Erin Lindsey at CrimeReads.com offers a piece on Teddy Roosevelt and his friendship with frontier lawmen.
The word calls a specific image to mind. Rugged features, weathered skin, bushy moustache. He’s got a hat on his head, a gun at his waist, and a tin badge on his chest, and he’s a one-man embodiment of the American Old West.
In an era populated with colorful characters—the gunfighter and the gambler, the outlaw and the prospector—no one loomed larger than the lawman. Some of the most notorious figures of the day, including Wild Bill Hickock, Wyatt Earp, and Bat Masterson, wore a badge. Not that this stopped them from pursuing other endeavors, not all of them strictly legal. Lawmen of the Old West were gunslingers, gamblers, prospectors, prize fighters, buffalo hunters, and even outlaws. Small wonder they so captured the imagination of the American public—and of her 26th President, Theodore Roosevelt.
TR was himself a lawman, having served as deputy sheriff of Billings County, Dakota Territory in 1885-1886, and as police commissioner of New York City ten years later. He had a deep and abiding respect for the law and those who upheld it, and maintained lifelong friendships with a number of famous frontier lawmen. He even appointed several of them to positions in federal law enforcement—prompting the press of the era to refer to them collectively as “the White House Gunfighters.”
I first became acquainted with this fascinating facet of Rooseveltian history while doing research for The Silver Shooter, a Wild West mystery featuring Theodore Roosevelt as a character. One of my favorite television shows of all time was HBO’s Deadwood, so imagine my delight upon discovering that one of TR’s closest confederates from his Dakota days was Seth Bullock, onetime Sheriff of Deadwood.
According to TR’s autobiography, their first meeting was less than cordial, with Bullock inquiring after a horse thief Roosevelt had arrested “with a little of the air of one sportsman when another has shot a quail that either might have claimed—‘My bird, I believe?’” TR seems to have smoothed it over, however, and Bullock became one of his “staunchest, most valued” friends. The legendary lawman even presided over a posse of 50 Dakota cowpunchers as part of TR’s inaugural parade in 1905, an event described with breathless delight by the newspapers of the day.
Interestingly, Bullock wasn’t officially considered one of the White House Gunfighters, perhaps because his reputation was too squeaky-clean. The same could not be said of ‘official’ members Pat Garrett (famous for gunning down Billy the Kid) or Ben Daniels, a former assistant marshal of Dodge City whose stint as a lawman ended when he was tried and acquitted for a murder he almost certainly committed. When TR appointed these men to federal positions—Garrett as Collector of Customs in El Paso (1901) and Daniels as US Marshal of Arizona Territory (1902), the outcry was swift and furious. In the case of Daniels, he was forced to resign barely a month after accepting the post (though he was reappointed three years later).
The most famous of Roosevelt’s White House Gunfighters was William Barclay “Bat” Masterson, former Sheriff of Dodge City and acquaintance of many of the era’s most famous figures, including Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, and Buffalo Bill Cody.
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