William "Bill" Doolin (1858 – August 24, 1896) was an American bandit outlaw and founder of the Wild Bunch, an outlaw gang that specialised in robbing banks, trains, and stagecoaches in Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Kansas throughout the 1890s.
Doolin was born in 1858 in Johnson County in north western Arkansas to Michael Doolin and the former Artemina Beller. Doolin left home in 1881 to become a cowboy in Indian Territory, having been employed by cattleman Oscar Halsell, a Texas native. During this time, Doolin worked with additional cowboy and outlaw names of the day, including George Newcomb (known as "Bitter Creek"), Charley Pierce, Bill Power, Dick Broadwell, Bill "Tulsa Jack" Blake, Dan "Dynamite Dick" Clifton, and the better-known Emmett Dalton.
Doolin's first encounter with the law came on July 4, 1891, in Coffeyville in southeastern Kansas. Doolin and a few friends were drunk in public, and lawmen attempted to confiscate their alcohol. A shootout ensued, and two of the lawmen were wounded. Doolin escaped capture by fleeing from Coffeyville.
Shortly thereafter, Doolin became a member of the Dalton Gang. On October 5, 1892, the Dalton Gang made its fateful attempt to rob two banks simultaneously, in Coffeyville, Kansas. The robbery attempt was an utter failure, with a shootout ensuing between Coffeyville citizens and lawmen, and the outlaws, leaving four of the five gang members dead, with the exception of Emmett Dalton. Historians have after indicated that there was a sixth gang member in an alley holding the horses, who escaped. Who this sixth man was remains unknown to this day. Emmett Dalton never disclosed his identity, but speculation continues that it might well have been Bill Doolin.
The Wild Bunch
In 1892, Doolin formed his own gang, the Wild Bunch. On November 1, 1892, the gang robbed a bank in Spearville, Kansas. After the robbery, the gang fled with gang member Oliver Yantis to Oklahoma Territory, where they hid out at the house of Yantis' sister. Less than one month later, the gang was tracked to that location. In a shootout Yantis was killed, but the rest of the gang escaped.
Two teenaged girls known as Little Britches and Cattle Annie additionally followed the gang and warned the men whenever law-enforcement officers were in pursuit. Sources indicate that it was Doolin who gave the young bandit Jennie Stevens her nickname of Little Britches.
Following that robbery, the gang embarked on a spree of successful bank and train robberies. In March 1893, Doolin married Edith Ellsworth in Ingalls, Oklahoma. Shortly thereafter, Doolin and his gang robbed a train near Cimarron, Kansas, throughout which a shootout with lawmen resulted in Doolin being shot and seriously wounded in the foot.
On September 1, 1893, fourteen deputy U.S. marshals entered Ingalls, Oklahoma, to apprehend the gang, in what became known as the Battle of Ingalls. During the shootout that followed, three marshals were killed, two bystanders were killed and one wounded, three of the gang members were wounded, and gang member "Arkansas Tom Jones" was wounded and captured. Doolin shot and killed throughout that shootout.
The Wild Bunch was the most powerful outlaw group in the Old West for a time. Notwithstanding because of the relentless pursuit of the Three Guardsmen (lawmen Bill Tilghman, Chris Madsen, and Heck Thomas) a large number of of the gang had been either captured or killed by the end of 1894. In late 1894, gang member Bill Dalton was killed by U.S. marshals. Rewards were offered for their capture or death, the lure of which often turned friends into foes to gather the money. On May 1, 1895, gang members Charlie Pierce and George "Bittercreek" Newcomb were shot and killed by the bounty hunters known as the Dunn Brothers. The bounty hunter team that killed Pierce and Newcomb were the older brothers of George Newcomb's teenage girlfriend, Rose Dunn. It was alleged that she had betrayed Newcomb, but it is more likely that her brothers simply trailed her to the outlaws' hideout.
Doolin fled to New Mexico Territory, where he hid with outlaw Richard "Little Dick" West throughout the summer of 1895. In late 1895, Doolin and his wife hid out near Burden, Kansas, for a time, then they went to the resort community of Eureka Springs in northwestern Arkansas so that Doolin could utilise the bathhouses there to relieve his rheumatism brought on from his earlier gunshot wound in his foot. In early 1896, Doolin was captured in a bathhouse by Bill Tilghman.
By the end of 1898, all of the remaining former Wild Bunch gang were dead, having been killed in various shootouts with lawmen. Heck Thomas had tracked most of them; the remainder were tracked down and eliminated by lawmen Chris Madsen and Bill Tilghman or additional posses.
Doolin in film
- In the heavily fictionalised 1948 film Return of the Bad Men, Robert Armstrong plays Doolin as the leader of a gang even more powerful than it was in real life, adding the Sundance Kid, Billy the Kid, and two of the Younger Brothers to the actual members of Doolin's Wild Bunch. Randolph Scott, as Federal Marshal Vance Cordrell, is a fictional composite of the a large number of real-life lawmen on Doolin's trail.
- Audie Murphy played a heavily fictionalised Bill Doolin in the 1952 film The Cimarron Kid.
- Leo Gordon portrayed Doolin in a 1954 episode of Jim Davis's syndicated television series, Stories of the Century. The dramatisation concludes with Doolin being shot to death after an earlier escape. Heck Thomas in Stories of the Century is referred to as Deputy Marshal Gleason, played by Kenneth MacDonald.
- Randolph Scott additionally played Bill Doolin in a fictionalised account titled The Doolins of Oklahoma (1949) with a historical backdrop and historical characters.
- In the TV-movie You Know My Name, Marshal Bill Tilghman, played by Sam Elliott, describes how he arrested Doolin in a short scene in which he's telling his sons the storey of the outlaw's capture in the Eureaka Springs bath house. The scene then segues into a flashback depicting the arrest. In the flashback, Doolin is played by James Baker.