Larry Deger, or Lawrence E Deger, was born in Ohio in 1845 to Swiss immigrants. He came to Kansas and first settled in Hays City, as well as Ellsworth and Abilene. The Hays paper reported that while living there, he was a church worker, caller for square dances and quite the storyteller.
Deger was hired as Dodge City’s first City Marshal on October 14, 1876. He had the presence and build that was required of a lawman in the Old West. Standing just over 6-foot-tall, he reportedly weighed 307 pounds and was known for having a short temper. He was paid $75 a month, but was also a part owner in a saloon and gambling hall to make extra money.
He was not afraid to stand up for the law. One of his biggest opponents was none other than Bat Masterson, who was a deputy for the Ford County Sheriff, and whose brother Ed was hired as one of Deger’s Assistant Marshal’s. One such incident was when Deger arrested Bobby Gill, and when Bat saw Deger assisting Gill to jail in cuffs, while kicking him in the posterior, Bat jumped in to stop the degrading behavior of his friend. This resulted in not only Gill going to jail, but Bat going to jail with him.
Deger again chose right over wrong was when he arrested Charles Ronan for public drunkenness. Ronan was friends with Mayor “Dog” Kelley who stormed the jail and demanded Ronan be released. Deger was not intimidated by his boss, the mayor, and refused. Kelley fired Deger on the spot. The following day, Deger filled charges against Kelley for interference with an officer. The city council met that day and made an agreement with Deger that if he was given his job back, he would agree to drop the charges. Deger agreed and was placed back in the line of duty.
Deger’s name would come up in the courts often. He was involved in a lawsuit in 1877. John Blake was in jail with three other known desperadoes. The other inmates were so notorious that two of them ended up being hanged. Blake reported that overnight while in jail, the other three men had a knife and pistol. Blake had his left eye shot out by the men that night. He sued Deger and the county for what he felt his eye was worth, $5,000. The court ruled in favor of Deger and Ford County; asserting that if one didn’t want to associate with the criminal element, they should have stayed out of jail.
Deger would seek to be elected Ford County Sheriff in 1877, but would be defeated by Bat Masterson by 3 votes. In April 1883, he would defeat W.H. Harris for Mayor. This was just a couple months before the start of the Saloon Wars. Deger kept the peace during a very tense week, but would ultimately, along with the city council, agree with Wyatt Earp that Luke Short be allowed back in town to continue running his business at the Long Branch Saloon.
Deger would finish out a fairly quiet term as mayor. After his term was up, he would leave Dodge City and moved to Kiowa, Kansas in Barber County.