Heck Thomas

Henry Andrew "Heck" Thomas (January 3, 1850 – August 14, 1912) was a lawman on the American frontier, most notably in Oklahoma.

Henry Andrew "Heck" Thomas
BornJanuary 6, 1850
DiedAugust 14, 1912 (aged 62)
Cause of deathBright's disease
Resting placeHighland Cemetery
34°37′56″N 98°24′1″W / 34.63222°N 98.40028°W



Railroad Agent
  • Isabella Stewart Gray Thomas-Oliphant (married 1871)
  • Mattie Mowbray
  • Henry Gray Thomas
  • Belle Fullwood Thomas
  • Mary Joe Thomas Monteith
  • Lovick Howard Thomas
  • Beth Thomas Meeks
  • Mattie Thomas Crist


Thomas was born in 1850 in Oxford, Georgia, the youngest of five children of Martha Ann Fullwood (née Bedell) and Lovick Pierce Thomas, I.[1]

At the beginning of the American Civil War, Thomas, at the age of twelve, accompanied as a courier his uncle, Edward Lloyd Thomas, and his father, who were officers in the 35th Georgia Infantry, to the battlefields in Virginia.

On September 1, 1862, Union General Philip Kearny was killed at the Battle of Chantilly. Young "Heck" was entrusted with the general's horse and equipment and was ordered by Confederate General Robert E. Lee to take them through the lines to General Kearny's widow. He recounted this in a letter to his brother Lovick Pierce Thomas, II:[2]

One evening while the fight was going on or, rather, just before dark, a soldier came to the rear where Uncle Ed's baggage and the darkies and I were, leading a black horse with saddle and bridle. He brought also a sword. Just after this, Stonewall Jackson crossed over into Maryland and captured the city of Frederick; that was after taking Harper's Ferry (now West Virginia) and about 14,000 federal prisoners. These prisoners were held by Uncle Ed's brigade, while the army was fighting the Battle of Sharpsburg. We could see the smoke and hear they cannon from Harper's Ferry. While we were at Harpers Ferry, General Lee sent an order to uncle Ed for the horse and equipments. I carried them forward, and it was one of the proudest minutes of my life when I found myself under the observation of General Robert E. Lee. Then General Lee sent the horse and everything through the lines, under a flag of truce, to General Kearney's [sic] widow. I had ridden the horse and cared for him up to that time, and I hated to part with him.

In 1863, Thomas contracted typhoid fever and returned to his family in Athens. As a young man, he clerked in the store in Atlanta of his brother, Lovick Pierce Thomas, II, and then worked as an Atlanta policeman. In 1871, he married Isabel Gray.

He and his family migrated to Texas in 1875 and, with the help of his cousin, Jim Thomas, obtained a job with the railroad as a guard. Thomas became a railroad detective and later went to work for the Fort Worth Detective Association. He was appointed U.S. Deputy Marshal out of Fort Smith, Arkansas, working under U.S. District Judge Isaac C. Parker.

By 1889, Thomas teamed with two other deputy U.S. marshals, Chris Madsen and Bill Tilghman. They became known as the Three Guardsmen and were credited with bringing law and order to the Indian Territory, in the state that would become Oklahoma in 1907.

The Three Guardsmen were credited with the apprehension of more than three hundred outlaws over the next decade, killing several. They were credited with the ultimate demise of the Wild Bunch or Doolin Gang. Thomas was specifically mentioned by Emmett Dalton, years after his release from prison, as one of the main reasons that the Dalton Gang chose to commit two simultaneous bank robberies in Coffeyville in southeastern Kansas, the gang stating that Thomas was relentless in his pursuit. It decided to make one big score and leave the territory for a time. Instead, the gang was wiped out in the Coffeyville robberies, with Emmett Dalton being the only survivor.

In August 1896, Thomas led a posse that tracked down and killed outlaw Bill Doolin, who had previously been captured by Tilghman, only to escape from prison, on July 5, 1896.

By 1902, much of Oklahoma had been settled. Thomas was sent to Lawton, where he was elected as the first police chief in the town. He served in that position for seven years until his health began to fail.

Showing his lighter side, he assembled a posse and chased and captured bank robbers in the 1908 film The Bank Robbery. The outlaws were led by Al Jennings while the one-reel movie was directed by Bill Tilghman, James Bennie Kent was the cinema-photographer, and it was produced by the Oklahoma Natural Mutoscene Company. The film was shot in Cache, Oklahoma, and at the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, with Quanah Parker having a bit part. A bystander thought that the bank was really being robbed and jumped out a window to run for the police.[3][4][5]

Thomas died aged 62 in Lawton, Oklahoma on August 14, 1912 of Bright's disease.[1]

The actor Robert Anderson (1920-1996) was cast as Thomas in the 1964 episode, "There Was Another Dalton Brother", of the syndicated television anthology series, Death Valley Days, hosted by Ronald Reagan. In the story line, while starting his job as a deputy U.S. Marshal, Frank Dalton (Don Collier) must question Frank Johnson, a suspect in a missing persons case. Johnson is the father of Dalton's girlfriend, Emmy Johnson (Laura Shelton) . Strother Martin was cast in this episode as Charlie Neel.[6]Charles Fredericks played Thomas in the earlier 1960 Death Valley Days episode, "A Wedding Dress". In the story lne, Brad Johnson, cast in the lead as Bill Tilghman, is in pursuit of the Doolin gang in the Oklahoma Territory. Popular character actor J. Pat O'Malley was cast as Horace Capshaw and Mary Webster as Mrs. Tilghman.[7]


  1. ^ a b Keen, Patrick. "Thomas, Henry Andrew (1850–1912)". Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture – Oklahoma Historical Society. Retrieved 10 January 2013.
  2. ^ Thomas, Heck, "letter to Lovick Pierce Thomas", Thomas Collection, 659 Old Mountain Rd., Kennesaw GA., 30152: F. W. Huff
  3. ^ Niver, Kemp R (October 1967). Bergsten, Bebe, ed. Motion Pictures from the Library of Congress Paper Print Collection, 1894–1912. University of California Press. p. 169. ISBN 978-0520009479.
  4. ^ Wallis, Michael (July 2000). The Real Wild West: The 101 Ranch and the Creation of the American West. St. Martin's Griffin. pp. 378–379. ISBN 978-0312263812.
  5. ^ Wishart, David J (September 2004). Encyclopedia of the Great Plains. University of Nebraska Press. p. 257. ISBN 978-0803247871.
  6. ^ "There Was Another Dalton Brother on Death Valley Days". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved September 9, 2018.
  7. ^ "A Wedding Dress on Death Valley Days". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved September 14, 2018.


  • Shirley, Glenn (October 1981). Heck Thomas: Frontier Marshal. University of Oklahoma Press. p. 320. ISBN 978-0806116648.
  • Shirley, Glenn (1962). – Heck Thomas, Frontier Marshal: The Story of a Real Gunfighter. – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Chilton Company. – OCLC 1300987
  • Shirley, Glenn (1962). Heck Thomas, Frontier Marshal: The Story Of A Real Gunfighter. Chilton Book Co, Philadelphia, PA. ASIN B001U1AE86. ISBN 978-1258134952.
  • Shirley, Glenn (October 2011). Heck Thomas, Frontier Marshal: The Story Of A Real Gunfighter. Literary Licensing, LLC. p. 258. ISBN 978-1258134952.
  • Speer, Bonnie Stahlman (May 1996). Portrait of a Lawman: U. S. Deputy Marshal Heck Thomas. Reliance Press. p. 172. ISBN 978-0961963934.
  • Thomas, Beth; Meeks, Bonnie Spear (1988). Heck Thomas, My Papa. Levite of Apache. p. 80. ISBN 978-0961863456.

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