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Frontier Marshal "Mart" Duggan
Standing only 5’ 5” tall, Martin "Mart" Duggan would hardly seem a threat, to some of the outlaws roaming the American frontier in his day. But, despite his small stature, Duggan became a legendary marshal who cleaned up the lawless town of Leadville, Colorado. He was one of the most feared gunmen in the west, reportedly killing at least 7 men.
Cleaning up Leadville was not an easy task, seeing the town of 30,000 had over 150 saloons and the likes of Frank and Jesse James, Tom Horn, Bat Masterson and the Earp’s roaming the streets. One historian described him as being“…built like an ore wagon and tough as a boot."
Duggan was born in County Limerick, Ireland in 1848. His family immigrated to the Irish slums of New York City when he was a child. In 1863, he headed west and wound up in the mining camps of Colorado becoming a miner and mule skinner.
During this time he was known to be a brawler with a reputation. Since he was having little success as a miner he decided to put his brawling skills to good use and became a bouncer at the Occidental Dance Hall & Saloon in Georgetown, Colorado. Not long afterwards he disarmed a pistol waving drunk of his firearm and beat him over the head with it.
Once the boisterous drunk’s head cleared he saw the sawed off little Irishman who had taken his gun and laid him out. He became infuriated and told Duggan, had it been a gunfight instead of a little rough housing, it would have been a different story. Without batting an eye Duggan accepted the challenge and threw the man’s revolver across the room. He then walked into the street and waited for the drunk to come out. When he did, patrons in the saloon spilled out after him and lined both sides of the street to watch. The man went for his gun and Duggan killed him. It is unknown who he was as he hadn’t been in town long enough for anyone to learn his name. The shooting was ruled self defense.
Duggan first drifted into Leadville in the spring of 1878. Outlaws ruled the streets. The town’s first marshal had been beaten and run out of town after only 2 days on the job. The 2nd, a George O'Connor, fared little better. He was shot and killed after 5 weeks by one of his own deputies, James M. "Tex" Bloodsworth. The deputy stole a horse, fled town and was never seen there again.
With the town having no marshal, the mayor hurried to find a replacement. He had heard stories about a tough, no nonsense Irishman and thought he might fit the bill. Duggan pinned on the marshal’s badge, fired the do-nothing deputies and handpicked new replacements.
The bully element in town began issuing death threats against the new marshal. But, they soon discovered Duggan wasn’t a man to be trifled with after an incident at the Tontine Restaurant. It seems a rowdy bunch of miners were causing a major disturbance. When Duggan showed up a few snickers issued from the crowd. But, his cocked pistol and stern, determined demeanor convinced them now wasn’t the time to test the little guy with the big gun.
Duggan decided to fix the town’s problem at the source, the weak-kneed municipal magistrate who dealt out lenient sentences to the community’s criminal element. He barged into the magistrate’s office and informed him he was fired. The flabbergasted magistrate stuttered trying to say he had no authority to fire him. To that charge, Duggan drew his pistol and then ran him out of town. Duggan then handpicked a replacement.
The next week was spent holding court and passing down sentences. Although illegal, Duggan's strategy began clearing the town of drunks, street toughs and other trouble makers. The decent folks of Leadville had themselves a real marshal.
It didn’t matter to Duggan who you were. If you broke the law, you got arrested. In May of 1878, Duggan arrested August Rische, one of the richest men in Colorado, for being drunk and disorderly. Rische however, felt he was too important to be arrested and above the law. Duggan resorted to his favorite tactic of dealing with armed drunks. He took Rische’s pistol, hit him over the head with it and tossed him in the hoosegow.
The mayor felt Duggan was beginning to push things too far by arresting Rische. Duggan refused to back down and calmly reminded him of his friend the former magistrate. Rische remained in jail.
A few days later a disturbance broke out at the Pioneer Saloon. Two miners had gotten into a fight during a poker game during which one stabbed the other with a knife. The incident sparked racial tensions to erupt as the one who did the stabbing was a black man. He was arrested. As the wounded miner lay dying several rabble rousers formed a lynch mob numbering about 100. When the mob had worked themselves into a frenzy, they headed for the jail.
Duggan headed them off before they reached their destination. Brandishing two cocked pistols, Duggan promised the first man to take another step would be shot. One look at the burning fire dancing behind his steely eyed glare and they knew he wasn’t joking. Although grumbling amongst themselves, the angry crowd slowly dispersed.
Duggan wasn’t a perfect man. He had faults like everybody else. In February of 1879 he was fired as town marshal after a drinking binge. However, it soon became obvious no one else could fill his boots as the town quickly started a backslide to its former state. He was rehired as quickly as he had been fired.
Duggan’s term for marshal expired in April, 1879. But this time he didn’t accept a new term, stating he wanted to move to Flint, Michigan with his wife. The mayor found another Irishman by the name of Pat Kelly to replace him. But Kelly wasn’t another Duggan. The town soon reverted back to having gangs of outlaws and hoodlums roaming the streets.
With the town at the mercy of criminals, Kelly was canned as town marshal and a desperate plea was sent to Mart Duggan asking him to return. He did and pinned on the familiar marshal’s badge once again in December 1879. Duggan immediately fired all of Kelly's deputies and selected his own stable of trusted men. By April, 1880, it was once again safe to walk the streets. When his term was up, Duggan decided not to serve another. However, he remained in Leadville…just in case.
In May, 1880, Duggan helped the mayor end a miner’s strike. Within a month the strike had ended, but not before he had made an enemy of miner Louis Lamb who was well liked in the community. He would have future dealings with the man. Things between the two came to a head several months later when they became involved in an argument out in the street.
Lamb tried to walk away, but Duggan wasn’t finished with him yet and continued to hurl insulting epitaphs. Finally Lamb’s temper got the best of him and he quickly whirled going for his gun. Duggan outdrew him and shot Lamb in the mouth. He promptly sprawled dead onto the street, blood pooling around his head. Although Duggan wasn’t charged he did lose a lot of friends since Lamb had been a popular man about town.
After Duggan had taken his badge off he had opened a livery stable. The shooting of Lamb cost him a lot of business and it soon failed. So in 1882 he moved to Douglass City, Colorado, where he became a deputy and tended bar part time. Things went relatively well for about 5 years, but that was about to change.
In 1887, a slick conman selling fake jewelry drifted into town and tricked several dance hall girls into buying some. When Duggan found out he tracked the man down, gave him a good thrashing and then made him return all the money. Duggan also forced him to buy drinks for everybody at the dance hall until he was broke. Duggan then unceremoniously escorted the conman out of town.
However, Duggan hadn’t heard the last from the humiliated conman. He had gone to Leadville, where they hadn’t forgotten about the shooting of Lamb, and filed robbery and assault charges against him. When Duggan appeared in court the judge dismissed the robbery charge, but fined him for assault. At that, Duggan’s Irish temper flared and he told the judge in no uncertain terms the conman should be the one to pay. Seeing how angry Duggan was and knowing his reputation, the conman immediately dropped all charges and fled town.
Later that year, Duggan returned to Leadville and began working as a patrolman. However, by this time Leadville had progressed into a more civilized place to live. But Duggan’s methods had stayed the same. In 1888 he was fined for making a false arrest and he resigned in disgust.
Around 3:00 am on April 9th, Duggan got into an argument at a place called the Texas House Saloon with two gamblers and the establishment’s owner, Bailey Youngston. Duggan suggested they go outside and settle their dispute with guns. But knowing his reputation they both wisely refused.
About an hour later as he left the Texas House he was bushwhacked from behind and shot in the back of the head. As the ambusher fled, Duggan staggered to the Bradford Drug Store next door where he collapsed on the floor.
Duggan died several hours later, 10 years to the day after taking over as marshal. His killer was never identified.