Old West Outlaw Dan Bogan
Any outlaw of the Old West worth his salt, usually committed their crimes and then went about business as usual. That’s if they were competent. Not all were. Dan Bogan seemed to fit that description.
Bogan was born in 1860 somewhere in Alabama. His family moved to Hamilton County, Texas when he was still a young boy. Bogan was claimed by one author to have been one of the most underrated gunmen of the 19th century. Perhaps so, but the record shows he certainly chose the wrong profession. In this writer’s opinion certain aspects of the man’s life, could with little effort, be turned into a comedy. However, there was nothing funny about the men he killed.
Braggarts, drunks and others with big mouths and prone to pick fights, tend to make poor outlaws. Sometimes those traits seem to run in families. When Dan tied one on, all of these attributes came into play.
In May of 1881, Bogan and a friend, Dave Kemp, had been drinking heavily in the Hamilton's saloons. In one, Bogan began hurling insults and daring anyone in the room to fight him. Kemp, the more levelheaded of the pair, kept trying to get Bogan to shut up and leave. He finally succeeded in dragging his friend out of the establishment, but on the way to their horses they ran into local farmer, F. A. Smith, seated on his wagon.
Bogan, still spoiling for a fight, began taunting Smith, calling him names and daring him to step down if he dared. Initially, Smith ignored him. The farmer dismissed the treatment as the actions of a drunk, who if left alone, would eventually tire of the situation and go away.
However, when Bogan dragged a chair from the back of Smith's wagon and smashed it to pieces on the ground Smith, known to be a peaceful sort, even ignored this. Bogan continued his drunken tirade until Smith finally had enough and climbed down from the wagon.
Bogan, taken aback by the sudden bravado stuck his hand into his coat. Smith told him to leave his gun alone or he'd be sorry. Bogan pulled his pistol anyway, at which point Smith decked him with one punch. After a brief tussle, Smith wrested the gun from him. Kemp so far had stayed out of the ruckus, but seeing his friend in trouble whacked Smith in the back of the head with his pistol. Seemingly unhurt, Smith turned, pointed the pistol at his attacker and pulled the trigger. Fortunately for Kemp it misfired. Kemp wasn’t about to push his luck any further and fled the scene. Smith turned the weapon over to the town marshal.
Bogan cleared out of town a few days later still smarting from public humiliation. He took to working as a ranch hand around the Texas Panhandle for a spell. However, that apparently seemed to be too much like work and he saw an opportunity in organizing striking cowhands seeking better wages in 1884.
But that backfired. The cattlemen also organized and announced no one who had participated in the strike would ever be employed as a cowboy in the panhandle again. Being unemployable where he was Bogan moseyed on to Wilbarger County, Texas, where he was able to sign on with a cattle drive as a drover.
Years later a drover on that drive, T. J Burkett, commented Bogan had been an excellent cowhand. He told a story about Bogan anyone would have to question the validity of. According to Burkett, during a fierce thunderstorm Bogan singlehandedly kept over 600 head of cattle from stampeding. Some might say that was a lot of bull…
However, when the men reached their destination, Dodge City, Kansas, the drovers were paid. Everyone knows what trail weary cowboys with money burning a hole in their pocket do…they party. But in this case the cowboys were more unruly than usual. Town Marshal Jack Bridges and his deputies had no choice but to break up their celebration and throw them out of town. They didn’t go peaceably though. There was a brief gunfight between the two factions during which one cowboy was shot and killed.
Bogan decided to try his luck back in the panhandle again. After arriving he discovered the situation was still as bad as before he left. Somehow, he had to get even with the big cattle companies. First, he changed his name to Bill Gatlin and then joined forces with another irate cowboy named Tom Harris. Together they started their own cattle company. It was appropriately named the "Get Even Cattle Company."
Initially the company was an immediate success. It should have been since they were selling rustled cattle with their brand burned over the original owner’s. It was no secret. Everyone suspected it was Bogan. They just couldn’t prove it. The ranchers got together and hired the former famed Lincoln County Sheriff, Pat Garrett, to put an end to Bogan’s shenanigans. It was implied, permanently.
Garrett and his band rounded up about 30 of Bogan's cattle, claiming they were stolen. But again, the evidence was lacking and Bogan merely claimed they were mavericks…then sued the pants off the city officials. His lawyer demanded $25,000 in damages. They settled for $800.
Garrett persevered and eventually was able to produce evidence to indict over 150 of Bogan’s men. But Garrett wasn’t particularly interested in the employees, he was after the kingpins. He figured if they were arrested the company would fold of its own accord and the cowhands would seek employment elsewhere.
In February, 1885, Garrett and Oldham County Sheriff, Jim East, heard where about a dozen of the "Get Even Cattle Company" die-hard’s had holed up. After traveling all night through a snowstorm, they came to where the suspects were believed to be. When they were spotted by one cowboy outside getting firewood, he alerted the men in the house. Garrett loudly announced he had warrants for Bogan and two other company ring leaders but had no quarrel with the rest.
A few minutes passed and then nine cowboys slowly shuffled out abandoning their boss men. Bogan and one other were still in the house. Stubborn as usual, Bogan and his comrade in arms weren’t giving up without a fight. A gun battle ensued. Bogan’s partner was shot and killed during the exchange along with three men in the posse, but he managed to escape.
By 1886, Bogan had settled near Lusk, Wyoming and was working for the Vorhees Ranch. Someone must have recognized Bogan, who by this time had killed at least three men. When Bogan picked up a newspaper and read he looked like an outlaw wanted in Texas he seethed with rage. He set out to find the editor, Bill Calkin, who had dared smear his pristine character and reputation with unfounded implications…even though he was the man in question.
Bogan and a man called Sterling Balou found their quarry having a few drinks with a few contemporaries at the Cleveland Brothers Saloon. Bogan pulled his gun, confronted the editor and party, then dared any of them to step up. In the meantime someone had hurried off to get the City Constable, Charles S. Gunn. Gunn arrived with pistol already in hand. However, one of the saloon owners already had the two troublemakers covered with a sawed off shotgun.
Several days later, while Gunn was away on business, Bogan began running amuck again. When the constable returned and heard about Bogan’s latest tantrum he warned him if he didn’t behave himself he would be arrested. Bogan fumed with anger. This lawman had already humiliated him in public several times. He wasn’t going to take any more guff off this hick town law man, even if he had been a former Texas Ranger.
In early 1887, Bogan was causing a ruckus at a dance hall and once again Gunn showed up and put him in his place. Bogan decided it was time to rid the town of this interfering pest. The next morning, Bogan waited inside the Jim Waters Saloon for Gunn. Gunn was in the habit of making routine rounds about town so Bogan knew where and when to expect him. When Gunn entered, Bogan already had his gun out and hidden behind his back. Bogan asked Gunn if he was packing a gun. He replied he was always armed.
At that point Bogan shot the constable in the abdomen and he hit the dance hall floor face down. Bogan then walked over and put another bullet in his head, instantly killing him. By this time Deputy Marshal John Owens had been alerted and was coming up the street. Bogan had mounted the nearest horse as he ran out of the dance hall. He heard Owens warning shotgun blast, but spurred the horse onward intending to run the deputy over. The deputy’s next shot hit Bogan in the shoulder, knocking him off his horse.
Bogan was immediately placed under arrest and locked in the back room of a local saloon, as the town had no jail. However, the next day the wounded Bogan escaped into a blinding blizzard. Owens wasn’t worried as he knew Bogan wouldn’t get far in his condition. Two weeks later proved the deputy right. Bogan, burning up with a fever from his infected wound, sent word to Owens he wanted to surrender but feared the town would lynch him for killing Gunn. Bogan met Owens about 16 miles outside of Lusk, and rode back into town with him. Bogan had been correct in his assumptions as they were met by an angry mob. Owens was able to hold them at bay until Bogan was safely shackled in a back room of the Sweeney Saloon. The next day, Owens left with his prisoner for the Laramie County jail.
Bogan was convicted of murder and sentenced to hang on September 7, 1887. But Bogan surprisingly still had friends willing to help. One of them was a man named Tom Hall, later identified by noted detective Charlie Siringo to have actually been the notorious killer Tom Nicholls. Hall hired professional safecracker, James Jones, to get himself arrested and placed in jail with Bogan. Jones had hidden a saw blade in his shoe. The two cut through the cell bars and escaped along with a couple of horse thieves. Within hours one of the largest manhunts in Wyoming history was organized. A $1,000 reward was placed on Bogan, dead or alive. Several of the escapees were found and Hall was arrested, however, the reward for Bogan went unclaimed since he had seemed to vanish into thin air.
Siringo, who had joined up with the manhunt continued to pursue Bogan. In New Mexico Territory he met Lem Woodruff, an old friend of Bogan. According to Woodruff, Bogan was last known to be heading for South America, via New Orleans.The last word on Bogan was from a letter he sent to Tom Hall in Cheyenne, from New Orleans saying he planned to go to Argentina.
There were many unconfirmed reports claiming he had been seen in various places. One claimed he had been killed in a shootout in Mexico, another said he died while riding with a band of outlaws in Argentina.
Siringo believed Bogan was still living and had returned to the United States under an alias, was married and living in southwestern New Mexico. Yet another of Bogan’s old friends stated in 1931 he last heard from him operating a small ranch under an assumed name in Texas. What really happened to Bogan may never be known.
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