John William Poe – Hunting Billy the Kid

John W. Poe

John W. Poe

John William Poe was a lawman, businessman, and author in Texas and New Mexico.

Born in Maysville, Kentucky, on October 17, 1851, Poe worked on his grandfather’s farm but yearned to go westward. In 1870, he went to Missouri, where he worked as a farmhand and on a railroad construction crew. By 1872, he was making his living as a buffalo hunter at Fort GriffinTexas, and by his own estimate, killed some 20,000 buffalo. When the buffalo were finally gone on the southern Plains, Poe became the town marshal of Fort Griffin in 1878 and was soon commissioned as a U.S. Deputy Marshal.

The following year, Poe moved to Fort Elliott, Texas, where he worked as a deputy sheriff and continued his duties as a U.S. Deputy Marshal. In 1881, Poe went to work for the Canadian River Cattle Association to help stop the rampant rustling activities taking place primarily at the hands of Billy the Kid and his gang of Rustlers. In March, he traveled to White OaksNew Mexico, where he met with Lincoln County Sheriff Pat Garrett and accepted an appointment as a deputy sheriff, while still holding his position for the stock association.

Just a short time after Poe had taken the position, Billy the Kid escaped from jail, and when Poe received a tip that the “Kid” was hiding out in Fort Sumner, he urged Garrett to investigate. Soon, Poe, Garrett, and another deputy named Thomas McKinney set out for Fort Sumner. Poe had been told that Billy was hiding out at the home of a woman named Duvelina, an Indian slave and former sweetheart. However, they didn’t find him there, and the trio soon called on Peter Maxwell, whose ranch headquarters occupied the former United States Army post. Poe was with Garrett when the Sheriff killed Billy the Kid.

Pat Garrett

Pat Garrett

In late 1882, Pat Garrett decided not to run for sheriff again, but rather than backing his deputy, John Poe, who was running, he instead backed a man named James Dolan, who had been one of the main perpetrators of the Lincoln County War. This would seemingly indicate that there was some friction between the two lawmen. In any event, Poe won the election and served as sheriff of Lincoln County until December 31, 1885. After resigning as a lawman, he moved to Roswell, where he operated a mercantile business and then, in 1890, founded the Bank of Roswell and, ten years later, the Citizens Bank of Roswell in 1900. He wrote several articles for newspapers and a book about the death of Billy the Kid. Poe died in Roswell, New Mexico, on  July 22, 1923.


© Kathy Alexander/Legends of America, updated November 2022.

Also See:

Lincoln County War

Billy the Kid

Pat Garrett – Unlucky Lawman

Lawmen of the Old West

Old West Gunfights