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Dalton Brothers

The Dalton Brothers, was a family of both lawmen and outlaws in the American Old West during 1890-1892. They specialized in bank and train robberies. They were related to the Younger brothers, who rode with Jesse James, though they acted later and independently of the James-Younger Gang. The three Dalton brothers involved in the gang were Gratton "Grat" Dalton (b. 1861), Bob Dalton (b. 1869), and Emmett Dalton (b. 1871). A fourth brother, William M. "Bill" Dalton (1866-1894), also had a career as an outlaw, but operated as a member of the Wild Bunch. Part of a large family headed by parents Adaline Younger Dalton and James Lewis Dalton. Lewis Dalton came west from Kentucky to Missouri during the late 1840's and in the 1850's he was trading horses and running a saloon in Westport, Missouri (now Kansas City) when he married Adeline.

Most of their fifteen children were born in Missouri before the family migrated to Indian Territory (now Oklahoma) in 1882, Grattan "Grat" Dalton (1861 - 5 Oct 1892); William "Bill" Marion Dalton (1863 - 1894); Franklin "Frank" Dalton (1864? - 27 Nov 1887); Robert "Bob" Renick Dalton (1870 - 5 Oct 1892); Emmett "Em" Dalton (1871 - 13 Jul 1937). In 1886, they moved again to a place near Coffeyville, Kansas. In this rough and wild area, the Dalton brothers inherited a tradition of violence on the bloody ground of the Missouri -Kansas border, where Quantrill's raiders and other guerilla bands operated during and after the Civil War.

For a short time the brothers served on the side of the law, working as Deputy Marshals. Their older brother, Frank Dalton, was commissioned a Deputy Marshal for the federal court in Fort Smith, Arkansas and Bob Dalton served on several of his posses. On Nov. 27, 1887 in a gun battle with the Smith-Dixon Gang, Frank Dalton was shot and killed in the line of duty.

Bob Dalton, who would later become the leader of the Dalton Gang, was the wildest of the bunch. When he was just 19, he killed a man, claiming it was in the line of duty. Nevertheless, some suspected that the victim had tried to take away Bob's girl. While Emmett Dalton worked as member of some of his brothers' posses, he made his living working as a cowboy on the Bar X Bar Ranch near the Pawnee Agency. While working at the ranch, Emmett met two men who would later become members of the gang -- Bill Doolin and William St. Power, alias Bill Powers. Powers, also known as Tom Evans, had drifted into the area from Texas with a trail herd from the Pecos. Emmett also made the acquaintance of several other cowboys working on nearby ranches who would later become part of the gang. These included Charlie Pierce, George "Bitter Creek" Newcomb, Bill EcElhanie, Charlie Bryant, and Richard (Dick) Broadwell, alias Texas Jack, alias John Moore.

Dalton's father, Lewis, was a Missouri saloon owner who turned to farming as a more fitting atmosphere for his fifteen children. In 1882 the family moved to Indian Territory, living for a time within a few miles of Coffeyville, Kansas, where the Dalton gang would be decimated in 1892. An older brother, Frank, was killed by a trio of whiskey runners while serving as a deputy U.S. marshal under the "hanging judge," Isaac Parker. Robert Reddick Dalton, although still a teenager, and two other brothers, Emmett and Grat, promptly pinned on deputy marshals' badges themselves. But Bob soon was fired for taking a bribe, and, amid rumors that they were engaging in cattle rustling on the side, Emmett and Grat also resigned.

Grat followed two other brothers, Bill and Littleton, to California, while Bob and Emmett drifted into New Mexico. There, after supposedly being cheated by house gamblers, they held up a faro game. Wanted by the law, Emmett returned to Oklahoma while Bob fled to California. Bob and Grat then teamed with two other hard cases and attempted to rob a train, but after a good deal of shooting the attempt was aborted.

Bob decided to shift his illegal activities to Kansas and Oklahoma, where he knew the terrain. He returned home and with his aggressive personality became the leader of a band of outlaws which would terrorize the area for a year and a half. Members of the gang included Bob, Grat, and Emmett, Bill Doolin, Dick Broadwell, Black Faced Charley Bryant, William McElhanie, Bitter Creek Newcomb, Charley Pierce, and Bill Powers. Bob's girlfriend, Eugenia Moore, was the gang's advance agent until she died of cancer before the Coffeyville raid.

The Daltons pulled four Oklahoma train holdups in Wharton, Lelietta, Red Rock, and Adair and were blamed for a variety of other robberies in the vicinity. They then planned their most daring job: the robbery of two banks in Coffeyville, where their father and brother Frank had been buried. The citizenry resisted, however, and in the bloodbath which followed Bob was killed, and his gang was shot to pieces.

Emmett Dalton and his fourteen brothers and sisters were born on a farm in Missouri but moved in 1882 to a homestead near Coffeyville, Kansas. His family later migrated to Kingfisher, Oklahoma, but by then Emmett had pinned on a badge in Arkansas. His brother Frank had been killed while making an arrest as a deputy U.S. marshal, and Grat, Bob, and Emmett followed in his footsteps for a while. Bob soon was fired for taking a bribe, and Grat and Emmett quit before they were slapped with cattle rustling charges. Emmett then accompanied Bob to New Mexico, where they held up a faro game after presumably being "cheated" by house gamblers.

Bob went to California to join three other brothers, and Emmett decided to seek refuge in Oklahoma. While there, he built a large dugout which later became a hideout for the Dalton gang. Bob and Grat had attempted a train holdup in California, and when they rendezvoused in Oklahoma with Emmett, Bob organized a band of train robbers.

After one and one-half years of looting trains, the gang tried to rob a brace of banks in Coffeyville, but in the celebrated shootout which followed, only a badly wounded Emmett survived. Doctors wanted to amputate his arm, but he refused and slowly began to recover. When he regained his health, Emmett pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the Coffeyville death of George Cubine, although Bob probably was the one who killed the man.

Although sentenced to a life term in the Kansas State Penitentiary, Emmett received a pardon in 1907. He married a woman who had been his sweetheart during his outlaw days and embarked on a successful career in honest enterprise. He was a building contractor and real estate agent, and after moving to Los Angeles in 1920 he wrote movie scenarios and even acted in a few bit parts. Until his death in 1937 he was a vigorous crusader against crime and for prison reform.

One of fifteen children, Grattan Dalton was reared on farms in Missouri and Kansas. Eventually the family moved to a homestead near Kingfisher, Oklahoma, but by that time Grat and three of his brothers had pinned on badges as deputy U.S. marshals. Frank Dalton was killed in 1887 in the line of duty, but Grat, Bob, and Emmett did not enjoy such honorable careers. Grat and Emmett resigned amid a flurry of rumors that they were rustling cattle on the side, and Bob was fired after taking a bribe.

Grat then went to California, where brothers Littleton and Bill had previously established themselves. Bob soon joined them, and Grat and Bob tried to rob a train in February, 1891. During their escape Grat's horse took a fall, and, suffering a gash in his side, Grat made his way to Bill's home in Tulare. A posse followed the trail of blood and arrested Grat and Bill, although the latter quickly obtained a release. Grat, however, was convicted and sentenced to twenty years, and on April 1, 1891, he was placed aboard a train to be transported to the penitentiary. Somehow Grat escaped custody in a spectacular incident.

After this fortunate escape Grat returned to Oklahoma to join Bob's gang of train robbers. A series of successful holdups ensued, but when the Daltons tried to loot two banks in Coffeyville there was a massacre in which Grat and seven other men were killed.

During a close-range shooting scrape in his youth, Charles Bryant ("Black Faced Charlie") was blasted in the face by grains of black powder from a pointblank pistol shot which creased his cheek. The permanent disfigurement which resulted gave him his nickname. In 1891 he joined the Dalton gang of train robbers, and during a shootout with a posse he crowed, "Me, I want to get killed in one hell-firin' minute of action." He little realized how quickly his wish would be granted. Deputy U.S. Marshal Ed Short arrested him in a Hennessey, Oklahoma, hotel room, bedridden from illness. Short loaded him on a train for Wichita, Kansas, which was the nearest federal court district. But en route Bryant tried to escape, and in the process he and Short shot each other to death.

After unsuccessfully racing horses in Pawnee, Oklahoma, Charley Pierce became a member of the Dalton gang during the 1890's. After that band was decimated at Coffeyville, Kansas, he joined Bill Doolin's Oklahombres. He participated in several holdups, but in 1895 he was killed by bounty hunters in Oklahoma.

Charlie Pierce
His chest perforated by bullets, Charlie Pierce reposes in a Guthrie funeral parlor.

For a short time, the brothers served with distinction on the side of the law. But, a narrow margin separated the lawless from the law enforcers during those rough times. Slipping from one side to the other, Bob Dalton, along with his brother Emmett, were charged with selling whiskey in the Osage Nation on March 21, 1890.

Jumping bail, Bob and Emmett headed to New Mexico. Forming their first "gang", Bob recruited George "Bitter Creek" Newcomb, Bill EcElhanie, and "Blackfaced Charley" Bryant to ride with them. It was at a gambling house in Silver City, New Mexico that the Dalton Gang committed their first robbery.

After riding into the mining camp, the crew sat down at a faro game, where they lost heavily. Convinced the game was crooked, they pulled their guns, taking back what they had lost and then some. Bob and Emmett fled to California, where their younger brother Bill was a successful farmer and rancher.

In September, 1890, Grat was arrested for stealing horses, but was later released for lack of evidence. Grat lost his job as a deputy marshal for conduct unbecoming an officer, but he still worked as a posse man for other deputy marshals in the area for a time. Later, he too, left Indian Territory, joining his brothers in California.

Bill's anger with the railroad is thought to be one of the reasons the brothers decided to rob a Southern Pacific train headed to Los Angeles on February 6, 1891. Prior to this robbery, Bill had not been in trouble with the law at all. Bill, along with Bob, Grat and Emmett attempted to hold up the train at Alila, California, but this first attempt at train robbery was a fiasco. While Bill kept the passengers from interfering by shooting over their heads, the others forced the engineer to show them the location of the cash-carrying express car. When the engineer, a man by the name of George Radcliffe, tried to slip away, he was shot and killed. Finding the express car on their own, the guard refused to open the heavy door and began firing on them. Thwarted, the brothers finally gave up and rode away.

Waiting for the at the train at the station on June 1, 1892 at Red Rock in Oklahoma Territory, they sensed danger when the train arrived without any lights shining from its coach windows. Quickly, they abandoned their plans and allowed the train to pass without incident. However, within a short time a second train came along, and this one, they boarded. Blackfaced Charley Bryant and Dick Broadwell held the engineer and fireman in the locomotive while Bob, Emmett, and Bill Powers walked through the passenger cars taking jewelry and cash. Bill Doolin and Grat Dalton took on the express car, throwing the safe out of the train. Loot in hand, the bandits rode away, only to discover they had gained little for their efforts, as the safe only contained about $50.

Later, they found out that their suspicions were correct regarding the train that they had allowed to pass as it had been full of armed guards protecting $70,000 of the Sac and Fox annuity. Obviously not happy with their take in June, they planned another train heist on July 14, 1892 at Pryor Creek in Indian Territory. Arriving at the train station they first took what they could find from the express and baggage rooms, then calmly sat down waiting for the train to arrive with their shotguns over their knees. Once again the train was loaded with deputies, but for some reason they were all at the back of the train. The gang backed a wagon up to the express car and unloaded all of the contents, easily subduing the one armed guard in the express car. When the marshals finally discovered the robbery, a fierce gun battle broke out where two guards were killed, as well as an innocent bystander and another wounded. However, the gang escaped unharmed making off with $17,000 in cash. After this train robbery, a prize of $5,000 was placed on each of the Dalton's heads. Emmett later wrote: "Posting a 'Dead or Alive' reward for a man performs some dark alchemy in his spirit... He becomes fair game for every pot-shooting hunter... In quite a real sense he belongs thereafter to the living dead." With the law hot on their tails, the Dalton Gang split up for a short time. But, it wasn't long before they began to plan another robbery - this one to be their biggest yet.

One of ten sons and five daughters born to a Missouri farmer and saloon keeper, William Marion Dalton gained notoriety as a bandit but was never a member of the Dalton gang. When he reached adulthood, Bill married and obtained a minor political position in the California town of Tulare. In 1891 his brothers Grat and Bob, already in trouble with the law, came to California and tried to hold up a train. After the aborted robbery Grat sought refuge in Bill's house, and a trailing posse arrested both men. Bill was quickly freed, but Grat was convicted and avoided a stiff prison sentence only by means of a spectacular escape.

After the Coffeyville raid, in which the Dalton gang was decimated in a wild street fight, Bill turned up at his brother Emmett's bedside. Bill was bitter and resentful. Any hope of a political career was ruined by family notoriety; three of his brothers had died violently (Grat and Bob at Coffeyville, Frank while trying to arrest whiskey runners in 1887); and Emmett was facing a life prison term after being gunned down by the men of Coffeyville. Bill yearned to strike back at society, and when Bill Doolin offered him an opportunity, he promptly elected to hit the outlaw trail.

Doolin, a key member of the Dalton gang, had missed the Coffeyville massacre only because his horse had gone lame on the way into town. Doolin subsequently formed a band of robbers known as the "Oklahombres," and Bill Dalton became his second in command. The Oklahombres pulled a series of bank robberies in 1893 and 1894, and in September, 1893, there was a bloody shootout with lawmen in Ingalls, Oklahoma. The gang broke up in 1895, and Dalton tried to hide out with his wife and two children, but he was soon tracked down by a posse and killed at his wife's home.

Everyone knows they were the Desperate Daltons - that they were a band of cold blooded murderers that roamed the Midwest without challenge, robbing and killing at will ... Or so the story goes. The legend of the Dalton gang has more myth than truth in its telling nowadays, but the real story can still stand on its own.

The Dalton Gang story really cannot be told without beginning with the brother who first lost his life to violence. Frank Dalton, born in 1859, was commissioned a U.S. Deputy Marshal at Fort Smith in 1884. He was involved in numerous dangerous episodes as a deputy and was described as "one of the most brave and efficient officers on the force."

But all of that was to change in a "bloody tragedy" on November 27, 1887. Frank, at that time 28 years old, and Deputy J.R. Cole had gone to the Cherokee Nation to arrest Dave Smith on horse stealing and whiskey charges. Not anticipating any trouble, Frank stepped up to the tent that Smith and his friends were camped in and was immediately shot in the chest by Smith. Deputy Cole reacted quickly and shot Smith in the back. Another man in the tent then rushed out and shot at Deputy Cole who retreated backward, but could not escape a bullet in the chest. The deputy sprang to his feet, though, and using his Winchester as best he could, took refuge behind a tree.

By this time, Cole, under the impression that Frank was dead, decided to try to make his way back to Fort Smith for assistance. Frank was still alive, however, and after Cole got out of range, Will Towerly came out of the tent and shot him in the head twice with a Winchester. Newspaper reports of the time indicated that Frank was conscious and begged Towerly not to shoot him as he was already mortally wounded.

Back at Fort Smith, Deputy Cole gathered up a posse of officers to take back to the scene. Smith, Dalton, and a woman hit in the crossfire were already dead. Another man was badly wounded and taken back to Fort Smith where he died in jail. Will Towerly, the murderer of Frank Dalton, escaped unhurt. Over the next several years, some of the other Dalton boys would meet equally violent ends, but none in the heroic, law abiding way that Frank did.

Bill O'Neal. Encyclopedia of Western Gunfighters Norman OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1979.


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