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.
Lincoln County War
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 sniping at Brady’s men from a nearby storage shed. He escaped with Billy the Kid and the others when the siegers 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 War
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.
In 1884, Brown and Robertson appear to have decided their sheriff wages were no longer sufficient. Using the cover story of having to travel to Oklahoma to hunt a murderer, Brown and Robertson allied themselves to outlaws William Smith and John Wesley. The four men rode to Medicine Lodge, Kansas, and attempted to rob the Medicine Valley Bank, where Brown murdered the bank’s president. Another gunman murdered the bank’s chief cashier who, just before he died sealed the vault, preventing the robbers from escaping with any money.
Brown and the outlaws fled Medicine Lodge pursued by a gang of vigilantes, one of whom, Barney O’Connor, knew and recognized Brown. The four men trapped themselves in a box canyon and eventually surrendered to the vigilantes. They anticipated a lynch mob, and the outlaws were told to write letters to their loved ones. Brown wrote a letter to his wife, which said, simply, “It was all for you. I did not think this would happen.”
During the night Brown somehow managed to escape his handcuffs, and when the lynch mob came at 9pm and opened his cell, Brown raced past his jailors, 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 other three outlaws were hanged by the mob as planned
Henry Newton Brown
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. So taken was Caldwell that the citizens gave him a new, engraved Winchester rifle.
On May 1, 1884, while on vacation from his Caldwell marshal duties, Brown and a few friends used the new rifle to rob the Medicine Lodge, Kansas bank and shoot two bank employees. Brown was killed by a mob while attempting to escape and his rifle is now on display in the Kansas Historical Museum, Topeka.
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 CaldwellJournal 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. Brown quickly fell dead, his body riddled with buckshot and balls from other men’s Winchesters. 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.
Henry Newton Brown – Robbing the American West
Born in 1857, Brown was orphaned at an early age and raised by relatives in Rolla, Missouri. When he was seventeen, he headed west to become a cowboy, working on Colorado ranches before drifting south to Texas. There, he killed a another cowhand in a gunfight outside a Texas panhandle town and moved on to Lincoln County,New Mexico, where he soon became involved in the Lincoln County War. Fighting on the side of the McSween-Turnstall faction, known as the “Regulators,” he befriending Billy the Kid.
He rode with Billy the Kid’s Gang, rustling cattle, and continued on with the gang when they went to the Texas Panhandle in 1878 to steal horses.
When the Kid returned to New Mexico, Brown decided to stay in Texas, which probably saved his life for a few more years. He then took a job working as a deputy sheriff in Oldham County, Texas, but was soon fired for picking fights with drunks. He then moved on to Oklahoma, where he worked on several ranches before making his final move to Caldwell, Kansas.
In 1882, he as hired as an assistant marshal in Caldwell and later was promoted to marshal. Brown hired his friend Ben Wheeler, aka: Ben Robertson, to work as a deputy and the two men “cleaned up” the tough town quickly. When Brown felled two outlaws in the streets of Caldwell in 1883, the Caldwell Post bragged that Brown was “one of the quickest men on the trigger in the Southwest.” So taken were the town citizens, that they presented him with a new, engraved Winchester rifle.
The marshal continued to serve the city well and 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 seemingly settled down. However, unbeknownst his wife and the citizens of Caldwell, Brown had been living beyond his means and the debts were mounting.
Falling back on his old outlaw skills, Brown, along with his deputy, Ben Wheeler, and two other former outlaw friends named William Smith and John Wesley, planned to rob the bank in Medicine Lodge,Kansas. The lawmen, under the ruse of traveling to Oklahoma to apprehend a murderer left Caldwell, met up with the two other would-be bank robbers, and headed to Medicine Lodge. On April 30, 1884, they entered the bank just after it opened and demanded the cash. When Bank President E.W. Payne reached for his gun, Brown shot him to death. Though Chief Cashier George Geppert had his hands up, he too was shot. However, before he died he staggered to the vault and managed to close the door.
Their robbery attempt failed, the gang quickly mounted their horses and fled with an angry posse right behind them. Just outside of town the posse trapped them in a box canyon and after a two hour shoot-out, the outlaws finally surrendered. Taken to the Medicine Lodge jail, a mob outside chanted “Hang them! Hang them!”
The outlaws were given a meal, their photo taken, and told to write letters to their families. At about 9:00 p.m. the mob broke into the jail and the prisoners attempted to dash for freedom. Brown fell quickly, his body riddled with bullets. Wheeler was also wounded but was dragged along with Wesley and Smith to a nearby elm tree and hanged.
Henry Newton Brown
A black and white photo showing four men shackled at the ankles in Medicine Lodge, Kansas and the posse of men who captured them.
The men in shackles are identified from left to right as: John Wesley, Henry Newton Brown, Billy Smith, and BenWheeler, the would be robbers of the Medicine Valley Bank. Brown, a former member of Billy the Kid’s Gang, and Wheeler a former outlaw and friend of Brown’s, found themselves on the other side of the law with their appointments as marshals of Caldwell, Kansas.
But on April 30, 1884, Brown, Wheeler, Smith, and Wesley attempted to rob the Medicine Valley Bank. The robbery was unsuccessful and the robbers were eventually apprehended and brought back to Medicine Lodge, Kansas. Their time in jail was brief when pandemonium erupted over their capture, creating a diversion for escape. In a hail of bullets, Henry Brown was shot dead, while an injured Wheeler was captured and hung beside Wesley and Smith.