Lawton's first police chief honored with new headstone

Lawton_On Thursday, a Law Day Ceremony paid tribute to Lawton's first police chief - Henry "Heck" Andrew Thomas held the city's first badge from 1902 to 1909, and is probably best known for his roughly 15 years as a Deputy US Marshal.

As a member of the "Three Guardsmen," Thomas helped capture and kill some of the worst criminals of the Old West.  Despite his pioneering role in law enforcement, Thomas' legacy had largely been forgotten until a current Lawton police officer brought his story back into the spotlight.

Heck Thomas is buried in Lawton's Highland Cemetery, and before Thursday, the simple grave marker listed only his name and dates of life.  Master Officer Don Pestun set out to change that.  "I thought it was kind of an injustice to the man," he says.  "I knew about a quarter of what I know now about him, but that was enough to know he deserved more than what he had."

Within two days of asking for donations for a new headstone, Pestun says Lawton police officers doubled the request, and Lawton Monument agreed to donate the new marker.  Thomas' living relatives returned to the place he was buried 95 years ago where they found actors portraying his lawman friends - Chris Madseden and Bill Tighlman.  "I think he's probably best known for cleaning up a lot of outlaws," said Thomas' granddaughter Dorothy Johnson.

An estimated 300 outlaws made their way to a new city forming in the southwest part of Indian Territory - Lawton.  "One and half man a day was the homicide rate, that's why he was hired to come here and recruit a police force," said Pestun.  "The guy was quite an effective lawman, let's leave it at that (laughs)," said Lou Ellen Penny, Thomas' other granddaughter.  "I cannot over emphasize his courage, she said.  "He was a very, very brave man, and yet he was not a hard man."

He was also a family man.  Dorothy remembers the stories her mother told her about her grandfather.  "He'd come over and pick her up and take her out in a wagon across the prairie, when something was not a dangerous trip," she said.  "He was a great guy.  I can be proud to say he was my grandfather."

Heck Thomas appeared in the first Western movie ever filmed.  It was shot in Cache, Oklahoma, and it's no surprise that Thomas' role was to portray a lawman fighting off criminals during a bank robbery.  Thomas left the Lawton Police Department in 1909 after suffering a heart attack.  He died of "Bright's Disease" three years later.