Killing of Bill Doolin

After his escape from the Guthrie jail, Bill Doolin spent some time in Mexico before returning to Oklahoma to see his wife and child. On August 25, 1896, Deputy Heck Thomas finally crossed upon Doolin's trail. He employed the help of Bill Dunn, his brothers and Tom and Charlie Noble to set up an ambush near Lawson in Payne County. When Doolin happened along the road through town that night, the deputies called to him to surrender. Instead, the outlaw wheeled about and fired once with his Winchester and three times with a revolver. The posse returned the fire, emptying a double-barreled shotgun that drove Doolin to the ground. The infamous killer was dead, "cleverly riddled with buckshot." In fact, reports indicated that there were twenty buckshot wounds in the chest, four that had entered the heart.

There was some confusion over who actually killed Doolin because of the numerous shots fired from the lawmen. There were even rumors that there were a lack of bloodstains on the body when it was delivered to the morgue and that Doolin must have died a natural death. This theory said that he was set up against a tree and filled with buckshot to make believe he had been killed to collect the reward. But Doolin had bled profusely according to Heck Thomas' widow who witnessed the bloody wagon the body was transported in. Heck Thomas finally collected a reward of over $1400 for the killing of Doolin. He divided this among the seven members of his posse.

Doolin's body was put on display in Guthrie. A local photographer made two pictures of the dead outlaw. Mrs. Doolin and her brothers composed a poem about the outlaw which they had printed on postcards and sold it with the pictures to all who would buy them at twenty-five cents each. The profits were to be used for burial expenses, but the government actually ended up paying for the embalming and burial because of the need of preserving the body for identification purposes.
Doolin's funeral took place on Saturday, August 29, 1896, and his grave, in what is today the Summit View Cemetery in Guthrie, was marked by a twisted, rusty buggy axle. Doolin's widow filed a $50,000 damage suit against the U.S. Marshal for the unlawful death of her husband but it was dismissed in February 1897.

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.

Last updated: April 10, 2015

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