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The Last Gun Fighting Lawman

Updated on July 12, 2011

Tom Threepersons

Tom Threepersons was the last of the famous gun fighting lawmen with a career extending well into the 20th century. He was born in Vinita, Indian Territory July 22, 1889 and is often confused with the Kainai rodeo star, Tom Threepersons, born in Canada.

His parents, John and Bell Threepersons moved to the Montana-Alberta border and took up ranching sometime around 1900. Tom’s boyhood companion, Bill White and his family also accompanied them.

Though some may know his name, not many seem to know how adventurous his life was. Information concerning the full blooded Cherokee Indian is mainly derived from a scrapbook which contained several newspaper and magazine clippings dated in the 1920’s and official U.S. Treasury Department documents.


Around 1910, both Tom and Bills’ fathers were killed during a fight with rustlers. The two killers were caught but released. Tom trailed them to a local saloon and when they went for their guns, he shot and killed them both. For his actions Tom stood trial for murder. However, he was promptly acquitted by a jury which deliberated for only seven minutes.

Tom and Bill joined the Northwest Mounted Police together and were stationed 50 miles from Calgary. Soon after, they were ordered to track down three smugglers who had murdered an entire family and thought to be heading toward the Yukon River in Alaska. After tracking the trio for five days in the snow, they were forced to leave their exhausted horses and continue on foot. Two days later, the Mounties cornered their quarry. During the ensuing gun battle White was mortally wounded. Tom shot and killed one of the murderers while the other two turned tail and fled.

Threepersons solemnly buried his lifelong friend in a shallow grave and continued tracking the remaining pair. He found the fugitives at the End of the Trail settlement. But before tackling the two killers he rested for a few days observing the place and decided chances of arresting them in town were pretty slim. So, he went to their cabin in the country and waited for them to return. When they returned and found Tom waiting they immediately went for their guns. Although his Stetson hit the ground, the two gunmen hit it first. His friend’s death had been avenged.

The big Cherokee worked with the North West Mounted Police from 1910 to 1912 and engaged in numerous shootouts. He once killed three bank robbers during a failed attempt in Calgary, and later foiled a train robbery near Medicine Hat. In 1912 he finally returned to ranching, and also began riding the rodeo circuit. That same year he won the title of "World Champion Cowboy" in Alberta, winning the Calgary Stampede. The Calgary Stampede is an annual 10-day rodeo, exhibition and festival held every July in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. The first one was held in 1912.

Around 1914, he moved to Douglas, Arizona where he worked a while as a cowboy and later in 1916 he joined the US Army. He served with General Jack Pershing in bringing the outlaw Pancho Villa to justice. He was later assigned to Fort Bliss where he received a head trauma when a horse kicked him in the head. He suffered severe headaches for the rest of his life. He was discharged in 1920.

His next job was with the El Paso Police where he remained for two years and partnered with officer Juan Escontrias. The two were involved in a couple of shootouts with smugglers. Threepersons was shot and wounded in the chest during one incident in 1921.

On June 10, 1922, he was appointed as a Federal Probation Agent for El Paso, but he quit after only a few months to manage the "Cudahy Ranch" In Durango, Mexico. However, the outlaw element couldn’t seem to avoid crossing paths with Threepersons. During his brief employment for the ranch he shot and killed two rustlers. Mexican authorities arrested him for the shooting, but he escaped and returned to the United States.

From there he spent a brief stint as a Mounted Inspector for United States Customs Service.

From 1925 he worked for both the El Paso County Sheriffs’ Office and Police Department.

By this time, Threepersons was becoming well known and in 1925, the S.D. Myres Saddle Company of El Paso began selling "Tom Threepersons-style holsters. The holster had a cutaway top which exposed the pistol, hammer and trigger guard and is still the most popular today. His reputation also soon caught the attention of Hollywood and he was offered a job making $700 per month, but he declined.

By 1929, severe headaches from his head injury prompted him to leave law enforcement and he established a ranch in Gila, New Mexico. In 1933, he had corrective surgery for the injury but it did little to correct the problem. He spent the rest of his life working as a rancher and hunting guide in Silver City, New Mexico.

Tom Threepersons died of cardiac arrest and pneumonia in Safford, Arizona. He is buried in the Masonic Cemetery in Silver City.

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    • cowboy52 profile image

      cowboy52 5 years ago from Manawatu, New Zealand

      This is a great piece of history about the time period. Sounds like he was lucky to survive as long as he did.

      Regards

      Slim

    • JY3502 profile image
      Author

      John Young 6 years ago from Florence, South Carolina

      Thank you so much Pam. Always appreciated.

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 6 years ago from United States

      JY, This is an interesting true story. Life was sure rough back then. Rated up.