Despite a slight chill in the air, Town Marshal Milton Yarberry strolled along an Albuquerque, New Mexico, street hand-in-hand with the five-year-old daughter of his live-in companion. Moments later, this quiet Monday night in the spring of 1881 would crackle with angry words and deadly gunfire. 

Sadie Preston, the girl’s mother, waited inside Gerard’s restaurant but had been sharing a table with gunman Harry A. Brown, with whom she was having an affair. Brown ducked out after hearing the marshal was on his way.

When Yarberry arrived, he and Preston talked for a brief time and he left the restaurant to confront Brown.

A witness said the two men argued in the street and then moved to a nearby vacant lot.

Brown often bragged to anyone who would listen about how many men he had gunned down, even though no one ever heard of him shooting anyone. He quickly got the reputation of a heavy drinker who needed little provocation to draw his gun.

Preston, meanwhile, stepped out of the restaurant and called out for Brown. When Yarberry turned toward her, Brown hit him in the face, drew his gun, and fired.

The bullet creased Yarberry’s hand, but he managed to draw his gun and squeeze off two shots. Both bullets hit Brown in the chest, killing him before he hit the ground.

Bernalillo County Sheriff Perfecto Armijo, who supported Yarberry’s appointment as the first town marshal, had no choice but to make an arrest. Yarberry claimed self-defense and won an acquittal.

Before Yarberry took the job in Albuquerque as a lawman, he spent time on the run from his life as an outlaw. Author Robert K. DeArment, in his book, Deadly Dozen: Twelve Forgotten Gunfighter of the Old West, Vol. 1, labeled Yarberry one of the twelve least known—but most dangerous—gunmen in the Old West.

Yarberry was born in Walnut Ridge, Arkansas, in 1849 as John Armstrong, but later changed his name to Milt Yarberry after being accused of killing a man over a land dispute.

Between 1873 and 1875, Yarberry killed two men—including a bounty hunter—before heading to Decatur, Texas, where he and a partner opened a saloon. 

When another bounty hunter showed up asking questions, Yarberry decided to take no chances, sold out to his partner, and left town. Someone later discovered the bounty hunter’s body days later outside Decatur, shot to death.

Yarberry ended up in Canon City, Colorado, where and Tony Preston opened the Gem, a saloon and variety hall.

He later sold out to Preston and moved to Las Vegas, New Mexico.

After relocating, Yarberry operated a brothel catering to railroad workers but went on the run again after authorities suspected him of killing a man, supposedly over a prostitute, although he wasn’t charged.

Yarberry traveled to San Marcial, New Mexico, where he ran into his former partner, Tony Preston. Yarberry got involved with Preston’s wife and left town a short time later, taking her and the four-year-old daughter with him to Albuquerque.

Less than a month after the confrontation with Harry A. Brown, Yarberry shot another man and got arrested again. Too many killings and a trail of bodies caught up to Yarberry. After a three-day trial, the court sentenced him to hang.

On September 8, 1882, he and three others managed to escape from the Santa Fe jail. Four days later, a posse tracked him down. The court rejected several appeals and no argument was strong enough to delay the inevitable.

Five months later, Yarberry went to the gallows where his good friend Sheriff Armijo waited with the responsibility of springing the trap door. Before the noose tightened, Yarberry told Armijo and others, “Gentlemen, you are hanging an innocent man.”




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