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Thomas J. "Bear River" Smith

Lawman. 1830 - 1870

Originally from New York, Smith had been a professional boxer. He served as a police officer in New York until he was involved in the accidental killing of a small boy. He left the police force and went to work for the Pacific Union. He found work as a marshal in Kit Carson, Colorado, and in a few small Wyoming towns.

In 1870 Smith moved to Abilene and became marshal. At the time Abilene was a wild cow town. Bloody brawls and shoot outs were commonplace, and the police force was nearly non-existent.

Smith earned a salary of $150 per month was supplemented by a $2 bonus awarded when persons he arrested were convicted. In his brief tenure as marshal, Smith gained the reputation for subduing assailants with his fists rather than his gun. Shortly after arriving in Abilene Smith proved his reputation by beating to ruffians into place with only his bare hands. He quickly put in place a law restricting guns to outside city limits. This made him hugely unpopular, and he soon had two attempts on his life. He survived however, and the citizens of Abilene came to respect him.

On November 2, 1870, Smith's career and life came to an end. Smith was attempting to arrest an accused murderer, Andrew McConnell, when McConnell shot him. Although fatally wounded, Smith was able to wound his assailant. McConnell's co-conspirator in the original crime, Miles, then struck Smith with his gun, grabbed an axe and nearly chopped Smith's head from his body. McConnell was sentenced to 12 years in the state penitentiary and Miles received a 16-year sentence for their gruesome crime. After his death Smith became honored within the town, and was given a large tombstone in respect of his greatness.

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Entry: Smith, Thomas J. "Bear River"

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: February 2011

Date Modified: April 2013

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.