Tom Bell was a western gunslinger and physician known under his real name, Thomas J. Hodges, and "Outlaw Doc."
He became known as the first outlaw to organize a stagecoach robbery. However, that is in question as other outlaws made that claim as well.
Tom Bell was born Thomas J. Hodges in Rome, Tennessee.
Although his parents are unknown, he received a good education and went to medical school, where he graduated and became a doctor. He used his skills in medicine to help wounded men in the Mexican-American War.
Following the war, the California Gold Rush occurred, and flocks of men and women began to move west to find their fortune. Tom Bell was among these men who left his career to find a fortune west.
Unfortunately, he was unsuccessful in his efforts and then drifted into becoming a gambler and used his M.D. to supplement his income.
He soon moved into becoming an outlaw.
His outlaw journey did not begin well as he was arrested as "Doc Hedges" for stealing five mules.
He was arrested again in 1855 for cattle rustling. He gave the name Tom Bell to confuse the officers, and the name stuck. During his prison sentence, he met Bill Gristy, and the two planned an escape. Their escape was successful.
The two of them formed an outlaw gang. Tom Bell was able to use his cover as a doctor to create an illusion of an upstanding citizen when he engaged in outlaw behavior.
The gang then turned to rob stages, which went on for several months and were more lucrative than his medical practice.
However, things went wrong on August 12, 1856, when they spotted the Camptonville-Maryville stage carrying $100,000 worth of gold. During the robbery, a gunfight broke out, and the end result was the death of a woman passenger. She was a black woman by the name of Mrs. Tilghman and the wife of a popular barber from Maryville.
This marked the end of Tom Bell's outlaw run. It was just as successful as his physician career and career as a prospector.
After the death of Mrs. Tilghman, a posse was formed and quickly captured Bill Gristy. Gristy was in the process of being lynched when he confessed to the location of Bell.
The Stockton Sheriff raced to arrest him when he found Bell near Firebaugh's Ferry on October 4, 1856, but it was too late. Vigilantes had already caught up with Tom Bell under Judge George Gordon Belt's command and hanged him.
Bell was one of the most unsuccessful outlaws in the history of the Wild West. However, his idea to rob a stagecoach became a template for future outlaws.