Bill Doolin

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William "Bill" Doolin
Like all of his Wild Bunch, Bill Doolin died a violent death by gunshot.
Born 1858
Johnson County, Arkansas, USA
Died August 24, 1896 (c. aged 38)
Lawson, Oklahoma Territory
Cause of death Gunshot by Deputy U.S. Marshal Heck Thomas
Resting place Summit View Cemetery
35°53′45″N 97°24′12″W / 35.89583°N 97.40333°W / 35.89583; -97.40333 (Bill Doolin Burial Site)
  • Founder of the Wild Bunch
  • Old West Outlaw
  • Bank, Stagecoach, Train Robbery
Spouse(s) Edith Ellsworth Doolin
  • Michael Doolin
  • Artemina Beller Doolin

William "Bill" Doolin (1858 – August 24, 1896) was an American bandit and founder of the Wild Bunch, an outlaw gang that specialized in robbing banks, trains, and stagecoaches in Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Kansas during the 1890s.

Early life[edit]

Doolin was born in 1858 in Johnson County in north western Arkansas to Michael Doolin and the former Artemina Beller. Doolin left home in 1881 to become a cowboy in Indian Territory, having been employed by cattleman Oscar Halsell, a Texas native. During this time, Doolin worked with other cowboy and outlaw names of the day, including George Newcomb (known as "Bitter Creek"), Charley Pierce, Bill Power, Dick Broadwell, Bill "Tulsa Jack" Blake, Dan "Dynamite Dick" Clifton, and the better known, Emmett Dalton.

Doolin's first encounter with the law came on July 4, 1891, in Coffeyville in southeastern Kansas. Doolin and some friends were drunk in public, and lawmen attempted to confiscate their alcohol. A shootout ensued, and two of the lawmen were wounded. Doolin escaped capture by fleeing from Coffeyville.

Dalton Gang[edit]

Shortly thereafter, Doolin became a member of the Dalton Gang. On October 5, 1892, the Dalton Gang made its fateful attempt to rob two banks simultaneously, in Coffeyville, Kansas. The robbery attempt was an utter failure, with a shootout ensuing between Coffeyville citizens and lawmen, and the outlaws, leaving four of the five gang members dead, with the exception of Emmett Dalton. Historians have since indicated that there was a sixth gang member in an alley holding the horses, who escaped. Who this sixth man was remains unknown to this day. Emmett Dalton never disclosed his identity, but speculation continues that it may have well been Bill Doolin. [1]

The Wild Bunch[edit]

In 1892, Doolin formed his own gang, the Wild Bunch. On November 1, 1892, the gang robbed a bank in Spearville, Kansas. After the robbery, the gang fled with gang member Oliver Yantis to Oklahoma Territory, where they hid out at the house of Yantis' sister. Less than one month later, the gang was tracked to that location. In a shootout Yantis was killed, but the rest of the gang escaped.

Two teenaged girls known as Little Britches and Cattle Annie also followed the gang and warned the men whenever law-enforcement officers were in pursuit. Sources indicate that it was Doolin who gave the young bandit Jennie Stevens her nickname of Little Britches.[1]

Following that robbery, the gang embarked on a spree of successful bank and train robberies. In March 1893, Doolin married Edith Ellsworth in Ingalls, Oklahoma. Shortly thereafter, Doolin and his gang robbed a train near Cimarron, Kansas, during which a shootout with lawmen resulted in Doolin being shot and seriously wounded in the foot.[2]

On September 1, 1893, fourteen deputy U.S. marshals entered Ingalls, Oklahoma, to apprehend the gang, in what would be known as the Battle of Ingalls. During the shootout that followed, three marshals were killed, two bystanders were killed and one wounded, three of the gang members were wounded, and gang member "Arkansas Tom Jones" was wounded and captured. Doolin shot and killed Deputy Marshal Richard Speed during that shootout. [3]

The Wild Bunch was the most powerful outlaw group in the Old West for a time. However, because of the relentless pursuit of the Three Guardsmen (lawmen Bill Tilghman, Chris Madsen, and Heck Thomas) many of the gang had been either captured or killed by the end of 1894. In late 1894, gang member Bill Dalton was killed by U.S. marshals. Rewards were offered for their capture or death, the lure of which often turned friends into foes to collect the money. On May 1, 1895, gang members Charlie Pierce and George "Bittercreek" Newcomb were shot and killed by the bounty hunters known as "The Dunn Brothers". The bounty hunter team that killed Pierce and Newcomb were the older brothers of George Newcomb's teenage girlfriend, Rose Dunn. It was alleged that she had betrayed Newcomb, but it is more likely that her brothers simply trailed her to the outlaws' hideout.

Doolin fled to New Mexico Territory, where he hid with outlaw Richard "Little Dick" West during the summer of 1895. In late 1895, Doolin and his wife hid out near Burden, Kansas, for a time, then they went to the resort community of Eureka Springs in northwestern Arkansas so that Doolin could utilize the bathhouses there to relieve his rheumatism brought on from his earlier gunshot wound in his foot. In early 1896, Doolin was captured in a bathhouse by Bill Tilghman.

Doolin later escaped on July 5 and took refuge with his wife in Lawson in the Oklahoma Territory. There, on August 24, Doolin was killed by a shotgun blast by Deputy U.S. Marshal Heck Thomas. [4]

Bill Doolin is buried in the Boot Hill section of Summit View Cemetery in Guthrie, Oklahoma. He is buried next to the outlaw Elmer McCurdy.

By the end of 1898, all of the remaining former Wild Bunch gang were dead, having been killed in various shootouts with lawmen. Heck Thomas had tracked most of them; the remainder were tracked down and eliminated by lawmen Chris Madsen and Bill Tilghman or other posses. [5]

Doolin in film[edit]

  • In the heavily fictionalized 1948 film Return of the Bad Men, Robert Armstrong plays Doolin as the leader of a gang even more powerful than it was in real life, adding the Sundance Kid, Billy the Kid, and two of the Younger Brothers to the actual members of Doolin's Wild Bunch. Randolph Scott, as Federal Marshal Vance Cordrell, is a fictional composite of the many real-life lawmen on Doolin's trail.
  • Audie Murphy played a heavily fictionalised Bill Doolin in the 1952 film The Cimarron Kid.[2]
  • Leo Gordon portrayed Doolin in a 1954 episode of Jim Davis's syndicated television series, Stories of the Century. The dramatization concludes with Doolin being shot to death after an earlier escape. Heck Thomas in Stories of the Century is referred to as Deputy Marshal Gleason, played by Kenneth MacDonald.[3]
  • Randolph Scott also played Bill Doolin in a fictionalized account titled The Doolins of Oklahoma (1949) with a historical backdrop and historical characters.[6]
  • In the TV-movie You Know My Name, Marshal Bill Tilghman, played by Sam Elliott, describes how he arrested Doolin in a short scene in which he is telling his sons the story of the outlaw's capture in the Eureaka Springs bath house. The scene then segues into a flashback depicting the arrest. In the flashback, Doolin is played by James Baker.


  1. ^ Paul, Lee. "Cattle Annie & Little Britches". Ranch Diva Outfitters. Retrieved December 27, 2012. 
  2. ^ "The Cimarron Kid". Internet Movie Data Base. March 31, 1952. Retrieved January 5, 2013. 
  3. ^ "The Doolin Gang". Internet Movie Data Base. June 10, 1954. Retrieved December 17, 2012. 

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