Born on May 30, 1840, in Albany, Georgia, to Nicholas and Elizabeth Roberts Cruger. In 1874, he made his way to Shackelford County, Texas, where he assisted in the county’s organization and named the county seat Albany for his birthplace.
In April 1876, John M. Larn was elected as the sheriff of Shackleford County, and Cruger became his deputy. Law and order were much needed in the area as nearby Fort Griffin, some 15 miles north of Albany, had become a hotbed for outlaws, thieves, and other desperate characters. In fact, the lawlessness was so bad that one of the best-known and probably the most active vigilance committees in Texas was formed. These men called themselves the Tin Hat Brigade and were active for several years with the help of the Shackelford County Sheriff.
On January 17, 1877, two drunken gunmen named Billy Bland, and Charlie Reed galloped into Fort Griffin with their pistols blazing and quickly made their way to the Beehive Saloon. They entered the place with their guns raised and shot out the lights.
In response, Deputy Sheriff Bill Cruger, accompanied by the county attorney Robert Jeffries and two other Shackelford County officials, entered the bar. When Cruger yelled, “hands up!” Bland whirled and fired on the deputy, and Jeffries and Cruger fired back. Reed then joined the gunfight, which resulted in Cruger and Jeffries being wounded, and two bystanders were killed as well as the drunken Billy Bland. Unfortunately, Charlie Reed disappeared during the excitement and fled the area. It was later found that Reed had made his way to Nebraska, where he, too, was killed in about 1883.
A short time later, John Larn resigned from his position of sheriff, and Cruger was appointed his successor on April 20, 1877. His jurisdiction was large – encompassing some 13 unorganized Texas counties that extended to the New Mexico state line. But like his predecessor, Cruger worked with the Tin Hat Brigade to help stem the lawlessness. Interestingly, much of the cattle rustling was conducted by none other than former sheriff John Larn and his accomplice John Selman, who had also worked as a deputy for a time.
In the summer of 1878, Cruger, acting on a warrant from the Albany court, arrested Larn on June 22. After transporting him to the jail, Cruger hired the local blacksmith to shackle Larn to the floor of the jailhouse to prevent a breakout by Larn’s supporters. However, the next night, vigilantes stormed the jail intending to hang Larn. They shot him in his cell when they found they couldn’t lynch the shackled man. This was the last vigilante killing in the county.
Cruger continued to serve as sheriff until he resigned on July 20, 1880. At that time, the county commissioners attested to his courage and fearlessness as a law officer and declared their thanks for his bravery and for ridding the western frontier of lawless characters.
Somewhere along the line, Cruger married Mary R. Boynton, with whom he would have one child. He moved his family to Tennessee, where he served as a marshal in Princeton. On May 29, 1882, Cruger arrested a drunken man for disorderly conduct, and as they were walking up a set of stairs from the street to Marshal Cruger’s office, the prisoner produced a gun, spun around, and shot Marshal Cruger in the head.
Cruger’s body was returned to his hometown of Albany, Georgia, where he was buried. In the meantime, his killer was convicted of murder but was in prison for less than ten years, paroled in 1890.
DeArment, Robert K.; Bravo of the Brazos: John Larn of Fort Griffin, Texas, University of Oklahoma Press, 2005.
Metz, Leon Claire; The Encyclopedia of Lawmen, Outlaws, and Gunfighters, Facts on File, 2002.
Officer Down Memorial Page
Texas State Historical Association