The murder of buffalo hunter James McGuire in 1874 was one of frontier Nebraska’s most noted crimes. McGuire’s weighted body was found October 4, 1874, in the Frenchman Fork of the Republican River in unorganized Chase Country, Nebraska. McGuire, from Palmyra, Otoe County, was thought to have been on a buffalo hunt when he was murdered by William “Hank” Dodge and Walter Hardin on or about September 27.
Several days later Dodge and Hardin were observed in Kansas with goods and a team known to have belonged to McGuire. They were arrested and lodged in the Ellis County, Kansas, jail. Peter McGuire (like his brother, James, a resident of Otoe County) learned of the murder through a letter published in the October 14, 1874, Omaha Bee. The letter had been written by Asbury Buckmaster, discoverer of the murdered hunter’s body. Peter McGuire immediately began steps to have Dodge and Hardin extradited to Nebraska to be tried on murder charges. Before the extradition, however, the pair escaped and were recaptured.
Dodge and Hardin were eventually bound over to the jurisdiction of the district court at Nebraska City. This procedure was permitted by law because the courts were not yet functioning in the part of western Nebraska where the murder had taken place. In Nebraska City the two soon gained a following from sympathetic visitors and reform-minded local church women, in spite of a second unsuccessful escape attempt.
On the advice of attorneys, Hardin eventually cooperated with the prosecution and avoided trial by pleading guilty to a second-degree murder charge. Dodge was convicted of murder in the first degree and sentenced to be hanged. The death sentence was unsuccessfully appealed to the Nebraska Supreme Court in October 1875. Governor Silas Garber, beseeched by both proponents and opponents of the convicted Dodge, traveled to Nebraska City himself to interview the condemned man.
Early on the morning of July 10, 1876, a group of masked men overpowered Dodge’s jailer and shot Dodge as he slept chained to his cot. Fatally wounded, he died on July 14. A reward was offered for information leading to the apprehension of the killers, but no informants ever came forward.