|Marshall Tom Smith|
People imagine the Old West was a free-for-all when it came to guns, but towns like Abilene, Kansas had extremely strict rules regarding firearms. And the man who enforced these laws was Marshal Tom Smith. Legend says he was involved in the accidental death of a teen, turned in his badge and headed west. During his travels, Smith cleaned up towns like Kit Carson, Colorado and Bear River City, Wyoming, but he really came to fame when he showed up in Abilene.
The town was full of rowdy Texas cowboys who enjoyed games like “Harass the Citizen” and “Burn Down the Jail.” Wanting to curb these cattle-punching criminals, Abilene officials hired Smith and let him loose on the cowpokes.
Astride his horse Silverheels, Smith enforced the town’s most unpopular law: No guns inside city limits. Quite a few people were upset with this regulation, and on two separate occasions, burly cowboys challenged Marshall Smith to take their pistols. Smith was only too happy to oblige. When pistol-packing thugs got tough, Smith just knocked them out cold.
Despite his pugilistic prowess, Smith couldn’t box his way out of every situation. On November 2, 1870, he armed himself and went after wanted murderer Andrew McConnell. When he showed up at McConnell’s house, the suspect shot the marshal in the chest. As Smith fired back, another crook named Moses Miles rushed Smith and almost completely decapitated him with an axe.
The killers were caught and sent to prison. Smith was buried in the local cemetery, leaving the town without a lawman—until a man named Wild Bill Hickock rode into town.
|Orrin Porter Rockwell|
They called him the "Destroying Angel" and said he murdered 100 men. His real name was Orrin Porter Rockwell, and while the body count was probably lower, the man definitely knew how to fill a few graves. Born in Massachusetts, Rockwell wound up in Missouri where he became one of the first Mormon converts and founder Joseph Smith’s personal bodyguard. Rockwell was what you might call a “prayer warrior,” and when Gov. Lilburn Boggs ordered all Mormons out of Missouri, Rockwell allegedly tried to show him the light—the one at the end of the tunnel.
Rockwell was jailed for his attempted “evangelism” but was released after a year behind bars. As soon as his boots stepped on free soil, he hightailed it to Nauvoo, Illinois, where things took a Biblical turn. Like a scene ripped out of the Old Testament, Joseph Smith gave Rockwell a special blessing, claiming no one could harm the gunman so long as he never cut his hair. Just like Samson, this Latter-day Saint disobeyed his boss—but only once, supposedly to fashion his fur into a wig for a woman who’d lost her hair.
While Rockwell had a soft side, he wasn’t afraid to kill in the name of the Lord. After Smith’s arrest and assassination in 1844, Rockwell took revenge on Frank Worrell, the militiaman who was supposed to guard the prophet. And when Brigham Young moved the church to Salt Lake City, Rockwell was appointed the town’s marshal.
In 1857, President James Buchannan tried to forcibly replace Young as Utah’s governor with a non-Mormon. Infuriated, American Moses ordered Rockwell to torment incoming troops. Rockwell killed two men who were trying to supply them. Strangely, it took 20 years for anyone to charge the gunman, but by then, it didn’t matter. The Destroying Angel died an old man in his bed.
People said Ned Christie was a shapeshifter, able to morph into an owl or hog when enemies approached. That would’ve been a good trick, since Ned Christie had a lot of enemies. For five years, this giant fought the best lawmen in the Indian Territory, and each time, he outwitted, outgunned, or outran his foes.
His life as a fugitive started in 1887 when Deputy US Marshal Dan Maples was gunned down. Authorities arrested a man who claimed Christie was the killer. Ned was a member of the Cherokee National Council and had been in town on tribal business when Maples was shot. When he learned he was a suspect, Christie refused to turn himself in.
He skipped town and hunkered down inside his home. With friends and relatives acting as sentries, the Cherokee held off lawman after lawman, including the legendary Bass Reeves, until 1889, when they set his cabin on fire.
Though the flames blinded his right eye, Christie escaped into the hills, where he built his Cherokee castle. It was a fort inside a heavy wooden wall with sand filling the gap. And for good measure, Christie built the thing on a cliff inside a natural rock barrier.
Christie defended his fortress for three years until Deputy Marshal Paden Tolbert showed up with 25 men, a load of explosives, and an Army cannon. Over the next few days, lawmen fired 38 cannonballs and 2,000 bullets before rushing the cabin with an improvised wooden shield and several sticks of dynamite. The fort exploded, forcing Christie to make a run for it. With a pistol in each hand, he charged the posse like Butch and Sundance but was cut down.
As Christie’s corpse made its way to Fort Smith, crowds gathered to get a look at the famous outlaw. Ned’s body was even propped up for photos at the Fort Smith courthouse. Then in the early 1900s, a witness came forward and testified that someone else had shot Dan Maples. Ned Christie was an innocent man.
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