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About Heck Thomas (lawman)
Henry Andrew "Heck" Thomas (January 3, 1850 - August 15, 1912) was a lawman on the American frontier, most notably in Oklahoma. He played a significant role in the demise of both the Dalton and Doolin Gangs. In August 1896, Thomas tracked down and killed outlaw Bill Doolin.
Thomas was born in 1850 in Athens, Georgia, the youngest of five children of Lovick Pierce Thomas, I and Martha Fulwood Bedell.
At the beginning of the American Civil War, at age 12, he accompanied as courier his uncle Edward Lloyd Thomas and father, who were officers in the 35th Georgia Infantry, to the battlefields in Virginia. On September 1, 1862 Federal General Philip Kearny was killed in Chantilly on the last day of the Second Battle of Bull Run. Young "Heck" was entrusted with the general's horse and equipment and was ordered by General Robert E. Lee to take them through the lines to General Kearny's widow. He recounted this in a letter: "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, capturing Frederick city, Maryland; that was after taking Harpers Ferry, 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 here 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 his brother Lovick Pierce Thomas II's store in Atlanta and 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. Heck eventually became a railroad detective. Heck Thomas left the Texas Express job in 1885 and went to work for the Fort Worth Detective Association. A year later, he was appointed U.S. Deputy Marshal out of Fort Smith, Arkansas working under Judge Isaac Parker.
By 1889, Thomas teamed with two other Deputy US 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 (1906).
The Three Guardsmen were credited with the apprehension of in excess of some 300 outlaws over the next decade, killing several. They were credited with the ultimate demise of the Doolin Gang. Thomas was specifically mentioned by Emmett Dalton, years after his release from prison, as one of the main reasons the Dalton Gang chose to commit two simultaneous bank robberies in Coffeyville, Kansas, stating that Thomas was relentless in his pursuit, and the gang 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 being the only survivor.
In August, 1896, Thomas tracked down and killed outlaw Bill Doolin, who had previously been captured by Tilghman, only to escape from prison on July 5, 1896. It was this killing for which Thomas became best known.
By 1902 much of Oklahoma was settled, but the town of Lawton, Oklahoma needed help settling in so that was where Thomas was sent. He was elected Lawton's first chief of police and served in that role for seven years until his health began to fail. He died August 15, 1912 of Bright's disease.