The Danish con man who became an American hero

In the Frisco Cemetery right outside Yukon, Oklahoma, about 15 miles northeast of Oklahoma City, you find a modest gravestone, with two names on it, Christian and Maggie Madsen. He lived from 1851 until 1944 while she died young, being born in 1871 and dying in 1898. 25 miles northwest of here, and due north of Oklahoma City, outside the town of Guthrie, you find a road called Chris Madsen road. The Chris Madsen of the road and the Christian Madsen of the gravestone are one and the same. But who was this man, who earned the right of having a road named for him?

In Oklahoma he is known as a hero and a man of the law, while in Denmark, his native country, he is known as a criminal, a con man who spent quite some time in prison! In this article I will take a closer look at this character and his two careers.


Youth and criminal carreer

Christian Madsen Rørmose was born on February 25th, 1851 in a small village called Ørsted on the island of Funen (Fyn) in Denmark as the son of Mads Christensen and Maren Jørgensdatter. He later claimed that he was born in Schleswig in southern Jutland (Jylland), but this claim can not be documented, and is actually a lie, like his later reports of his life as a soldier and a railroad worker in Norway, see below.

He started in the small village school, where he did well and received very good reports from the teacher, and after some years in the village school, he was admitted to Kauslunde Agricultural School, also on Funen. Here he did fairly well. But í twas the end of his success in Denmark, at least the legitimate part of his success. Instead of becoming a farmer like he had trained for, he moved to Copenhagen, the Danish capital but this was just a first of several bad moves. He couldn't get a job and had to turn to begging which was illegal in those days. After only having been in Copenhagen for a short while, he was arrested and sentenced to "five days on water and bread", for public begging, a very common punishment for minor crimes at that time.

When he was released he had to make a living, and as he still couldn't get a job, he therefore indulged in crime, but this time of a more serious kind. Among the crimes he did was to "borrow" money, both from public authorities and individuals, which he unfortunately forgot to pay back. He made a so-called "begging letter" that described how he had lost everything he owned in a shipwreck. The idea of ​​such "begging letters" was that the people who donated a sum to the holder of the letter could write their names on the letter, and thus "help to convince others to also make donation." However, he didn't do to well getting people to sign their names to the letter, so he started signing different names on the letter himself. When this was discovered, he was once more sent to jail for a short time, convicted of forgery. When he was released he continued his scheming until he had exhausted both Funen, Copenhagen and Zealand (Sjælland) of well-meaning but naïve souls, he went on to Jutland. In Aarhus he bought a Dannebrogskors ("Cross of Honour of the Order of the Dannebrog", a medal that among others were awarded to soldiers who had taken part in Second Schleswig War in 1864) at a pawn shop, and with this attached to his chest it became easier to convince people to lend him money. Unfortunately his still forgot to pay them back. In 1871, 20 years old, he was arrested once more and sentenced to eight months in the "forbedringshus", literally "improvement house" a prison, using the "separate system" (or "Philadelphia system"), in which the prisoners were kept in solitary confinement in order to have them do some silent reflection upon their crimes and behavior, thereby improving their character. He he was sent to the jail on Vridsløselille Mark outside Copenhagen, (later a state prison). Prison registrations from his time here describe him as intelligent but cold, sly and and a scoundrel who apparently had no intention of changing his habits.

And the reports were right. He did not change. Even though he did "honest work" on a few occasions, he still spent a lot of his time as a con man. Using the name Carl Daniel Hoffmann and with fake papers, he sought out scholars in Copenhagen whom he could deceive by telling stories of his travels and the amazing discoveries he had made in far corners of the world, and this way persuading them to invest money in further explorations of these imaginary wonders by promising the victims a large part of the profits. A kind of Nigeria Letter of the 19th century. When the number of scholars who bought into his scam dried up, he tried in Sweden and Norway with the same and other scams. In 1874, he was then arrested in Larvik in Norway, and he was sentenced to 2 years in jail.

Between 1869 and 1874 he had been sentenced to a total of five longer prison sentences - and a few shorter. When he was released in late 1875 after serving most of the two years, the Norwegian authorities returned him to Denmark. The Danish authorities didn't want him around either, so they bought him a one-way ticket to the United States, which was a fairly common practice for repeating perpetrators who had not committed any  violence.

In the US Army

In the United States, the young Rørmose apparently decided to put his criminal habits aside once and for all and give himself a fresh start. He arrived in the United States with M/S Dakota on January 17th, 1876, and four days later, he joined the US Army. However, his cheating was not completely done, because when he joined the army, he claimed that he had been in the Danish army during the Second Schleswig War in 1864 (maybe inspried by the medal he bought in Aarhus), which would have been quite an achievement for a boy just turned 13. Many years later, when he was interviewed, and the reporter confronted him with the allegation that his participation in the war was not documented, he explained that he, together with his father, had served as a couriers during The Battle of Dybbøl and the Battle of Dannevirke and therefore he was not registered as a soldier. As his father was called Mads Christensen, and there were quite a few of them in the army, his claim could not be contradicted either. After the Schleswig War, Rørmose claimed, he had served in the French Foreign Legion, where he fought in Algiers and in the Franco-Prussian War. In this war, he was wounded during the Battle of Sedan in 1870. Also this claim can neither be proven correct of the opposite, but with the time spent in jail, Madsen wouldn't have had the time to be a soldier as well. Madsen also claimed that he had had a job as a railroad worker in Norway when he came home from the Foreign Legion, and that a colleague here had persuaded him to move to the United States.

Maybe he told these stories to put him in a better light than telling the truth about him spending a great deal of his youth in jail. Rørmose was admitted to the 7th Cavalry Regiment on January 21, 1876, and in that context he got rid of his is surname, and from that time was known only as Christian Madsen (the first name in a typical American manner abbreviated to Chris). Fortunately for Madsen, he was soon transferred to the 5th Cavalry Regiment, so he was not part of the famed battle of Little Big Horn in June 1876, where most of the 7 Cavalry Regiment, at that time under the command of lieutenant colonel George Armstrong Custer, former brigadier and brevet major general in the Civil War. The Battle of Little Bighorn became the end of Custer, as both he and his force were eradicated by native americans. Custer, in fact, was not the commander of the regiment, although he acted as such during the battle, while the actual commander, Colonel Samuel D. Sturgis, was temporarily on duty in St. Louis, because there was a need of an experienced officer there. But it's another story that I might tell at another time.

Madsen had thus been transferred to the 5th Cavalry Regiment, which had been fighting the plains Indians for several years. Madsen served 15 years in this regiment and participated in fights in Arizona (against the Apache), in Colorado (against the Ute) and against the tribes of The Great Plains in the present states of North and South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming and Nebraska. Among other things, he was at Bonnet Creek in western Nebraska when a civilian army scout, a man of later fame, William Cody, better known as Buffalo Bill, took the first scalp of the Indian War after killing a cheyenne warrior in a fight man against man. When Custer's force was wiped out, it was the 5th Cavalry who pursued the Sioux and eventually defeated them in the Battle of Slim Buttes in September 1876. This persecution was later known as "The Horsemeat March" because it was so forced that several of the horses of the regiment died along the way, and as the soldiers were starving and unable to get supplies, they had to eat horsemeat. During his career in the Army, Madsen was promoted to Regimental Quartermaster Sergeant, a title that has no pendant in most armies, since it was largely used only in England and the former British colonies, including the United States. The title meant that Madsen was the second highest ranking non-commissioned officer in the regiment, only after the regiment's First Sergeant. During battles, the task of the Quartermaster Sergeant was to command he troops dedicated to defending the regiment's supplies and wagons, typically a purely defensive task.

Madsen didn't manage to stay completely the narrow path of virtue during his time in the military. He was courtmartialed for stealing grain from the supplies, but was acquitted. He was later convicted of petty theft though and sent 5 months to Wyoming's Territorial Prison.

In 1883, after seven years on the plains, Madsen was appointed as a personal guide for President Chester A. Arthur during his visit to Yellowstone National Park, which had become a national park 11 years earlier. Madsen left the army on January 10, 1891, after 15 years of service, where he had been commended several times. Along the way he had married Margaret "Maggie" Bell Morris, and they had two children; a daughter, Marion, in 1889 and a son, Christian, in 1890. During his service he had been awarded a medal for one of the fights he did partake in but I haven't been able to find of which. Some sources claim that it was a Silver Star, but as this was first introduced in 1918, it must have been another medal.

Upholding the law

After leaving the army, Madsen joined to the US Marshall Corps, and was appointed Deputy US Marshall in the Oklahoma Territory (Indian Territory) under US Marshall (later Governor) William C. Grimes and later US Marshall Evett Nix. Together with other Deputy US Marshalls, his job was to patrol and maintain law and order in the Indian Territory, which was not subject to any state, county or urban police force, but was directly under the United States government. Madsen came to work closely with two other Deputy US Marshalls, William "Bill" Tilghman and Henry Andrew "Heck" Thomas. The three of them, Madsen, Tilghman and Thomas, became known as "The Three Guardsmen of Oklahoma", and together and individually they arrested or killed more than 300 outlaws who ravaged the area. The arrested were taken to Fort Smith, where they were put to trial under Judge Isaac Parker, who was the judge responsible for the entire territory, and was known as "The hanging Judge". Later, Madsen and Thomas, through their collaboration with Tilghman, became friends with other of the more famous law enforcers of the day, including Bat Masterson and Wyatt Earp, whom Tilghman knew from his time as town marshall in Dodge City.

Among those whom the the three caught or killed was Bill Doolin and his so-called Doolin-Dalton gang. Among the members of the band was William "Bill" Dalton, who was the younger brother of the founders of the Dalton gang, Gratton, Bob and Emmett Dalton parodied in the Lucky Luke comics). Madsen was personally responsible for killing three gang members, Dan "Dynamite Dick" Clifton, George "Red Buck" Waightman, and Richard "Little Dick" West

In 1893, he was transferred to the US Marshall Force in the Western District of Missouri, possibly because he and other deputy marshalls had been involved in creating false reports that in the end led to their superior, US Marshall Evett D. Nix, being fired for abusing his office. Deputy Marshalls like Madsen were not paid. Only the Territory US Marshall was paid $ 90 a month. A deputy was paid 6 cents for every mile he rode, and two dollars for each subpoena he delivered and each outlaw he arrested and brought to trial. The deputies were not paid if they brought back a dead outlaw, on the contrary. Judge Parker did not want the criminals killed, he wanted them put to tiral, so if a deputy brought in a dead body, Parker let the deputy pay for the funeral out of his own pocket. This included, in addition to the funeral itself, payment for coffin and tombstone. This was settled at a fixed price of $ 60, which meant that a deputy had to ride 1,000 miles to pay for a funeral. As many outlaws refused to be taken alive, some died during the arrest, so it is not that strange that even lawmen tried to make it appear that more miles had been travelled, more subpoenas delivered and more men had been arrested. And if the boss participated in the scam…

In March 1898, Madsen returned as Special Deputy US Marshall in the southern district of the Indian Territory. That same year, Madsen left the corps for a short time when his wife died, and in order to recover from the loss he joined Theodor Roosevelt's "Rough Riders" during the Spanish-American War. Here he once more served as a Quartermaster Sergeant, and during the war he developed a warm friendship with Roosevelt, a friendship that also continued after the war. When the war ended, he returned to the Indian Territory, where he again served as Deputy US Marshall. In 1906 John Abernathy was appointed US Marshall for Oklahoma, and Madsen became his second in command. When Abernathy was removed from office in 1911, Chris Madsen was appointed US Marshall of the entire new state of Oklahoma. Oklahoma had been admitted into the United States in 1907. He left office in 1913.

After the time as US Marshall, he served as a leader of a soldier's home, a guard, a court officer and a bailiff. A few years later, he was appointed Chief of Police in Oklahoma City. When USA entered World War I, Madsen tried to enlist, but was rejected because of his age. He was at that time around 65 years old.

Final years

After his time as police chief, he settled in the city of Guthrie, where he remained for the rest of his life. From 1918 to 1922 he served as a special investigator for the governor of Oklahoma. He died at the age of almost 93 on January 9, 1944, in a nursing home in Guthrie from the after-effects of a broken hip

As with so many others of the heroes and villains of the Wild West, his merits later became exaggerated quite a bit. Both when he himself told about them, but also in some of the books that were written about Madsen and his fellow lawmen of the previous century.

In Oklahoma City, Madsen is very well-reputed. Many of his admirers in Oklahoma still refuse to believe that he was a criminal in Denmark before coming to the United States and that this criminal must have been another Chris Madsen, but unfortunately this is not the case. In stead the story of Chris Madsen shows how much a man can change during his lifetime, given the right circumstances.

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