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Old West Legends IconOLD WEST LEGENDS

Robert Ollinger - Killer With a Badge

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Bob OllingerThough Robert "BobĒ Ollinger was a lawman, he was actually better known as a killer with a penchant in fighting in range wars.

Ollinger was born about 1841 and when he was just a boy he moved with his family from Ohio to Oklahoma. When he grew up he made his way to New Mexico.

In 1876 he was named marshal of Seven Rivers in Lincoln County, New Mexico. However, the job was short lived as he was soon fired when he was suspected of consorting with an outlaw band. This would be the "normĒ for Ollinger, as his love of gambling and drinking often placed him in bad company.

The first man known to have been killed by Ollinger was a Mexican named Juan Chavez. The two, who were friends and had no history of violence between them, were playing poker in the Royal Saloon in Seven Rivers. However, when Chavez accused Ollinger of cheating, Bob stood up and leveled his six-shooter at his friendís head. Another player then tossed the unarmed Chavez and gun and the two exchanged shots. When the smoke cleared, Chavez lay dead on the floor with a bullet in his throat.  Without remorse, Ollinger simply looked at him, stating "Allís well that endís well," before he strode out the door.

The second man Ollinger killed also involved gambling. When he and a man named John Hill were playing poker at Diamond Lilís casino and dance hall, Ollinger quickly won Hillís money. Afterwards, Hill loudly stated that he had been "hornswoggled,Ē implying that Ollinger had tricked or cheated him. Though initially Ollinger did nothing, when Hill left the saloon later that night, Ollinger shot him dead.

In February, 1878, when the Lincoln County War erupted, Ollinger was right in the midst of it. When the Dolan-Murphy faction obtained a court order to seize some of John Tunstall's horses as payment for an outstanding debt, and Tunstall refused, Lincoln County Sheriff, William Brady, formed a posse to go after Tunstall. In this group was Bob Ollinger, as a Dolan-Murphy "hired gun.Ē  Rather than arresting Tunstall; however, the unarmed man was killed on February 18, 1878. Although several riders participated in the murder, only James Dolan and Jacob "Billy" Matthews were charged with being accessories to murder.

 

 

 

In the end, Ollingerís participation in the Lincoln County War would be a fatal mistake, as Tunstall supporter, Billy the Kid avowed: "I'll get every son-of-a-bitch who helped kill John if it's the last thing I do."

 

Seemingly, as time went on, each of Ollingerís killings got a little worse. The next year, when Ollinger was playing poker with a man named Bob Jones, yet another gambling dispute arose. Jones, who had heard of Ollingerís reputation wisely avoided the killer.

 

However, Ollinger saw a chance to even the score when he found that Deputy Pierce Jones had a misdemeanor warrant to serve on Bob Jones. Ollinger decided to tag along and when they arrived at Bob Jones home. Jones was working in the yard while his three children played and his wife was in the kitchen.

 

Offering no resistance, Bob asked the deputy if he could explain to his wife that he would return as soon as he paid his fine. The deputy agreed and Bob made his way into the house passing by his hunting gun, which was lying on the porch. Though Bob Jones made no attempt to pick up the rifle, Ollinger drew a pistol and fired three shots into Bobís back. As Jonesí wife and children stood by screaming and Deputy Jones was shocked, Ollinger was smug in his belief that he could claim self-defense for the outright murder.  

 

Billy the Kid

Billy the Kid

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Deputy Jones quickly brought  murder charges against Ollinger, and Lincoln County authorities issued a warrant for his arrest. Sheriff George Kimball arrested him and brought him to Lincoln for trial in October, 1879. However, for unknown reasons, the case was dismissed without going to court.

Sheriff Pat GarrettThat very same month, Pat Garrett, was elected Sheriff of Lincoln County. Amazingly, Ollinger was appointed his deputy, much to Garrett's chagrin. Aware of Ollingerís violent tendencies, he would begin to see them first-hand. On one occasion when the pair when to arrest an armed Mexican, Garrett promised the fugitive, who had taken cover in a ditch, that he would not be harmed if he came in. However, as the man came forward with his hands in the air, Ollinger drew his pistol as if to shoot him. The man was saved by Garrett, who placed himself in between, saying to Ollinger: "Put it away, Bob. Unless you want to try me."

When a price was put on Billy the Kid's head and Pat Garrett determined to track him down, the swaggering Ollinger hoped that it would be he that might kill the famous outlaw. In December, 1880 Billy the Kid, along with Dave Rudabaugh, Tom Pickett, and Bill Wilson, were tracked down by Pat Garrett and taken to Santa Fe, New Mexico.

After Billy was convicted, he was then sent to Lincoln to await his execution, scheduled for May 13, 1881. Ollinger, along with several other men, were assigned the task of escorting the Kid back to Lincoln. Along the way, Ollinger constantly tormented Billy, so much so, that even the other guards had some sympathy for the outlaw. To this, Billy said to the deputy, "Be careful, Bob, Iím not hung yet.Ē Though Ollinger, no doubt, looked for opportunities to kill the Kid on the way to Lincoln, the party arrived without incident.  

Placed in the county jail, Ollinger continued to taunt Billy to the point that Garrett told him to "lay off the Kid." On one occasion, the shifty lawman even went so far as to place a pistol on a table within Billy's reach, but the Kid was too smart to take the bait.

On April 28th, Garrett was out of town on business and Billy was left in the hands of Deputies James Bell and Ollinger. While Ollinger took several other prisoners to the Worthy Hotel a block away for their daily meal, Bell remained with Billy the Kid. Somehow, Billy had obtained a pistol and shot Bell. He then stole Ollinger's 10-gauge double barrel shotgun and waited for the deputy by the window in the room he was being held in. Ollinger obliged by running immediately from the hotel upon hearing the shots.

When he was directly under the window of the courthouse, he heard his prisoner say, "Hello, Bob." Ollinger then looked up and saw the Kid, gun in hand. It was the last thing he ever saw as Billy blasted him with his own shotgun killing him instantly.

The bodies of deputies Ollinger and Bell were placed in a room in the corral behind the courthouse and remained there until Garrett's return. Garrett swore to make Billy pay, and he did when he killed the infamous outlaw on July 14, 1881.

Hiding behind a badge for much of his life, Ollinger was killer worse than the likes of most outlaws. Even his own mother would remember him by saying:  

"Bob was a murderer from the cradle, and if there is a hell hereafter then he is there."

 

 

© Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, updated November, 2012.

 

 

Also See:

 

The Imitation Desperado

Pat Garrett - An Unlucky Lawman

Billy The Kid - Teenage Outlaw

 

Lincoln County New Mexico Courthouse, 1930

The old courthouse in Lincoln, New Mexico now serves as a museum. Photo around 1930

 

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