From the Museum Archives: ‘Bad Bob’ Meldrum: Lawman, artist, killer
“We knew that Bob Meldrum had 5 cartridges in his revolver. That meant that he could get 5 of us before we could get him. Nobody wanted to be among the 5.” – Tomboy Mine Worker
As one of the fastest gunmen the American West ever produced, Bob Meldrum left an indelible mark wherever he landed. His extraordinary abilities with a revolver gave him a swagger that dared — if not begged — any man to cross him. It also left several men, perhaps needlessly, dead. Yet, while he was a feared lawman and emotionless killer, he was also an impressive artist and exquisite saddle maker.
Born in England in 1866 to Scottish parents, it isn’t exactly known when Bob Meldrum made his way into the American West. He first shows up in a Montana jail from 1894 to 1896 serving time for stealing horses. In 1899 he arrived in Dixon, Wyoming about 45 miles north of Craig where he worked in Charley Perkins’ saddle shop and was a deputy sheriff. It was here his reputation began.
• 1900 — Bob’s first known killing was in Dixon. As the deputy sheriff of Carbon County he recognized Noah Wilkerson from a wanted poster. He attempted to arrest him, but after a scuffle he shot Noah dead as he attempted to flee. Meldrum then collected the $200 reward.
• 1904 — Meldrum was hired around 1902 as the head guard for the famous Tomboy Mine near Telluride, as well as a deputy sheriff for San Miguel County. In 1904 he killed a drunken, yet unarmed Olaf Thissell during an altercation at the mine. Meldrum was formally charged, but with none of the several witnesses willing to testify against him, the case was dismissed.
• 1907 — Meldrum was sent to arrest a drunken David Lambert who had just mortally shot a Tomboy Mine guard. When Meldrum found Lambert in hiding, he shot and killed him while claiming self-defense. He was again formally charged, but with no witnesses he was found not guilty.
• 1912 — As the town marshal of Baggs, Wyoming, 40 miles north of Craig, Bob was called to quiet down popular local cowboy Chick Bowen who was whooping and hollering in the street. After arguing his innocence, an unarmed Chick finally agreed to go with Meldrum. When he bent down to pick up his hat, Bob shot him multiple times; he died the next day.
The killing of the unarmed Chick Bowen was the last straw for tolerance of Meldrum’s methods. He was arrested, tried three times due to appeals, and finally found guilty of manslaughter in 1916. He was sentenced to 5-7 years in the Wyoming State Penitentiary but only served roughly 18 months.
While awaiting trial in 1914, Meldrum made several pen and ink drawings based on actual events. He had no known art education and drew only from memory; however, his technique was masterful and the likenesses of actual characters are uncanny. A couple examples are included with this post.
After his shortened prison term, Meldrum eventually settled in Walcott, Wyoming where he opened a saddle shop. Again, even with limited experience in the trade, his craftsmanship rivaled that of substantially more experienced saddle makers of the day.
Meldrum’s shop burned down in 1926. Soon after he simply packed up, left town and was never seen nor heard from again.
The museum has a standing $500 reward for any information leading to the discovery of Bob Meldrum’s death and his ultimate whereabouts.
Be sure to check out our new Bob Meldrum exhibit that includes some of the only known original pieces of his leather work. It also includes an exact replica of, and the story behind, Meldrum’s extravagant Colt pistol that was once housed in our museum until sold by its owner in 2010 for $258,000.
Paul Knowles is assistant director of the Museum of Northwest Colorado. To learn more, drop by the Museum of Northwest Colorado at 590 Yampa Ave., or visit the museum’s Facebook page, facebook.com/MuseumNorthwestColorado.