Thursday, October 18, 2018

Frank Canton, Outlaw Sheriff

Last month, I wrote about Nate Champion, one of the casualties of the Johnson County War in Wyoming. One of the men involved with killing Champion was Frank Canton.

Canton was born Josiah Horner on September 15, 1849, in Harrison Township, Henry County, Indiana. He drifted to Texas and worked as a cowboy. By 1871, frustrated with not having the money he wanted, Horner/Canton started robbing banks and rustling cattle. Cattle rustling was a capital offense. On October 10, 1874, Horner got into a gunfight with some Buffalo Soldiers, killing one and wounding the other. Somehow, he eluded justice for that. In 1877, he was arrested for robbing a bank in Comanche, Texas. He escaped from Texas Ranger custody and moved to Ogallala, Nebraska, and tried raising cattle, again. While in Nebraska, he officially changed his name to Frank M. Canton and vowed to give up his outlaw ways.

By the early 1880s, Canton was in the Wyoming Territory. He hired on as a stock detective for the Wyoming Stock Growers Association and with their backing, was elected sheriff of Johnson County, Wyoming.

During the Johnson County War, Canton signed on as one of Frank Wolcott's Regulators. On April 9, 1892, Canton led the Regulators to the "KC Ranch", where Nate Champion and Nick Ray were staying. Two other men at the ranch that day were captured as they emerged shortly after the Regulators arrived. Ray was shot and killed in the opening minutes of the ensuing gun battle. Champion, a one-time friend of Canton's, held off the Regulators for most of the day, killing at least four of the Regulators and wounding others. At 5:00 p.m., Canton set the house on fire. Champion soon burst out of the house firing his Winchester rifle and was shot 28 times.

Later in life, Canton said he regretted the incident with Champion. While continuing to work for the WSGA, Canton was also involved with the hanging of Ellen Watson (aka Cattle Kate), the woman painted with the blackest of brushes by the WSGA and the newspapers in Wyoming the wealthy cattlemen controlled. It was these incidents that made Canton leave the WSGA.

Canton then traveled to Oklahoma, and became a respected Deputy U.S. Marshal under Judge Isaac Parker, based out of Fort Smith, Arkansas. He worked with other famous lawmen such as Heck Thomas, Chris Madsen, Bass Reeves and Bill Tilghman during that time.

In 1897, Canton went to Alaska to follow the gold rush but instead became a Deputy U.S. Marshal. He returned to the states in 1907 and became Adjutant General for the Oklahoma National Guard. At some point during this time, Canton arranged a meeting with the Governor of Texas. He confessed that he was secretly Josiah “Joe” Horner, and the governor took his law enforcement service into consideration and granted him a pardon. He chose to be known as Frank Canton for the remainder of his lifetime. Canton died on September 27, 1927, in Edmond, Oklahoma.

Thanks for reading. 


  1. Another great post. Love this site. That tale really had the plot twists!

  2. A fine line separated criminals from lawmen in the good old daysToday it is criminals vs politicians!

  3. It seemed the outlaw and the lawman were so similar. Even in more recent times, lawbreakers were given the chance to join the military service or be incarcerated. Many chose the service and it was the making of them. Great post. Doris


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