Friday Friends: ‘Two-Gun’ Hart: The Prohibition Cowboy

Friday– This week’s edition of Friday Friends features “‘Two-Gun’ Hart: The Prohibition Cowboy” written by R.K. DeArment of

He was a throwback to another age, a walking, talking anachronism. From his high-heeled boots to his low-slung six-shooter, fancy vest and wide-brimmed Stetson, he was the popular depiction of the 19th-century Wild West gunfighter. But the year was 1919, and his type normally only made appearances in the hugely popular cowboy silent films of the day. When in the spring of that year he dropped off a freight train in Homer, Nebraska, a small community set back 16 miles from the wide Missouri opposite Sioux City, Iowa, he was neither packing a gun (at least not holstered in plain sight) nor sporting a sombrero. Local townsfolk, if they noticed him at all, would have taken him for just another rail-riding hobo.

For some reason the newcomer, who gave his name as Richard J. Hart, took an immediate liking to the little community of 500 souls and stayed on, taking work wherever he could find it. Obviously intelligent and ambitious, he was not afraid of hard work and over the next few months held jobs as a railroad timekeeper, housepainter and paperhanger.

Short in stature but powerfully built, he had black hair, dark eyes, a dark complexion and a prominent nose, indications, many believed, that he carried Indian or Mexican blood, a notion he did not dispute. Somehow he appeared older than his 27 years. Outgoing and talkative, especially about his own experiences, he told acquaintances he was originally from Oklahoma, where he had punched cattle, broken broncos and chased badmen. He said he had traveled the country with a circus, during which time he had honed his natural shooting ability. This skill came in handy, he claimed, when in 1917 the nation went to war and he enlisted and went to France with the American Expeditionary Forces.

In Homer he joined the local chapter of the American Legion and regaled veterans with accounts of his exploits against the Germans, how he had been promoted from private to lieutenant and been decorated by General John “Black Jack” Pershing himself for his bravery and sharpshooting feats. He also claimed to be a champion wrestler and challenged anyone to a match. No one chose to face him on the mats, however, after witnessing demonstrations of his expert marksmanship blasting tin cans and bottles with a six-shooter behind the legion post.

And any who might have doubted his bravery joined the ranks of his admirers when on May 19, 1919, a flash flood struck neighboring Emerson, Neb., and Hart risked his life to rescue a little girl named Margaret O’Connor from drowning, then re-entered the raging torrent to bring the entire family of a popular local grocer named Winch to safety. Winch’s 19-year-old daughter, Kathleen, was so smitten with her savior that she married him that fall.

Most everyone in Homer was greatly impressed by this new addition to the community. The town council appointed him marshal. The county sheriff issued him deputy papers. The American Legion honored him by electing him commander of their post and the Boy Scouts of America by appointing him district commissioner of their organization. Richard J. Hart seemed well on his way to becoming a big fish in a very small pond, but it soon became apparent he had greater ambitions. He would go on to become a “Prohibition cowboy,” one who wasn’t afraid to use his guns against bootleggers. And he pursued his lawman career while keeping quiet about his family connection to a man near the top of the crime world.

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