Mad Dog Tannen

Buford (Mad Dog) Tannen


Classic Old West Stories Outlaw – Mad Dog Tannen

Buford Tannen was born around 1862 but neither his exact date of birth or his place of birth can be determined with certainty.

Buford Tannen was a notorious gunman whose short temper and a tendency to drool earned him the nickname “Mad Dog”.  He was quick on the trigger and bragged that he had killed 12 men, not including Indians or Chinamen.  However, this claim cannot be substantiated since precise records were not kept after Tannen shot a newspaper editor who printed an unfavourable story about him in 1884.

Details about Tannen before 1885 are scarce.  Although it is known that he appeared in newspapers up until 1884, copies of these newspapers have not been found.  Most of what we know about Tannen comes from accounts by Marty McFly and he only knew the man for a few days.  It is unfortunate that Doc Brown, who knew the man for much longer and had engaged in business affairs with him through his livery stable, is so hesitant to tell more because of his concern that revealing too much could cause a cosmic incident.

After 1885 it seems that he disappeared from the history books altogether.  We can only assume that this is because he was hanged for robbing the Pine City Stage, for the murder of some of thirteen men he claims to have killed earlier or most likely, for the murder of

Marshall Strictland and His Son

Marshall Strictland.  This was witnessed by the Marshal’s son as Tannen shot him in the back.  This was deleted from the movie to avoid upsetting viewers but you can watch it by clicking the Marshal’s image.  Tannen left the boy alive and his father’s dieing words to him were “Remember that word son, discipline”.  The boy promised he would and no doubt, after he told his story, the full force of the law would have come down on Tannen.

Efforts continue to locate a record of his death, his grave site and particularly to establish the lineage that led to Bif Tannen being born in the late 1930’s (Birth date not known but based on Bif being in his late teens in 1955).


Doc Brown’s Tombstone

In Back to the Future III Marty and Doc Brown find a tombstone that tells us that Mad Dog Tannen killed the Doc.  The tombstone that Marty and the Doc found said that the Doc had been killed by Buford Tannen in 1885 on September 7 and that he has shot Doc Brown in the back over a matter of $80.

Mad Dog Tannen and his gang of three operated around the remote hills and valleys surrounding The Old West town of Hill Valley during 1885.  Hill Valley is situated close to Haysville where the infamous outlaw Stinky Lomax operated until he was hung on September 2, 1885.  In September of that year the town was thriving on the back of the railway coming through.  Fine businesses had been established and were flourishing.  These included:-

  • Honest Joe Statler’s fine horse trading;
  • A Barber and Bath House operation;
  • A fine butcher and poultry processor;
  • M & M Keek the dress makers,
  • Doctor D. Merchant;
  • Thuynession’s Cabinet Making and Undertaking;
  • A. Jones Manure Hauling services;
  • Their own Town Marshall;
  • Wells Fargo & Co (a large two storey operation running 6 horse stage coach services);
  • The Palace Saloon, a large two storey hotel running the town saloon and whore house;
  • A general store with a specialist cigar and tobacconist as well as selling the finest Stetson hats;
  • Doc Brown’s Livery and Feed Store where he also operated as the local blacksmith and scientist.  He also used the building to hide the time machine De Lorean, make an ice machine and scale model of the railway to be used to return to 1885;
  • It own newspaper service, the Hill Valley Telegraph; and
  • It had even grown to the point where it had appointed its very own school teacher, Ms Clara Clayton.

A big festival was scheduled for September 5th with dancing, special food and games with the proceeds going toward the construction of the new clock tower.  At the festival there were other attractions that included:-

  • Colonel Samuel Colt’s Patent Firearms display with the new Peacemaker; and
  • Frisbee pies.

Mad Dog Tannen terrified the citizens of Hill Valley.  In the movie “Back to the Future III” it is clear even the armed men in the Saloon, probably very experienced with those firearms and knowing full well how to look after themselves, are not willing to stand up to Tannen and his gang.

You have to wonder whether he was really as tough as he liked people to think.  He always travelled with his gang of three to back his play and maybe would have been a little less impressive without them.  On the other hand, they never show much aptitude to doing anything more than following Tannen about like puppies and the man appears quite awesome to all observers because he can be described as:-

  • He is very tall and stands over most others around him (no record of his precis height has been found but there is evidence to suggest he is about 6 2.5″);
  • Strong and powerful physique with broad shoulders and powerful arms.  If Buford ever became separated from his guns, he certainly appears as though he would still be able to look after himself in a fist fight;
  • He usually sports several days growth on his chin and a thick, broad moustache.  This is due to his lifestyle that finds him living rough in the wilderness on regular occasions;
  • He wears a wide brimmed Stetson hat in the ten gallon style of the desert country riders;
  • A blue shirt with fold down collar;
  • A bandanna in a dull red with white spots;
  • A heavy water proof coat that hangs to his thigh;
  • He carries a short bull whip at all times and usually uses it in his left hand, no doubt to leave his preferred gun hand free for more important duties;
  • Always carries a knife in scabbard on his boot.  This is not intended for vegetable peeling whilst he is travelling either; and
  • Often carries a sneak gun (single shot Derringer) hidden in his coat and has voiced how he values the gun because a man can take three days to die when shot with it.

Buford Tannen hates the name Mad Dog and claimed that nobody calls him Mad Dog, especially not some duded up, egg sucking gutter trash.  Marty McFly made the error of calling him by that name and would surely have taken a bullet on his first day in town if he hadn’t been an expert moon dancer, able to dazzle Tannen and the gang with his skill.  This gave him his one and only chance of escape from the .45 slug Tannen intended for him.

He also hates yellow pie plate slingers and challenged McFly to shootout at the County Fair.  He had forgotten that the Marshal had removed his gun (and those of his gang) and he would not be able to kill anybody.  When he asked his gang if he could do it Sunday, they demonstrated yet again their utter stupidity by telling him, in plain hearing of dozens of people that he couldn’t do it on Sunday because “We’re robbing the Pine City Stage on Sunday”.


An Old West Stories Classic – In the Manure Again

Mad Dog Tannen was portrayed in the movie by Thomas F Wilson (Born 1959, April 15).  Wilson has appeared in several movies and television roles including voice overs for animated stories.  He has never appeared in any other story as a cowboy (that I know of).  How is it then that he was so good in Back to the Future III.  For my money, his portrayal of mad Dog Tannen was superb.  Even within the restriction of playing a somewhat comedic and tragic character, the realism of his portrayal was simply fantastic.    Too bad he ends up in a pile of manure of Marty McFly punched out his lights but then, that happens in each of the three movies to one of the Tannen family and his a corner stone of the recurring Tannen characters.

I applaud you Thomas Wilson for a role well played.  I have watched this movie many times and his role as Mad Dog is a highlight for me.

If you haven’t seen the movie “Back to the Future III” you have missed out.  My advice, go out and get all three and sit back for a rare treat.  Particularly, the third one set in the old west is the best and if you are ready this web site, you are going to love this movie.


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