Submitted by Tammie Chada
W.D. "Bill" Fossett: Pioneer & Lawman
©2001-Present by Jim Fulbright
with family research by W. Eugene Fossett & Deborah Durr
When Bill Fossett went down the street wearing his gun, I wondered who was at the end of the street-or the county or the territory-that would be brought in." Elmer Soloman, Postmaster of Kingfisher, 1940
The word "fear was not in his vocabulary" said those who knew him and served with him, yet with his friends, "he was the biggest hearted man that ever lived."
Bill Fossett served as a Kansas and Oklahoma lawman in a tempestuous time when that section of the country knew little or no law. His exploits as a frontiersman, pioneer, detective and marshal rival those of many better-known western heroes, but Bill Fossett talked little about himself. He left that to his friends who used words like "fearless", "tireless," and a man who "would go to the limit in the name of friendship."
W. D. "Bill" Fossett was born in Watertown, Jefferson County, New York, on November 3, 1851. He was the youngest of nine children born to immigrants John Fossett of Donegal, Ireland, and Susan Bee Carrigan Fossett, of Glasgow, Scotland, who migrated to America in 1833. In about 1856 the Fossett family moved from the Watertown New York area to Oshkosh, Wisconsin, and later to southeastern Minnesota.
In the spring of 1873, 21-year-old Bill Fossett loaded his wife and baby son in a covered wagon and headed south to Salina, Kansas. There he worked for a cattleman named Baker who operated a ranch on the Smoky Hill River. In the fall of that year, the Fossetts moved south again to Caldwell, Kansas, a cow town known as: Border Queen" along the Jesse Chisholm Trail just three miles from Indian Territory (Oklahoma).
Raised as a farm boy in Wisconsin and Minnesota, young Fossett learned to ride at an early age, and easily took to the range. He made several drives along the trail from Texas to Abilene. On one of his first trips down the trail, Fossett said, "Outlaws stole all the horses and mules along the line and started with them toward Wellington [Kansas]. Enroute there, however, the outlaws were captured and the last place they ever hung around after that was a cottonwood tree." That example of swift, frontier justice was Fossett's first introduction to law enforcement, which would play a major role in his later life.
Fossett knew the Chisholm Trail as well as any man. Cattle had become so numerous in Texas during the Civil War that a market had to be found, and the nearest rail shipping point was Abilene, Kansas. It's estimated that 10 million longhorn cattle were driven over the Trail between 1866 and 1890. Herds varied from 3,000 to 10,00 head. The drives usually started in the spring at various points in Texas and made the way north at a pace of about five to 15 miles a day. In his 1937 memoirs Fossett noted that the Jesse Chisholm and John Chisum Trails were often confused. He said both trails ran north and south, but the John Chisum Trail was the more westerly of the two:
"The Jesse Chisholm Trail, about which there has been much dispute, ran from Caldwell, Kansas to Wichita [after crossing Oklahoma] but the cattle trail which was the old Chisholm Trail extended to Abilene, Kansas; that was before there was any thought of Dodge City, or the John Chisholm [sic: Chisum] Trail that ran into Dodge City, Kansas from western Texas.
Jesse Chisholm was a post trader but a great many have gotten the two trails of the two men mixed."
As the first Kansas cow towns became settled, some trail drives went only as far north as Newton and Wichita and finally to Caldwell, Kansas where, by 1879, the railroads took the cattle north to market. By then, overland cattle drives were outlawed in parts of Kansas for fear of a tick-born disease sometimes carried by Texas cattle that could wipe out a local rancher's herd. The drovers and the railroad worked around the law by pushing cattle into huge holding pens that opened up south of Caldwell at the Oklahoma border. The drives technically ended at the border where shipment by rail began.
During the winter of 1873, Fossett prospected for gold in the Wichita Mountains near Ft. Sill. On returning to Kansas he worked on several ranches around Caldwell and Kingman; a job that included driving horses up from Mexico. On one such trip, Fossett and the five cowboys with him were attacked by bandits about 20 miles south of Laredo, Texas. It was dusk and the dim trail led down an arroyo, twisting through a tangle of cactus and mesquite.
"Suddenly my sixth sense warned me that something was wrong, but before I could warn my companions, we were ambushed by a group of Mexicans. Four of our men went down instantly, riddled with rifle fire, but I and a fellow named Milnee weren't hit. We dived from our horses and began shooting back at the bandits who began running toward us. I killed five of them and Bud got his share also. Our fire scared the rest off and they saddled up and left. We buried our companions and rounded up the horses, losing only two of the ponies that had strayed too far for recovery."
Fossett and Milnee took the ponies to Kingman and the Charles Colcord Ranch. There, he said, he and other cowboys spent months "bronc-busting" as many as 500 to 1,500 "broncos" a year. Charles Francis Colcord, the son of the ranch owner, remembers an incident in which Fossett prevented him from shooting another ranch hand:
"I had roped a big mare, put on the hackamore and then turned the rope over to [Jesse] McCartney to take her out of the corral. He got outside of the gate and the boys ran the mare through.… The mare came out with such a terrible rush that it jerked him off his feet and he fell flat, face down in the dust, with the mare and the rope gone. Of course, everybody was laughing. When he got up he was the angriest man you ever saw. He grabbed a broken bar from the gate four or five feet long and rushed at me. I saw he was enraged! I waited until he got almost up to me, then drew my six-shooter and fired, but as I leveled my gun, Bill Fossett ran between us and knocked my gun up and took the bullet in his hand.… Fossett has the mark of that bullet on his hand today."
Having crossed Indian Territory many times on trail drives, Fossett became familiar with the old Kingfisher Stage Ranch where, several years later, he would help settle one of the first towns in the "new" Oklahoma Territory.
The stage lines ran practically down the middle of the old cattle trails, and in the early 1870s, the federal government established a mail route between Wichita and what later became Ft. Sill, OK:
"The mail carriers were equipped with Concord Coaches pulled by mules and horses. The coaches did not run every day. They used mules and buckboards and what you might call relay stations [that] were established about every twelve miles along the route.
One station south of Caldwell was called Pole Cat; next was Pond Creek, next Skeleton (where Enid now stands), then Buffalo Springs (Bison now), then Dover and the Kingfisher Stage Station which stood one half mile west of where Kingfisher was located.
About twelve miles south from Kingfisher, was a place which used to be known as Nine Mile Hallow, nine miles north of Darlington. These stations were all located on the old Jesse Chisholm Trail."
One of the early Indian Territory stage stations was at Hennessey, named after Pat Hennessey, a freighter who was killed by Indians in 1874. Fossett recalled that Hennessey and three other freighters came under attack by Indians who "were constantly breaking off from their reservations and killing white people." The stage trail ran within a few hundred feet of a deep gulch that could hide hundreds of Indians and their horses, and when Pat Hennessey and his comrades rolled by in their wagons one day, the Indians opened fire:
"Pat Hennessey got down under his wagon and fought the Indians as long as his ammunition lasted. The pile of empty shells that were by his body under the wagon showed plainly that he had fought with all his strength.
The Indians captured him and tied him to the wagon wheel and burned him alive. …I have talked with a great many of the Old Indians and the most I could ever find out about the Hennessey fight was, the Indian would say, 'Heap brave white man', because Pat never even groaned when he was being tortured.
I passed by the place Pat Hennessey was burned a few days afterwards and all there was left were some pieces of iron and some nails from the boxes. Hennessey's body had been rolled in a blanket and buried almost on the Jesse Chisholm trail. There is still a tombstone where Pat Hennessey was buried at the northwest corner of Hennessey."
In the summer of 1878 Fossett made another trip out of Kansas to Leadville, Colorado, where new gold and silver discoveries created a demand for packhorses and mules.
In 1879 he worked a round up for the Montague and Mannering Cattle Company southwest of Caldwell, Kansas. While there he was persuaded to take the job as Assistant City Marshal of Caldwell. Fossett was on the job only a short time when an outlaw gang tried to hold up the bank. He immediately confronted them and a fierce gun battle began. Several outlaws and townsmen were killed and wounded, but the robbery was completely foiled. As the city marshal in Caldwell, Fossett successfully defended seven attempted bank robberies.
Fossett next served as the first city marshal of Kingman, Kansas, a job he held for six years during the 1880s. In the meantime his family was growing. In 1885, son Lewis was eleven years old and daughter Mary Frances, also known as Mamie, had turned seven.
He resigned the Kingman marshal's post in 1887 and began construction and contract work that helped build several sections of the Missouri Pacific, the Denver-Midland, and the Bald Knob & Memphis Railroads. It was during this period that he began his association with the Rock Island Railroad by taking on occasional detective work.
On April 22, 1889, Bill Fossett was one of thousands of people who caught land-rush fever, and made the first run that opened Oklahoma Territory:
"I had been so familiar with all the Oklahoma country and the trails that I made the run for the hundred and sixty acres that the land office was located on at Kingfisher. Although there were thousands of people who lined up for the race, I beat them all...."
Bill Fossett was the first person to drive a stake claiming a homestead at Kingfisher. He filed his claim at the Land Office the next day but a dispute arose as to whether or not he and others crossed a starting line before the gun sounded to begin the rush. An unruly crowd gathered and prepared to make a run on Bill's land, to claim it as their own. According to his close friend Joe Grimes, "Bill Fossett was the coolest-headed man I ever saw...." Bill drew a line on the ground and holding his Winchester, he told the crowd that the first man to cross the line would have to be "carried away." J.V. Admire, who operated the Land Office added, "The crowd, probably a hundred strong, was wildly yelling and threatening him with vengeance. He stood there immovable, determined, and white as a ghost, never batting an eye. I expected him to be shot dead.…" Admire persuaded Fossett to follow him into the Land Office at which time the crowd dispersed without further incident. Fossett eventually won his case in court.
Kingfisher quickly grew from a crowded bunch of makeshift tents to town of wood-framed buildings almost overnight. Fossett built and operated a livery stable on the main street, and raised hogs on a nearby farm.
In the fall of 1889, the Rock Island Railroad extended its tracks from Caldwell into Kingfisher, and Fossett began a full-time job as a special agent for the "Road." He worked all lines west of the Missouri River and reported to the chief special agent in Chicago about once a month.
On the night of April 9, 1894, Bill Fossett was riding the Rock Island's Night Express Train No. 1 south from Caldwell. The first stop was Pond Creek Station, just over 21 miles into Oklahoma Territory. The engine took on water, and a couple of passengers came and went. The train pulled out after 9:30 p.m., crossed the Salt Fork River and rolled on through the government town site of Round Pond only three miles south.
Fossett and friend Lew Humphreys rode in the smoker car and visited with Conductor Joe Reed who sat facing them. The train seemed to slow down, speed up again, and then came to a jolting halt. The conductor went to the platform and sent the porter forward to investigate. Suddenly there was a volley of shots and shouting toward the front of the train. It was a hold-up, the first on the Rock Island in Oklahoma Territory.
Two bandits had slipped aboard the train when it stopped for water at Pond Creek Station, and now four or five other outlaws met it when it arrived at the first road crossing south of Round Pond. In the style of the Dalton and Doolin gangs, they began firing to keep the passengers in the cars.
The bandits ordered the engineer and fireman out of the cab and they "were compelled to cross the cattle guard." The express agent briefly opened the car door to see what the trouble was, but quickly closed and locked it. The outlaws began firing at the express car, threatening to "blow it to smithereens", but U.S. Express Company guard Jake Harmon and express messenger John Crosswight refused and continued to "hole up" in the locked car. Several minutes passed as the outlaws made more threats, occasionally firing shots into the car. Eventually the outlaws placed a lighted stick of dynamite at the base of the car's door on the west side of the train. The explosion sent a hail of wood splinters and scattered baggage swirling about the inside of the car. Harmon and Crosswight were both knocked to the floor and Crosswight was briefly stunned by the concussion. At that point, guard Harmon escaped through the rear of the baggage car and into the passenger cars. By then at least 20 minutes had passed, but the bandits were focused on the express car. Shaken by the blast and a barrage of bullets, express messenger John Crosswight decided to open the door but the explosion jammed it. He told the bandits to go to the opposite side of the train calling, "Hold on! I'll open the door."
The outlaws appeared to have temporarily won their way. "At this stage of the game," reported witnesses, one outlaw, "with a 45 Colt revolver in his hand", entered the express car. The outlaws then began working to open the safe but they were oblivious to the fact their robbery was about to be thwarted by a surprising turn of events.
For one thing, guard Harmon, although "terribly frightened", was free and making his way toward the rear of the train with his Winchester repeating shotgun. Also unknown to the bandits was that the minute the train was first stopped, the brakeman grabbed a lantern, jumped from the rear car and ran to Round Pond where he was met by several citizens of the town who had been congregated at a local theatre. He yelled, "They're dynamiting the train!" Looking down the tracks the citizens could see the flashing lights and hear the faint sound of gunfire. Arming themselves with whatever weapons they could find, people began running down the tracks toward the scene. Sheriff R.H. Hagar hastily formed a posse and was on his way. A third fact unknown to the outlaws was that railroad detective Fossett was on board the train that night. In Fossett's words:
"I went out on the platform and could see the shadows of the men but could not distinguish one man from the other, as the only lights were those shining through the windows of the express car two cars away.
I came back and walked through the train and I have never been able to figure out why I happened to pick a main sitting next to the aisle in the chair car. I asked him if he had a gun? He answered, 'No, Why?' I said, 'You look to me like a man who would have a gun and don't you leave this seat while this is going on.'"
By this time guard Jake Harmon had made his way toward the rear of the train:
"I went out the rear door of the car and stepped off the east side of the smoking car. I tried to work my gun but a cartridge had caught in it. I went through the chair car and finally got my gun to work. I stepped off the car and saw the engineer and fireman climbing into the door of the express car. The robbers were cursing and ordering them to get in or they would kill them. There were three men standing east of the door of the express car. One of them held a revolver in his hand pointed into the car. I took aim and fired. The smoke was so dense I could not see the men after the first shot. They returned the fire."
Jake Harmon and Bill Fossett acted almost simultaneously and without one another's knowledge. As Harmon was getting in to position at the rear of the train, Fossett remained in the coach car and recounted:
"One man went out in what is called a barrow pit [where fill dirt and rock are scraped along side the right-of-way] and commenced shooting back and through the passenger coaches. I had changed my position then to the east side. I knew [that] the fellow who was shooting back through the train was none of the train crew. So I took a shot at him and he fell and the other robbers piled out of the express car and ran for their horses. The outlaws took a few shots back but all those shots went wild and nobody was hurt."
While the fleeing outlaws took their parting shots at the train, it was reported that Harmon and Fossett "poured hot lead into the four remaining robbers and drove them off."
Within a few moments the shooting stopped and the thick smoke cleared. Jake Harmon then walked toward the front of the train and found a dead outlaw about 25 feet from the express car. He "was lying on his back with his elbow resting on the ground and a [Colt] revolver clutched in his right hand pointing straight up in the air."
Townspeople, who had run down the tracks from Round Pond, were gathering around the train at that time, and Fossett ran in to a man that he knew:
"...among them [the crowd] was an old friend, Joe McEllen, who had been sheirff of Kingman County, Kansas while I had been city marshal of Kingman. He said, 'I have two boys who will take the horses back to town.' About this time this fellow whom I had told to keep his seat came forward and offered his services. I said, 'I thought I told you to stay where you were; now get back there.' "
The slain bandit was eventually identified as Bill Rhodes, alias J.W. Pitts and Bob Hughes, allegedly a member of the old Jesse James gang who had arrived in the territory from Clay County, Missouri. The outlaw's body was loaded on the express car and the train was backed up to Round Pond where the body was taken off. After about an hour and fifteen-minute delay the Rock Island's Express No.1 then pulled out toward Enid.
Harmon and Fossett stayed the night in Round Pond to testify at a coroner's inquest the next day. Fossett, in his capacity as a railroad detective, also stayed to investigate the attempted robbery, figuring he could track the outlaws who escaped. He also wanted to keep an eye on the man in the chair car who had identified himself as F.F. Young. He, too, remained in Round Pond instead of continuing his journey by train.
At the coroner's inquest the next day, F.F. Young, who was termed "a well known character in the area", gave a strange account of the robbery. Fossett said, "He seemed … very anxious to testify and his testimony was all together different from what had really happened."
"I called him down on it", said Fossett, "and he finally acknowledged he did not know much about it as he was in the chair car all the time."
While the inquest was taking place on April 10th, two of the suspected train robbers were apprehended in Hennessey after trying to trade their jaded (apparently stolen) horses for fresh ones. The marshal and a posse surrounded the suspects in their camp and arrested them. They were identified as John T. O'Conners and Frank Lacey, both of whom had often been seen around the local area. The pair was placed in the charge of a railroad detective for return to Round Pond.
Following the inquest, Detective Fossett returned to the robbery scene south of town. He found an old grain sack with two new patches on it, each patch of a different material. The sack had a leather drawstring around the opening. The outlaws apparently intended to carry their loot in it and dropped it in their getaway. Fossett then took a look at the horses captured after the robbery, noting that their hind shoes had been pulled off, but not long before because dirt had not yet filled up the nail holes.
Fossett took the next train to Topeka and explained his findings to railroad and express company officials. He was sure he could find the material used to patch the sack, as well as the horseshoes removed from the horses. His plan was to follow the man on the train who had acted suspiciously that night, and who later gave false testimony at the inquest.
After returning to Round Pond, Fossett kept close watch on Young. He was sure Young was tied in with the outlaws and would lead him to them. He wasn't disappointed. A week after the robbery, Young rented a horse and rode out of Round Pond toward Enid.
"I saddled up and followed him at a great distance … He rode in a southwestern direction until he got within about six miles of Enid, then he turned west across the prairie, and after riding several miles he went into a ravine and into a dugout, that was made in the bank on the west side of the ravine."
After watching the dugout awhile, Fossett rode back to Round Pond, convinced that if he searched the dugout, he'd find the conclusive evidence and, maybe, the other outlaws. He made another trip to Topeka to explain his plans. On the return trip, Fossett's second wife, Laura, whom he married in 1885, boarded the train at Caldwell where she had been visiting family. He explained his plans and left the train at Pond Creek Station while she continued to their home in Kingfisher.
Fossett said he wanted to surprise his suspects by riding out to make his search at night, but needed someone to go with him. Laura Fossett had the same thought and after arriving in Kingfisher she told son, Lew, about his father's plans. Lew hopped a northbound freight and joined his father that same night.
"Lue [sic:Lew] and I got a couple of horses and rode out to the place. …[We] crawled up to the west side of the dugout where there was a window, shot three times so the reflection could be seen through the window, and some women and children ran out of the dugout. My boy sat guard outside while I went in and searched the place, and I searched it thoroughly and found the material the sack was patched with, found the horseshoes that had been taken off of the horses, and found the letter that had been written over about Chandler [at Chandler, Oklahoma] to Nate Sylva and signed by Felix Young. I found the filing papers on the claim where the dugout was; these papers were made out to Nate Sylva. Felix Young was the man who had been with me at Pond Creek and whom I had followed to Sylva's dugout."
The Letter to Sylva from Young stated that the gang would meet in El Reno on Saturday to sell their stolen horses and mules and "fix to rob the Rock Island on the 15th", the day it carried a government payroll for soldiers at Ft. Sill. Fossett took the letter, the cloth used to patch the sack, and the horseshoes to Round Pond. As he expected, the horseshoes and nail holes fitted exactly, and the cloth matched the patches on the grain sack perfectly. It was Friday when he showed the evidence to Rock Island officials, the day before Sylva and Young were to meet in El Reno. Fossett wired Wichita policeman Beford Woods, his former deputy while marshal in Kingman, and took the train to El Reno that night.
With arrest warrants provided by U.S. marshals, Fossett and Woods began searching the streets of El Reno on Saturday. They spotted Sylva and arrested him without incident, recovering 18 horses and mules that were hitched on a side street.
"When I arrested Sylva, Felix Young ran west across the street and into the alley where he had his horse tied. I chased him in between some buildings and killed his horse in the alley. He then ran down the street that runs east and west by the Kerfoot Hotel. I shot him in the leg before he got to a little creek in west of the Rock Island tracks. He stopped then and held up his arms, but still had the six-shooter in one hand. I told him to throw his six-shooter toward me as far as he could, which he did and I took him back to jail. ...I turned Young and Sylva over to Madsen and some deputies who took them to Pond Creek.
Madsen claimed he had shot Young's horse, but at that time Madsen was several blocks away and there was a row of buildings between him and the alley where the horse was killed. A person could not have seen a row of soldiers had they been where Madsen was. I killed Young's horse."
With the Round Pond hold-up investigation wrapped up, Fossett again turned his attention to the problems of the "railroad war", which was getting more serious each day. This "war" concerned where the trains stopped in relation to Round Pond and Enid. The railroad had built depots along its line before the lands of the Cherokee Strip were opened to settlement. Shortly before the settlers came on September 16, 1893, the government laid out town sites south of these railroad stations; one at Enid (south of North Enid station); and at Round Pond (south of Pond Creek station). With their own stations already in place, the railroad refused to construct new ones or stop the trains at the town sites selected by the government. The decision created a bitter fight between the settlers and the Rock Island Railroad. Several incidents of vandalism and outright destruction against the railroad already had occurred and more were threatened.
People in Enid called the North Enid depot the "tank" (water tank). The federal government ordered the railroad to leave mail at both the Round Pond and Enid town sites. The railroad complied by erecting cranes so the mailbags could be hooked and hauled in without even slowing down. More than once the pouches were ripped apart as the train roared by, scattering mail all along the right-of-way.
The railroad employed special guards to protect the tracks around Round Pond and Enid, but angry citizens got through the defenses; finding ways to swing red lanterns, place dynamite caps on the tracks, and even fire bullets at the trains that whipped through their towns without stopping.
In early June, some Round Pond residents took drastic action to force the Rock Island to stop in their town. One night nearly 200 men removed spikes and lifted more than 900 feet of tracks on edge. A man ran down the tracks to flag a northbound train loaded with Texas cattle. The engineer was not amused. Seeing the rails and ties sticking up in the distance and remembering that townspeople had placed objects on the tracks before, he opened the throttle. "This time they're trying a windmill", he told the fireman. The train roared into town, struck the upturned track and "plowed into the dirt", scattering cars and cattle everywhere. A Rock Island train had finally stopped in the government town site of Round Pond. Finally, through artful negotiations and legal agreements, the "railroad war" was finally ended later that summer. The settlement resulted in a station being built in Round Pond. The town then changed its name to Pond Creek; the name that remains today.
The following year, Bill Fossett became concerned about two outlaws named Dick Yeager, alias Zip Wyatt (Yeager's real name was Nathaniel Ellsworth Wyatt), and Ike Black. The pair had never bothered the Rock Island but Fossett felt it was only a matter of time before they did.
"I wired A. J. Hitt, who was General Manager of the Rock Island Railroad, for permission to take a posse and assist in the capture of the outlaws. There were about seventy-five men in Kingfisher who volunteered to go, but when I received the message to go ahead and take the posse, there was just one man, [Deputy Marshal] Bill Banks who would go with me."
Fossett's son, Lew, was itching to go along, and since Banks was the only other willing volunteer, Fossett consented.
Yeager and Black were in the Glass Mountains of Northwestern Oklahoma, a vast, arid land marked by colorful buttes mingled with barren stretches of sand. Fossett, his son, Lew, and Banks set out from Kingfisher and met up with nearly 100 members of the "Anti-Horse Thief Association." The two outlaws had plagued the settlers along the foothills of the Glass Mountains for several months. Yeager and Black had stolen everything from livestock to food, so the settlers organized as a group to put an end to the thievery.
Fossett agreed to trail the outlaws into the mountains and flush them out toward the farmlands where the settlers would be waiting. The plan worked. Yeager and Black rode out east and stopped for water at a farm near Cantonment. By this time several marshal's and sheriff's posses had joined the chase. When Yeager and Black came out of the house, a newly arrived posse spotted them and a gun battle began. Black was shot in the head and killed instantly, and Yeager, though wounded, managed to escape through a cornfield. He made it to the home of a country doctor who dressed his wounds, and then the outlaw rode away on the doctor's horse.
"Yeager had been wounded so badly that he could not ride [far] on horseback and had gotten a farmer with a span of mules and a lumber wagon to haul him north to the Cimarron River where he got a boy about fourteen years old with a one-horse cart to take him on east.
The boy with Yeager in the cart crossed the Rock Island Railroad later in the afternoon, between Hennessey and Bison. When Banks, my son and I found this out, we decided to go into Hennessey at the first road running north and south and get some fresh horses and something to eat."
Fossett was confident that Yeager could not go far because of his wounds. The next morning, Sunday, August 4, Fossett and his group joined up with the other posses. The trail led into Garfield County and toward Skeleton Creek. Fossett knew Yeager had a sweetheart who lived on Skeleton Creek and was sure he would show up there. He took his little group in that direction and inquired at some farmhouses.
By daylight Sunday morning, Fossett learned of Yeager's general whereabouts. He sent word to the other posses who joined him near Sheridan where Skeleton Creek enters Logan County. A large group of man hunters surrounded a cornfield there. Two Enid deputies spotted Yeager asleep in the cornfield. They crept up and ordered him to throw up his hands. Yeager raised his head and grabbed for his guns. The deputies fired almost point blank with their rifles, both bullets hitting him in the midsection. Yeager was still alive and when he learned the two men were deputy sheriffs he painfully moaned, "Thank God for that! The marshals would kill me."
Yeager was eventually incarcerated in the Enid jail where he died from his several wounds on September 6, 1895. For his contribution in the pursuit of Yeager and Black, Fossett was promoted to Chief Special Agent of all the lines of the Rock Island west of the Missouri River.
A more persistent problem Fossett dealt with was railroad baggage theft. The ingenious detective solved the problem by rigging an alarm clock that would stop running when a baggage car trunk lid was opened. He could then establish the time of theft and determine which employees were in the car when the theft occurred.
On November 8, 1897 Fossett was appointed Chief Deputy U.S. Marshal for Oklahoma Territory under new marshal Canada Thompson. Apparently not content with being a "desk marshal," Fossett preferred fieldwork and joined in several manhunts.
On April 7, 1898, deputies learned that "Little" Dick West, the last active member of the Bill Doolin gang, was staying on a farm near Guthrie. Deputy Marshal Heck Thomas took the information to Fossett and they put together a posse consisting of Fossett, Thomas, Heck's son, Albert, Frank Rinehart, Bill Tilghman, and Ben Miller. Before daylight on the 8th, they approached the farmhouse. Fossett and Rinehart were together when they saw a man standing by a shed connected to the barn. The man stepped behind the barn and began running. Fossett and Rinehart called for him to halt. He replied by turning and firing three shots with his revolver, narrowly missing Fossett and Rinehart. The lawmen returned fire, Rinehart with a shotgun and Fossett with his Winchester. At the first shots, West turned and fired again then ran on, trying to reload his revolver as he stumbled forward and fell. "The second shot from Fossett's Winchester struck him in the left side, and passed through him, coming out [under] his right shoulder." He was dead when the officers reached his side. A corner's jury said "Little" Dick West "came to his death at the hands of Officer Fossett while resisting arrest."
At the time West was shot he was running toward some timber where his all white horse was standing. Fossett later acquired the horse and gave it to his daughter Mamie. Mamie worked as a clerk in the marshal's office at Guthrie and was also considered one of Oklahoma's first female deputy marshals according to local newspaper accounts.
Bill Fossett continued his service as U.S. Chief Deputy Marshal until March 31, 1902 when he took office as U.S. Marshal under an appointment by President Theodore Roosevelt (the official oath of office is dated April 7, 1902). When a new U.S. Marshal was appointed in February 1906, Fossett returned to work as a Chief Deputy Marshal. He later served as a city marshal in Oklahoma towns, and in 1921 was made a special plainclothes officer in Oklahoma City. Later that same year, U.S. Marshal Alva McDonald appointed Fossett to the post of Deputy Marshal for the Western District of Oklahoma.
McDonald said of Fossett: "He was one of the most feared officers in the history of the Southwest. I consider him the best shot with a rifle or pistol in the history of Oklahoma."
In a book on "Early Oklahoma Figures" it is written of Fossett:
"Be you born to die in bed, bullets in their deadly course will bend around you. Lethal lead will never lay you low. No man has ever lived who faced danger so frequently and courageously."
The statement proved to be providential. On March 9, 1940, W.D. "Bill" Fossett died with his "boots off." He was buried in Kingfisher, Oklahoma, the town he helped to establish 51 years earlier.
- Hanes, Bailey C., Bill Doolin, Outlaw OT. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1968.
- Horan, James, Pictorial History of the West. New York: Crown Publishers, 1954.
- Nix, E.D., Oklahombres: Particularly the Wilder Ones. St. Louis: Eden Publishing House, 1929.
- Ruth, Kent, et al, Oklahoma: The Sooner State. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1957.
- Shirley, Glenn, Heck Thomas: Frontier Marshal Philadelphia: Chilton Publishers, 1962.
- Shirley, Glenn, West of Hell's Fringe. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1978.
- Caldwell News: March 11, 1940.
- Caldwell Weekly Advance: April 16, 1894.
- Cherokee Sentinel: April 12,13, 20, 26; May 17, 24, 31; June 7, 14, 20, 21, 1894.
- Daily Oklahoman: January 19, 1936.
- El Reno Democrat: April 4, 1895.
- El Reno Eagle: April 4, 1895.
- Enid Daily Wave April 10, 1894.
- Guthrie Daily Leader: April 9, 1898.
- Kingfisher Free Press, April 17, 1939; March 11, 18, 1940; April 18, 1949.
- Kingfisher Times, March 14, 1940.
- Kingman Courier, January 7, 1887.
- Medford Mascot: April 13, 1894.
- Medford Patriot: April 12, 1894.
- North Enid Weekly Tribune: April 12, 1894.
- Oklahoma State Capital: April 11, 1894.
- Pond Creek Echo: April 13, 20, 27, 1894.
- Pond Creek News: April 14; June 23, 1894.
- Pond Creek Tribune: April 12, 1894.
- Fossett, W. Eugene, Fossett Family Genealogy.
- Durr, Deborah, Fossett Family Genealogy.
- Fossett, Paul D., II, Albuquerque, New Mexico.
- Oklahoma Historical Society: Pioneer Papers: November 18, 1937.
- Oklahombres Online & Research Web Page: "Zip" Wyatt: The Cherokee Strip Outlaw, by Michael Koch, 1998.
- Oklahombres Online & Research Web Page: The Last of the Doolin Gang, by Dee Cordry.
The Autobiography of Charles Francis Colcord, 1859-1934.(Unpublished, 1970)
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