8/25/1896 - Once more, this time in America's Indian Territory in what is now the state of Oklahoma, an outlaw's end tale plays out featuring a dedicated officer of the law on a mission, the purchasing of a "friend's" betrayal, retirement dreams of greener pastures, the love of a sweetheart, and deadly violence ... the goodbye story of Bill Doolin.
A hard working, well liked cow puncher turned outlaw when paydays from the H-X Bar Ranch are lacking in heft and regularity, Doolin's luck and host of cat's lives are all used up by six years of drinking and gambling, cattle rustling, train and bank robberies, halting stagecoaches, a jail escape, his horse luckily coming up lame just before the Dalton Gang's disastrous raid on Coffeyville, Kansas, and numerous shootouts with the law that three times, seriously wound the bandit (at his death, a bullet from a shootout two years before will be found in his skull). During that time period, he has also watched most of his friends and partners get planted in the ground ... "Black Face" Charley Byrant in 1891 (taking Deputy U.S. Marshal Ed Short with him), Ol Yantis, Grat & Bob Dalton, Dick Broadwell, and Bill Powers in 1892, Bill Dalton in 1894, Tulsa Jack Blake, Bitter Creek Newcomb, Charley Pierce, and Little Bill Raidler in 1895, and Red Buck Waightman in 1896. Then it is Doolin's turn.
Powers, Bob Dalton, Grat Dalton, Broadwell
Bittercreek Newcomb & Charley Pierce
Free to vanish into the West, journey north to Canada, or hide in Mexico, after leading a break of 37 men from the Guthrie jail (the oulaw's barred home of the moment compliments of losing a January 1896 fist fight in a Eureka Springs, Arkansas, bathhouse to Deputy U.S. Marshal Bill Tilghman), Doolin makes the fatal mistake of remaining in Oklahoma, making arrangements to flee, but only after reuniting with his wife, Edith (a former preacher's daughter), and their young son, Jay.
Having eaten bandit dust for six years, Deputy U.S. Marshal Heck Thomas is less than amused when he finds out the outlaw has escaped, and makes immediate plans to once and for all end his career if Doolin is foolish enough to try and meet his wife (residing near the town of Lawson, Oklahoma). Hiring eyes to watch for the badman, Thomas enlists former Doolin gang member Bee Dunn (a Judas if ever there was one, along with his brother Bill, Dunn has already gunned down Bittercreek Newcomb and Charley Pierce while the two men think they are safe staying with "friends" and stretch out in the barn for a nap ... for the reward money and a reduction in a variety of criminal charges), two Lawson blacksmiths named Tom and Charley Noble, and their apprentice, John Hoke, to secretly observe the comings and goings of Mrs. Doolin. Jackpot, on August 24th, Thomas receives a telegram from the Nobles that Doolin is in Lawson.
Reaching Lawson, Thomas divides his nine men in to groups to cover all the approaches and exits to the Ellsworth home, where Edith and her son are staying with her parents ... Albert Thomas (the marshal's son) and a mixed-blood Indian named Rufus Cannon watch one of the roads leading into Lawson, another access road is watched by Dunn brother-in-law Hy Cotts and George Dunn, and the rest of the men, Tom and Charles Noble, Dal, Bee, and John Dunn, along with Thomas, are stationed near a small bridge over the Eagle Creek. All are ready, when at around 9:00 in the evening, the posse sights its quarry.
Dead or Alive
Preparations complete to move his family southwest to New Mexico on the morrow, Doolin bids his wife a good night, saddles his horse, and walks down the road for a return to his nearby hiding place, carrying a .40-.82 Winchester rifle cradled in his left arm with his thumb on the hammer and his finger on the trigger, ready to confront anything that might come out of the darkness. Drawing abreast of a small cane field on the south side leading to Eagle Creek, Heck Thomas suddenly breaks the evening stillness with his shout. "Halt, Bill!"
Instead, acting instinctively, Doolin fires his rifle at the voice, narrowly missing Thomas and Bee Dunn. Only a heartbeat later, Bee and Bill Dunn fire their buckshot loaded shotguns at the outlaw, while Thomas sends two shots (one of which hits Doolin in the right side) towards him. Falling down dead with over twenty crimson leaking holes in his torso, Doolin somehow manages to draw his revolver and get off one last shot before hitting the dirt, but once again Bee Dunn is lucky as the bullet breeze near his ear only ruffles his ear a bit before vanishing into the night's darkness ... the King of the Oklahombres is no more.
Even in death though, it is hard to keep Mr. Doolin down. Taken to a mortuary in Guthrie (which also serves as a furniture store), the outlaw is posed for his obligatory death photos (which his widow sells for 25 cents a pop to defer her husband's funeral costs), and then viewed by over 2,000 local residents before the body goes in the ground. Taking his place with notorious names like Jesse James, Billy the Kid, the Dalton and Reno Brothers, Doolin unbelievably becomes a cultural icon in the 1970s, when fame (rather than infamy) comes his way at the behest of songwriters Glenn Frey, J.D. Souther, Don Henley, and Jackson Browne create a concept album called Desperado in which they envision themselves as Wild West outlaws instead of rock stars ... the album is a huge hit in 1973 and begins and ends with two versions of a song the Eagles title, Doolin-Dalton.