The Dead Line, as it came to be called, was a railroad, the Missouri, Kansas, and Texas, cutting across the middle of Indian Territory. It ran straight south from Caldwell, Kansas to Fort Reno, I.T., then on down through the Cheyenne and Comanche and Kiowa lands, crossing the Red River into Bowie, Texas. It was a line on the map, a demarcation. West of it there was no law, only outlaws. On trails out there, notes would be put up on trees and posts, sort of reverse wanted posters, letting lawmen know they’d be killed if they continued their pursuits west of the Dead Line.
Throughout the 225 years of the U.S. Marshals Service, over 200 deputies have been killed in the line of duty. Of those, more than 120 lost their lives in the Indian and Oklahoma Territories between 1850 and Oklahoma statehood in 1907.
In the storied history of the American West, no place comes close to matching the dangers and mortality these federal officers faced doing their jobs. Their courage, resolve, and dedication to duty were beyond reproach… for the most part. Those who survived became titans in the legends of the West, particularly one man called Bass Reeves. These stories are fiction, but the encounters this lawman faced, and The Dead Line, were not.
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