Never Forgotten: William Craig

Sept. 11, 2023
Agent William Craig was the first Secret Service agent to die on duty while on presidential protection.

The U.S. Secret Service began at the conclusion of the Civil War to investigate a flurry of counterfeit currency spreading throughout the nation. After the assassination of President William McKinley in 1901, the Secret Service was officially assigned the task of protecting the president. They had been unofficially detailed to the president since the second term of President Grover Cleveland in 1895. Cleveland’s wife was concerned about a plot to kidnap their children for ransom. She wanted someone to guard the children and the president. William P. Hazen, chief of the Secret Service, selected three officers to act as bodyguards.[1]

When President McKinley was assassinated in Buffalo on September 6, 1901, his protective detail consisted of Samuel Ireland, George Foster, and Albert Gallagher. They were criticized for being unable to save the president, but they were absolved of any blame by the agency. At the time of the assassination, Vice-President Theodore Roosevelt was in Isle La Motte, Vermont, at the home of former Lieutenant Governor Nelson Fisk. The agency had assigned one agent to guard Roosevelt, William “Big Bill” Craig. They quickly formed a lasting friendship, and Roosevelt never went anywhere without him.

William Craig was a perfect match for Roosevelt. He was a noted athlete with a giant physique and an avid boxer like Roosevelt. Craig was born in Scotland and eventually moved to London. He joined the Royal Horse Guards Blue, a military unit assigned to guard Queen Victoria when she traveled. He served admirably, receiving the bronze cross and other medals bestowed by the Queen. In 1888, Craig left England for the U.S., landing in Chicago. He joined the Secret Service in 1898 and made a name for himself, chasing down counterfeiters in Birmingham, Alabama. John Wilkie, chief of the Secret Service, named him as Roosevelt’s bodyguard.[2]

On September 3, 1902, President Roosevelt was in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, on a two-week campaign trip through New England. The president was in a horse carriage traveling from Pittsfield to Lenox. Inside the carriage, he was accompanied by his personal secretary, George Cortelyou, and Massachusetts Governor Winthrop Murray Crane. David Pratt was driving the horses, and William Craig sat beside him.

The president and his party were traveling along South Street, one of the busiest thoroughfares in the city. The street was lined with spectators just to catch a glimpse of the president. As the carriage crossed the tracks, a trolley was heading towards them at a high rate of speed. Two mounted troopers from the local cavalry company rode on either side of the carriage. Hearing the clanging of the gong, the troopers tried to get the attention of the trolly car driver. Governor Crane noticed the impending danger and tried to get the driver’s attention. It was too late, and the trolley crashed into Roosevelt’s carriage.

The trolley struck the rear wheel of the carriage and plowed through it. Agent Craig fell off the carriage and was run over by the trolley. Pratt also fell off but struck the rear horse and fell out of the trolley's path. Although knocked unconscious, he survived with a dislocated shoulder and sprained ankle. One of the four horses pulling the carriage died instantly, and the other three fled, dragging the carriage forty feet. Governor Crane escaped entirely unhurt. Secretary Cortelyou suffered a head wound. Roosevelt’s face was bruised and his lip was cut. (A few weeks later, Roosevelt would need emergency surgery on his leg while in Indianapolis).[3]

Agent Craig was taken to a nearby house and pronounced dead. Agent Craig became the first Secret Service agent to die on duty while on presidential protection. On November 1, 1950, Officer Leslie Coffelt was killed in a shootout with two Puerto Rican nationalists who tried to shoot their way into Blair House to assassinate President Harry Truman. The president was staying at the Blair House while the White House was being renovated. Coffelt was assigned to the defunct White House Police (it later became the Uniformed Division of the Secret Service in 1977). Officer Leslie Coffelt became the second and last officer to die in the line of duty while in the protection of the president.

[1] “How presidents came to have bodyguards.” The Atlanta Journal. September 19, 1901.

[2] “Wlliam Craig.” Vancouver Daily World. October 4, 1902.

[3] “A nation’s alarm.” The Rushville Republican. September 5, 1902. 

About the Author

Robert Bowling is a retired police officer from Fishers (IN) and Durham (NC) police departments. He has served in a variety of roles to include, Field Training Officer, Honor Guard, Evidence Technician, Traffic Crash Reconstructionist, Hostage Negotiator, School Resource Officer, and Crisis Intervention Stress Management team member. His true passion is history and he became the first historian and curator for the Fishers Police Department.

After retirement, he has continued his passion for history focusing on law enforcement and fallen officers. He is an historical researcher for the Officer Down Memorial Page. He is the author of the book Wicked Fishers and serves on the boards of a few historical organizations. He currently teaches Criminal Justice for a local high school. 

About the Author

Robert Bowling

Robert Bowling is a retired police officer from Fishers (IN) and Durham (NC) police departments. In retirement, he has continued his passion to honor fallen officers. He is an Ambassador for the National Law Enforcement Memorial, as well as an historical researcher for the Officer Down Memorial Page. He also has a passion for history, focusing primarily on law enforcement history. He is a member of the Police History Society and is the author of the book Wicked Fishers. He currently teaches Criminal Justice for a local high school.

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