On this date in 1900, Sheriff John Henry Dillingham of Platte County, Missouri, was summoned to the sleepy little town of Farley over a case of multiple murder. A local physician named Sterling Price “Sturley” Harrington had gone on a day-long, drug and alcohol fueled killing spree. Taking his ten-year-old daughter along on his bloody errands, the doctor shot and killed his mother-in-law in cold blood, then calmly drove to the home of his wife’s uncle and killed him as well. He drove across the state line into Leavenworth, Kansas, where – apparently with further killing in mind – he resupplied with ammunition and more weapons before returning to Farley.
In what was likely part of an addle-brained plan to escape, Harrington tried to rob the town’s general store, and engaged in a point-blank shootout with the store’s clerk. About this time Sheriff Dillingham arrived with a trio of deputies, one of whom was his son, Henry. As the lawmen approached the store, Harrington met the sheriff at the entrance. Shots were exchanged and Sheriff Dillingham was killed instantly. As the murderous doctor fled toward his wagon, Henry Dillingham fired three times and Harrington fell dead in the street.
Twenty-two year old Henry Dillingham was appointed to finish out his father’s term as sheriff. Thirty years later he would also serve as the United States Marshal for the Western District of Missouri
Sheriff John Dillingham’s eventful career, and the tragic events leading up to his death, are detailed in Chapter 8 of Some Gave All.
Sheriff John H. Dillingham’s Colt pistol
If you’d like to know what cowboys – some cowboys, anyway – did for fun when they weren’t drinking, gambling, and consorting with nymphs du pave, catch my article “Hell on Wheels: When Roller Skating Took Western Towns by Storm” in the current (October) issue of Wild West Magazine. Meanwhile, here’s an article from the March 10, 1884 Omaha Daily Bee that shows how the mid-1880s roller skating craze was taking hold in the wild and woolly West.
Our modern Internet memes and urban legends are nothing new. This apocryphal “report” – which many sources credit to Harper’s Weekly – cropped up in innumerable newspapers and magazines from 1867 (the earliest instance I can find) through the end of the 19th century and well into the 20th (I’ve actually found it in the “Sundries” section of a Kennebec, Maine newspaper from 1972). It seems to have started – not surprisingly – in the Western U.S., spread nationwide and, finally, worldwide. This particular clipping comes from a London magazine dated 1885.
Doubtful history, but fun reading. Try it aloud, if you dare.
On this date in 1892, George Smith was hanged at the Grayson County jail in Sherman, Texas. In January of 1891 Smith shot and killed Bells City Marshal James F. Isbell, during a failed robbery in a Bells saloon where the marshal moonlighted… as a bartender. Eighteen months later – after a failed insanity plea, a mistrial, an appeal, and petitions for clemency to the Texas governor – Smith paid the ultimate price for his crimes.
Newspapers in Dallas and Galveston carried maudlin articles detailing Smith’s final day, dripping with pathos for the convicted man, and baldly downplaying Marshal Isbell’s murder. Smith’s last words, as Grayson County Sheriff R.L. McAfee snugged the noose around his neck, were, “That is pretty tight.”
Marshal Isbell’s tragic death, and George Smith’s long and winding road to justice, are detailed in Chapter 5 of Some Gave All.
Many thanks to Jon Guttman and Wild West Magazine for the terrific review of Some Gave All in the August issue of Wild West – available now. See my “Reviews and Awards” page for the full text.
This seemed an appropriate topic for my first post on my brand-new blog. Still recovering from a terrific – if tiring – five days at the WWA Convention in Sacramento. It was great to catch up with so many old friends, to make a passel of new ones, to attend informative panels and presentations, and to cap off each day in the Roundup Room.
I just wanted to take a moment to give a shout-out to the WWA leadership and the hardy band of volunteers who worked so hard to make all this happen. And thanks also for all you do throughout the year (so much of which happens behind the scenes that it doesn’t always get the recognition it should) to make WWA one of the best organizations around. An outfit like WWA is only ever as good as its leadership, and we have the best of the best. My hat’s off to you, one and all. Thanks.