I was reminded recently of childhood heroes we watched on Saturday mornings on our black and white televisions. Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, James Arness, all those cowboy stories and war stories, with heroes that seemed ten feet tall! And bulletproof, always just on this side of immortal… some who will live forever in our hearts and memories. And those become legend – and the legend lives on.
The story I am about to share is a true one. Remembering Gunsmoke and Marshal Matt Dillon as I researched our own town marshals of ages past, I couldn’t help but think that urban legend has grown around this simple man, and made his story seem sometimes larger than life. But Winston Collins was a real man, and almost all of the citizens of Glasgow admired and respected him. I am sure they were relieved he was around to save the day on many occasions!
Winston Collins became Glasgow’s town marshal in the 1890s, and served as the town’s law enforcement for 22 years. Collins was born and raised in the Bruce country, several miles south of Glasgow. Collins stood over 6 feet tall, was strongly built, and was a courageous man who also knew how to be the utmost gentleman when occasion warranted. As with any lawman of that era, he carried a gun, and knew well how to use it, but his sheer size and strength, backed with a no-nonsense attitude convinced most troublemakers that he had no need of the weapon unless they were stubborn enough to make him use it.
Everyone knew he had killed a few men in the performance of his duty, but he wasn’t afraid to get in a round of fisticuffs when prodded. One memorable story was about 2 ruffian brothers who decided to ambush Marshal Collins down on North Race Street. He tucked a brother up under each arm like a couple of piglets and packed them across the Square to the jail on Broadway, about a mile’s journey, never once having to stop and catch his wind.
All the young boys in town looked up to him as a hero, but they still managed to be a bit fearful of him. He didn’t want the boys fooling around with buckshot, so he would line them up and inspect their hands for traces of it. Famous journalist Arthur Krock, who grew up here in Glasgow, wrote of Collins:
“When the marshal would ask to examine my hands to see if there were traces of buckshot on them, i was always certain a penitentiary offense was near.”
In addition to his police responsibilities, he also collected the taxes, saw to organizing the street work, and served as bailiff in the police court. He also operated the city scales on Main Street, along the area where the County Building is now located. The fee of one cent per hundredweight constituted his main compensation.
Winston Collins married Miss Alice Foster, daughter of Mr. Crit Foster, and they had 12 children altogether, 9 of whom were named when he passed away. There were 4 sons and 5 daughters, as follows:
Harry became town marshal in the years following his father’s death. Stanley went off to Indiana, and Hubert to Chicago. Earl stayed here, as well as the daughters – Elizabeth Davis, Dora Smith, Margaret Nunn, Virgie, and Kate.
In his 22 years as town marshal, Winston Collins encountered some troublesome toughs in the community. Saturday nights were the worst, when everyone was off for a weekend repast and entertainment. For his own protection, Collins kept his back to building walls, and when he ate in the restaurant, he always sat in the corners so he could see in all directions for approaching danger.
Even with all this in mind, he did not leave this world violently, at the hand of some troublesome lawbreaker. Collins caught a cold as winter set in and it continued to linger. He had been put to bed several times under the doctor’s, and his wife’s, orders. Stubborn to the end, and knowing he had a sworn duty to uphold, Collins continued to arise from his bed and go about the daily business.
After a miserable winter day, health and weather wise, he was out on his beat late into the evening. He crossed the street on foot near the corner of College and South Green Streets. Visibility was poor that night, and Collins had been out in the mist and drizzling rain all day, still sick with pneumonia having set in several days before, making him groggy and inattentive. He was ran over by either a buggy or a team of horses and a wagon, and it knocked Collins down into the mud, against the curb. Collins was alert enough to draw his ever-ready pistol, and he fired it several times to attract the driver’s attention. The driver didn’t hear him at first, but someone further down the street did, and the driver was hailed. They returned down the street to find Collins unable to rise from the ground.
He was assisted home by several men, who carried him there, and then removed his wet and muddy clothes from him, and tucked him into his sickbed for his grateful wife. The sickbed he never arose from, because He died the next morning around 6 o’clock. It was a sad end to a very brave and commanding figure of a man.
His obituary in the Glasgow Times on 12 February 1915, carried the caption “Famous Marshal Passes Away.” He was not quite 61 years of age, and he passed into the realm of legend….
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