Heck Thomas got his start in law enforcement work at the age of seventeen when he joined the Atlanta, Georgia police force. From 1875 to 1885, he worked as a railroad guard for the Texas Express Company. In 1885, he became a member of the Fort Worth Detective Association.
His first big case with them involved tracking down the Lee brothers.
According to the Dillon Tribune, the Lee’s had been terrorizing Delaware, Bend, and Cook Counties in Texas for nearly two years. They rustled cattle on the Texas side of the Red River and drove them across the river into Indian Territory where they had ranches. Jim, Bill, and Pink Lee led a gang of twenty cattle thieves in the river country and were said to have killed forty men.
Thomas told the Dallas Daily Herald he had been chasing the Lee boys since May 5th. “At times we were in close places and could not tell whether the Lee boys were after us or we after them.”
On September 11th, Thomas received a tip the Lee brothers were hiding away in the village of Dexter, Texas. He rode out with officers James Taylor and James Settles.
It was raining hard. The posse came upon the gang just as they were cutting the pasture fence on John Washington’s ranch. The officers rode up as close as they could, then dismounted their horses, and crept up on the suspects.
In his official report Heck Thomas said, “We got as close to them as possible—about 40 or 45 yards away—and ordered them to surrender. They dropped their nippers and fired at us and missed us; as Pink tried another shell on his gun he was killed…about a second or two later Jim was shot by one of us, and about 16 shots were fired; we kept up shooting till Jim quit.”
Both brothers were killed in the fight. When the posse searched the Lee’s clothing, they found newspaper clippings detailing their crime spree.
Heck Thomas’ final comment was, “The fight was in the grass, in the open prairie, and was as pretty a one as I ever saw.”