Frank Dalton: The 'Good Brother of the Gang'


Researched, complied & edited by Rodney G. Dalton from sources on the World Wide Web.


Frank Dalton (June 8, 1859 - November 27, 1887) was a Deputy US Marshal of the Old West under Judge Isaac Parker, for Oklahoma Territory, as well as the older brother to the members of the Dalton Gang, in addition to being the brother to William M. Dalton, once a member of California legislature, and later an outlaw and leader of the Doolin Dalton gang alongside Bill Doolin. Frank Dalton is not to be confused with J. Frank Dalton, who made many claims to be famous people, including his claim of being Frank Dalton, and later Jesse James.

Hundreds of stories about the Dalton brothers have been written about their train robberies to their death at Coffeyville, Kansas in 1892. This story tells about the other Dalton brother who died with honor; Deputy Marshal Frank Dalton.

He was born in 1859, the fifth son of nine born to Lewis and Adeline Dalton. Frank never received higher than a third or fourth grade education, but this was due to the financial situation of the family. At the age of nine, Frank began working in stables to bring in money for the family.

At an older age, he began working his parent's land, but he also had to work other jobs around the countryside. No matter what it was, he always turned all his earnings over to his mother to make the money go as far as possible. It seemed that he was getting little help from his other three brothers, Grat, Bob, and twelve year old Emmett. Adeline tired to persuade Grat and Bob to assist Frank more, but the rambunctious, rough boys were getting to be too much for her to handle.

It was then at the age of twenty-four, Frank along with Grat enlisted in the Cherokee Light Horsemen, (Indian Police) Even though they had very little education, the two Dalton brothers served the Cherokee Nation with courage and honesty. The became a credit the Horsemen, proving to be good lawmen.


Based out of Fort Smith, Arkansas, Dalton was involved in a number of shootouts and high risk arrests over a three year period. However, on November 27, 1887, he and Deputy J.R. Cole were on the trail of outlaw Dave Smith, wanted for horse theft. As they approached Smith's camp, Smith fired a shot from a rifle, hitting Dalton in the chest. Deputy Cole returned fire, killing Smith, but was then shot and wounded by a Smith cohort. Cole was able to make his escape, however, believing Dalton was dead. Dalton, however, was still alive, and engaged the outlaws in a short gun battle. One of Smith's cohorts was wounded, and a woman who was in the camp was killed during the crossfire. Frank Dalton was dead by the time Deputy Cole returned with a posse, having been killed with two additional rifle shots by outlaw Will Towerly. The name of the outlaw wounded by Dalton never revealed his own name. He died shortly thereafter, but not before naming Towerly as Frank Dalton's murderer. A newspaper of the time indicated Dalton had begged Towerly not to kill him, saying he was already dying. However that was a rumour, and there were no witnesses to the crime who ever made that statement. Towerly was killed one month later by Deputy William Moody and Deputy US Marshal Ed Stokley.


More about Frank Dalton: Deputy US Marshal


"Everyone knows they were the Desperate Daltons … that they were a band of cold blooded murderers that roamed the Midwest without challenge, robbing and killing at will…." Or so the story goes. The legend of the Dalton gang has more myth than truth in its telling nowadays, but the real story can still stand on its own.


The Dalton Gang story really cannot be told without beginning with the brother who first lost his life to violence. Frank Dalton, born in 1859, was commissioned a U.S. Deputy Marshal at Fort Smith in 1884. He was involved in numerous dangerous episodes as a deputy and was described as "one of the most brave and efficient officers on the force."

But all of that was to change in a "bloody tragedy" on November 27, 1887. Frank, at that time 28 years old, and Deputy J.R. Cole had gone to the Cherokee Nation to arrest Dave Smith on horse stealing and whiskey charges. Not anticipating any trouble, Frank stepped up to the tent that Smith and his friends were camped in and was immediately shot in the chest by Smith. Deputy Cole reacted quickly and shot Smith in the back. Another man in the tent then rushed out and shot at Deputy Cole who retreated backward, but could not escape a bullet in the chest. The deputy sprang to his feet, though, and using his Winchester as best he could, took refuge behind a tree.


By this time, Cole, under the impression that Frank was dead, decided to try to make his way back to Fort Smith for assistance. Frank was still alive, however, and after Cole got out of range, Will Towerly came out of the tent and shot him in the head twice with a Winchester. Newspaper reports of the time indicated that Frank was conscious and begged Towerly not to shoot him as he was already mortally wounded.


Back at Fort Smith, Deputy Cole gathered up a posse of officers to take back to the scene. Smith, Dalton, and a woman hit in the crossfire were already dead. Another man was badly wounded and taken back to Fort Smith where he died in jail. Will Towerly, the murderer of Frank Dalton, escaped unhurt.


Over the next several years, some of the other Dalton boys would meet equally violent ends, but none in the heroic, law abiding way that Frank did.



The Family Hero - Frank Dalton




December 2, 1887




We are called upon this week to chronicle another deadly encounter in the Indian country between United States officers and lawless characters, in which Deputy Marshal Frank Dalton, a fearless and trusty officer, was brutally murdered while two other lives were lost and two men wounded, one of the killed being a woman. The facts in the case as near as we have been able to gather them are about as follows: Deputy Marshal Frank Dalton came in last Friday with six prisoners, the fruits of a protracted trip to the territory, and turned them over to the U.S. Jailer. His outfit struck camp on the opposite side of the river in the Cherokee Nation to remain until the officer got ready to start out on another trip. Dalton had a writ for one Dave Smith charging him with horse stealing, and Deputy Cole had a writ for the same party for introducing whisky in the Indian country. Learning that Smith was at a camp about four miles from here in the river bottom, the two officers left Dalton's camp early Sunday morning for the purpose of arresting him. They rode leisurely over to where they expected to find him, and arriving near the camp dismounted and approached the tent on foot. Dalton walked around on one side of the tent and Cole on the other. As Dalton came round toward the door of the tent Smith came out and met him, armed with a pistol. Cole heard Dalton say, "Don't shoot, we want no trouble here" or words to that effect, but the utterance had scarcely left his lips when Smith fired on him inflicting a mortal wound, the brave young officer falling almost at the crack of the pistol. About the same time Smith fired, Cole came around and seeing his companion fall, shot Smith in the back, and he too fell mortally wounded. Two other men, Lee Dixon and Will Towerly, rushed out and Cole backed off, when he stumbled over a tent rope and fell, Dixon shooting at him as he fell and wounding him in the left side. He regained his feet, however, and as he retreated past Dalton asked him if he was badly hurt, but received no answer. He was fired on from the tent as he retreated and returned the fire by taking refuge behind a tree into which his assailants put several bullets, and from this shelter engaged in a single handed fight with the occupants of the tent until they ceased firing on him, when he got away on foot and reached here about 11o'clock to report the matter at the marshal's office, when a posse of men immediately set out for the scene, where they found Smith and Mrs. Leander Dixon dead, and the husband of Mrs. Dixon badly wounded. Will Towerly had escaped, and several determined men at once set out in pursuit of him, while the wounded man, Dixon, was brought here and placed in the prison hospital. His wound is an ugly one, the ball having entered near the collar bone of the left shoulder and ranged down into the back. He says he received the shot while stooping over his wife, who had just received her death wound. Dixon denies that he did any shooting, but Cole says he is the man that shot him as he tripped over the tent rope. Dalton was still alive when Cole retreated from the camp, and then the most brutal act of the dreadful tragedy was performed. Young Towerly came out of the tent and approaching the prostrate and helpless officer, shot him in the head with a Winchester, while Dalton was begging him not to do so as he was already killed. Dalton was a fearless and efficient officer, and an honest, upright young man, highly esteemed by all who knew him for his many good qualities of head and heart. He was but twenty-eight years of age and unmarried, his home being with his mother at Chelsea, Cherokee Nation. His remains were brought to this city, and after being embalmed at the undertaking establishment of Birnie Bros., were placed in a coffin and sent home by rail Sunday night in charge of his brother and Mr. Bud Heady, posse of the murdered officer. Smith, the dead outlaw, was about the last remaining remnant of the Felix Griffin gang of thieves who made their headquarters in the vicinity of Webbers Falls. Lee Dixon, the wounded man, is a brother-in-law of Smith, the latter's wife being Dixon's sister. Dixon and some of the other men about the camp were at work cutting wood and clearing land. Towerly is a young man about nineteen or twenty years of age, and was boarding at Dixon's camp. Deputy Cole has had several close calls since he has been on this force, being compelled about a year ago to kill a drunken bully on the ferry boat just across the river from here, the fellow firing on him for no cause whatever. Only a few days ago he and his posse came in contact with "Big Chewee," a Cherokee desperado, and his posse was badly wounded. However, he has escaped injury up to Sunday last and the wound he is now carrying is not dangerous, a fact we are pleased to note.


Frank Dalton was just 28 years old at the time of his death. He was buried in the Elmwood Cemetery in Coffeyville, Kansas, and is remembered by the U.S. Marshal's service on their Roll Call of Honor.


U. S Marshall Frank Dalton's grave. The stone was provided by 
"his loving mother." His brother's graves are in the background