Many who encountered the dark-complexioned lawman Richard Hart assumed he was of Mexican or Native American heritage. The fact he spent so many years working on reservations from South Dakota to Idaho, Washington, and even Wyoming lent further credence to these assumptions, as did the lawman’s fluency in the dialects of the Lakata and Omaha people.
Hart’s willingness to hunt down the rankest of outlaws, his proficiency with those trademark matching Colt .45s of his, and even his willingness to unbuckle his gunbelt and go toe-to-toe, all helped to garner a well-deserved reputation as a man to be both feared and respected. As you’ll soon read this particular trait seemed to run in the family.
Apparently so did a propensity for killing, as Hart would - on more than one occasion - find himself in hot water after dropping the hammer on an uncooperative outlaw. The lawman was even once charged and tried for murder, although he would ultimately be acquitted.
Over the years Two Gun Hart worked as a marshal, deputy sheriff, range detective, presidential bodyguard, reservation police officer, and all-around thorn in the side of ne’er-do-wells everywhere. A "menace, as one paper called him, whose “name alone carries terror to the heart of every criminal.”
Ultimately Hart would die of a heart attack at the age of 60, but not before his mystery past - and notorious relations - were cast into the limelight.
You see, Richard Hart was not part Native American as many assumed, nor did he have Hispanic heritage. Richard Hart wasn’t even the lawman’s real name. It was James.
James Vicenzo Capone.
Born in Salerno, Italy in 1892, James would emigrate to the United States with his family just three years later. By January of 1899, James’ parents welcomed a new child, whom they christened Alphonso Gabriel Capone. Better known to the world at large as Al Capone.
As for James, he left his Brooklyn home at the age of 16 when young Alphonso was just 9 years old and joined the circus. For the next few years, young Capone worked diligently to lose his accent and take on the mannerisms of his idol - Hollywood cowboy actor William S. Hart, whose surname he eventually adopted.
By the year 1919, the then 27-year-old Capone - living under the name of Hart - found himself in Homer, Nebraska where he saved a young lady from drowning during a flash flood. Not only did he end up marrying this damsel in distress, but the citizens of Homer were so impressed they made Hart the town marshal. And, well, the rest is history.
Richard Hart aka James Capone did somewhat keep in touch with his family but was mostly able to keep his past a secret until called to testify at a trial for his other brother, Ralph. Hart’s full name was taken during a deposition - his full real name that is - and the newspapers ran with the sensational story. His cover blow, Hart would die soon thereafter at his home in Nebraska.
While Two Gun Hart was not necessarily of the Old West era, his signature cowboy hat, boots, twin single-action colts, and willingness to track down outlaws and bootleggers alike certainly harkened back to the days of the black powder smoke and the stand-in-the-street at the turn of a joke.
One has to wonder what Al Capone thought.
Odds and Ends
In case you missed it, the most recent episode of The Wild West Extravaganza featured the Confederate guerilla and all-around nasty individual Jim Crow Chiles, who also happened to be President Harry Truman’s Uncle.
As far as I know, these are the only known photos of the man. If you haven’t already listened, here’s a link to the episode.
If you’re looking for more interesting content for your earholes, I just finished listening to a two-part series on the prolific writer and conman Asa Carter on the Bear Grease podcast. Host Clay Newcomb is really killing it with these historical series and I really love the nuanced approach he takes. This one was a real eye-opener.
Speaking of nuance, if you’re a fan of history you’ll be doing yourself a favor by checking out the recent series from Texas History Lessons titled Lesson Zero. You absolutely do not need to be a Texan or even have an interest in Texas history to find value in the past five episodes. Make sure you have a pen and pad handy, you’ll want to take notes.
On the most recent episode of The Wild West Extravaganza I also tentatively announced a new venture - Hat Creek Audio. In my spare time, I’ve been working on a course aimed at people just like me; blue-collar folks who want to start a podcast but might not know where to start. Now the course is not yet ready, but if you’ve ever considered beginning as a show of your own, feel free to head on over to Hat Creek Audio and drop your email. I’ll see if I can help.
That’s about it for this edition. Have an amazing weekend and I’ll catch y’all next time.
I wander if he actually knew what his brother was really doing, like not just what media said about him but actual details.
I knew Al Capones' brother was a lawman, but never knew all the amazing details of his life until now! Thanks Josh. 🤠