That damned elusive William “Bill” Dalton          

Toward the end of February, 1893, William M. “Bill” Dalton rode into Kansas City, Kansas, with stock to sell. He was the younger brother of Grat and Bob Dalton, who’dBill Dalton ca 1893 been killed five months earlier in what the Kansas City Times called “one of the most horrible crimes of the year”[1] : a bungled attempt to outdo the James brother by robbing two banks at the same time in the southern Kansas town of Coffeyville. In addition to the two Daltons, four townsmen, including the town marshal, Charles Connelly, died in the shootout. A third Dalton brother, Emmett, was badly wounded but survived; his trial, in Independence, Kansas, was still going on when Bill arrived in Kansas City.

Although Bill Dalton wasn’t known to have been involved in the Coffeyville raid, his presence in Kansas City worried Cary Seemans, a barber, who was in Coffeyville at the time of the Dalton raid and claimed to have participated in the gunfight. Seemans told the local police chief that he feared Bill Dalton was out for revenge. The police chief detailed a detective to shadow Dalton. The detective reported that Bill, who was staying at one of the more respectable hotels in town, the Ryus, spent most of the night at gambling houses near the Missouri state line and most of the next day hanging out at the stockyards.

Ryus Hotel, Kansas City KansasBill, reported the Kansas City Star, was “always considered a reputable citizen,” and the police concluded that surveillance had been unnecessary.[2] 

Just a month before, however, the Kansas City Times ran a story, based on “reliable information,” that Bill was assembling a well-armed gang to rescue Emmett from jail. The local sheriff is quoted saying he has no doubt an attempt will soon be made, and that he is prepared to give the gang “a warm reception.”[3] The Times story was promptly disputed by the sheriff himself in the Star and Kansan of Independence, Kansas: “Sheriff Callahan is anxious to know what Ananias it is that the Times allows to fill its columns with such stuff as this Coffeyville dispatch, and some others that preceded it - especially the one that represented the ladies of Independence as filling Emmett’s cell with flowers. This story like the others had no foundation whatever. Mr. Callahan wishes us to state that not only has he never said that he expected a raid to rescue Emmett Dalton, but he never thought there would be such a raid….”[4]

Perplexing, contradictory, often sensationalistic stories like this about Bill Dalton regularly appeared in Kansas City newspapers until and after he was shot to death in June, 1893. It was believed, forBill Dalton in California example, he had once been in the California legislature, had been a deputy U.S. marshal, and had participated with three of his brothers in the robbery of a Southern Pacific Company train in Alila, California in 1891.  Bill had indeed been charged with assault to commit robbery in the Alila robbery, but the charge was dropped for lack of evidence. Thirteen prominent citizens appeared as character witnesses.[5] In later years, after his release from prison, Emmett Dalton always denied his brother had committed the robbery.[6]

There are no records of Bill’s serving in the California legislature,[7] nor had he served as a deputy marshal. The U.S. marshal for the Western District of Arkansas made no mention of Bill when confirming that three of the outlaw brothers had been lawmen before 1890: brothers Robert and Emmet, he said, had “acted as posse twice in 1890, assisting in arresting three noted desperadoes. They were all considered trustworthy men until the fall of 1890, when their first unlawful acts begun.”[8] 

A few days later, under the headline “The last of the Daltons,” the Times reported the sentencing to life at hard labor of Emmett Dalton, surviving member of the Dalton gang.[9]  The Star notedEmmett Dalton prison ledger that  the son of the late Coffeyville marshal, Connelly, a student at Spalding’s Commercial College in Kansas City, Missouri, was “very much pleased” with the result.[10]  The Times editorialized that the prompt sentencing of Emmett reflected well on Kansas but poorly on Missouri which “for years allowed desperate criminals to go uncaught and unpunished…. The prompt administration of justice encourages immigration in a measure, prevents crime and puts a halt to lynchings.”[11] 

Toward the end of April, the Daily Journal reported that Bill Dalton, “ex-member of the California legislature, and at one time charged with train robbing in California,” was headed for Dallas to meet Frank James, brother of Jesse, to “complete arrangements for the opening of a large saloon in Chicago. Their great notoriety,” the news item concluded, “will be a card which will draw them immense patronage.”[12]  The saloon idea, if it ever existed, came to nothing.  Some months later, an acquaintance is reported to have said that “James would have nothing to do,” with Bill Dalton,[13] though no reason is given.

From this point to the end of 1893, there were frequent reports in Kansas City papers about the outlaw activities of Bill Dalton and the new “Dalton gang” it was believed he had formed. A report from Coffeyville in early May claimed that Bill was with the Starr gang outside of Caney, Kansas, planning an attack on the Denver, Memphis and Atlantic train, but “this is not generally believed, for he is thought not to have enough nerve.”[14]   The Coffeyville raid continued to reverberate: a man claiming to be cousin of the Daltons attempted suicide, saying “he really wished that he had gone with his cousins at Coffeyville,” but had been sick when the raid was planned.[15]    Another man, George Davis, arrested in Atchison for stealing, said he had been with the Daltons at Coffeyville; police speculated he may have been the missing participant[16], although it’s never been established there was a sixth gang member in the raid. 

In June, 1893, a bandit boarded a north-bound train at Oklahoma City and attempted to rob it but was overpowered by the conductor and locked up in Wichita. He claimed that he had been coerced into the robbery attempt by a gang of four men under the leadership of Bill Dalton who had put him under “bullet orders.”[17] 

No other claims of criminal activity by Bill Dalton are mentioned in Kansas City newspapers until September 1, when a posse of U.S. Marshalls fought a gang of outlaws at the town of Ingalls in Oklahoma territory: “Terrible fight with Outlaws: Desperate Conflict between United States Officers and the Remnant of the Old Dalton Gang” read the headline in the Journal story.[18]  In Bill Doolinflorid prose characteristic of newspapers of the time, the Journal tells readers: “Ever since the extermination of the Dalton boys at Coffeyville Bill Dalton has been active in organizing another gang of desperate outlaws, and for some time his band has numbered over twenty-five of the worst characters in the Southwest.”  The gang became known as the “Doolin-Dalton gang,” -- later, “The Wild Bunch” -- since it had been organized by former Dalton gang member Bill Doolin, with Bill Dalton thought to be a later addition and co-leader.[19] However, newspaper reports habitually referred to it as the “Dalton gang.”

Lurid but inconsistent descriptions of the battle were printed: the battle lasted two hours, reported the Journal, “and all but one of the outlaws escaped, though three were badly wounded, and the dead body of one, George Newcomb, was found five mile away to-day. Bill Dalton was shot through the leg, but escaped on one of the wounded officers’ horses.” On the other side, reported the Journal, three deputy marshals and three citizens died and four were wounded. The deceased Newcomb, adds the Journal helpfully, had recently escaped from the Oklahoma City jail with Tom King, a female horse thief. In fact, George Newcomb was alive, though wounded[20].

The Journal story also mentions that George Ransom, “keeper of the saloon,” was arrested and charged with aiding the outlaws; “other arrests will follow,” says the story, suggesting that the outlaws had supporters in Ingalls. A Journal story the next day noted that ten citizens of Ingalls had been arrested for aiding the outlaws.[21]Ingalls

The Star reporter focuses his story on Bill Dalton, whose horse “was killed instantly by [Deputy Marshall] Shadley and, as the horse fell, Dalton got on his feet and pumped four shots in rapid succession into the body of Shadley with his Winchester.”[22]  The Kansas City Times in its story on the Ingalls shootout commented, “If the testimony of a dozen eye-witnesses can be believed, Bill Dalton is following in the bloody and crime-stained footsteps of his brothers. And the evidence is that he handles a Winchester fully as well as ever did Bob or Emmett,” citing Bill’s presumed shooting of marshal Shadley. The day after the Ingalls battle, a doctor was called to attend to an injured man outside of Stillwater, Oklahoma; the man, said the doctor, was Bill Dalton, who was “shot twice through the body,” and “cannot survive.” The doctor, however, perhaps also a sympathizer, refused to disclose the location of the outlaw’s camp. [23]

The American Citizen on September 8 reported that Bill Doolin’s body had been found outside of Ingalls, and suggested that this “lends strength to the report that Bill Dalton was one of the participants” in the battle at Ingalls. A robbery in Mound Valley, Kansas, four days later was attributed to Dalton and other escapees from the Ingalls shootout.[24]

In fact, Doolin was not dead, and claims of Bill Dalton’s presence at the Ingalls battle were almost immediately contested. The Citizen report suggests that it was Doolin and not Dalton who shot Deputy Marshall Shadley, while one Zach Mulhall of the Mulhall, Oklahoma – the town was named after him – who is indentified as having an “extended … acquaintance among the ‘bad men’” of the West – claimed that Bill Dalton was not at the Ingalls fight at all but in Chicago at the time. Since the saloon deal with Frank James fell through, Bill had been “loafing around Chicago,” said Mulhall, “spending the most of his time around Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show.” In any case, he said, “Bill Dalton is a big, over-grown fellow who wouldn’t fight anybody, but he likes notoriety, and for that reason will not deny the stories that have been published about him.”[25]

Stories continued to be published about local officials in a state of alarm over Bill Dalton and his gang headed in their direction. In mid-September it was said to be “quite certain” that they were en route to Fort Scott, Kansas; “the officers have kept the matter a secret, so far as possible, to prevent excitement, for they are anxious to capture the outlaws.”[26]  The same day the Star published a report that the “Dalton-Starr gang” were camped near Arkansas City and would raid the City’s banks as soon as people had left town “for the border” to join the Cherokee Strip land run: “Nearly every officer on the police force is going to make the run and the city will be almost wholly without police protection.” Neither rumor came to anything.

At the end of September, a report of “a great deal of excitement” in the little town of Wagoner, Indian Territory, appeared in the Kansas City Times: a raid was anticipated by twenty-five marshals on the camp of Bill Dalton and Bill Doolan, “the noted train robbers,” outside of town: “Before the night is over,” concludes the story, “it is expected there will be a fight to death between the outlaws and United States marshals.”[27]

On the same day, the Daily Journal carried a report that the sheriff of Montgomery County, who was visiting Kansas City, claimed that “his posse was in close pursuit of Bill Dalton’s gang,” only an hour behind the gang[28] The sheriff showed off his “beautiful and costly revolver, formerly the property of Emmet Dalton,” carried by Emmet when he was a deputy marshal.

The fight to the death didn’t materialize:  the gang, if it had ever been there, was gone, “warned of their approach… there was not a man in sight,”[29] reported the Times. Two weeks later, Dalton and Doolin were sighted in Stillwater with Texas Newcomb, all wearing “silk ties and … stylishly dressed…. Many Stillwater folks know the bandits, but even the officers when told were afraid to molest them. Deputies from this city [Guthrie] left for Stillwater this evening. Dalton’s mother lives near Kingfisher, where he was nursed after the battle at Ingalls.”[30]

Of course, whether Bill Dalton was at the Ingalls battle has never been proved, just as no firm evidence has ever surfaced that he was involved in any of the robberies newspapers in 1893 associated with the “Dalton gang.” An October 20 story in the Times described a holdup near Tulsa in which Dalton and Doolin are quoted as telling their victims “This country is getting too full of farmers and we are going to get a little money together and hunt a more favorable locality for our ‘business’.”[31] On October 23, the Dalton gang were reported to have attended an oyster supper at Cushing, Oklahoma, leaving their guns outside and conducting themselves “like society gentlemen throughout.”[32] The robbery of the St. Louis, Iron Mountain and Southern Railway train in Olyphant, Arkansas in early November – as it turned out, the last train robbery in Arkansas – was attributed to the “Dalton gang” in a Times story[33], without evidence; subsequently, three men were hanged for the murder of the train conductor. None had ever been connected with Bill Dalton.

In early November, Dalton – referred to as “Colonel Bill Dalton, the noted outlaw,” is said in a Times report to have been seen in Arkansas City: “He has several acquaintances and admirers here withBill Dalton death whom he is visiting. Just what this visit means,” continued the report, ominously, “can not yet be predicted. Dalton was very quiet while here and kept under cover.” [34] A story in the Times a few days later, however, undercuts this account: “To scores of people in this new section of Oklahoma, deputy marshals and others, who know Dalton and his ways, these reports are absurd. They unite in saying that Dalton never exposes himself in any such way, and that the reports are pure fakes.”  The same story declares that Dalton now has six followers and the gang “is very hard up and that another raid will soon occur somewhere.”[35] No such raid occurred, apparently, although an Arkansas City man claimed to have been robbed of $1 two days later by “Bill Dolan and Dynamite, two of the Dalton gang.”[36] A safe cracking at a bank in Plano, Texas in early December was likewise attributed to the Dalton gang, the evidence being that “an anonymous letter was recently found warning the people of Dallas county that the Daltons had planned to rob several banks in this section.”

The December 9 Plano story was among the last in Kansas City papers in 1893 dealing with the Dalton gang. Six months later, June 8, 1894, Bill Dalton was killed near Ardmore, Oklahoma. It quickly became a matter of controversy which of several deputies killed him or under what circumstances.

 “Was Bill Dalton actually an outlaw at all?” asks Nancy Samuelson in her well-documented study of the Dalton gang. “Was Bill Dalton accused, tried, convicted, and to some degree executed by the press of the day?”[37] She concludes that the evidence that Bill Dalton was ever an outlaw is “extremely thin; so thin and transparent, in fact, it is hard to see it at all.”[38]

[1] Kansas City Times, March 9 1893 p. 4.

[2]Watched by the Police.” Kansas City Star, February 28, 1893, p. 1.

[3] Kansas City Times, January 28, 1893, p. ???

[4] Star and Kansan, February 4, 1893.  “Sentenced for Life: January 1893 to March 1893.”

[5] Nancy B. Samuelson, The Dalton Gang Story: Lawmen to Outlaws. Eastford, CT: Shooting Star Pres, 1992, p. 95.

[6] William B. Secrest. California Desperadoes: Stories of early California Outlaws in their Own Words. Fresno, CA: Quill Driver books, p. 215.

[7] Samuelson, p. 57.

[8] “The Daltons were trusty.” Kansas City Times January 4, 1893, p. 1.

[9] Kansas City Times, March 9, p. 1.

[10] “Swift Justice in Kansas.” Kansas City Star March 8, p 1.

[11] Kansas City Times, March 9, 1893, p. 4.

[12] “Frank James and Bill Dalton.” Kansas City Daily Journal April 23 1893, p. 1.

[13] “Bill Dalton in Chicago.” Kansas City Times Sept 12 1893, p1.

[14] “The Starr Gang Bold.” Kansas City Star May 11 1893, p 7.

[15] “A Dalton Attempts Suicide.” Kansas City Star May 19 1893, p. 1.

[16] “Is He a Dalton Bandit?” Kansas City Times, June 3, 1893, p. 1.

[17] Kansas City Times June 30 1893 p. 3.

[18] “Terrible Fight with Outlaws.” Kansas City Daily Journal, September 3, 1893, p. 1.

[19] “Wild Bunch.”

[20] “George Newcomb.”

[21] “Bill Dalton’s Wounds Fatal.” Kansas City Daily Journal. September 5, 1893, p. 8.

[22] “Shot Down by Outlaws” Kansas City Star Sept 2 1893 p 1.

[23] “Bill Dalton’s Wounds Fatal.” Kansas City Journal September 5 1893, p. 8.

[24] “Outlaws: Desperadoes Growing Bold and Numerous. American Citizen September 8 1893 p. 1.

[25] “Bill Dalton in Chicago.” Kansas City Times Sept 12 1893 p 1.

[26] “Bill Dalton’s Gang.” Kansas City Times, September 15, 1893, p. 1.

[27] “Outlaws vs. Marshals.” Kansas City Times September 30 1893 p. 1.

[28] “Emmet Dalton’s Revolver.” Kansas City Daily Journal September 30 1893 p. 5.

[29] “The Gang had Gone.” Kansas City Times  October 1 1893 p. 1.

[30] “Dalton and His Gang.” Kansas City Times October 15 1893, p. 3.

[31] “Members of Dalton’s Gang.” Kansas City Times, October 20, 1893, p. 4.

[32] “The Dalton Gang on a lark.” Kansas City Daily Mail, October 23, 1893, p. 3.

[33] “Iron Mountain Train Robber,” Kansas City Times, November 7, 1893, p. 4.

[34] “Bill Dalton Visiting.” Kansas City Times. November 10, 1893, p. 4.

[35] “Dalton’s Gang Hard Up.” Kansas City Times, November 14, 1893, p. 1.

[36] “Held up by the Daltons.” Kansas City Mail, November 16, 1893, p. 4.

[37] Samuelson, p. 131.

[38] Samuelson, p. 148.

April 26, 2012