Olney, Joseph Graves (1849–1884)

By: Dave Johnson

Type: Biography

Published: May 1, 1995

Joseph Graves Olney, rancher, feudist, and outlaw, son of Joseph and Mary Katherine (Tanner) Olney, was born on October 9, 1849, in Burleson County, Texas. In 1860 the Olneys moved to the Colorado River in Burnet County. On November 30, 1870, Olney married Agnes Jane Arnold; they had five children. He enlisted in Company O, Minute Men, under John Ross Alexander in September 1872 and served through January 1873. During the spring of 1874 he became involved in a dispute over cattle that resulted in his shooting a man in Llano County. He was indicted for theft of cattle and assault with intent to murder. In 1875 he was drawn into the Mason County War by the killing of Moses Baird. During the rest of 1875 and 1876 he was opposed to the "mob" faction of Mason and Llano counties. On September 7, 1876, he engaged in a gunfight with two deputies in which one of them, Samuel Martin, was mortally wounded. Olney fled to New Mexico and established a ranch near Mimbres under the alias of Joe Hill. During the Lincoln County War in New Mexico, Governor Lew Wallace issued papers for his arrest for the Texas killing. By 1879 he was in Arizona, and in July 1880 was noted as having "hurrahed" Maxey, Arizona, after driving a herd of cattle to the San Carlos Indian Reservation. In November he was said to be in Texas. On March 8, 1881, he was present at Camp Thomas, Arizona, when Dick Lloyd was killed. Contrary to folklore, he took no part in the shooting. Wyatt Earp attempted to link Olney to cattle theft and stage robberies between 1880 and 1882, but there is no evidence to indicate his guilt. In the fall of 1881 Olney moved from his ranch at San Simon to Bowie. There he was killed on December 3, 1884, when his horse fell on him. Contemporary news accounts referred to him as a "well-known cattleman."

Burnet Bulletin, September 8, 1876. William A. Duffen, "Jollification-Arizona Style: A Description of Gunplay in 1880," Arizona and the West 1 (Autumn 1959). James B. O'Neil, They Die But Once (New York: Knight, 1935).


  • Law, Law Enforcement, and Outlaws
  • Outlaws, Criminals, Prostitutes, Gamblers, and Rebels
  • Ranching and Cowboys
  • Ranchers and Cattlemen

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

Dave Johnson, “Olney, Joseph Graves,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed January 25, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/olney-joseph-graves.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

May 1, 1995