Henry Newton Brown – Outlaw and Sheriff



Henry Newton Brown (1857 – April 30, 1884) was a 19th century gunman who played the roles of both lawman and outlaw during his brief life.

An orphan, Brown was raised in Rolla, Missouri, by relatives until the age of seventeen, when he left home and headed west. He drifted through various cowboy jobs in Colorado and Texas, supposedly killing a man in a gunfight in the Texas Panhandle.

Newton then moved to Lincoln County, New Mexico, where he became involved in the Lincoln County War as one of the Regulators fighting on behalf of the rancher faction alongside Billy the Kid, among others.

On April 1, 1878, Brown, Billy the Kid, Jim French, Frank McNab, John Middleton and Fred Waite ambushed and murdered Lincoln sheriff William Brady, a partisan for the opposition (the Murphy-Dolan faction, or “The House”) who was indirectly responsible for the death of the Regulators’ employer, John Tunstall. Three days later, Brown and the Regulators tracked down Buckshot Roberts, another man they believed involved in Tunstall’s murder. Roberts managed to kill the Regulators’ nominal leader, Richard Brewer before Brown and the other Regulators mortally wounded Roberts and chased him into an outhouse where he eventually died after a long shootout.

The Regulators—fugitives now for the Brady killing—spent the next several months in hiding, and were trapped, along with one of Tunstall’s partners, Alexander McSween, in McSween’s home in Lincoln on July 15, 1878, by members of “The House” and some of Brady’s men. Henry Brown was one of three Regulators not actually in McSween’s house at the time, instead of sniping at Brady’s men from a nearby storage shed. He escaped with Billy the Kid and the others when the siege members set fire to the house. McSween was shot down while fleeing the blaze, and his death essentially marked the end of the Lincoln County Cattle War.

Life After the Regulators

In the fall of that year, Brown, Billy the Kid and a few of the remaining Regulators traveled to the Texas Panhandle, mostly to rustle horses. Eventually, the Regulators returned to New Mexico, but Brown remained in Texas, eventually securing a job as deputy sheriff in Oldham County, Texas. He was quickly dismissed for fighting with drunks.

Brown thereafter drifted through Oklahoma and Kansas, working on ranches, until he settled in Caldwell, Kansas—a rough cattle town comparable to Dodge City and Abilene–where he was appointed City Marshal. Brown deputized his friend, gunman Ben Robertson, and the two effectively cleaned up the town, dispensing swift, often lethal justice.

Hired as assistant marshal in 1882 and later promoted to marshal, Henry Brown had failed to tell the city council about his interesting past which included cattle rustling, riding with Billy the Kid, and a trivial murder charge during the Lincoln County Wars.

But his law enforcement abilities were legendary, including beating “rowdys” to the draw on two occasions on Caldwell’s Main Street, and killing both: Spotted Horse in May 1883 near this marker and Newt Boyce in December 1883 down the street.

The citizens of Caldwell proudly presented a Winchester rifle to their new marshal on New Year’s Day 1883. One year later he used it to rob the Medicine Lodge bank.

Henry Newton Brown’s short but amazing career as a Kansas lawman began in July 1882 when Caldwell’s city council appointed him assistant marshal. Caldwell’s tough cowtown reputation had worsened in the months before Brown’s arrival as the city recorded four murders (all of them lawmen) and eight lynchings.

In the face of such lawlessness, Brown was a welcome addition to the town’s police force. The Caldwell Post, advocating “a little bit of fine shooting” to keep order in the town, bragged he was “one of the quickest men on the trigger in the Southwest.”

Unbeknownst to the citizenry, Brown’s experience at gunplay was mostly on the wrong side of the law. Just four years earlier he had ridden with the notorious Billy the Kid, stolen horses, and fled from New Mexico to avoid murder charges. By 1880, though, Brown had a change of heart and took on the job of deputy sheriff in Oldham County, Texas.

By the time he drifted into Caldwell two years later, Brown was serious about law enforcement. Quiet and business-like, he was so popular that the city promoted him to marshal after just six months. On New Year’s Day 1883, a few days after the appointment became official, Caldwell presented Brown with a fine Winchester rifle. Gold and silver inlay and ornate engraving decorated the gun, which also had an inscription plate reading, “Presented to City Marshall H.N. Brown for valuable services rendered in behalf of the Citizens of Caldwell Kas., A.N. Colson, Mayor, Dec. 1882.”

Brown continued to serve the city well during the following year. No one complained when he shot and killed two miscreants in the line of duty; in fact, the Caldwell Commercial lauded him as “cool, courageous and gentlemanly, and free from…vices.” In early spring of 1884 he married a local woman, purchased a house and furnishings, and seemed to settle down.

The only obstacle to continued contentment apparently was the fact that Brown was living beyond his means. Debts weighing heavily on his mind, the marshal decided to fall back on his old skills as a lawbreaker. With his assistant marshal and two cowboys, he devised a plan to rob the bank in nearby Medicine Lodge.

Rain poured down on the morning of April 30, 1884, as the four men rode into town and hitched their horses behind the coal shed of the Medicine Valley Bank. The bank had just opened when three of the men burst in and demanded cash.

The bank president reached for his revolver and was shot by Brown. The clerk was shot twice by another gang member but was able to stagger to the vault and trigger the combination lock. Both men died soon after. Meanwhile, an alarm was raised on the street outside the bank. Foiled in their robbery attempt, the gang quickly mounted their horses and fled town with an angry posse in pursuit. They surrendered about two hours later after being trapped in a box canyon outside town.

A mob chanted “Hang them!” as the party was secured in the Medicine Lodge jail. The Caldwell Journal later reported that a hush then descended on the town, and “the impression prevailed that before many hours the bodies of four murderers would swing in the soft night air.” Perhaps sensing he would not live through the night, Brown drafted a letter to his wife of six weeks. As darkness fell, he wrote of his love for her, claimed he did not shoot anyone, and directed her to dispose of his property. “I will send you all of my things, and you can sell them,” he wrote, “but keep the Winchester.”

When the mob broke into the jail later that night the prisoners attempted a dash for freedom. During the night Brown somehow managed to escape his handcuffs, and when the lynch mob came at 9 pm and opened his cell, Brown raced past his jailers, right through the startled lynch mob to an alley alongside the jail. A quick-thinking farmer shot Brown as he ran past, with both barrels of his shotgun at almost point blank range, killing Brown, nearly tearing him in half. Disgusted that he had cheated them out of a hanging, various members of the lynch mob contented themselves with pumping bullets into Brown’s mangled corpse.The rest of the gang was caught and hanged from an elm tree in the moonlight.

Brown’s widow continued to live in Caldwell after his death but ignored his instructions about the Winchester, giving the gun to acquaintances. The rifle moved to Texas with its new owners, and two generations later was sold to a gun collector. In 1977 the gun was donated to the Kansas Museum of History, where it is on display in the main gallery.

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