County proved mighty hard on its sheriffs in the 19th century.
In a span
of 24 years, the 919-square mile political subdivision northwest of Fort
Worth lost three sheriffs in the line of duty.
Sheriff Harvey S. Cox
died first, killed in an assault on Sept. 15, 1864. Next to fall, Sheriff Richard Kirk's watch ended on Feb. 21, 1876. Twelve years later, on Christmas Eve 1888,
someone gunned down Sheriff Marion D. Wallace.
In addition to the three elected county lawmen, two deputies and one deputized
civilian died in felonious incidents up through Feb. 24, 1915, the only time in
the 20th century the county lost an officer.
All the deaths amounted
to tragedies for everyone involved, but the killing of Sheriff Kirk stands out
as an Old West shootout worthy of any Hollywood Western.
1856, Young County became virtually depopulated during the Civil War and dissolved
in 1865, attached to adjacent Jack County for judicial purposes. When the county
reorganized in 1874, Kirk got elected as its first sheriff in nearly a decade.
Not much is known of Kirk. He must have been fairly young and unmarried, because
his survivors were later listed as his mother and siblings. Apparently he had
no wife, no children.
his background, the sheriff seems to have taken his job seriously. As the Graham
Leader later reported, Kirk "performed his duties in a manner which pleased his
constituents and brought fear to the hearts of the unlawful element which filtered
into every frontier town."
In the winter of 1876, he saddled his horse and rode to Fort Belknap to serve
an arrest warrant on a man wanted in Clay County for assaulting noted cattleman
W.S. Ikard. The man had escaped from the county jail in Henrietta.
fugitive's given name has fallen through the cracks of history, but in Northwest
Texas people knew him by his memorable nickname, Buffalo Bill. (Not to be confused
with Col. William Cody, THE Buffalo Bill.)
Whoever the other Buffalo Bill
was, he came by his nickname because he made his living as a buffalo hunter. That
vocation typecasts him as not a particularly gentle soul, given that he played
a role in virtually exterminating a species. Judging from later descriptions of
his character, he must have had a singularly nasty disposition - especially when
in his cups.
A fellow buffalo hunter later recalled that Buffalo Bill
stood about five feet, eight inches, had a slight build and wore his hair long,
like the famous scout and showman. Like many a man in the 19th century, the Buffalo
Bill drank too much.
On Monday morning, February 21, 1876, Bill and a
couple of companions had already tossed down too many drinks at a combination
store and saloon called Holly's by the time Sheriff Kirk walked into the saloon
with the warrant for his arrest. Kirk told Bill he was under arrest.
Bill did not want to go back to Henrietta. As the sheriff approached the wanted
man, the buffalo hunter brought up his rifle and pulled the trigger. The .50 caliber
round, a load more than ample for bringing down the heaviest bull buffalo, slammed
into the lawman.
As he collapsed, Kirk snapped off a pistol shot at Buffalo
Bill, who caught the bullet in his chest below the collar bone.
of the day made no pretense of balance in their coverage of the incident.
Here's what the Capital City's newspaper, the Democratic Statesman, had to say
about the Young County the sheriff's killer:
"Buffalo Bill, the coarse,
degraded bully and murderer and desperado and blackguard, the sweetest, most admirable
impersonation Texas has ever known of the virtues of the street fighter and swindler,
has slaughtered his last man.
"At the very instant that he shot Sheriff
Richard Kirk…Kirk's bullet penetrated his body. Kirk died within the hour, and
Buffalo Bill breathed his last soon afterwards amid the execrations of a throng
that could hardly be restrained from violent deeds when it was again and again
proposed to hasten the monster's exit from a world whose very breath was polluted
by his foul presence."
Citizens gathered in a mass meeting three days
after the shooting and passed several resolutions praising the dead lawman. Of
a more lasting nature, they decided to name the county's highest elevation in
his honor - Mount Kirk.
With the development of the internet in
the late 20th century, the sheriff's memory gained semi-eternal status in cyberspace
on a Web site maintained by the Young County Sheriff's Office. The site lists
Kirk's name among five county peace officers and one deputized civilian who have
died in the line of duty.
In addition to his recognition on the internet,
Kirk has a nice marker in the Graham
cemetery. Where they buried the outlaw who murdered the sheriff stands as a mystery