Dutch Henry Born: Wild West legend

Photo courtesy John M. Motter
These three ladies dressed in their finest are members of the O’Neal family, who drove longhorn cattle from Texas to Pagosa Country in the 1870s.

During the halcyon days of the wild west, Dodge City, Kan., was probably more halcyonder than most. Hispanic explorers, French fur trappers, traders along the Old Spanish Trail between Kansas City and Santa Fe, buffalo hunters, U.S. Cavalry troopers, Plains Indians by the thousands, railroad moguls, cattle drovers and ranchers all left their footprints zig zagging across the southwestern Kansas plains, Dodge City country. Naturally, you wouldn’t have to dig too deep to find reminders of “Dutch” Henry Born’s sojourn right dab in the middle of this birthing place of many a Western movie.
Through the eyes of Dutch Henry, we get a good look at a bunch of Old West legends who frequented Dodge City. Oklahoma is a few miles south of Dodge City. That’s where it was in Dutch Henry’s time, but in those days it was called Indian Territory. During the late 1800s, Indian Territory was populated by cattle and horse thieves, whiskey peddlers and bandits who sought refuge in the untamed wilderness that was free of a “White Man’s Court.” Dutch Henry would have been well acquainted with the Oklahoma Indian territory.
Ruling over this lawless territory was Judge Isaac Parker, often called the “Hanging Judge,” from Fort Smith, Ark. In 21 years on the bench, Judge Parker tried 13,490 cases, 344 of which were capital crimes. A total of 9,454 cases resulted in guilty pleas or convictions. Over the years, Parker sentenced 160 men to death by hanging, though only 79 of them were actually hanged. The rest died in jail, appealed or were pardoned.
The most famous lawman who funneled outlaws into the Hanging Judge’s court was Bill Tilghman. Tilghman spent 51 years in law enforcement, starting as a lawman along with Wyatt Earp in Dodge City and ending with a visit with Dutch Henry Born in Pagosa Springs in 1921. During his multi-faceted life, Born squinted more than once at both Parker and Tilghman.
Many newspapers reported Dutch Henry’s many nefarious confrontations with the law, including armed combat with guns and knives, trials, convictions and three jail breaks. There is an account of at least one sentencing by the Hanging Judge with a conviction and short stay in jail. Another account of the same incident says he escaped from jail after a three-month residency. The most noted report of his involvement with the law is when Bat Masterson arrested him in Trinidad, Colo., and took him back to Dodge City to stand trial for horse rustling. We’ll talk about that incident next week as it is described in a book titled “Great Gunfighters of the Kansas Cowtowns 1867-1886,” published by the University of Nebraska Press in 1967.