I have always liked the term "lawman". It has a nice ring to it, sort of like "peace officer". Alas, during my years in law enforcement I had to settle for being called a "cop" or worse! I was a lawman out west. In the Great State of Texas where cowboys once roamed the dusty trails and horse thieves and rustlers plied their trade. Things have changed a lot since then. No more do you mount up on your trusty steed and gallop off into the sunset after jailing a bad man. At least I got to wear a cowboy hat on the job. I've always been interested in Western History, probably because I watched too many Saturday morning westerns as a kid. And my father is a big John Wayne fan. The Holy Trinity in our home was God, John Wayne, and Elvis. With an interest in lawmen of old, I decided to give you some of my favorite Western Lawmen! (By no means are these the greatest or even the best. There are merely my personal favorites.)
1. Frank Hamer
With a name like Frank Hamer, you almost have to be a Texas Ranger. And Ranger Hamer was a great one. He has entered Texas lore as one of the greatest Rangers of all time which is quite the feat given that Texas Rangers are generally given over to badassery. Hamer was a Ranger off and on throughout his life as was commonly the case back when Rangers served by special appointment rather than promotion within the ranks of DPS like today. Hamer's biggest claim to fame came after he retired. In 1934, Hamer received a special commission from Governor Ferguson to hunt down the notorious duo, Bonnie and Clyde. He and his posse stalked them for one hundred days. The chase ended in a hail of gunfire outside Gibsland, Louisiana on May 23, 1934. At the time, Hamer was working not as a Ranger but as a Special Investigator for the Texas Department of Corrections. As is often the case, Americans romanticize the criminal element in our society and so we make movies and songs about Bonnie and Clyde, who were nothing more than robbing, murdering psychopaths, and demonize the men who brought them to justice.
2. Bat Masterson
One name that often does not come up when discussing legendary lawmen is that of Bat Masterson (standing second from right in photo). What is sort of unusual about Bat is that he was born in Canada. Strange that a Canadian would end up as a fear Western gunslinger! At 23 years old, he first had occasion to "slap leather" as they say and got involved in a gunfight over a girl. He killed his attacker, a soldier, but one of his attacker's bullets struck the young lady in question, killing her. Masterson received a bullet in his pelvis for his trouble, but survived no worse for wear. Like many Western gunslingers, Masterson did not work as a lawman his whole life as he also took time to gamble, among other things. He was not quick to draw his gun, and preferred to use other means of persuasion as did his friend Wyatt Earp. In 1902 he relocated to New York City where President Theodore Roosevelt appointed him to be the US Marshal for the Southern District of New York. He served in this capacity until William Howard Taft fired all of Roosevelt's appointees. (Taft's claim to fame is getting stuck in the White House bathtub.) Masterson was also a writer and penned numerous articles for newspapers both in the West and in New York City. He died at his desk in New York at the age of 67.
3. Pat Garrett
Before angry shouts are raised in protest, let me remind you that Billy the Kid was a punk. He was not the tragic hero that he was portrayed as being in the Young Guns movies, even though they are enjoyable. Billy the Kid shot people in the back and most historians will tell you that the whole "he killed a man for each of his 21 years" quote is a bunch of crap. When Garrett was appointed as Lincoln County Sheriff, he was charged with tracking down an escapee from jail named Henry McCarty, better known, of course, as Billy the Kid. Garrett and Billy had known each other but they were not best friends as is often said. Garrett tracked him down and killed him, that much is known. But the details are foggy. Garrett's account has been challenged. Only two people in the world know what actually happened that night and one of them is dead. The killing of Billy the Kid marked the high point of Garrett's career as it was really his only claim to fame. Later, he too would become friends with Theodore Roosevelt who appointed him as a Customs Inspector in El Paso! Garrett was murdered in 1908 but the person who was charged with the murder was found not guilty by a jury. Garrett's case is another example of a person living and dying by the gun.
4. John Coffee "Jack" Hays
Now, I've said before in jest that coffee was my middle name, but in the case of Texas legend Jack Hays, it really was! Jack Hays was born into badassery. His Uncle was the great Andrew Jackson. Consequently he was also friends with the great Sam Houston! How is that for a pedigree? Hays immigrated to Texas in 1836 at the ripe old age of 19. He met with Sam Houston for the first time then and gave him a letter of introduction from Andrew Jackson which was all Houston needed to see. Hays got an appointment to the Texas Rangers. Hayes served on numerous campaigns against the Comanche and various other tribes during the wild years of the Republic of Texas. He was present at the Battle of Plum Creek which is a turning point in the constant warfare between Texans and Comanches. During the War with Mexico, Hays commanded a regiment of Texans first at the Battle of Monterrey and then made the long march with General Scott to Mexico City. Hays eventually made his way further west and served for a brief time as a sheriff in California before retiring from military, law enforcement, and political endeavors. Hays is a legend in Texas and an all around tough hombre.
5. Wyatt Earp
And you thought I'd left him out! No discussion of great lawmen would be complete without the inclusion of perhaps the best known badge totin' man who once roamed the streets of Tombstone. My words cannot do justice to the life he lived so I really won't try. Watch Tombstone. You won't be sorry. However, what I will say is that his life was defined by a 30 second gunfight. That's all it took. Thirty seconds and he achieved immortality. That is quite interesting since he lived to be 80 years old! As in the movie, he did run off with Josephine Marcus and they did live quite a life together. They eventually settled in Los Angeles where Earp worked as a consultant on early Western films. One day he was served a cup of coffee by a young stagehand named Marion Mitchell Morrison. Yep, the Duke himself! John Wayne!
A Notable Absence
I do not include Doc Holliday on this list because he was only a lawman for a brief period of time in Tombstone. Otherwise, he'd be on the list as he is one of my favorite historical characters. Alas I never got to ride off into the sunset on my trusty steed with a redheaded saloon girl perched behind me in the saddle. I did marry a redhead though. But she was not a saloon girl. Worse than that. She's from Missouri.
My name is Lee Hutch and I am a Half A$$ Historian who would like to say that in all honesty, my favorite Western lawman man was, well...