Orcutt, Benjamin F.

Kalamazoo's Murdered Sheriff

Benjamin F. Orcutt, a native of Roxbury, Vermont who arrived in Kalamazoo County around 1835, fought in and survived both the Mexican War and the American Civil War, yet it was his role as county sheriff that tragically led to his death in 1867. Born 9 February 1815, the adventurous war veteran and lawman died on 12 December 1867 after succumbing to injuries resulting from a gun shot wound to his shoulder, making him the first Michigan sheriff to die in the line of duty.

After brief stops in Detroit and Chicago, Orcutt landed in Allegan around 1835, making his way to Kalamazoo a year later. In 1841 “he was elected the town’s constable and later served as a deputy U.S. Marshal.” (KG, 1-12-1998)

Portrait of Colonel Benjamin F. Orcutt in a military uniform, c. 1865. KPL Photo Collection, P-667

Orcutt enlisted in the Mexican War in 1847, joining Captain Frederick Curtenius’s regiment. Orcutt saw battle in January of 1848 near Vera Cruz. Several years after returning to Kalamazoo, Orcutt was victorious in his bid for county sheriff three different times, first in 1854, again in 1858 and lastly in 1866, after he completed his military service as a Lt. Col. under Col. Orlando Wilcox’s leadership of the 25th Michigan Infantry.


The Shooting

Early in the morning of 3 December 1867, Orcutt and his wife were awakened by a ruckus within the jail building, where the couple resided. After arming himself with his pistol, Orcutt soon encountered two intruders who had broken into the jail with the intention to free another prisoner. The two criminals leapt from a window and dashed across Rose Street, heading northeast from the jail building (then located on the corner of Academy Street and Rose Street) toward an alley near where today the Radisson Hotel is located. Orcutt fired his weapon while in pursuit, but it was one of the fugitives who, while concealed behind a large oak tree, returned fire, striking Orcutt in his shoulder. It has been said that upon his return to the jail, Orcutt’s wife Emily asked of the injured sheriff, if he thought that he had shot the fleeing man. Orcutt allegedly replied, “No, but I think he has killed me.” An angry crowd began to mill about the jail when news of the shooting spread, with some calling for a lynching of the remaining prisoners in retaliation. After lingering in a worsening state for ten more days, Orcutt died on the 12th. Orcutt was buried in Mount Home Cemetery next to a monument that cost $600, the funds coming from citizen donations. In 1882, “Kalamazoo Civil War veterans named their Grand Army of the Republic post in Orcutt’s honor.” (KG, 11-12-1998) In May of 1995, Camp 20 of the Sons of Union Veterans once again honored the fallen sheriff by assembling at his grave, dedicating a new military headstone after the previous one had deteriorated.

The sheriff’s assailants, Hugh Darraugh and Stephen Boyle, were later apprehended by Chicago detectives and the Pinkerton Detective Agency, Daurraugh caught in Chicago, and Boyle in New York City.


Article written by Ryan Gage, Kalamazoo Public Library staff, November 2022

Sources
Articles

“Long-dead county sheriff to be honored by marker”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 11 February 1995, page C2, column 1

“Tribute paid to sheriff, 127 years after his death”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 21 May 1995, page D9, column 1

“The shooting of Sheriff Orcutt”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 12 January 1998, section 1, page 3, column 3


Books

History of Kalamazoo County, Michigan: with illustrations and biographical sketches of its prominent men and pioneers, Samuel W. Durant, (H 977.417 H67U) Oversized


Local History Room Files

Name File: Orcutt, Benjamin F.

Share: Facebook Twitter