• Rifle Regiment arriving at Belle Point, 1817. Artwork by Michael Haynes

    Fort Smith

    National Historic Site AR,OK

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Bill Doolin

When the most feared Dalton brothers died in a blaze of gunfire in Coffeyville, Kansas, a man named Bill Doolin stepped to center stage in the annals of outlaw history.

The son of a Johnson County, Arkansas, farmer, Doolin was six feet, two inches tall, weighted 150 pounds, had auburn hair, blue eyes, a hooked nose and wore a ragged mustache. He had worked as a ranch hand until two deputies tried to break up a beer party in southern Kansas, a dry state. When the lawmen began pouring beer on the floor, several cowboys, including Doolin, pulled their six guns and fatally shot them. Doolin fled the scene, later joining the Dalton's gang of outlaws.

Doolin helped the Daltons in their train robberies, but did not take part in the attempted robberies of two banks at the same time in Coffeyville. With the killings in that affair, Doolin assumed leadership of the band of outlaws. The new gang was called a number of things, including the Dalton Gang led by Bill Doolin, the Doolin Gang, the Dalton-Doolin gang and the Oklahombres. The members were generally Bill Dalton, Dynamite Dick, Bitter Creek Newcomb, Red Buck Weightman, Tulsa Jack Black and Arkansas Tom Jones. For three years, the gang, headquartered in the town of Ingalls in Oklahoma Territory, raided banks trains and stagecoaches.

A small army of lawmen slipped into Ingalls on September 1, 1893. Inside the city saloon, Doolin and five other outlaws settled down to a poker game. At that time, Bitter Creek Newcomb went outside to check on horses and was fired upon by one of the deputies. The Battle of Ingalls had begun! Newcomb raised the alarm, then escaped by riding out of town in a hail of bullets. The outlaws in the saloon fired at the deputies through the window and then dashed to their horses, firing wildly at the lawmen as they rode away. Five or more men were mortally wounded in the gunfight.

The string of robberies continued after the Ingalls Battle, the largest haul being $40,000 taken from an East Texas bank. Even though the gang's days were numbered as more and more lawmen took to their trail, the final demise of Bill Doolin took a twisted trail through Arkansas and Oklahoma Territory.

Juliet Galonska
March 1996

This sketch is part of a series, “Fort Smith Minutes,” originally developed by the park staff to provide one minute long public service announcements for local radio stations. These sketches provide a light and entertaining glimpse into the complex history of Fort Smith.

Did You Know?

Park staff and volunteers demonstrating using lindstock and slowmatch to ignite the cannon's primer

The soldiers who came to Fort Smith in 1817 were still using some 18th century technology and drill. The cannon was discharged using a lindstock and slowmatch to ignite the primer, which originally was loose powder or a turkey quill filled with powder.