Classic Gunfights

One Man With Courage Makes A Majority

Jeff Milton vs The Burt Alvord Gang


February 15, 1900

Today is supposed to be Wells Fargo Express Agent Jeff Milton’s day off. But someone telegraphed in sick, so he is working the run from Nogales, Arizona, to Benson.

At dusk, when the train glides into the small station in Fairbank along the San Pedro River Valley, Jeff opens the express door to unload the packages bound for Tombstone and the surrounding area. As Jeff hands down the designated goods to the station agent, a cowboy on the platform yells out for Jeff to put up his hands.

“What’s going on here?” Jeff asks an agent.

“Just a bunch of drunk cowboys having a joke, I guess,” the agent replies.

“That kind of joke is liable to get somebody killed,” says Jeff, as he continues unloading packages.

Five cowboys, who are using passengers on the platform as shields, show their weapons. One of them yells, “Throw up your hands and come out o’ there!” With the command comes a rifle shot; the slug takes off Milton’s hat.

Reaching behind the door of the express car, Milton appears with a sawed-off shotgun and barks back, “If there’s anything here you want, come and get it.” He quickly sizes up the situation, though, realizing he can’t return fire with the shotgun without hitting innocent people. Unfortunately, his pistol is on his desk, inside the car.

The five cowboys, still hiding behind passengers, open fire with high-powered rifles. The volley of shots from the outlaws shreds Milton’s shirt as several shots strike his left arm between the elbow and shoulder, spinning him around and knocking him flat.

Thinking they have killed Milton, or at least knocked him out of the fight, the outlaws jump up into the doorway of the railroad car. Milton raises the shotgun with one hand and lets loose, hitting Jack Dunlap with pellets while another ball zings past Dunlap and hits Bravo Juan Yoas in the seat of his pants.

“Look out for the son of a bitch, he’s shooting to kill,” yells Dunlap, as he falls.

Milton’s wound is serious (a slug has cut an artery). Faint from the loss of blood, Milton still has the presence of mind to kick the door shut and, at the same time, remove the keys to the safe from his pocket, flinging them into a pile of packages at the opposite end of the car. Cramming his wounded arm into the handle of a trunk, he rips the sleeve of his shirt at the cuff, tearing it to the shoulder, then twists his homemade tourniquet around his arm to stop the flow of blood spurting in his face. Before finishing, he passes out, landing in between the two trunks.

Outside, the outlaws circle the car and shoot round after round into it to ensure the death of Milton. After threatening the life of the engineer  and using his body as a shield, the robbers climb into the car. One outlaw is about to shoot Milton, but the engineer stops him by pleading, “The man’s dead now.” The men search frantically for the keys but can’t find them. In desperation, they round up Dunlap and gallop off into the night with $40 in change.

The fight is over, but the race to save Milton’s life has just begun.

A Clever Ruse Fails

The train robbers go out of their way to make sure Milton is far away from the action on the day of the robbery. The gang sends Billy Stiles to Nogales to tempt Milton with a story that a mining man wants to look at Jeff’s claims out at the Quijotoa Mountains west of Nogales. They plan it for Milton’s day off. To make doubly sure, Stiles asks Jeff to wire him from Nogales in case of any change in plans.

Milton does not get his day off though. He receives a telegram in Imuris, Sonora, from W.F. Overton of the express company, informing him that the normal messenger is sick. Jeff forgets about his meeting with the mining speculator and mans his post through Nogales. The outlaws no doubt do a double-take when they see Milton—the very man they did not want...

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