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MarketInsight | Send Two Coffins and a Doctor



Jefferson Davis Milton was three years old when his famous father shot himself in the head. John Milton, the father, was the Confederate governor of the State of Florida. For more than 150 years, historians have argued about whether the old man committed suicide or if the fatal wound was an accident. What is clear is that on April 1, 1865, one day before Richmond fell, John Milton, who claimed to be descended from the English poet of the same name, went into the woods, and shot himself in the head. The family and local newspapers near the Milton plantation in Marianna reported the death as an accident. The New York Times pointed out that a week before, Governor Milton had advised the Legislature that the Yankees “have developed a character so odious that death would be preferable to reunion with them” and attributed his death to suicide. Recent scholarship has suggested that the New York paper was wrong. John Milton had fitted himself out to go hunting that day. The gunshot wound was most likely an accident.

Jeff Milton was the 14th child of the governor. After the elder Milton’s death, the family suffered. At the age of 15, Jeff ran away to Texas. Two years later, he lied about his age and joined the Texas Rangers. Over the next 50 years, Jefferson Davis Milton carved out a celebrated career as a fast-drawing lawman in the old west. As a Ranger, he helped hunt down Geronimo. He became the chief of police in El Paso. It was there he faced down and arrested the infamous outlaw, John Wesley Hardin, the man “so mean, he once shot a man for snoring.” Jeff Milton was known as “a good man with a gun.” He had run-ins with other outlaws like cattle rustler Marty McRose and a train robber named “Three Fingered Jack” Dunlop. Milton shot and killed them both.

Jeff was working for the Wells Fargo Company in 1895 when he and a partner set out after “Bronco Billy” Walters and his gang. The gang had robbed a Wells Fargo stagecoach. Milton tracked the outlaws for weeks through the rolling plains and tumbleweeds of West Texas. Eventually, the two lawmen caught up with the gang near their hideout in Solomonville, Arizona. The outlaws refused to surrender without a fight. They got their fight. “Bronco Billy” was shot and arrested, and two other outlaws were killed. The rest fled in terror. It was at this point that Jeff Milton sent his legendary telegram “send two coffins and a Doctor.”

In 1915, Jeff Milton went to work for the US Immigration Service. Initially, his title was “Mounted Chinese Inspector.” His job was to pursue Chinese immigrants attempting to evade the Chinese Exclusion Act. In 1924, he became our nation’s first Border Patrol Agent. He is recognized as the first on the Department of Homeland Security’s website. He remained with the newly formed US Border Patrol pursuing his job “with unbridled enthusiasm” until he was forced into retirement at age 70 by the Economy Act of 1932. 

Milton and his wife retired to Tombstone, Arizona and then later to Tucson. He survived until 1947, passing at the age of 85. His long active life made him something of a celebrity and he often told interviewers that “I never killed a man who didn’t need killing and I never killed an animal except for meat.” Many came. Jeff Milton once bought breakfast for western author Louis L’Amour. His wife recalled that every night, Jeff rode his horse up into the hills behind their house to watch the sunset.

Scott A. Grant is a local author, historian, columnist, and speaker. He is president of Standfast Asset Management in Ponte Vedra Beach. He welcomes your comments or questions at

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