OLD WEST LEGENDS
Thomas "Bear River" Smith - Marshalling
Thomas "Bear River” Smith served as a lawman in New
York City, Bear River,
before becoming marshal of the rough and tumble cowtown of
in June, 1870.
Born in New York City on June
12, 1840, Smith grew up to be a middleweight professional boxer before joining
the New York City Police force. However, after being involved in the accidental
killing of a 14-year-old boy, Smith left the force in 1868 and took a job with
the Union Pacific Railroad.
His new position soon took him westward and he
landed in Bear River City,
he worked as a teamster. In no time, he utilized his boxing skills to gain a
reputation as a tough man and he was soon appointed as the city marshal.
However, trouble was brewing in the little city of Bear River after vigilantes
hanged a murderer who worked for the railroad.
the man’s railroad friends revolted against the
vigilantes. Inciting a vengeful mob numbering in the hundreds, the lawless
bunch torched town buildings and started a deadly shoot-out with citizens
trapped in a storeroom.
U.S. troops from Fort Bridger imposed martial law until the track-layers had
passed. Bear River City soon became another railroad ghost town.
Thomas J. "Bear
River" Smith was shot down in the
line of duty while serving as Abilene's
marshal. This image available for
photographic prints and downloads
Smith moved on to Kit Carson,
where he held a similar position before making his way to
In June of 1870, he was appointed the Kansas Cowtown's
first marshal, which was badly in need of law enforcement. He was paid a salary
of $150 a month plus 2$ for each conviction of persons arrested. One of Smith’s
first official acts was to ban all weapons in town without a permit. Within 48
hours, everyone had turned over their weapons to Smith, but he had had to knock
down two thugs before they surrendered their weapons.
Known as "No gun marshal," he
gained a reputation for subduing assailants with his fists rather than a gun,
and where lawlessness reigned supreme, he was forced to often use them. The
decision to ban guns was unpopular with some members of the community and during
the next few months he survived two assassination attempts.
On November 2, 1870, Smith
rode his horse some ten miles outside of Abilene
to arrest a man named Andrew McConnell, who was charged with murdering John Shea,
a local farmer. However, when he arrived at McConnell’s home, telling him that
he had a warrant for his arrest, McConnell shot Smith in the chest. Smith
returned fire wounding McConnell before falling to the ground. McConnell's
co-conspirator in the original crime, a man named Moses Miles, then struck Smith
with his gun, grabbed an axe and nearly chopped Smith's head from his body.
Thomas "Bear River” Smith was buried in the Abilene
Cemetery, where his body remains today.
The murdering pair of McConnell
and Miles were soon captured and in March, 1871, both men were found guilty of
murder and were sentenced to long terms in prison for their gruesome crime.
Afterwards, the town of
Abilene returned to its lawless ways until the next marshal could be hired –
James Butler "Wild Bill" Hickok in April, 1871.