Jeff Davis Milton

His parents named him Jefferson Davis, which should tell us something about the politics of his father, John Milton.  John was a capable attorney, a wily politician, and a proud Floridian who, as Florida’s fifth governor, guided his state through the travail of the American Civil War.    John’s grandson, William Hall Milton (1864-1942), served as a US Senator from Florida (1908-1909).

At the end of the Civil War, when Jeff was only three years old, his father committed suicide.  He was staunch in his support of the states’ rights issue, apparently concluding that suicide was a viable alternative to Yankee imperialism (reconstruction).  Afterward, the Milton family suffered financially and emotionally — but this was a common situation for most Americans through the 1880s.  When Jefferson was 15-years old, he considered his prospects in Florida and decided they were limited.  He joined his married sister in Texas and ended up working for her husband in a general store.  He also worked as a cowhand.

Jeff D. Milton

On 27 July 1878, Jeff Milton presented himself to the Texas Ranger headquarters in Austin, Texas.  With letters of recommendation from several prominent citizens, Jeff applied for enlistment.  He wasn’t the first (or last) to lie about his age to enlist as a ranger and he only had to add two years; he was sworn in on the same day.

Jeff Milton served four years as a Texas Ranger before moving further west.  By 1884, Jeff was wearing the star of a deputy U. S. Marshal and a railroad detective.  During that time, Jack Taylor, a notorious train robber, was making a name for himself in New Mexico and Arizona.  Taylor was particularly cruel in meting out death to anyone who opposed him.  In one train robbery near Sonora, Taylor shot the engineer to death.  In another, he murdered four passengers.  By mid-1885, Jeff Milton figured it was time to do something about the Jack Taylor gang, but restrictions placed on him as a U. S. Marshal caused him to leave the service and join Sheriff John Slaughter as a Cochise County deputy. 

Texas John Slaughter was one of those “real deal” old west personalities who did as much to tame the western frontier as any man.  Slaughter was originally from Louisiana and moved with his parents to Sabine County, Texas where he learned about ranching from Mexican vaqueros and became fluent in Spanish.  By the 1860s, Slaughter had earned a reputation as a fearless Indian fighter.  As a true southerner, he fought on the Confederate side during the Civil War.  When Union reconstruction became too much for him, he moved to New Mexico and Arizona with a view of starting his own ranch, eventually settling in Cochise County.

In 1886, Slaughter decided to take on the Jack Taylor Gang; there to assist him was Deputy Sheriff Jeff Milton.  Slaughter received information that Taylor and his cut-throats were hiding out at a ranch belonging to Flora Cardenas.  When the posse arrived at Flora’s house, gang members Geronimo Miranda, Manuel Robles, Nieves Deron, and Fred Federico had already fled.  Slaughter and Milton tracked these men to Contention City, Arizona, to the home of a woodcutter named Guadeloupe Robles, Manuel’s brother.  Without any warning, Slaughter and Milton charged the house.  Slaughter shot and killed Guadeloupe; Deron shot at Milton, nicking his ear, and then he and Manuel scampered out of the house for better cover in nearby rocks.

During the subsequent gunfight, Slaughter or his deputy killed Deron and wounded Manuel.  Manuel managed to escape through a thicket.  A short time later, Mexican authorities captured Jack Taylor in Mexico and he was sentenced to life in prison.  Gang members Manuel Robles, Geronimo Miranda, and Fred Federico were still at large, however.  Robles’s life wasn’t pleasant with these lawmen on his tail; it is hard to recover from a .44 or .45 caliber gunshot wound when you’re on the run.  Guardia Rurales finally caught up with Robles and Miranda near the Sierra Madre Occidental Mountains in 1887; neither of them walked away.  The Jack Taylor Gang ceased to exist after outlaw Fred Federico mistook Deputy Sheriff Cesario Lucero for Slaughter in a planned ambush and killed him.  Fred was captured shortly afterward and died at the end of a rope.

In 1887, Jeff Milton joined the U. S. Customs Service as a mounted inspector where he served in the El Paso district.  He spent two years patrolling the area from Nogales to the Colorado River.  As a political appointee, Milton found himself out of a job in 1889 when a new administration took over the reins of the federal government.  He subsequently joined the El Paso police force.  In 1895, Milton was El Paso’s Chief of Police and formed an unofficial but close partnership with Deputy U. S. Marshal George Scarborough.

Scarborough was an experienced lawman who, before his appointment as a Deputy U. S. Marshal, served as Sheriff for Jones County, Texas.  Scarborough developed a peculiar method of tracking down outlaws.  He went “undercover,” masking himself as an outlaw and moving among the evil-doers until he found the man he was looking for.  As a result, Scarborough was both hated and feared among outlaw elements; the ploy undoubtedly made outlaws wary of hiring on a new gunman, particularly if no one had ever heard of the fellow.

Martin M’Rose was a known cattle rustler wanted by Sheriff J. D. Walker of Eddy County, New Mexico.  Chief Milton contacted Walker to ascertain the warrant was still outstanding, and Walker assured Milton that there were several charges pending.  Milton learned the M’Rose was hiding out in Juarez, Mexico, across the river from El Paso.  Milton sent officers into Juarez with an extradition warrant and M’Rose was returned to the United States and incarcerated pending Walker’s arrival from New Mexico.  While Milton was investigating a separate matter, Martin’s legal counsel managed to have him released on a technicality — the extradition paperwork had been incorrectly filled out.  When Milton returned to El Paso and learned of Martin’s release, he again contacted Walker, who confirmed that M’Rose was still wanted on a felony warrant.

Milton met with Scarborough, and they devised a plan to return M’Rose to the United States.  Undercover, Scarborough concocted a ruse that drew M’Rose from Mexico into Texas.  With Scarborough playing the shill, Milton and one of his officers (a man named McMahon) concealed themselves at the arranged meeting place near a dump.  When Scarborough and M’Rose made contact, Milton and McMahon appeared from their hide and ordered M’Rose to throw up his hands.  Martin M’Rose, being a genius, instead went for his gun.  M’Rose managed to get off one errant shot before Milton killed him.  During the inquest, Milton testified that officer McMahon then went into El Paso for the sheriff and a doctor, who pronounced him “dead as a doornail.”  A day or so later, the only fellow present at Martin’s burial was the undertaker.  According to the El Paso Times, a witness from Juarez testified at the inquest that a few days before Martin M’Rose met his maker, he overheard Martin planning a train robbery in Mexico.

Walter E. “Bronco Billy” Walters was originally from Fort Sill, Oklahoma.  After working as a cowhand for several years in his youth, Billy took a job with the Santa Fe Railroad as a section hand.  It didn’t take Walters long to expand his job description by robbing trains and an occasional stagecoach.  Billy formerly joined the Black Jack Ketchum Gang for a few years before moving on to form his own outlaw gang.  As a new start-up enterprise, Billy sought to increase his market share by enlarging his train robbing operations.  Apparently, he was quite skillful at robbing trains because his “take” became legendary.  Bronco Billy was the genesis of the legend of “lost treasure” in Arizona.

In 1898, Walters organized a failed robbery attempt in Grants, New Mexico.  He and his cohorts were driven off by gunfire by train guards.  It was after this that lawmen Jeff Milton and George Scarborough tracked the Walters Gang down near Solomonville, Arizona, in Graham County.  After taking Walters into custody, gunfire erupted from a member of the gang.  Milton or Scarborough shot and killed one gang member — the rest, being loyal desperadoes, scattered to the four winds.  Walters was convicted of numerous crimes and received a “life sentence.”  State authorities released Walters from prison in 1917.  He died in 1921 from a fall while attempting to repair a windmill. 

In 1900, Jeff Milton was working as a train guard/express agent for the Santa Fe Railroad/Wells Fargo Express.  On 15 February, Milton substituted for another agent who was ill.  In Fairbank, while handing packages off to a station agent, outlaw Burt Alvord with five cohorts attempted to rob the train.  Milton shot “Three Finger Jack” Dunlop, mortally wounding him; he also wounded “Bravo Juan” Yoas.  Milton, too, was seriously wounded.  A bullet hit him in his left arm, breaking it, and rupturing an artery.  Milton survived the shooting, but permanently lost the use of his left arm.

Jeff D. Milton, 1940

Four years later, Milton joined the Bureau of Immigration.  His duty was the enforcement of the Chinese Exclusion Act.  He was 62-years old when appointed to the Border Patrol in 1924.  The Economy Act of 1932 forced 70-year old Jeff Milton into retirement.  In recognition of his many years of service in law enforcement, Governor Benjamin B. Moeur commissioned Milton a lifetime colonel and military aid to the Governor of Arizona, an honorary appointment.  Milton retired in Tucson, Arizona, where he remained until his death on 7 May 1947 (aged 85).  The life of Jeff Milton was fictionalized/incorporated a book titled Education of a Wandering Man by western author Louis L’Amour.

Sources:

  1. Skelton, S.  Jeff Davis Milton.  Shooting Times Magazine, 1971.
  2. “Jefferson Davis Milton a.k.a. Jeff Milton (1861-1947)”.  U. S. Customs and Border Protection, Department of Homeland Security.
  3. Johnson, R. And J. H. Brown.  The Twentieth Century Biographical Dictionary of Notable Americans.  The Biographical Society, 2019.

Endnotes:

[1] Formerly, Pueblo Viejo.

[2] Burt Alvord was a former lawman turned outlaw after his mother died.  His ultimate fate is unknown, but while on the lam from the Arizona Rangers, Alvord fled to Panama in 1910.  There is no record of Burt after then. 

About Mustang

US Marine (Retired), historian, writer.
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2 Responses to Jeff Davis Milton

  1. kidme37 says:

    Another good one Amigo.

    Liked by 1 person

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