Dan Tucker (lawman)

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Dan Tucker, better known as "Dangerous Dan" Tucker, (1849 - unknown), is a little-known lawman and gunfighter of the Old West. Author Bob Alexander, who wrote the biography Dangerous Dan" Tucker, New Mexico's Deadly Lawman, proclaimed Tucker was more dangerous and more effective than better known lawmen, including Wild Bill Hickock and Wyatt Earp. He was supported in this claim by historian Leon C. Metz. He was also a subject in the book Deadly Dozen, by author Robert K. DeArment, who included Tucker as one of the twelve most underrated gunmen of the Old West.

Arrival in New Mexico Territory and reputation[edit]

Tucker first ventured into New Mexico Territory in the early 1870s. Born in Canada, Tucker was said to have been soft-spoken and laconic, and with a slight accent often mistaken for being southern. Famed New Mexico sheriff Harvey Whitehill was, at the time, serving as the Grant County, New Mexico sheriff. Whitehill first met Tucker in 1875, when the latter drifted into Silver City, New Mexico from parts unknown. Although some were suspicious of Tucker, who initially introduced himself as David Tucker, Whitehill took a liking to him, and hired him as a deputy sheriff.

Tucker was rumored to have last been in Colorado, but had fled after stabbing a man to death. He was also said to have killed men in El Paso, Texas and Santa Fe, New Mexico, but these claims were never confirmed. The only known facts were that he had ridden with outlaw John Kinney, and he did, after arriving in New Mexico, take part in the El Paso Salt War.

One of the first incidents of violence in which Tucker took part after accepting his new job, occurred in 1876, and was witnessed by Sheriff Whitehill's son, Wayne Whitehill, who was then but a child, but was able to give a full account of the incident during an interview in 1949. According to Wayne Whitehill, two Mexican men began fighting inside "Johnny Ward's Dance Hall", in Silver City. One of the men stabbed the other, wounding him, then ran out into the street to escape. Just as he rounded a corner on Broadway Street, Dan Tucker shot him in the neck, in full view of many citizens, the young Whitehill being one of them. An account of this shooting was also taken from Dan Rose, who was 12 years old at the time, but who also was on the street that night.

Another incident, occurring in 1877, and also witnessed by Wayne Whitehill, concerned a report that a Mexican man was intoxicated and throwing rocks at people as they passed by, on a side street in Silver City. Tucker responded, with several young boys running a short distance behind him, due to him being somewhat of an enigma to the locals after the first shooting. According to witnesses, Tucker merely located the intoxicated man, and shot him dead with one shot, without ever muttering even one word to the suspect. No charges were ever filed against Tucker for that shooting. In 1878, Tucker shot and killed a thief as he fled, as well as becoming engaged in a gunfight with three suspected horse thieves inside a Silver City saloon, killing two of the thieves, and wounding the third. By this time, Tucker was legendary in the area, and had acquired the nickname "Dangerous Dan" after the shooting of the rock throwing suspect.

In early May, 1880, Sheriff Whitehill dispatched Deputy Tucker to track down two suspects who had broken into a prospector's cabin and stolen numerous goods and personal property. Tucker was gone for two days, then returned with all the stolen property, along with the horses, saddles, and weapons of the two suspects. He reported to Sheriff Whitehill that he had located the two on a ranch, and killed them, with the owner of the ranch agreeing to bury them. Days later, Tucker responded on a domestic dispute, during which a man had clubbed his wife and child to near death. As Tucker entered the house, the man knocked Tucker's gun from his hand with the club. In the altercation that followed, Tucker was able recover his gun from the floor, and shot the man, killing him.

In 1878, although remaining a deputy sheriff, Tucker had accepted the position of Silver City Marshal, the town's first, and a position he would hold through several terms. By later accounts, Tucker brought the town's violent crime rate under control quickly, and was feared due to his lack of hesitation when he deemed violence was necessary to solve a problem. By newspaper accounts from the Grant City Herald, in November 1878 Tucker was shot and wounded during a shootout with cowboy Caprio Rodriguez, when the latter resisted arrest following a disturbance in a saloon. Tucker killed Rodriguez in the exchange.[1] In 1881, Tucker assisted Sheriff Whitehill in a double hanging, and had acted as the hangman in several other hangings for Grant County previously, and later accepted the position of Marshal for Shakespeare, New Mexico; in September, he shot and killed rustler Jake Bond. In November, 1881, he arrested outlaw Sandy King after he shot and wounded a storekeeper. On November 9, 1881, he captured outlaw "Russian Bill" Tattenbaum for cattle rustling. The two were hanged by the town's "Vigilance Committee" that same day.

Tucker was sent to Deming, New Mexico on November 27, 1881, due to several outlaws causing disturbances and basically taking over the town. He began patrolling the streets with a double-barrel shotgun, and within three days, according to journalist C.M. Chase, who was in the area doing a story on the Southern Pacific Railroad, Tucker shot and killed three men and wounded two more. In 1882, James H. Cook became the manager of the "WS Ranch", and later would comment Tucker was, to his personal knowledge, involved in several gunfights as a shotgun rider while working for Wells Fargo.

Controversial shooting[edit]

During 1882, Tucker became involved in the most controversial shooting of his career. On August 24, James D. Burns, who worked as a deputy in the mining camp of Paschal, in Grant County, entered the "Walcott & Mills Saloon". Burns became intoxicated, and began twirling and flaunting his pistol. Deputy Cornelius A. Mahoney attempted to disarm Burns, but he refused, saying that as a law officer, he was entitled to retain his weapon. Town Marshal Glaudius W. Moore also threatened to arrest Burns, but he ignored him and continued on his drinking binge, going from saloon to saloon.

The following afternoon, Burns, whose binge had resulted in him staying up all night with no sleep, found himself in the "Sam Eckstein Saloon", where he goaded Bob Kerr into a fight, but when Burns produced his pistol, Kerr fled. Burns then left that saloon and walked down in front of the "Centennial Saloon", where he began firing his pistol in the air. He then entered the saloon and began gambling with Frank Thurmond, a professional gambler. Marshal Moore entered shortly thereafter due to several people complaining about Burns.

He approached Burns as he was seated at the table, and demanded he come outside to speak with him. Burns refused, stating he had done nothing and would not leave until the game was finished. Marshal Moore again ordered him up, and again Burns refused. At this point, Marshal Moore produced his pistol, and yet again ordered Burns outside. Also seated at the table were former deputy John W. Gilmo and Dan Tucker.

Gilmo convinced Marshal Moore to holster his pistol, but as soon as he did, Burns jumped to his feet, pulling his own pistol. Tucker then drew on Burns, and ordered him to drop his gun, which he did. Foolishly, Marshal Moore departed to obtain an arrest warrant for Burns, rather than simply making the arrest at that time. After he departed, Burns began verbally confronting Tucker, stating Tucker was wrong for involving himself in the incident.

A while later, Marshal Moore returned with Deputy Bill McClellen, warrant in hand. The two lawmen then demanded Burns turn over his weapons, stating they had "papers" for him. What followed is confusing, and has never been cleared completely. Burns drew and fired, missing everyone, and despite both lawmen having their pistols unholstered, Tucker was the first to react, drawing and shooting Burns in the ribcage, with the percussion of both the first two shots extinguishing the lamps, thus leaving the men in the dark. Moore and McClellen then also fired on Burns, with McClellen firing one round and Moore firing four in quick succession, all hitting their mark. Burns died immediately.

A decision to file charges against McClellen and Moore was made, based mainly on the fact Burns had been extremely popular with the local miners, and there was a loud public outcry for justice, despite the shooting having been justified. Tucker was not to be charged. On September 3, 1882, an attempt by local authorities to arrest both men was made, but they refused, and no one pressured them. Instead, they went to nearby Central City, and surrendered to authorities there, to avoid a possible lynching in Silver City.

Tucker, although previously told he was cleared, was also arrested, and also jailed in Central City. McClellen was released on bail, and while riding after an all-night drunk, his horse threw him, and he died from injuries from the fall, thus never coming to trial. Tucker and Moore were eventually cleared of the shooting, but Moore was dismissed as marshal. He drifted north into Colorado, where he was killed a year later in a gunfight.

Tucker's reputation suffered as a result of the shooting, but Tucker himself, as those who knew him later commented, seemed to not be bothered by this. On December 14, 1882, Tucker was ambushed by a Mexican man as he entered a brothel in Deming to investigate a complaint, which turned out to be false. He was shot in the shoulder, but he shot and killed one man and one of two prostitutes who were assisting in the assassination attempt. Several other Mexican men also attempted to involve themselves, but backed away when several citizens entered, having heard the gunshots from the street.

Gage train robbery, later life and disappearance[edit]

On November 24, 1883, Tucker was part of a posse led by Sheriff Whitehill, in pursuit of bandits who had robbed a train near Deming, killing the engineer and messenger near Gage Station. The posse captured the gang, but they later escaped from the jail. Again, Whitehill led a posse in pursuit of the gang and two other prisoners, engaging the escapees in a shootout near the mountains outside Silver City. Escapee Carlos Chavez and gang member George Washington Cleavland were killed, posse member Joe Le Fur was killed, with escapee Charles Spencer and gang members Mitch Lee and Frank Taggert surrendering, Lee having been badly wounded. Gang leader Kit Joy escaped, being wounded in the process. The posse hanged all but Spencer on sight. Joy was later wounded again by rancher Erichus “Rackety” Smith, and captured near the Gila River, resulting in Joy being sentenced to life in prison. In November of that year, Tucker arrested York Kelly, an outlaw who had killed three men and murdered a woman who was eight months pregnant, during a bank robbery in Bisbee, Arizona. For a time after this, Tucker operated a saloon in Deming, but in 1885, he was appointed as a Deputy US Marshal for that region.

In November, 1885, he and friend William Graham were involved in a gun battle with marauding Apache warriors 11 miles west of Deming, but they were able to drive the warriors off. Tucker had resigned his position by 1888, and moved on to California. The last time anyone who knew him saw him was in 1892, when he made his last known visit to Grant County. Where he went following that, or when or where he died, remains unknown. Although little known today, Tucker is considered by some historians to have been one of the most dangerous, albeit underestimated, gunmen in the history of the Old West.[1]

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