"King of the Oklahoma Outlaws"
The "King of the Oklahoma Outlaws" was the title unceremoniously bestowed upon outlaw William “Bill” Doolin by Deputy U.S. Marshal Bill Tilghman. He is perhaps best remembered as the founder of the Wild Bunch, an outlaw gang that specialized in robbing banks, trains and stagecoaches in Arkansas, Oklahoma and Kansas during the 1890’s.
Bill was an Arkansas-born outlaw who rode with the infamous Dalton Gang in the Oklahoma Territory and later formed his own outlaw bunch, which operated in the Oklahoma Territory. Although his tombstone reads he was born in 1858, the date is not certain.
He was born and raised on a homestead near Big Piney River about 35 miles northeast of Clarksville in Johnson County. His parents, Artemina and Michael Doolin were sharecroppers and Bill worked on the family farm until he was 23.
In 1881, Doolin made tracks for Indian Territory, which in a few years would become known as Oklahoma Territory. He met up with successful rancher Oscar D. Halsell in what was then called Logan, Oklahoma and hired on as a cowboy. However, he apparently wasn’t interested in that line of work as he soon moved on seeking more exciting endeavors.
Bill drifted aimlessly for a while getting into minor scrapes with the law. However his first serious encounter with the law came on July 4, 1891, in Coffeyville, Kansas . Doolin and some friends had gotten drunk in public and were becoming a general nuisance. When authorities tried confiscating their alcohol, gunplay erupted . Two lawmen were wounded, but Doolin escaped.
Doolin inevitably ran into the infamous Dalton gang in 1891 and signed on. The Dalton Gang was led by Robert (Bob) Dalton, with his brothers Gratton (Grat) and Emmett. The Daltons had gained a reputation as being the “most cold-blooded robbers in the West.” Doolin was reported to be with the Dalton’s when they robbed several trains and depots in Oklahoma Territory from May 1891 through July 14, 1892.
On October 5, 1892, the Dalton Gang made an attempt at robbing two banks simultaneously, in Coffeyville, Kansas. A shootout between citizens, lawmen and the outlaws, left four of the five gang member’s dead. History has recorded Emmett Dalton as the only survivor. However, historians have since indicated there may have been a sixth gang member in an alley holding the horses who escaped. If there was indeed a sixth man his identity may never be known for certain. Emmett Dalton never disclosed his identity, but some suspect it was Bill Doolin.
Following the Coffeyville debacle, Doolin organized his own gang which became known as the infamous “Wild Bunch” and on November 1, 1892, the gang robbed a bank in Spearville, Kansas. They then fled to Oklahoma territory with gang member Oliver Yantis leading them to his sister’s house where they hid out.
Less than one month later, the law tracked them down and in the ensuing shootout Yantis was killed while the rest of the gang escaped.
In March 1893, Doolin married Edith Ellsworth in Ingalls, Oklahoma but that didn’t slow down the gang’s quest for ill gotten gains. Shortly thereafter, the gang robbed a train near Cimarron, Kansas during which Doolin was shot in the foot.
By now the Wild Bunch was being relentlessly pursued by U.S. Marshals. On September 1, 1893, fourteen deputy marshals converged on Ingalls, Oklahoma, to capture the outlaws. The bloody event would become known as the Battle of Ingalls. During the inevitable gun battle three marshals and two bystanders were killed and another wounded. Three gang members were wounded with gang member “Arkansas Tom Jones” being wounded and captured. Doolin reportedly shot and killed Deputy Marshal Richard Speed in the melee.
The Wild Bunch was the most feared outlaw group in the west for a time. However, many of the gang had been either captured or killed by the end of 1894, mostly due to the efforts of Deputy Marshals Bill Tilghman, Chris Madsen and Heck Thomas Known collectively as the “Three Guardsmen.”
Rewards were now being offered for the remaining gang members “dead or alive.” On May 1, 1895, gang members Charlie Pierce and George "Bittercreek" Newcomb were shot and killed by bounty hunters known as "The Dunn Brothers".
In the summer of 1895 Doolin fled to New Mexico where he hid out with outlaw Richard "Little Dick" West. But, by late 1895, Doolin and his wife were hiding out near Burden, Kansas. However they shortly moved on to Eureka Springs where Doolin nursed his injured foot in the bathhouses which advertised the healing power of the natural mineral springs. In early 1896, Doolin was captured in a bathhouse by Deputy Marshal Bill Tilghman.
Doolin later managed to escape on July 5, and took take refuge with his wife in Lawson, Oklahoma Territory. There, on August 24, Doolin met his end when Deputy Marshall Heck Thomas killed him with a shotgun blast.
The remaining gang members were dead by the end of 1898, all killed in various shootouts with lawmen and other posses.