Milton, Jefferson Davis (1861–1947)

By: Robin Dutton

Type: Biography

Published: April 1, 1995

Updated: January 19, 2019

Jefferson Davis Milton, lawman, son of John and Caroline Milton, was born in the woods of Florida, near Marianna, on a plantation called Sylvania. Before the Civil War his family had great wealth and status; they cited the English poet John Milton as an ancestor. Like many others of their class, they were ruined by the Civil War. As the youngest of eleven children, Milton grew up in genteel poverty with no formal education. With grim prospects in Florida and a youthful zeal for adventure, he struck out for Texas at the age of sixteen. He spent his first year on the frontier working as a cowhand. In 1878 he claimed to be twenty and joined the Texas Rangers. After a four-year stint as a ranger he drifted through West Texas, occasionally working as a sheriff's deputy. In 1884 he went to southern New Mexico, where the New Mexico Stock Association employed him to be a stock inspector. Next, he worked as a deputy sheriff in Socorro. In March 1887 he accepted a post as a mounted customs inspector on the Arizona-Mexico border. His duties consisted of making one-man patrols of the desert close to the border. Milton left the customs service in 1889, turned to ranching and prospecting for a while, and eventually ended up with the Pullman Company as a railroad conductor in the Southwest. In August 1894 El Paso hired him as chief of police to clean up the crime-ridden border city. In search of better wages Milton joined Wells Fargo in 1895 as a part-time messenger and a full-time security guard. This employment came to an end in 1900, after his arm was disabled in a shoot-out with train robbers. In April 1904 he became an agent for the United States under the Chinese Exclusion Act of that year. Stationed in Sonora, Mexico, Milton patrolled the borderlands to prevent the smuggling of Chinese immigrants. For the next twenty-eight years he roamed the border apprehending smugglers and unauthorized immigrants. He retired from the immigration service in 1932 and settled in Tombstone, Arizona. Milton was not connected with a religious denomination, but he is said to have had a spiritual connection to the desert that he patrolled. When he died on May 7, 1947, his wife, Mildred (Tait), whom he had married on June 30, 1919, complied with his wish to have his ashes scattered in the Arizona desert just outside of Tucson.

J. Evetts Haley, Jeff Milton (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1948). Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.

  • Law, Law Enforcement, and Outlaws
  • Law Officers

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

Robin Dutton, “Milton, Jefferson Davis,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 23, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

April 1, 1995
January 19, 2019