Sunday, December 14, 2008

Jeff Milton - Faster than the Fastest Gun in the West

By Dale Cox

Blue Spring – On Blue Springs Road a few miles east of Marianna, a state marker points out the site of “Sylvania,” the home of Governor John Milton. The marker provides the basic story of Governor Milton, Florida’s Confederate leader.

An important fact overlooked by the writer of the marker text, however, is that “Sylvania” was also the birthplace of Jefferson Davis Milton, a lawman who faced down the “fastest gun in the West” and lived to tell about it.
Jeff Milton was born at Sylvania in November of 1861 and was just four years old when his father died from a gun blast in one of the bedrooms. It was the beginning of a remarkably turbulent and yet highly successful life.
Like many young Southern men of his era, Milton turned his back on his home state and headed west for Texas. Only fifteen years old, he worked as a cowboy for a time but soon embarked on a career in which he achieved lasting fame.
In 1878, when he was just seventeen years old, Jeff Milton lied about his age and became a Texas Ranger. Four years later he moved west to New Mexico and spent the 1880s and 1890s working as a deputy U.S. marshal, sheriff’s deputy, police chief and in other law enforcement roles.
One thing is for certain, Jeff Milton had one of the fastest draws of any gunfighter in the Old West. He was responsible over the years for the gunfight shootings of such desperadoes as “Bronco Bill” Walters, “Three Fingered Jack” Dunlop and “Bravo Juan” Yoas. His famous quote, “I never killed a man who didn’t need killing,” is among the best known attributed to any gunfighter.
Milton’s most remarkable accomplishment, however, may well have been the stand he made as Police Chief of El Paso, Texas, against the man some believe was the deadliest gunfighter of them all, John Wesley Hardin. Often described as “the fastest gun in the West,” Hardin killed between 30 and 60 men over the years – many of them lawmen.
Jeff Milton had signed on as the head of El Paso’s police force in 1894 and vowed to bring law and order to the boisterous frontier town. Almost immediately he heard that the infamous Hardin was on his way to town, heavily armed and accompanied by several others. Despite Hardin’s fearsome reputation, Milton met him face to face in the streets of El Paso where he informed the gunfighter that he would not be allowed to carry weapons in the city. It was a remarkable scene, the man called by his biographer “a good man with a gun” facing down the “Dark Angel” of Texas. In the end, not a shot was fired. For one of a very few times in his life, Hardin calculated his odds and decided against a gunfight with Jeff Milton. He meekly turned over his weapons and submitted to Milton’s orders.
John Wesley Hardin died not long after, shot in the back of the head by an adversary while he rolled dice in an El Paso saloon. Jeff Milton, however, went on to live a long and productive life. In 1904 he accepted employment with the Immigration Service and continued with the agency until he was 72 years old.
Jefferson Davis Milton died in Tucson, Arizona, on May 7, 1947. His ashes were sprinkled over the deserts that he came to love, far away from his birthplace in Jackson County. He is remembered today by officers of the U.S. Border Patrol as “America’s First Border Patrolman.”


exxxplosive_1 said...

That state marker was totaled by a hit and run driver about 4 months ago and is no longer there. You would think it would have been replaced by now.

Anonymous said...

A true hero to all of us in Law Enforcement just by the standard that he lived by. "I never killed a man who didn't need killing." Sounds like the first "Use of Deadly Force" policy ever.