“Dangerous Dan” Tucker – Lawman of New Mexico


Cowboys near Silver City, New Mexico

Cowboys near Silver City, New Mexico

Lawman and gunfighter, Dan Tucker, was born in Canada in 1849, but somewhere along the line, made his way to the American West, where he would eventually earn the nickname “Dangerous Dan,” for his deadly shooting skills.

He first appeared in Grant County, New Mexico in the early 1870s. Though some were suspicious of the slight, soft-spoken man, who was rumored to have killed a man in Colorado before appearing in New Mexico, Sheriff Harvey Whitehill took a liking to him and hired him on as a deputy sheriff in 1875.

One of the first incidents that Dan was involved in was when two Mexican men got into a brawl inside Johnny Ward’s Dance Hall, in Silver City in 1876. After one of the men stabbed the other, he fled from the saloon as Dan Tucker was approaching and the deputy shot him in the neck. The next year, Dan shot and killed a drunken man who was standing on the street throwing rocks at people as they passed by. No charges were filed against Tucker for the shooting.

In August 1877, Tucker was made jailer of Silver City, New Mexico. But, that wouldn’t last for long, as just a few months later, the El Paso Salt War, a feud between El Paso businessmen, fighting to acquire title to the salt deposits near the base of the Guadalupe Mountains, erupted.

Silver City, New Mexico

Silver City, New Mexico

On January 5th, 1878, Tucker was chosen as captain of the Silver City men who were sent to El Paso, Texas to assist in the chaos of the Salt War. After a number of killings, the Salt Flats were claimed and the Elizario, Texas Mexican community was forced to pay for the salt they had previously collected for free.

Later, that year, in April, Tucker became the first town marshal of Silver City, New Mexico, as well as continuing to serve as a Grant County deputy sheriff. He soon put a stop to the discharging of firearms on the city streets. He also killed a thief as he was trying to escape and was engaged in a gunfight with three horse thieves inside a Silver City saloon, killing two of them and wounding a third. In November 1878, he was shot and wounded during a shootout with a cowboy named Caprio Rodriguez, when the man resisted arrest. However, in the end, Rodriguez lay dead. That same month, he resigned his position as City Marshal, but, became but was reappointed the following year, on May 2, 1879.

Having tamed much of Silver’s City’s lawlessness, in January 1880, he was more needed in the mining boomtown of Shakespeare, New Mexico. In May, he was dispatched to track down two thieves who had broken into a prospector’s cabin. He returned two days later with all of the stolen property and reported that he had killed the two thieves.

Grant Hotel Dining Room, Shakespeare, New Mexico

Grant Hotel Dining Room, Shakespeare, New Mexico

The next year, Tucker became the City Marshal for Shakespeare, New Mexico, and in September, shot and killed cattle rustler Jake Bond. November was a busy month for the city marshal, as he killed a man who rode his horse into a local hotel dining room and arrested outlaws Sandy King and “Russian Bill” Tattenbaum, who were hanged by the town’s Vigilante Committee inside the Grant House.

Later that month, Tucker was sent to Deming, New Mexico on November 27, 1881, to calm down several outlaws who had basically taken over the town. Upon his arrival, he began to patrol the streets with a double-barrel shotgun, and within three days, had shot and killed three men and wounded two more.

All in all, Deputy Tucker was said to have arrested some 13 desperadoes of a cowboy gang in 1881, killed several more, and brought order to the wild town of Shakespeare.

By March 1882, Tucker’s reputation had spread to such a degree, that when Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp made a hasty retreat from nearby Tombstone, Arizona, they avoided taking the train through Deming, choosing to travel by horseback and avoiding Tucker’s territory.

Shakespeare, New Mexico

Shakespeare, New Mexico

On August 25, 1882, Tucker became involved in the most controversial shooting of his career. The night before, in the mining camp of Paschal, New Mexico, Deputy James D. Burns was drunk inside Mills Saloon and began twirling and flaunting his pistol. Though the town marshal, Claudius W. Moore, and another deputy tried to disarm Burns, he refused, stating that as a law officer, he was entitled to retain his weapon.

Burns continued to drink throughout the night and into the next day, going from saloon to saloon. By that afternoon he was in the Centennial Saloon, where once again Marshal Moore ordered him to give up his weapon and come outside. Also in the saloon was Dan Tucker. When Moore tried to arrest him; however, Burns drew his pistol and fired, though he hit no one. Tucker reacted first, hitting Burns in the ribcage and Moore also fired upon the drunken deputy. Because Burns was a popular deputy with the local miners, there was a public outcry for justice. Though both men were cleared, Moore was dismissed as town marshal. Though Tucker’s reputation suffered, he retained his position.

Later that year, on December 14, 1882, Tucker was ambushed by a Mexican man as he entered a brothel in Deming, New Mexico to investigate a complaint, which turned out to be false. Though Tucker took a shot in the shoulder, he returned the fire, killing one man and a prostitute who had helped the would-be assassin.

Deming New Mexico Depot

Deming New Mexico Depot

By 1884, Tucker had opened a saloon across from the railroad depot in Deming, New Mexico. However, the following year, in October, he was appointed as a U.S. Deputy Marshal for the region. The next month he and another man were involved in a gun battle with Apache warriors west of Deming and were able to drive them off. On October 2, 1887, Tucker arrested a dangerous outlaw, Dave Thurman.

Described as “one of the best peace officers Grant County ever had,” Tucker finally gave up his lawman responsibilities, resigned his position in 1888, and moved to California. The last time he was heard from was when he returned to Grant County, New Mexico for a visit in May 1892. However, the short 5’7” ex-lawman had put on so much weight, his friends nearly didn’t recognize him. Where he went after leaving New Mexico, is lost in history.

Recognized as one of the most dangerous and underestimated gunmen in the history of the Old West, Tucker was thought to have killed some 17 men during his lawman career.

“Tucker was a better lawman, and more dangerous, than such redoubtable characters  as Wyatt Earp and Wild Bill Hickok

 — Leon C. Metz, historian and author

© Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, updated October 2019.

Also See:


U.S. Marshals

New Mexico – Land of Enchantment

El Paso Salt War

Old West Lawmen


DeArment, Robert K; Deadly Dozen: Twelve Forgotten Gunfighters of the Old West, Volume 1; University of Oklahoma Press, 2003
Thrapp, Dan L.; Encyclopedia of Frontier Biography, Volumes I-III; University of Nebraska Press, 1988

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