Wells Fargo agent Jeff Milton pulled open the door of the Southern Pacific Railroad Express car just before the train rolled to a stop in Fairbank, Arizona Territory, and scanned the small crowd mingling on the station platform. 


Milton, however, failed to notice several gunmen positioned among those waiting for him to unload the cargo. 

Before taking the job as a shotgun messenger, Milton served as a Texas Ranger, a deputy sheriff, a police chief, U.S. Deputy Marshal, and a U.S. Customs border patrol agent.

A few days earlier, former deputy sheriffs Bill Stiles and Burt Alvord had devised a plan to rob the express car.

They had learned it would be transporting either the U.S. Army payroll for soldiers at Fort Huachuca or a shipment of gold and silver bullion.

The pair had recruited Bob Brown (or Burns), George and Louis Owens, Bravo Juan Yoas, and “Three-Fingered” Jack Dunlop (sometimes referred to as Dunlap) to help carry out the scheme.

Aware of Milton’s gun skills, Stiles and Alvord decided to rob the train when Milton wasn’t working. 

But on this particular Thursday night in mid-February 1900, Milton had agreed to stand in for an express agent who couldn’t fulfill the assignment.  

A few seconds after Milton opened the door to the express car, one of the gunmen hollered at him to get his hands up.

 According to one account, Milton grabbed his Winchester 10-gauge shotgun sawed-off shotgun just inside the doorway but hesitated for fear of hitting a bystander.

Gunfire flashed against the backdrop of a night sky, and Milton crashed to the floor. The bullets had shattered his left arm and cut the artery. Despite the wound, he retrieved the shotgun just in time to defend himself against Three-Fingered Jack, who began climbing into the railcar.

Milton squeezed off a round, and Dunlop grasped his chest and dropped to the ground, eleven pellets peppering his body.

Blood poured from Milton’s shoulder and splashed against his face. Struggling through the pain and close to passing out, he improvised a tourniquet by ripping his shirt sleeve back to his shoulder and twisting it against his arm above the wound.

He kicked the Express car door closed and hurled the keys behind a pile of cargo packages. 

Seconds later, the train robbers forced the door open and found Milton sprawled on the floor in a pool of blood, playing dead. 

The gunmen searched Milton’s pockets and the desk drawer but couldn’t locate the key.

Frustrated and unable to find a way to open the bolted-down Express box, they had no choice but to leave and took the injured Dunlop with them.

A posse found the wounded gang member abandoned on the road a few miles from Tombstone. 

Three-Fingered Jack died within the week, but not before revealing the names of his outlaw associates, who were later captured and sent to prison.

Doctors told Milton the gunshot wound to his shoulder was so severe they would have to amputate it at the elbow.

But Milton raged against the idea and threatened to kill any doctor who tried. 

Although he never recovered the use of his arm, Milton went to work four years later as an agent for the U.S. Immigration Service.

He was assigned to stop the smuggling of Chinese aliens through Arizona and Californian and held the post until 1932.

Born on the family plantation in Marianna, Florida, in 1861, Jefferson Davis Milton was the son of Confederate Governor John Milton.

The governor committed suicide after the Civil War. 

Jeff Milton died in Tucson on May 7, 1947, at age 86. 

After being cremated, his family scattered his ashes across the Arizona desert, where he spent much of his life.




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  • I want him on my side….sounded like a tough man

  • You couldn’t go wrong with his on your side, Wes. Tough, determined, stubborn, and efficient.

  • Great story! A brave and determined man. There were many like him and also many like the lawmen that turned badmen.

    Thanks for sharing!

  • Hi Fred, glad to hear you enjoyed reading about Jeff Milton. He was among many others (as you said) who were courageous, determined, and effective but didn’t attract the publicity and adoration that some of his contemporaries pursued.

  • Jeff Milton was one tough hombre. In his career as a Texas Ranger, deputy sheriff, Mounted Customs Inspector, El Paso Police Chief and Mounted Chinese Inspector, he mostly worked alone, covering a vast area. He was definitely a man I’d ride the river with.

  • Well, William, you’d be in good company. You’re right about Milton. The years he spent in law enforcement were incredibly productive. The one thing you could say about him is: He got the job done.

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