Henry Newton Brown
Lawman, outlaw. 1857-1884
During the days of the Chisholm Trail, Caldwell became known as a rough and tumble cowboy town. The Caldwell Post claimed that half of the residents “were of the worst desperadoes between the Missouri and the Rio Grande.”
Lawmen struggled to keep peace and sometimes died in the effort. Caldwell’s marshal was killed in 1881 during a shootout. Six months later, on the same day, the assistant marshal and the new marshal were killed in separate shootouts.
By July 1882 Caldwell had two new lawmen – Marshal Bat Carr and Assistant Marshal Henry Newton Brown. Brown was new to town, having recently served as a deputy in Texas. The Caldwell Post labeled him “one of the quickest men on the trigger in the Southwest.”
When Marshal Carr decided to retire that December, Brown was promoted. The town presented him with an “elegant gold-mounted and handsomely-engraved Winchester rifle,” with a “handsome silver plate” bearing an inscription to Brown “for valuable services rendered.”
In 1884 Brown married Alice Maude Levagood of Caldwell, purchased a house, and settled down. The Caldwell Commercial lauded him as “cool, courageous and gentlemanly, and free from . . . vices.”
The townspeople were unaware that Brown, a native of Missouri, had ridden with outlaw Billy the Kid. In 1878 the two were involved in the Lincoln County (New Mexico) War between ranchers, merchants, and corrupt politicians. There they ambushed and murdered the sheriff. Several days later Brown shot another man. Brown reappeared in Texas where he briefly served as deputy sheriff in Oldham County. As a ranch hand he eventually found his way to Kansas and Caldwell, where he became serious about law enforcement.
Brown continued to rid Caldwell’s streets of troublemakers. He participated in the arrest of two horse thieves, killing a third who was attempting to flee; and he killed an armed man near the town’s Long Branch Restaurant.
Concerned by a mounting household budget, Brown began to look for ways to supplement his income. The Caldwell mayor approved Brown’s request to track a murderer into Indian Territory for a $1,200 reward. Brown and deputy Ben Wheeler left in pursuit in April 1884.
Several days later, when the Medicine Lodge bank opened for the day’s business, three robbers entered the bank, one carrying a Winchester rifle. A fourth man circled to the back of the bank. Residents heard a rapid succession of gunfire from inside and out. 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.
The bandits quickly mounted their horses and raced out of town with a posse close in pursuit. The posse chased the fleeing party to a canyon, where amid cold and rain, gunfire was exchanged for two hours. Brown was the first to surrender. The townsfolk were shocked to learn that they knew the captives – Brown, Wheeler, and cowboys Billy Smith and John Wesley.
A crowd gathered in Medicine Lodge as the robbers were returned, chanting, “Hang them! Hang them!” 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, which was reproduced in the Caldwell Journal:
Darling Wife: I am in jail here . . . I will send you all of my things and you can sell them, but keep the Winchester. This is hard for me to write this letter but, it was all for you, my sweet wife, and for the love I have for you. H. N. Brown
The mob broke into the jail later that night, overpowered the sheriff and his deputies, and opened the cell door. As the prisoners attempted a dash for freedom, Brown was quickly shot dead, his body riddled with buckshot and balls from other men's Winchesters. The other members of the gang were caught and hanged from an elm tree in the moonlight.
The Medicine Lodge Cresset summarized the tragedy, “a murder and attempted bank robbery, which, for cold-bloodedness and boldness of design, was never exceeded by the most famous exploits of the James gang.”
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 Historical Society.
Entry: Brown, Henry Newton
Author: Kansas Historical Society
Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.
Date Created: January 2010
Date Modified: June 2011
The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.