East, James H. (1853–1930)

By: H. Allen Anderson

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: January 2, 2020

James H. East, cowboy, lawman, and author, was born on August 30, 1853, on a farm near Kaskaskia, Illinois. As a boy he heard many tales about Texas, and, after turning sixteen in 1869, he headed there, inspired by having read of Davy Crockett and the fall of the Alamo (see ALAMO, BATTLE OF THE). His first job was on the cattle ranges around Seguin, in the employ of John Files Tom. He participated in his first long cattle drive, to the New Orleans market, in 1870, and other drives soon followed. For the next ten years East, as a cowboy in South Texas, experienced occasional brushes with Indians and Mexican bandits, and in 1877 he made his first drive north over the Western Trail to Dodge City, Kansas. In 1880 East began work with the LX Ranch in the Panhandle, working in company with such men as W. C. (Outlaw Bill) Moore and Charles A. Siringo. He was a member of Patrick F. Garrett's posse that trailed and captured Billy the Kid (see MCCARTY, HENRY) and killed Tom O'Folliard and Charlie Bowdre in November 1880. In 1882 East was elected sheriff of Oldham County, succeeding Caleb Berg (Cape) Willingham. In that position he aided Pat Garrett's Home Rangers and quickly restored order to Tascosa after the "Big Fight" on March 21, 1886, which left four men dead. East also owned the Equity Bar at Tascosa and later bought the Cattle Exchange Saloon. During this time he married Nettie Boulding of Virginia. After his tenure as sheriff, East was hired by Lucien B. Scott as range foreman of the LS Ranch. In this role he continued as a deputy sheriff. On May 13, 1889, he killed a gambler named Tom Clark in a shoot-out at Tascosa. One night Nettie East shot at what she thought was an outlaw waiting to ambush her husband, only to discover that she had killed the LS's prize bull. The Easts remained in the Panhandle until 1903, when they moved to Douglas, Arizona. There East served at various times as city marshal, chief of police, and police judge until his retirement in the late 1920s. In 1928 he collaborated with Viola Vivian in writing a play entitled Billy the Kid, which was presented at Tucson, Arizona. East died at Douglas on May 14, 1930, aged seventy-seven.

J. Evetts Haley, "Jim East-Trail Hand and Cowboy," Panhandle-Plains Historical Review 4 (1931). Henry Hoyt, A Frontier Doctor (Chicago: Lakeside, 1979). John L. McCarty, Maverick Town: The Story of Old Tascosa (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1946; enlarged ed. 1968). Charles A. Siringo, Riata and Spurs (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1927; 2d ed. 1931). Dulcie Sullivan, The LS Brand (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1968).


  • Law, Law Enforcement, and Outlaws
  • Law Officers
  • Ranching and Cowboys
  • Writers, Authors, Publications, and Literature
  • Cowboys and Cowgirls
  • Rodeo Personalities

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

H. Allen Anderson, “East, James H.,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed October 20, 2021, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/east-james-h.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

January 2, 2020