a night of drinking and gambling. Sometime during the night, loud snoring coming from the adjacent room occupied by Charles Couger awakened him. After shouted demands to “roll over” had no effect, Hardin drunkenly fired several shots through the wall. Although he probably intended only to wake Couger, one bullet pierced his heart, killing him instantly.

James Butler "Wild Bill" Hickok (Portrait taken in 1873 by George Gardner Rockwood at his New York studio three years before Hickok's death in Deadwood)
James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickok (Portrait taken in 1873 by George Gardner Rockwood at his New York studio three years before Hickok’s death in Deadwood)

Hardin—half dressed and still drunk—saw Hickok coming with four policemen. He escaped out a second-floor window onto the hotel’s roof, then jumped to the street. He hid in a haystack all night. The next morning, he stole a horse and escaped. He never returned to Abilene.

The incident apparently embarrassed Hardin. He later complained about the press he received from it and omitted it entirely in his autobiography.

Prison and Afterwards

Hardin evaded the law for several years. But on August 24, 1877, Texas Rangers and local lawmen accosted him on a train near Pensacola, Florida. Hardin attempted to draw a Colt .44 cap-and-ball pistol, but it caught in his suspenders. The lawmen knocked Hardin unconscious and took him prisoner.

Hardin went on trial for killing Brown County, Texas Deputy Sheriff Charles Webb. On June 5, 1878, he was sentenced to 25 years in Huntsville Prison. He attempted to escape–unsuccessfully—several times. Eventually, though, he adapted to prison life. He read and studied law. He also penned an autobiography in which he wildly exaggerated and even fabricated incidents in his life.

Harden was released from Huntsville prison in February 1894. He was forty years old. Eventually pardoned, he passed the state bar examination and earned a license to practice law.

The Death of John Wesley Hardin

In El Paso, Texas, lawman John Selman, Jr. arrested an acquaintance of Hardin’s and the two men got into a verbal altercation. That night, Hardin was playing dice in the Acme Salon. Selman’s father, 58-year-old John Selman, Sr., entered the saloon, walked up behind Hardin, and shot him in the head, killing him instantly. As Hardin lay on the floor, Selman fired three more bullets into him. John Wesley Hardin was buried the next day.

John Henry Selman, Sr.
John Henry Selman, Sr.

Selman stood trial for murder. He claimed self defense and got a hung jury. Before his retrial, though, he himself was killed in an argument over a card game.

John Wesley Hardin's grave in Concordia Cemetery, El Paso, Texas.
John Wesley Hardin’s grave in Concordia Cemetery, El Paso, Texas.

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