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Lawman "Dangerous Dan" Tucker

Updated on December 13, 2011

Dan Tucker, better known as "Dangerous Dan," came by his colorful name honestly. He was a lawman in New Mexico Territory in the 1870s that shot first and asked questions later. But, by then it was usually too late to ask any questions.

Despite his reputation, the 5’7” Tucker never became as famous as other lawmen of the time such as Wyatt Earp or Wild Bill Hickok. Although, many have claimed he was by far a more dangerous and better lawman then either of the two. His fast gun reportedly sent 17 men to their graves and wounded several more.

Tucker was a Canadian, born in 1849 but the date and place of his death is unknown. The quiet, but amiable Tucker first drifted into Grant County, New Mexico Territory in the mid 1870s. Soon after, he struck up a friendship with the Grant County sheriff, Harvey Whitehill in Silver City.

Nobody knew much about this close mouthed stranger in town. A few tried to find out his background and found rumors to the effect he seemed to leave dead bodies in his wake. There had been whispers he had killed men in Colorado, El Paso and Santa Fe, but if he had, he was never charged with any of them. In any case, Whitehill paid no attention to the rumors and hired him as a deputy sheriff.

It didn’t take long before the residents of Grant County got a chance to find out what kind of stuff Tucker was made of. According to an eyewitness account, a knife fight between two men broke out in Johnny Ward's Dance Hall.

During the fight one of the men was stabbed. The other fled into the street to escape. However, it wasn’t to be. He was met by Tucker rounding a corner. Citizens on the street saw Tucker’s lightning draw and watched as the fugitive fell headlong into the dust with a bullet through his neck.

In 1877, Silver City was once again privy to Dangerous Dan’s brand of justice. It seems a man who had a little too much to drink was tossing rocks at passersby. According to witnesses, as soon as Tucker saw the drunk he shot and killed him on the spot without ever saying a word. Tucker was a quiet man…his gun did the talking.

In mid 1878, a fleeing thief died stopping one of Tucker’s bullets. Again the same year, he got into a gunfight inside a saloon with 3 men thought to be horse thieves. He outdrew all three…killing 2 and severely wounding the other.

Just days later, Tucker confronted a man who had beaten his wife and child to near death with a club. As Tucker entered the house, the man knocked Tucker's gun from his hand with the club. During the ensuing fracas, Tucker managed to recover his pistol and shot the man thus, saving his wife the cost of a divorce lawyer.

A few months later, although remaining a deputy sheriff for the county, Tucker was offered the position of Silver City’s first marshal and he accepted. Newspaper accounts from the Grant City Herald, testify the once violence filled town was quickly transformed into a decent law abiding community. Perhaps it was Tucker’s unorthodox method of law enforcement which cleaned up the town. Or maybe the citizenry just had a healthy respect for Tucker’s deadly gun and willingness to use it when necessary.

In November, 1878, he attempted to arrest a man named Caprio Rodriguez. Rodriguez didn’t feel like being arrested and shot Tucker. Tucker was wounded… Rodriguez was dead. That same month, Tucker resigned as City Marshal for a short while. Nobody knows why. Perhaps he just needed a vacation. But in any case he was wearing a badge again by May 1879.

In mid 1880, Deputy Tucker was ordered to track down 2 burglars who had stolen numerous items from a prospector’s cabin. He returned 2 days later none the worse for wear. With him was the stolen property as well as the burglar’s horses and weapons. He calmly told Sheriff Whitehill they wouldn’t need them anymore.

Soon after, in 1881 Tucker became marshal of Shakespeare, New Mexico. Being a new job, the new town was unaccustomed to Tucker’s methods of law enforcement and had to learn the hard way. The next several months kept Dangerous Dan very busy. In September, he shot and killed cattle rustler Jake Bond.

In November, he arrested Sandy King, an outlaw who was known to have ties with the notorious Clanton gang in Arizona. King had shot and wounded a storekeeper in town. Days later he captured outlaw William Tattenbaum, better known as “Russian Bill.” Tattenbaum was an outlaw from Cochise County, Arizona. He got his moniker from claiming to be of Russian Nobility. Nobility or not, he was still a cattle rustler. King and Tattenbaum were hanged by the town's "Vigilance Committee" the same day.

Tucker’s next major assignment was in Deming, New Mexico where several outlaws had more or less taken over the town. Within three days, Tucker had shot and killed three of the rowdies, wounded two more and regained control of the streets.

In August of 1882, Tucker was seated with several other lawmen from the Grant County mining camp of Paschal in the Centennial Saloon. Deputy James D. Burns, who had been on an overnight drinking binge, was also present. Burns had earlier been drinking in several other saloons and had been picking fights and discharging his gun around town. He had even had words with Tucker. Town Marshal Glaudius Moore entered shortly thereafter and attempted to arrest him.

Burns was having none of it. He stood up drawing his pistol and began firing. Fortunately, he was so drunk all of his shots missed their mark. Tucker did what he did best. He drew and fired before any of the others could react. Burns was hit in the ribcage. By then the rest of the lawmen had drawn and begun firing. Burns died immediately.

Burns had been a popular man with the local miners and they wanted justice for the death of their friend, although the shooting had been justified. An attempt to arrest Tucker and the others was made, but they politely refused. The local authorities wisely thought it best not to push the issue. To avoid a possible lynching Tucker and the others went to nearby Central City, and surrendered to authorities there. They were arrested and jailed but shortly after cleared of the charges.

Due to the publicity surrounding the incident Tucker's reputation became slightly tarnished. Although it didn’t seem to bother him in the least, apparently others were upset he was walking around a free man. In December of 1882, Tucker was ambushed in a setup as he entered a brothel in Deming to investigate a false complaint. He was shot in the shoulder. The last thing the shooter and a prostitute also involved in the assassination attempt saw was Tucker’s gun magically appearing in his hand and flames leaping from its barrel. Several other men in the room began to close in on Tucker. Fortunately for them several people who had heard the gunshots from the street came in to investigate. Otherwise, no doubt they would have met the same fate as their coconspirators.

For a time, Tucker operated a saloon in Deming, but in 1885, he was appointed a Deputy U.S. marshal. He held that position until 1888 when he resigned and moved to California.

The last time he was seen was passing through Grant County in 1892.


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    • JY3502 profile image

      John Young 6 years ago from Florence, South Carolina

      Nope, he was for real.

    • wingedcentaur profile image

      William Thomas 6 years ago from That Great Primordial Smash UP of This and That Which Gave Rise To All Beings and All Things!

      Voted up for awesome. That's a thrilling old west true crime tale. I read your other hub about Pickton the serial killing hog farmer, and I thought that this Tucker character would be some kind of badged serial killer. He wasn't, from your account. Tucker seems to have been a really, really, really no-nonsense law man!

      Take it easy.

    • Daffy Duck profile image

      Daffy Duck 6 years ago from Cornelius, Oregon


    • JY3502 profile image

      John Young 6 years ago from Florence, South Carolina

      Yup...I taught him everything he knew.

    • Daffy Duck profile image

      Daffy Duck 6 years ago from Cornelius, Oregon

      Now that's a bad ass lawman!

    • WesternHistory profile image

      WesternHistory 6 years ago from California

      Another very interesting story. Had not heard of Dangerous Dan. Most of the New Mexico old west lore when it comes to sheriffs talk a lot about the story of Pat Garret and how he tracked down and eventually shot Billy the Kid after the Lincoln County War. Excellent hub.