September 23, 2010
In other of my yarns I've covered the lives of Bill Tilghman and Heck Thomas--two of the fighting marshals from the frontier days of old Oklahoma. This story of Deputy U.S. Marshal Chris Madsen rounds the tale out. Collectively, these men were called the "Three Guardmen of Oklahoma." And while the first two men were raised on the American frontier, Madsen had a whole different, and most interesting, background.
Born in Denmark around 1851, Christian Madsen is reputed to have had a lengthy career in the Danish army. One source even states that he served in the French Foreign Legion and saw action in Algeria. At the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, Madsen returned to Europe and took part in much of the fighting. For some unknown reason, Madsen came to the United States in 1876 and immediately enlisted in the U.S. Cavalry. His assignment to the 5th Cavalry put him right in the middle of the ongoing war with the various Plains Indian nations. On July 17, 1876, he was on War Bonnet Creek in western Nebraska when a civilian scout, William Cody, fought a hand-to-hand duel with a Cheyenne fighter known to the whites as Yellow Hand. Upon killing his adversary, Cody is supposed to have lifted his scalp and declared, "Here is the first scalp for Custer!"
By 1891 Madsen had been promoted to the rank of Sergeant, awarded the Silver Star, and transferred to El Reno, Oklahoma. Tiring of the military life, Madsen had decided to start a third career. Of course, this one involved fighting too, because Madsen had accepted a position as a deputy U.S. Marshal.
In November 1892, Madsen, Thomas, and Tom Houston were in the area of Orlando, Oklahoma, looking for Ol Yantis, a wanted bank robber. At Yantis's sister's house the officers jumped the outlaw and called on him to surrender. Yantis's pistol shot was answered by shots from Madsen's Model 1886 Winchester rifle Deputy Houston's gun. The lawmen tried to care for the wounded outlaw, but he died later in the day.
Another time that Marshal Madsen showed his grit was in 1893, while escorting a judge on his rounds. At Beaver City, Oklahoma, they found lodging in a room above a popular saloon. During the night, the cowboys got to celebrating by shooting holes into the ceiling of the saloon and, thus, through the floor of Madsen's rented room. Madsen went down to the saloon and corralled a trio of exuberant cow herders. He buffaloed one with his Colt Single Action and wounded another in the shoulder before the affray was ended. Legend has it that one of the cowboys had hollered, "I'm a wild son-of-a-bitch from Cripple Creek!"
To which, Madsen is supposed to have replied, "I knew who you were, I just didn't know where you were from."
In May 1894, Madsen met an informant in El Reno, Oklahoma. The informant told him that a wanted train robber, Felix Young, was out on the street. As Madsen approached the wanted man, the outlaw recognized the officer and ran for a nearby horse. Madsen fired five shots, probably from his Colt sixgun, and killed the horse. The stout Dane then ran down the wanted man and took him into custody.
Madsen's final gunfight of record occurred in March 1896 near Cheyenne, Oklahoma. Red Buck George Weightman had been a member of the Doolin and Dalton gangs and was reportedly hiding in a dugout near Cheyenne. Madsen was part of a posse that surrounded the dugout and called on Weightman to come out with his hands up. Instead, the tough outlaw tried to shoot his way to freedom. Madsen is supposed to have fired one rifle shot and, as the old-timers would put it, Weightman's case was automatically appealed to a higher court.
By the time the Spanish-American War broke out in Cuba, Marshal Madsen was a widower with two children to raise. However, he was called on by Colonel Leonard Wood to come contribute his military skills to the campaign. The fighting Dane couldn't turn down such a call and immediately was made a sergeant in the quartermaster department. It is not reported that Sgt. Madsen saw any action in Cuba, but he spent his time trying to bring order to the quartermaster's nightmare that existed. Cavalrymen were sent to Cuba without their horses, they were issued winter wool uniforms instead of the tropical variety, and Madsen had his hands full trying to keep worse errors from happening.
At the end of the Spanish-American War, Madsen returned to Oklahoma and his law enforcement duties. In 1911 he was appointed U.S. Marshal for the entire state of Oklahoma. This was largely an administrative job, and Marshal Madsen let his deputies do the actual tracking down of wanted criminals. From 1918 to 1922 he served as a special investigator for the governor of Oklahoma.
Madsen lived a long and eventful life. In later years, he was involved in giving technical advice to the growing motion picture business. And while in California, he was introduced to a nice young actor named Roy Rogers. Death came for the old lawman in 1944 at the Masonic Home in Guthrie, Oklahoma. He was 92 years old.
Besides having lived an exciting and eventful life, Madsen is also interesting because he did not have the looks or background of the traditional frontiersman. Raised in Denmark instead of having a frontier childhood, Madsen was short and stockily built and did not have the tall, dark look of Tilghman or Thomas. However, he clearly showed that good fighting men come in all sizes. His reply to the drunken cowboy ("I knew who you were, but I didn't know where you were from.") has become a classic piece of western lore. Chris Madsen's life and career are a clear indication that the true stories of the West are much more exciting than the best fiction.
THE GUNS OF CHRIS MADSEN
As a young officer, Chris Madsen used the popular firearms of the frontier. Throughout his life his favorite handgun was the Colt Single Action. Madsen's revolver was a 4 3/4-inch-barreled, nickel-plated .45 Colt. And in those early days, he favored the Model 1886 Winchester rifle that was chambered in, among other calibers, .45-70, .45-90, and .33 WCF.
Madsen never completely got away from military guns, and one of his personal rifles that has been located is a U.S. Model 1896 carbine in .30-40 Krag. This is the stout Krag-Jorgensen bolt-action rifle that had the box magazine located on the side of the action. Some 11 variations of the Krag-Jorgensen rifle were manufactured by the Springfield Armory before the Springfield rifle replaced it as our nation's battle rifle. Interestingly enough, Madsen's choice of rifles was also the Danish army's.
Many of the Krag-Jorgen
sen .30-40 Krag rifles exist today. The rifle has a reputation as a tough, dependable shooter. And the .30-40 Krag cartridge has the name of being a "meat" cartridge, in the same class as the .303 British and the 7x57 Mauser rounds. In this case, it was a tough, dependable rifle for a tough, dependable officer.