“The execution of the laws is more important than the making of them.”
— Thomas Jefferson
The Old West was often a lawless place, where outlaws frequently reigned supreme. However, as more and more families, women, and working pioneers headed westward, they demanded law and order. Marshals and sheriffs were in high demand in some of the most lawless settlements, such as Dodge City, Kansas and Las Vegas, New Mexico, as well as the numerous mining camps that dotted the west, such as Deadwood, South Dakota; Coloma, California; and Leadville, Colorado.
Many of wild and rowdy places were initially populated by men and often attracted seedier elements of society to their many saloons, dance halls, gambling parlors and brothels. But, in any burgeoning community, there were also lawful businessmen and hard-working pioneers who craved a sense of stability, and demanding law and order, made efforts to hire peacekeepers. Where this was not possible or the lawmen were ineffective, invariably vigilante groups would form.
Though the vast majority of these Old West lawmen were honorable and heroic figures, ironically, many of them rode both sides of the fence and can be found on both our Lawmen List as well as our Outlaw List.
Agapito Abeyta – A lawman in Mora County, New Mexico, Abeyta was implicated in the murder of John Doherty.
John R. Abernathy, aka: Wolf Catcher, Catch ‘Em Alive Jack (1876–1941) – Abernathy was the last U.S. Deputy Marshal in Oklahoma Territory, serving from 1906 to 1910. Born to Scottish ancestors in Texas, Abernathy was raised in the burgeoning railroad town of Sweetwater. During his lifetime he worked as a U.S. Secret Service agent, a wildcat oil driller, and was the last U.S. Deputy Marshal in Oklahoma Territory, serving from 1906 to 1910. But he was best known for capturing hundreds of wolves single-handedly without ever having to kill one. By forcing his hand deep enough into a wolf’s mouth, he could stun the creature long enough to capture it, a service for which he was paid fifty dollars by eager ranchers. Earning him his nicknames and a small amount of fame for this “skill,” he even drew the attention of President Theodore Roosevelt.
David Adams – U.S. Deputy Marshal Muskogee, Indian Territory.
John Adams – Deputy Sheriff of Oklahoma County, Oklahoma.
Tom Adams – Special Officer in Carter County, Oklahoma.
W.E. Agee – Deputy Sheriff of Oklahoma County, Oklahoma.
Alfred Y. Allee (1855-1896) – A Texas Ranger, Allee was appointed Deputy Sheriff of Karnes County, Texas, in 1882 and was later made Deputy Sheriff of Frio County, Texas. He shot and killed robber Brack Cornett in 1888. He was stabbed to death in a barroom brawl in Laredo, Texas, in 1896.
John Oliver Allen (1850-1928) – A cowboy and Texas Ranger, Allen was wounded four times in Indian skirmishes. Allen was born in Kaufman County, Texas on June 22, 1850. Raised on the frontier, he became a cowboy as a young man and enlisted in Rufus Perry’s Company D of the Texas Rangers in early 1874. Though he served less than a year in the Rangers, he was wounded four times in Indian skirmishes and would later say that in one battle, every ranger other than himself had been killed. After leaving the Texas Rangers, he later settled at Cookville, Texas and became a chaplain for the Texas Ex-Rangers’ Association. He died at Edinburg, Texas on June 7, 1928.
Andrew C. Alexander – U.S. Deputy Marshal in Arizona Territory commissioned on July 1, 1896.
Oscar William Alexander – A lawman in Oklahoma, he was killed near Hoxbar by the Love Brothers in Carter County.
Charles Allison – A lawman turned outlaw, Allison was appointed deputy sheriff of Conjos County, Colorado, but soon organized a band of outlaws. Robbing stages between Colorado and New Mexico, he was captured in 1881 by Sheriff Matt Kyle and sent to prison. He was released in 1890.
William David “Dave” Allison (1861-1923) – A career lawman, Allison served as a six-time elected sheriff in Midland, Texas; an Arizona Ranger; a Texas Ranger; and various other positions in Texas and New Mexico. He was killed by two cattle rustlers in 1923.
Fielding Alston – Texas lawman Alston served as a lieutenant in the Texas Rangers in 1847.
Thomas Amos – While serving as sheriff in McCurtain County, Oklahoma in 1887, he tracked down and killed an Indian man named Pero, who he had a “dead or alive” warrant for in April 1887. In November, Amos and his brother-in-law, Washington Hudson, were ambushed and killed by two Indians avenging Pero’s death.
Bernard Anderson – Deputy marshal in the New Mexico Territory.
David L Anderson, aka: William “Billy” Wilson, Buffalo Bill (1862-1918) – Most commonly known as Billy Wilson, Anderson moved with his family from Ohio to South Texas when he was a teenager. When he grew up he worked as a cowboy before moving to White Oaks, New Mexico and buying a livery stable in 1880. Within less than a year he sold his operation but was paid in counterfeit bills. Duped, he began to pass the money anyway and he was arrested and indicted. Skipping bail, he soon fled and joined Billy the Kid’s Gang of rustlers. Along with several other gang members, he was arrested by Pat Garrett and convicted in 1881 and sent to prison in Santa Fe. However, he soon escaped and reverting to his real name, David L. Anderson, he returned to Texas, where he began ranching, married, and started a family. In 1896, Pat Garrett helped him to obtain a presidential pardon. Afterward, he worked as a U.S. customs inspector for a time, before becoming the Terrell County Sheriff in 1905. He was killed in the line of duty in 1918.
Frank Anderson – U.S. Deputy Marshal in Indian Territory.
John E. Anderson – U.S. Deputy Marshal in Arizona Territory commissioned on August 17, 1878.
John P. Anderson – Policeman in Perry, Oklahoma Territory.
Pete Anderson (1850?-1890) – A full-blooded Pottawatomie Indian, Anderson was deputized for an Oklahoma County, Oklahoma posse to assist officers in apprehending a cattle rustler. On December 25, 1890, Oklahoma County Deputy Sheriffs Frank Gault and Charles Gilbert held arrest warrants for a Pottawatomie County man named John Bly for cattle theft and selling whiskey. Once the two officers arrived in the neighboring county, they deputized Pete Anderson, who lived near Choctaw City, and another man named Frank Cook, also from the area, as possemen. As the deputies neared Bly’s ranch, about seven miles east of Choctaw City, they heard the sounds of gunfire, dismounted and began to sneak through the tall grass to see what was going on. However, their actions were obviously not stealthy enough, because suddenly John Bly opened fire on the officers, his first shot hitting Pete Anderson in the head and killing him instantly. The other officers returned fire, wounding Bly, who surrendered, was arrested, and taken to jail in Oklahoma City. The following day, Sheriff C.H. Deferd and Deputy Gault returned to the area and arrested the murderer’s brother, Givens Bly and brother-in-law, Dick Burchfield as accomplices.