The Frontierado Holiday is coming up on Friday, August 7th! As always, Frontierado is about the myth of the old west, not the grinding reality. Balladeer’s Blog’s looks at neglected gunslingers of the American west are always a hit each year and here is another one.
DANGEROUS DAN – David “Dangerous Dan” Tucker was no relation to the legendary “Ol’ Dan Tucker” from the folk song. This Dan Tucker was born in Canada in 1849 but his family moved south to the American state of Indiana when he was a child. In his late teens or early twenties, Tucker moved west to Colorado and began working as a machinist.
It was in Colorado that the soft-spoken young man picked up the handle Dangerous Dan (despite his real first name being David), a name he earned from being good with a gun during the wild and dangerous “Hell On Wheels” years of rapid railroad expansion throughout the Territory. By the mid-1870s this prototypical “strong, silent type” was forced to leave Colorado over a still-hazy incident in which he stabbed the wrong man to death.
Dangerous Dan relocated to New Mexico Territory, where he managed a Stage Coach Station near Fort Selden. That station was along the infamous Jornado del Muerto Desert, the “Journey of Death” between Santa Fe and El Paso. In his time there Tucker proved effective in fighting off attacks from Apaches, Mexican bandits and occasional homegrown outlaw gangs.
By the summer of 1875 the legendary Sheriff Harvey Whitehill of Silver City, NM (Grant County) hired Dan as a deputy, kicking off the most well-known period of the gunslinger’s life. Early in 1876, outside Johnny Hall’s Dance Hall & Saloon on Broadway in Silver City, a man was fleeing after having disemboweled another man in the saloon, only to fall to Dangerous Dan’s gun.
On another occasion when a thug was hurling rocks with deadly intent at passersby, Tucker wasted no time approaching the man and gunning him down when he refused to stop. Sometime afterward a Mexican bandit was shot down on horseback during an exchange of gunfire with the pursuing lawman.
Facing down three armed horse thieves in a Silver City saloon one day, Dangerous Dan drew his pistol and killed two of the men while wounding the other. The injured thief surrendered.
Two outlaws looted the cabin of a struggling prospector, stealing all food and valuables plus his horses. Tucker rode after them, tracking them down a day later and blowing them away in the resulting gunfight. Dan had the rancher on whose land the battle had taken place bury the duo and returned all the prospector’s stolen items.
Another incident involved a rowdy drunk beating his wife and child with a club. Dangerous Dan was summoned to the scene and was attacked by the drunk. The man disarmed Tucker by slamming the club down on the wrist holding his six-gun. Before the rowdy could crush the deputy’s head with the weapon, Dan grabbed his fallen pistol with his left hand and shot him dead.
By now it was December of 1877 and the El Paso Salt War was raging. Authorities in El Paso had sent out word for hired gunmen to help the town fight the Mexicans who kept crossing the border into Texas to steal salt from the Salt Flats. The Mexicans in Texas and northern Mexico had been taking the salt without payment for years and disagreed with the notion that mineral rights bestowed by the Texas government meant they had to pay the holders of those rights.
On January 5th, 1878, Dan Tucker was elected Captain of the New Mexico band of thirty hired gunmen who were headed to El Paso and vicinity. Among the men riding with Tucker was John Kinney, notorious leader of the Dona Ana Bunch. (The Bunch is most famous for their role in the Lincoln County War.)
The El Paso Salt War was a bloody affair, with Americans fighting Mexicans from both sides of the border and with Texas Rangers clashing with Mexicans and the hired gunmen like Dangerous Dan AND with U.S. Army Troopers. That four-sided war was over by the end of the month, with Dangerous Dan and John Kinney returning to New Mexico afterward.
April of 1878 saw Tucker accept appointment as City Marshal at Silver City while STILL serving as a Deputy Sheriff of Grant County. (Don’t even try to understand the overlapping and conflicting jurisdictions in the old west.) The new Marshal’s most famous policy was arresting anyone who discharged a firearm for no reason on the city’s streets.
By November, Dangerous Dan had so thoroughly tamed the town – even amid the influx of cowboys and gamblers during the summer months – that he was let go as Marshal. By May of 1879 the city government rehired our hero as things grew rowdy again.
Come December, 1879, and Tucker was shot at by the drunken Carpio Rodriquez, who was resisting arrest for intoxicated misconduct. In January of 1880 Dan was dispatched by Sheriff Whitehill to Shakespeare, NM, also in Grant County.
Shakespeare – formerly Ralston – was enjoying a silver boom and experiencing the subsequent turmoil and lawlessness that accompanied such booms. Prospectors, outlaws and gamblers descended on the town from all over New Mexico and Arizona Territories.
By July Deputy Sheriff Tucker had the town settled down enough that he gave into the Silver Bug himself and began doing some prospecting around the Tres Hermanos Mountains. He had no luck and within a few months had returned to his law enforcement duties in Shakespeare.
Among the outlaws who had come to prey on the silver shipments and mine payrolls around Shakespeare was Russian Bill, a disgruntled former member of Curly Bill Brocius’ gang in Tombstone, AZ. Ironically in light of later developments between them, 1881 saw Dangerous Dan and Russian Bill fight side-by-side against attacking Apaches as members of the Shakespeare Guard. (That guard was a town militia that would serve to defend against the periodic Native American attacks.)
In November, Tucker arrested Bill for horse theft AND jailed his fellow former Tombstone gunsel Sandy King for riding around Shakespeare shooting off his guns in drunken revelry. A local vigilante gang dragged King and Russian Bill out of their cells on November 9th, 1881 and lynched them from the rafters of the Grant Hotel.
Soon after that, Sheriff Whitehill dispatched Deputy Tucker to Deming, NM, which was undergoing its own precious-metal related crimewave. Coincidentally enough, Deming is where Russian Bill was headed on his stolen horse when Tucker caught up with him and arrested him on November 7th.
Dangerous Dan walked the streets of Deming armed with his pistol and a double-barreled shotgun during his every waking moment for days after arriving. In his first three days in Deming he had shot dead three outlaws and wounded two others. In his first three WEEKS there, our hero arrested thirteen members of assorted criminal gangs in the area.
In another celebrated incident in Deming, rustlers Jake Bond and Chris Peveler plus an unidentified accomplice, rode through Deming shooting off their guns and whooping. They rode their horses right into the dining room of the Railroad Hotel. Dangerous Dan arrived on the scene and in an exchange of fire between his shotgun and Bond’s Winchester rifle, Bond was killed.
Peveler was wounded as the battle continued and then he and the unknown man rode off in retreat. Some of the buckshot from the firefight was left in the hotel walls for several days as “atmosphere.”
In February of 1882 our hero drove a bunco gang out of Deming and on the 25th of that month he informed Sheriff Whitehill that the city was once more under control. Dan returned to Silver City and, with the comparative quiet there, too, he decided to supplement his income by riding shotgun for Wells Fargo on the Silver City to Deming stagecoach route.
After a few clashes with would-be stagecoach robbers, August 25th saw the controversial turning point in Tucker’s saga. In Silver City’s Centennial Saloon, Dan and a few other deputies tried to deal with the drunk James D Burns, a deputy from Paschal, NM (also Grant County). Burns was on a multi-day drinking and gambling binge and had already had a few run-ins with Silver City lawmen for discharging his firearm for no reason as well as drawing it and aiming it at bystanders to scare them.
Legendary gambler Frank Thurmond, by then the husband of the even more legendary gambler/ gunslinger Lottie Deno, was running the tables at the Centennial Saloon and was among those present for the resulting gunfight.
All the lamps in the gambling room were shot out in the exchange of gunfire between Burns and the trio of Tucker, Deputy William McLellan and Marshal Glaudius W Moore. Burns was killed. It was ruled that Dan’s shots had missed but that McLellan and Moore had fired the killshots.
The late Deputy Burns was popular and politically connected, so a scandal raged for months over the situation with pro-Burns partisans painting the Silver City gunmen as being careless at best and murderous at worst.
At first the three men, Dangerous Dan included, were released to await trial in December, but a political stink was raised and some were calling for the lynching of McLellan and Moore. On September 3rd Paschal deputies tried to arrest the pair and take them back with them but McLellan and Moore refused.
They instead turned themselves in in Central City, NM, a neutral location. Tucker was arrested and joined the men in the Central City Jail, where authorities had rounded up and deputized several men to guard against a lynch mob hanging the accused trio.
By October all charges against Dangerous Dan had been dropped and he had resumed riding shotgun for Wells Fargo on the Silver City to Deming run. McLellan and Moore were acquitted on March 26th, 1883 but public debate over the entire affair continued.
Dan Tucker AND Sheriff Whitehill’s names got dragged through the mud along with Moore’s and McLellan’s. Public sentiment was going so thoroughly against Whitehill and his office that he lost the election the previous November. He stepped down and all his deputies were released.
No longer wearing a badge, Dan returned to his job with Wells Fargo. On December 14th, 1882 he entered a brothel in Deming, NM where two of the prostitutes threw their arms around him and pretended to be fighting over him. It was a setup on behalf of some of his old enemies from his lawman days, with the two ladies having been paid to render Dangerous Dan vulnerable.
Before he could disentangle himself from the pair of hookers, Tucker was shot in the shoulder, shattering the bone. Several men in the place fell on him but in the resulting brawl he was able to draw his gun and fire off a few shots of his own. One of the prostitutes was wounded in the fight and Dan himself had a shot graze his face.
Ultimately, several men passing by came to Dangerous Dan’s assistance, saving his life. By December 21st he was in stable condition and was soon back in Silver City recuperating.
In 1883 he eventually tried resuming his career riding shotgun for Wells Fargo, but his injured shoulder bone hurt too much from the stagecoach’s jostling and after awhile he had to quit. He soon got a job as a Special Officer for the Southern Pacific Railroad, similar to the Railroad Detective work done by the gunslinger Whispering Smith.
The train rides were much easier on Dangerous Dan’s aging, battle-scarred body and he settled in to this new position. On November 24th, 1883 near Gage Station, NM bandits derailed and looted a Southern Pacific Train and killed the Engineer. Tucker led a posse in pursuit but unfortunately the outlaws were never caught.
On December 7th in Bisbee, AZ, York Kelly and his gang robbed the merchandising and banking firm of Castaneda and Company, murdering three men and a woman eight months pregnant in the process. Dangerous Dan teamed up with Captain J.B. Hume of his old employers at Wells Fargo to catch and arrest York Kelly.
By May 31st of 1884 Dan was working as a Cattle Inspector for Grant County and had opened a saloon called the Eclipse in Deming, NM. He had picked up a wife by now (though no marriage records have ever been found). She went by Maria Tucker and helped her husband run a rooming house in Deming in addition to the saloon.
In 1885 Dangerous Dan was named a Deputy U.S. Marshal for Grant County. By November of that year he and a friend named William Graham were prospecting eleven miles east of Deming when they encountered an Apache war party.
The pair fled in their buckboard and reached the Zuni railroad siding where they took shelter in an abandoned boxcar. Tucker and Graham held off the Apaches with their pistols until they gave up and rode off. No one in either party was injured or killed.
October 2nd of 1887 found our hero making one of the most unlikely collars of his career. Deputy Marshal Tucker was on the trail of horse thief Dave Thurman, who had skipped bail. Dan took the train to El Paso but did not find Thurman there. On the return train trip he spotted Thurman walking along the rail line and ordered the Engineer to stop the train. Dangerous Dan ran out to arrest the man and brought his prisoner on board for the return trip to jail.
Not long afterward, Dan left New Mexico for Los Angeles, CA. The fate of his wife is not known. In 1892 Tucker was passing through and visited some old friends in Silver City. The visit was pleasant but everyone noted how much weight Dan had put on now that he wasn’t in law enforcement anymore.
Dangerous Dan Tucker was supposedly still alive for the funeral of his old boss Harvey Whitehill in September of 1906, but nothing more is known about him after that.
If you’re wondering, I have no idea why such an active gunslinging lawman of the old west is so little known when overrated figures are household names.
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