Bill Doolin had not always been an outlaw. Born to a sharecropper in Arkansas, he made his way to the Cimarron and Arkansas rivers area of Oklahoma Territory as a young man and was hired on as a cowboy by Texas ranchers. There are many reports that he was a good and reliable cowhand.
On the Fourth of July, 1891, Doolin was in Coffeyville, Kansas when a shootout took place between lawmen, Doolin, and his drinking buddies. He escaped from town that day and was on the run as an outlaw ever since. He took up with the legendary Dalton Gang robbing trains and banks, but in 1892, while again in Coffeyville, most of the Dalton Gang was gunned down after a failed attempt to rob two banks in town.
|Members of the Dalton Gang in Coffeyville|
Bill Doolin then formed his own gang, the Wild Bunch, which became one of the most notorious of the territorial West at that time. The Wild Bunch gang, also known as The Oklahombres, traveled throughout Kansas, Arkansas, Missouri and Oklahoma Territory robbing banks and holding up trains and stagecoaches. Doolin, himself, was well liked by many of the settlers in the Territory which probably accounted for his ability to escape capture for so long.
In 1896 Doolin was tracked down in Kansas and captured by Deputy U.S. Marshal Bill Tilghman who took him to Guthrie to be tried. Lawrence Block reports that Doolin was actually taken on a tour of the town of Guthrie and allowed to shake hands with the hundreds of citizens who had come out to see him before he was locked up in the jail. There was a $5,000 reward for the capture and conviction of Bill Doolin. Tilghman never collected on this, however, since Doolin and some the other prisoners managed to escape from the Guthrie jail before he could ever be tried.
Doolin successfully hid out with his wife and son at their home near Lawson, Oklahoma for a while, but Deputy U.S. Marshal Henry "Heck" Thomas and his posse tracked him down and killed him in a gunfight just outside their home.
|Three Guardsmen: Bill Tilghman, "Heck" Thomas, and Chris Madsen|
Heck Thomas must have been the Deputy U.S. Marshal that brought Doolin's body to Neal Higgins in the store that night in Guthrie. Higgins said that word of Bill Doolin's death spread fast and a mob of people rushed to the furniture store to see the outlaw. He said "they climbed on tables or anything to get a view of the desperado." To accomodate the viewing (and probably save the furniture, as well), Higgins said they moved the body to an empty building down the street. Higgins was assigned to stay there with the body. He remembered that not all of the viewers were curiosity seekers. He had many friends and neighbors that also came by. Doolin's wife and son still lived nearby and came to see him while he was on display. Higgins said she wanted a picture of him, so they stood the body up and took a picture of his body for her.
|A. Meier; cosmicautumn|
He was buried three days later in Summit View Cemetery in the town of Guthrie, Oklahoma.