Among the notorious characters who kept officers of the law "on the jump" during Wyoming territorial days was "Doc" Middleton, whose real name was James Riley. Before coming to Wyoming he had been operating in Texas, where he had been convicted of murder in 1870 and sentenced to the penitentiary for life. He managed to make his escape, and in 1878 was caught stealing horses in Iowa and sent to prison for eighteen months. At the expiration of his term he located at Sidney, Nebraska, where he soon got into trouble by shooting a soldier from Fort Sidney. He was arrested, but the sheriff allowed him to escape rather than see him lynched by a mob which had gathered for that purpose. Middleton next appeared on the ranch of John Sparks, near Fort Laramie, Wyoming. Here he began the work of organizing a gang of outlaws, among whom were two Texans named John Baldwin and Henry Skurry.
Doc was a typical outlaw, nearly six feet in height, dark complexioned with long, black hair and a fierce-looking mustache. He never drank or gambled and was always cool and collected, even under the most trying circumstances. Over the members of the gang he had perfect control.
In 1878 the gang stole forty head of horses and Middleton, Baldwin and Skurry undertook to run them through to Kansas. "Billy" Lykins, a detective of the Stock Growers' Association, gathered a posse and started in pursuit, overtaking the fugitives about twelve miles from Julesburg. Baldwin and Skurry put spurs to their horses and succeeded in making their escape. Middleton also made an effort to get away, but was closely pursued and forced to take refuge with a ranchman named Smith, who agreed to assist him. Doc and the ranchman sought the shelter of a neighboring butte, which was surrounded by the posse and after several shots the two men surrendered.
The stolen horses were taken by part of the posse to Sidney. That night Middleton and Smith escaped. Smith was afterward arrested by Lykins in the Black Hills and sent to the penitentiary. From him, Lykins learned the whereabouts of Middleton. The Wyoming and Nebraska stockmen and the Union Pacific Railroad had joined in offering a substantial reward for Middleton's capture, and as soon as Lykins heard where he could be found he started after him, accompanied by two men, Hazen and Llewellyn, the former having known Middleton in Fort Dodge, Kansas. They were later joined by J. L. Smith.
Doc was then living in the Niobrara valley in Nebraska. As the posse approached the house they saw the outlaw and four of his gang evidently on guard. The five men immediately charged Lykins and his associates. Hazen was thrown from his horse and was wounded while trying to remount. Lykins tried four times to fire his rifle, but the cartridge failed to explode. He then threw away the rifle and drew his revolver. The first shot struck Middleton in the stomach and the others fled. Middleton concealed himself in some brush and while Lykins was taking Hazen to a ranch a number of the gang came and helped Doc escape. When Lykins went after him a little later, about a dozen of the gang there sent word to General Crook at Omaha, who had promised assistance whenever Middleton was cornered. Crook sent a small detachment of troops, but in the meantime Doc and his wife had left home and were in hiding along the Niobrara River. His father-in-law guided the troops and Lykins to their hiding place.
Middleton was captured and taken to Sidney to wait for the necessary papers before being conducted to Cheyenne for trial. A number of his friends gathered and sent word to Lykins that their leader should not be taken from the state. Middleton was guarded in a house about a quarter of a mile from the railroad station. When the time came for his removal, Smith and Llewellyn, well-armed and alert, bore him on a stretcher, preceded by Lykins, armed with a double-barreled shotgun and two Colt 45s, having in the meantime sent word to the would-be rescuers that any demonstration on their part would result in the immediate death of their leader.
Middleton was taken to Cheyenne, where he pleaded guilty to horse stealing and received a five year sentence. When liberated, he went to Gordon, Nebraska, where he lived for several years. During the 90s, Doc located in Edgemont, South Dakota, where he operated a saloon for several years, and about 1914 he located at Orin Junction where he conducted a "blind pig" establishment. Here it was that an argument started over some trivial matter, which resulted in a knife fight. Doc was severely stabbed in the stomach, and as a result of the fracas was arrested and was being held in the county jail, when erysipelas developed, resulting in his death in the Court House a few days later. Al Peyton, father of A. L. Peyton, manager of the Lusk telephone exchange, was sheriff at that time, and he arranged with Middleton's friends to give Doc a respectable funeral. He was buried in the Douglas cemetery.
Last Updated April 2005
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