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The life of Michael Sutton

Kathie Bell
Special to the Globe
Mike Sutton and his ostriches. SUBMITTED PHOTO

He was a member of notorious "Gang" along with Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson, but his career outlasted the lifespan of this "Gang."

Michael Westernhouse Sutton was born in Orange County, New York in 1848, but raised in Tompkins County, New York.

As a teenager, Sutton did his part for the Union during the Civil War. In February 1863, he enlisted in Company B, Sixth Regiment New York Heavy Artillery, mustering out on August 24, 1865. He saw action at the Battles of the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor and Petersburg.

In November 1867, he moved with his family to Johnson County, Missouri where he studied law, joining the bar in March 1872 at Warrensburg, Missouri.

Arriving in Kansas in May 1872, he practiced law in Wellington until December, when he moved to Medicine Lodge where he practiced private law and served as the Barber County attorney for two years.

His life in Dodge City began in June 1876, where he founded the firm of Sutton & Wenie. Here, he served as attorney for the Santa Fe Railway for more than 40 years.

In October 1879, he married Florence E. Clemons, of Genesee County, New York. She was the niece of Dodge City mayor Alonzo B. Webster. Their son Stuart, who became a prominent Dodge City photographer, was born in 1880.

Voters made Sutton their Ford County Attorney on November 1, 1876. During this same time he allied with Ford County sheriff, Bat Masterson. Due his speeches, Sutton earned the not so flattering nickname "St. Michael of the Oily Tongue."

In 1878, a band of Northern Cheyenne led by Dull Knife marauded through southwest Kansas wreaking death and destruction on a small, but alarming, scale. The military captured much of the band and held some of them at Fort Leavenworth.

In January 1879, as a young and overly ambitious County Attorney, Gang member Sutton, asked the military to turn over part of this band to Ford County so he could prosecute them for the deaths of five people within his jurisdiction.

A group from Dodge City, led by Bat Masterson, traveled to Fort Leavenworth to select ringleaders to be bought to Dodge for trial. Seven Indians, some still recovering from wounds received in battle, were lodged in the Ford County Jail in February. Here they lived at great expense to the County for six months.

By June, when a change of venue to Lawrence was granted, the fervor against the Indians had died down. In Lawrence, the convictions everyone had thought were a done deal didn't happen. First, the judge dropped charges against one, with acquittals for the other six coming later.

Anti-gang forces capitalized on the negative publicity generated by the expenditure of Ford County funds on this attempt to avenge Dull Knife's band.

As a direct consequence of his part in this debacle, Mike Sutton was voted out of office in November 1879. And it was the beginning of the end for the Gang.

But this was not the end of Sutton's career. In 1893 he became a state legislator for two terms. He was a prominent member of the local Grand Army of the Republic post and was instrumental in establishing the Kansas Soldiers Home at the closed Fort Dodge. Sutton worked during President McKinley's administration as the Internal Revenue Tax Collector for the State of Kansas.

Michael W. Sutton died on June 12, 1918 and is interred at Maple Grove Cemetery next to his wife who had died in 1888 and his son who died in 1950.

The photograph shows him on the left at an ostrich farm in Hot Springs, Arkansas.