The Lawmen and Outlaws Who Built the Old West
The Lawmen and Outlaws Who Built the Old West

The Lawmen and Outlaws Who Built the Old West

Khalid Elhassan - August 29, 2021

The Lawmen and Outlaws Who Built the Old West
Deacon Jim Miller. True West Magazine

4. The Most Corrupt Lawman of the Old West?

John Wesley Hardin, discussed in a previous entry, could be seen as representative of the early era of Old West outlaws. The close of that era’s notorious outlaws is bookended by the likes of likes of James Brown Miller (1861 – 1909), who was also known as “Deacon Jim” because he neither smoke nor drank, and regularly attended the Methodist Church. Another of his nicknames was “Killer Miller”, because, well… for a seemingly straitlaced teetotaler, Miller sure killed a whole lot of people.

Deacon Jim put on an air of respectability, and liked to go about impeccably dressed. However, he was a wolf in sheep’s clothing, having killed a dozen people in gunfights. He reportedly gunned down many more during a topsy-turvy and violent career in which he made a living as an outlaw, lawman, and killer for hire. Frank Hamer, another figure whose career bookended the Old West era, albeit on the side of the good guys, was the most famous Texas Ranger. Deacon Jim, who also served as a Texas Ranger, was the most infamous one.

The Lawmen and Outlaws Who Built the Old West
Jim Miller gambling. Wikimedia

3. An Early Turn to Violence

Deacon Jim Miller was born in Van Buren, Arkansas, but his family moved to Texas when he was a year old, and he grew up in the Lone Star Republic. The family settled in Austin, where his father worked as a stonemason, but he died when Miller was a child, and somewhere along the line, something went wrong with young Jim. At age eight, according to some accounts, he killed his own grandparents, although no conclusive historic proof has emerged to support that.

Whether or not he had actually done in his grandparents, Miller grew into a violent young man, and one of his earliest documented murders was of his brother in law, whom Miller detested. On July 30, 1884, after an argument, Miller returned with a shotgun, and shot him to death as he lay asleep on his porch. He was arrested, tried, convicted, and sentenced to life behind bars. However, the case was appealed, and the conviction was reversed on a technicality.

The Lawmen and Outlaws Who Built the Old West
Pat Garrett, who killed Old West outlaw Billy the Kid, was reportedly murdered by Deacon Jim Miller. Wikimedia

2. An Old West Killer Cop

When Deacon Jim Miller got out of jail, he got a job as a hired hand in a ranch owned by a cousin of John Wesley Hardin. In 1887, his boss was killed by Ballinger’s City Marshal. Soon thereafter, the Marshal was ambushed by somebody who blasted him with a shotgun, and suffered severe injuries. The lawman survived, but lost an arm to amputation. Miller was the prime suspect, but there was insufficient evidence to prosecute him for the attempted murder.

Miller then relocated to the Texas-Mexico border, where he became a deputy sheriff in Reeves County, and then became town marshal of Pecos. He was a killer cop, and gained a reputation as a repeat murderer of Mexicans, whom he invariably claimed to have shot them as they “tried to escape”. In 1894 he got into a feud with the county sheriff, who shot him in the arm, the groin, then emptied his six shooter into his chest. Deacon Jim survived, because he had been wearing a steel plate over his chest.

The Lawmen and Outlaws Who Built the Old West
Deacon Jim Miller. Wikimedia

1. The Dirtiest Texas Ranger

The cloud that hung above Deacon Jim Miller and his problematic reputation did not prevent him from landing a job as a Texas Ranger. No sooner had he been hired by the most famous law enforcement outfit of the American West, than he began to advertise his availability as a killer for hire. He charged $150 per hit, and used his Ranger authority to get away with literal murder. As his reputation grew, so did his fees, until he eventually came to charge thousands of dollars per murder. He had no scruples about killing lawmen, including Pat Garret, who had killed Billy the Kid.

In 1909, Miller was hired to kill a popular rancher from Ada, Oklahoma, named Allen Bobbit. Miller shot Bobbit, but he lived long enough to name his killer. Miller and three accomplices were arrested, but the evidence seemed weak. That led many Ada residents and friends of the murdered Bobbit to fear that his killers might get acquitted. So they formed a mob, broke into the jail where the accused were held, and lynched Deacon Jim Miller and his accomplices in the early morning hours of April 19th, 1909.

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Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading

Arizona Daily Star, April 4th, 2016 – Street Smarts: Notorious Bad Guy Died Lonely and Alone

Bossenecker, John – Texas Ranger: The Legendary Life of Frank Hamer, the Man Who Killed Bonnie and Clyde (2016)

Charles C. Chaney Index Page – John King Fisher: Texas Gunslinger, Outlaw, and Lawman

Cowboys & Indians Magazine – Pistol Pete

Frank Eaton Historic Home – The Legend of Pistol Pete

History Collection – Remarkable Old Photographs From the Wild West That Will Surprise You

Johnny Ringo History Page – Johnny Ringo History

Legends of America – Frank B. “Pistol Pete” Eaton: Fastest Draw in Indian Territory

Legends of America – James Miller, Hired Killer of the Old West

Legends of America – John King Fisher: Texas Gunman, Outlaw, Lawman

Legends of America – Johnny Ringo, Tombstone Rowdy

Marohn, Richard C. – The Last Gunfighter: John Wesley Hardin (1995)

Southern Arizona Guide – Wyatt Earp and the Vendetta Ride

Texas State Historical Association – Fisher, John King (1854 -1884)

Texas State Historical Association – Hardin, John Wesley

True West Magazine, March 15th, 2019 – Frank Hamer vs Bonnie and Clyde

Waco Tribune-Herald, May 30th, 2019 – Frank Hamer Was True Texas Ranger Legend

Wikipedia – Frank Stilwell

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