September 19, 2012

William Sidney Light, lawman, killer.

Except for the age of the lawman, this could be a reenactment
of the McCann shooting in Creede, Colorado


William Sidney Light, alias "Cap," member of the Denver and Creede Soap Gang, and Soapy Smith's brother-in-law, was a dangerous man to anger. With at least five deaths to his name, some suspicious in nature, it was speculated that he was a killer who used the law badge to hide behind. Not a lot has been written about him, but there is plenty of information out there for a historian is who willing to do the leg-work, to publish a fine biography on the man. I did research on Light for the period that he belonged to the family and to the Soap Gang, which is contain in my book, Alias Soapy Smith. There is a page on Wikipedia that I created on Light here.

Light died accidentally by his own hand on Christmas eve when his revolver fell out of his hands and fired a round into his groin. The Rocky Mountain News posted an unflattering obituary, if one can call it that, on December 27, 1893, which read as follows.



“Cap” Light of Belton, Texas, Shot Himself by Accident the Other Day, Thus Ending a Wild and Woolly Career―Five Men Killed in the Last Fifteen Years―The Record of a Bad Man from Texas―His Last Killing Was at Creede, Which Compelled Him to Leave That Camp Because He Shot When the other Man’s Revolver Was Empty.

The death of Captain Light at Belton, Texas, on Sunday last, removes one who has done more than his share in earning for the West the appellation of “wild and woolly.” His record extends over the period covered by the last fifteen years, and he has averaged a “killing” for every three years. He was a brother-in-law of Jeff Smith and for some years was an efficient “steerer” for that distinguished relative. His last victim was Red McCann, a Creede gambler, and although the jury decided it a case of justifiable homicide, the people declared it a case of Light “getting” his man.

Captain Light came to Colorado from the South. He brought with him a reputation for “killing” and when irrigated he managed to make himself out a very bad man from Texas. His stories were highly colored and thay all had the fringes peculiar to the border tales of ten years ago. For some years before coming north he was assistant city marshal of Belton, Texas, and about eleven years ago he shot and killed Sam Halsey, who was resisting arrest. By using his gun on the slightest provocation he soon made for himself the reputation of being a “holy terror.” From Belton he went to Temple and became deputy city marshal at that point. There he killed his second man, who like the first was resisting arrest. By this time Light’s name had become a household word, and for years he was alluded to as a good sort of a fellow―to get away from. He was mixed up in many fights and after a time the “respect” he had commanded with the aid of a six-shooter began to fade away. It was recalled that all his killings and shooting scrapes occurred when the other man’s gun was elsewhere, or in other words, when the victim was powerless to return blow for blow and shot for shot. Then the story was told that Light knew more than he cared to tell of a cold blooded murder where, on a lonely road on a dark night, a Winchester rifle played an important part in removing one whose antagonism was not relished.

From Temple, Light went to Brownwood, Texas, and there he killed another man, who had committed the indiscretion of trifling with the law’s officer. From there he came to Denver and remained with Jeff Smith during the latter’s palmy days. He did not make many friends in Denver and was regarded by the best sporting men as considerable of a bluff. From here he went to Wason and from there to Creede, When it was “day all day” and “no night” in that record making camp. He put another notch on his cane there by killing Red McCann, a gambler, well-known all over the western country. At Creede Light became deputy city marshal under Meadows, and with the protection he cut a wide swath. His hand was always on his gun and the history-makers of the town say that he was bravest whenever he had the best of it. His shooting of Red McCann really drove him out of the camp, as it was pretty generally believed that Light knew that McCann’s gun was empty when he loaded him up with five volleys of lead.

The shooting created considerable excitement, even in that abiding place of the unexpected, and the ubiquitous and versatile variety actress played an important part in it. In the town at that time the “variety” afforded the gamblers and miners all the recreation they wanted outside of the saloon. The painted fairies [showgirls] from all over the West flocked in and they made the place hum for a few months. A bartender named [William] Allen became enamored of one of these angels whose beauty had not been seriously marred by the excesses of the camp. He had as a rival Red McCann. The eventual quarrel followed and the girl agreed to take the man whose nerve showed up to the best advantage in a Creede shooting scrape. Captain Light was a friend of Allen’s, and to him he confided the story. That night they started out to do their daily kalsomining, and before entering a saloon they met McCann and a party of friends whose hilarity was such that they all began shooting off their guns in the air. The chambers were emptied and they all went into the saloon to liquor. McCann and Light exchanged words and the latter, always calm and composed, irritated McCann to such an extent that he pulled his empty gun on Captain Light. With that the deputy marshal nailed him, and before his gun quit smoking five cartridges had found a resting place in some vital part of McCann’s anatomy. An inquest was held, but before the verdict was announced Light had left the camp.

For the last year and a half he has been running a barber shop at Temple, Texas. He has had one or two “experiences” since, but he died with his Creede killing as his last.

When he met his death he was on a Missouri, Kansas and Texas train bound north from Belton. At Little River those on the car were expecting that an attempt would be made to hold up the train, and Light was examining his pistol, when it fell to the floor and went off, the ball entering the lower part of the groin and severing the femoral artery. He bled to death in a few minutes.

William S. Light: pages 9, 82-83, 184, 193-94, 207, 214-18.

"I'm in the middle of Soapy's tenure in Creede, and the book gets more and more fascinating. You must be very proud of having mastered so much primary source material. I'm especially intrigued by your explanations of the various scams used by 19th-century con men--a fascinating subject!"
—Charles F. Price


1777: The Battle of Saratoga during the American Revolution is fought and won War by American soldiers. 1796: U.S. President Washington's farewell address is published. 
1864: Confederate General Stand Watie leading 1,500 Cherokee Indians and Texans captures most of the Union supply train that departed Fort Scott, Kansas, on September 12. 
1867: The 5th Infantry reports one soldier killed and three wounded in a fight with Indians at Walker Creek, Kansas. Two Indians are killed. 
1874: Grasshoppers are reported covering the ground in Kansas, two inches deep in places. 
1876: Melville R. Bissell patents the carpet sweeper. 
1877: Sam Bass and his outlaw gang rob the Union Pacific train at Big Spring station which nets them $60,000 in gold coin. 
1878: Unknown outlaws rob the stage near Cold Springs, Wyoming. 
1883: the Cheyenne Daily Leader reports that “92 men in Dodge City have died with their boots on.” 
1900: The Wild Bunch outlaw gang, including Butch Cassidy, Harry Longbaugh, alias “Sundance Kid,” Logan, Hanks, and Ben Kilpatrick, alias “The Tall Texan,” rob the First National Bank of Winnemucca, Nevada taking $32,000.

1 comment:

  1. Something I forgot to include in with the article.

    At this time the Officer Down Memorial Page is researching Light's law background to see if he actually wore a legitimate legal badge in Texas. If so, he may be eligible to have his name placed on the memorial, which I did for his direct descendant, Kyle Rosene.

    Jeff Smith


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