Jeff Milton (November 7, 1861 – May 7, 1947) was an Old West lawman and son of Florida Confederate Governor John Milton. Jefferson Davis Milton, a descendant of the Milton family from which came the English poet John Milton (1608 – 1674), was the first officer assigned to the U.S. Immigration Border Patrol in 1924
Family and early life
Jefferson Davis Milton was born November 7, 1861 and grew up on the Sylvania estate, near Marianne, Florida. Geoff Milton was descended from an American “founding family”, with the prevailing body of evidence pointing to descent from Richard Milton (son of Thomas and thus nephew of the poet Milton), who was a passenger on the ship Supply, a sister ship to the Mayflower, that landed at Berkeley. , Virginia, January 29, 1620/21
Other ancestors were listed in the earliest passenger lists of the Jamestown settlement.
His great-great-grandfather, John Milton (Georgia politician), was an officer in the American Revolution, Georgia’s first Secretary of State, and won Electoral College votes in the first US presidential election in 1789. His nephew was Florida US Senator William Hall Milton (1864-1942). After a colorful career in the South, his father John Milton (1807-1865) was elected the fifth governor of Florida.
Jeff Milton was three years old on Sunday, April 7, 1865, when the American Civil War ended at Appomattox. Around this time, his father, John Milton, died of a crossbow and was buried in the Episcopal cemetery at Marianne. An article in the New York Times attributed Governor Milton’s sudden death to the gloom caused by the Civil War, which ended in his suicide. This contradicted local reports from Florida. The West Florida News reported that it was a hunting accident. 12] Recent work has investigated this event, and some scholars have concluded that the death occurred as a result of an accident while Milton was preparing to hunt.
Regardless, the traumatic event was a signal of a different future than envisioned for young Jeff.
Reconstruction had a particularly devastating effect on the surviving former Florida First Family. At the age of 15 or 16, Jeff Milton thought about his prospects and went to his sister in Texas, where he worked in her husband’s trading shops, and later as a cowboy.
“On July 27, 1880, he reported to Texas Ranger headquarters in Austin, armed with a couple of letters of recommendation from prominent citizens. Adding three years to his real age, he reached the required 21 years and was sworn in as an ordinary ranger .”
After serving in the Rangers for four years, he traveled across western Texas to New Mexico, where he became a Deputy U.S. Marshal in 1884.
Capture of the Jack Taylor Gang
For a time in the 1880s, Milton worked under Sheriff John Slaughter in Cochis County, Arizona, during which time they were involved in several hunts and shootouts with outlaws. One of their most famous accomplishments was their pursuit of the Jack Taylor Gang in late 1886 and mid-1887. Milton and Slaughter pursued the gang to Flora Cardenas’ home in Mexico.
However, the bandits were warned that they were being hunted by American lawmen and left before Slaughter and Milton could reach the Cardenas house.
Back in Arizona, the two lawmen followed the trail of the bandits to Willcox and then to Content City, where they found gang member Manuel Robles and another sleeping. When Slaughter called out to them to raise their hands, a gunfight ensued. Manuel’s brother, Guadalupe Robles, joined them but was quickly killed. As Manuel Robles and Nieves Deron fled, one of the bullets hit Slaughter in the ear. Slaughter’s next bullet killed Deron, but Manuel Robles escaped.
Soon Jack Taylor was arrested in Sonora. Robles, along with Geronimo Miranda, were killed by Mexican police in the Sierra Madre region.
US Customs Service
Milton joined the US Customs Service in 1887 and was appointed Mounted Customs Inspector headquartered in Tucson, in the El Paso Customs Collection Area. Milton worked in the customs service for two years, driving the line from Nogales west to the Colorado River. As a political appointee, Milton found himself out of a job in 1889 when a new political party took over the federal government.
Capture and death of Martin M’Rose
On June 21, 1895, Milton, then police chief in El Paso, Texas, was escorting his partner, Deputy U.S. Marshal George Scarborough, when Scarborough shot and killed Martin M’Rose, a notorious Texas cattle thief. M’Rose was captured by two lawmen on an outstanding warrant and killed while being transported from Mexico. Outlawed, the shooter and Mrs. M’Rose’s lover, John Wesley Hardin, stated that he paid Scarborough and Milton to kill M’Rose.
Milton and Scarborough were arrested, but Hardin later retracted his comments and both men were released. M’Rose is buried next to John Wesley Hardin and Texas Ranger Ernest St. Leon.
In July 1898, again working with Scarborough, the pair tracked down, shot and captured “Bronco Bill” Walters near Solomonville, Arizona and dispersed the Walters gang from their hideout, killing another gang member in the process.
Fairbank train hijacking
Although the dates, opportunities and duration of his employment are uncertain, Milton worked for the Southern Pacific Railroad and/or Wells Fargo for several years.
On February 15, 1900, Milton filled in on the train for another express agent who fell ill. In Fairbank, he was handing packages to the station agent when former lawman Bert Alvord and five others tried to rob an express car. Milton shot and killed the outlaw “Three-Fingered Jack” Dunlop, seriously injuring him. He died a few days later. Milton also shot and wounded Bravo Juan Joas. Milton was severely wounded in his left arm, breaking it and severing an artery for which he improvised a tourniquet.
Before Alvord and his men got into the car, Milton tossed the keys to the express safe into a pile of packages at the far end of the car. The gang was about to shoot Milton again when the train engineer intervened, saying that he was already dead. The robbers were unable to open the safe and fled with a few dollars.
The railroad sent a special engine and wagon to transport Milton from Benson to Tucson for treatment. Dr. H. W. Fenner tied up the shattered bone with piano wire. When the wound did not heal, he sent Milton to San Francisco, where he was examined by specialists from the Southern Pacific Hospital. They wanted to amputate his arm up to the elbow, but he refused and drove to the office of his friend Dr. George E. Goodfellow. Goodfellow cleaned and dressed Milton’s wound, but told him that he would never be able to use his arm again. Milton’s left hand was permanently disabled and became shorter than his right.
US Bureau of Immigration
Milton joined the Bureau of Immigration in 1904 as a mounted Chinese inspector charged with enforcing the Chinese Exclusion Act.
At the age of 62, he became the first officer assigned to the USCIS Border Patrol in 1924, and for the next 8 years he worked in the Border Patrol “with unbridled enthusiasm.”
The Economics Act of 1932 forced the still active Milton to retire at the age of 70.
The El Paso Section Chief wrote of him with praise: You have come to be seen “more as an institution than as a person. No other immigration officer is as important as you in fostering the goodwill and friendship that we must have in order to effectively enforce the law.”
Milton retired in Tombstone, Arizona and then in Tucson, Arizona, where he lived the rest of his life. Louis L’Amour wrote in his book The Education of a Traveling Man that he met Milton, who treated him to breakfast and gave him a ride to Tucson.
In an interview with journalist David Layton, published in the Arizona Daily Star, Chris Milton, great-grandnephew of Jeff D. Milton, shared the following story: “My father, Lieutenant Colonel Ronald A. Milton, told me that Jeff’s wife shared with him that every night after dinner he would mount his horse and ride to the top of the little hill behind their Tucson home, where he would sit on his horse and watch the sunset. She said it was a quiet time when Jeff thought about the day.”
“As for me, I have never killed a person who did not need to be killed, and I have never shot animals, except for meat”
On August 15, 1936, the USCIS dedicated the Jeff D. Milton, a new patrol boat in San Francisco harbor. In 1937, “Colonel Milton received his commission and the rank of colonel from Governor B. B. Muer, who made him a life military assistant to the Governor of Arizona.”
- David Layton, “Street Smarts: Road’s namesake is the first to patrol the border”, Arizona Daily Star, October 28, 2014 http://tucson.com/news/blogs/streetsmarts/street-smarts-road -namesake-first-to-patrol-border/article_3fab9ce0-702f-5cd9-bd17-66921d095935.html
- Jeff Milton, Lawmanhttps://www.legendsofamerica.com/lawmen-list-m/#Jeff%20Davis%20Milton%20(1861-1947)%20-
- Jeff Milton kills Three-Toed Jackhttps://www.secureserver.net/?prog_id=4jcompany
- Killed Three-Toed Jackhttp://www.clandunlop.com/infamous_dunlops.htm
- Fairbank Shootouthttp://www.arizonaghosttowntrails.com/fairbank.html