TRIGGER HAPPY and quick-tempered cowboys turned Caldwell, Kansas, into one of the more violent towns along the American frontier. Known as the “Border Queen,” Caldwell served as destination for nearly 100,000 head of Texas longhorns between 1882 and 1883. Months of driving longhorn cattle along dry, dusty and wind-swept ranges and trails, left drovers restless, and eager to unwind, and they did a lot of it in Caldwell.
Violent and Lawless
Behavior in Caldwell was rowdy, a lot of people died. At the same time, saloons and gambling establishments registered high profits. Law was almost non-existent. In fact, a Caldwell lawman didn’t last long. Until Henry Newton Brown rode into town. But, Brown harbored a dark secret.
Family Man With Price on His Head
When he arrived in Caldwell, Brown had been on the run from two murder warrants in New Mexico, in connection with the Lincoln County war. He was twenty-five when he drifted into the rugged Kansas cowtown in July 1882. With him was William Sherod Brown, alias, Ben Wheeler. Brown landed a job as assistant town marshal. Five months later, he was named marshal. He named Wheeler as deputy marshal. Caldwell‘s long history of violence earned it a reputation as tough as Dodge City, and Abilene. But Brown and Wheeler managed to bring things under control.
Quickest Draw in Southwest
The local newspaper described Brown as “one of the quickest men on the trigger in the Southwest.” He also married, bought a home, and settled down. Residents described him as undersize —a man who didn’t “smoke, drink chew, or gamble.” At the same time, the citizens of Caldwell admired him so much, they honored him with an engraved silver and gold mounted Winchester rifle.
Dark Past Emerges
Brown’s dark past, however, began to emerge. The marshal had once ridden with Billy the Kid. Both were involved in New Mexico’s Lincoln County War between ranchers, merchants, and corrupt politicians. Brown, and the Kid, ambushed and killed the sheriff there. A few days later, Brown shot someone else to death. As the chief law officer of Caldwell, however, he managed to buy himself some breathing room. At the same time, thought, he began worrying about family financial issues, searching for other ways to fatten his paycheck.
Plans for a Bigger Payday
Along with Wheeler, the marshal approached city officials, and got their blessing to track a killer into Indian Territory. Brown had a plan in mind, but it had nothing to do will tracking anyone. Once away from Caldwell, he formed a small gang that included Wheeler, and two other friends, William Smith, and John Wesley. All four set their sights on the bank in Medicine Lodge, Kansas. Things went downhill fast during the robbery. Brown gunned down the bank president, and Wheeler killed a bank clerk. The small gang fled, but were captured a short time later by a local posse.
Lynch Mob Justice
Although the four of them were behind bars, the jail couldn’t keep out an angry lynch mob. Brown and Wheeler tried to get away. One of the mob took aim, and filled Brown with a load of buckshot, killing him. Wheeler, who was wounded, was dragged along with the other two members to an elm tree and hanged. Ironically, the rifle Brown used to kill the bank president was the same one Winchester presented to him by the citizens of Caldwell for his success in bringing law and order to the town.
Image: “A Blizzard on the Range,” F. W. Schultz