Tag: Killer Jim Miller

Famous Last Words: Outlaws of the Old West

Kathleen Rice Adams header

Bad boys of the Old West—they’re endlessly fascinating. Why is that? Maybe it’s because they lived such bold, flash-in-the-pan lives, as untamed as the land they roamed. Some have become such mythic figures, it’s difficult to tell fact from fiction. True or not, their legends live on…and in some cases, so do the last or near-last words that—in a strange, sad way—defined their short, reckless lives.

Bits and pieces like the ones below bring real-life villains to life and sometimes provide insight into the men behind the myths. Still, I often find myself wondering “who were these guys?” Had I been a contemporary, would I have seen the same life historians recorded? Or would the real person have been astoundingly different from what we think we know 100 years later?

All of the bad guys below had parents, grandparents, siblings. Some had wives and children. One, Deacon Jim Miller (also known as Killer Jim Miller) was a pillar of his community…when he wasn’t eliminating someone for money.

As an author of historical fiction, part of my job is to entertain, but I believe there’s another, equally important part, as well: getting the facts straight—or at least trying to hide the wrinkles. Of course, fiction isn’t fact, and no fiction author worth his or her salt lets facts get in the way of a good story. Nevertheless, studying the past and the kinds of people about whom we write is almost a sacred trust for many of us who write historical fiction. Only by familiarizing ourselves with the larger-than-life and the mundane can we give any authority or verisimilitude to the fictional lives we create.

As the writerly saying goes, “Even the villain is the hero of his own life story.” Maybe that’s why I spend so much time researching bad boys…and why the heroes in my stories so often are outlaws, even the ones who wear badges. After all, somebody has to tell the villains’ life stories, right?

Wild Bill Longley

 

“I deserve this fate. It is a debt I owe for my wild, reckless life.”
Wild Bill Longley, outlaw and mean-tempered bully, age 27. Hanged in Giddings, Texas, Oct. 11, 1878, for the murder of a childhood friend.
TomOFolliard

 

 

“Aw, go to Hell you long-legged son-of-a-bitch.”
—Tom O’Folliard, rustler and best friend of Billy the Kid, age 22. Spoken to Sheriff Pat Garrett shortly after Garrett mortally wounded him during a manhunt near Fort Sumner, New Mexico, Dec. 19, 1880.
BillyTheKidFerrotype_c1879-80

 

 

“I’m not afraid to die like a man fighting, but I would not like to be killed like a dog unarmed.”
Billy the Kid, hired gun, age 21, in a March 1879 letter to New Mexico Governor Lew Wallace. Shot to death by Sheriff Pat Garrett at Fort Sumner, New Mexico, July 14, 1881.
BlackJackKetchumYoungUNM

 

 

“Can’t you hurry this up a bit? I hear they eat dinner in Hades at twelve sharp, and I don’t aim to be late.”
Black Jack Ketchum, train robber, age 37. Decapitated during hanging for train robbery, Clayton, New Mexico, April 26, 1901.
TomHornWyoStateArchives

 

 

“Killing men is my specialty. I look at it as a business proposition, and I think I have a corner on the market.”
—Tom Horn, Pinkerton detective turned assassin, one day shy of 43. Hanged in Cheyenne, Wyoming, Nov. 20, 1903, for the murder of a 14-year-old boy.
DeaconJimMiller_c1886

 

 

“Let the record show I’ve killed 51 men. Let ’er rip.”
“Deacon Jim” Miller, age 42, professional assassin. Lynched in Ada, Oklahoma, April 19, 1909, for the contract killing of a former U.S. marshal.
HenryStarr_UALR

 

 

 

“I love it [the bandit life]. It is wild with adventure.”
—Henry Starr, age 53, to a reporter shortly before he was shot to death during an attempted bank robbery in Harrison, Arkansas, 1921.

 

 

Image credits
Black Jack Ketchum: University of New Mexico
Tom Horn at the Cheyenne Jail, 1902: Wyoming State Archives
Henry Starr: University of Arkansas, Little Rock

Famous Last Words: “Killer” Jim Miller

Kathleen Rice Adams header

 

“Let the record show I’ve killed fifty-one men. Let ’er rip.”

Jim Miller, c. 1886

Jim Miller, c. 1886

With those words, “Killer” Jim Miller, a noose around his neck, stepped off a box and into eternity. The lynch mob of thirty to forty outraged citizens who had dragged him onto a makeshift gallows may have found it irritating Miller didn’t beg for his life like the three co-conspirators hanged with him.

Then again, perhaps they rejoiced at the professional assassin’s departure, no matter how defiant his attitude. By the time of his 1909 lynching in Ada, Oklahoma, Miller had earned a reputation as sneaky, deadly, and slippery when cornered by justice.

Born James Brown Miller on October 25, 1866, in Van Buren, Arkansas, Miller arrived in Franklin, Texas, before his first birthday. Unsubstantiated, but persistent, rumors claim he was only eight years old when he did away with a troublesome uncle and his grandparents. His first confirmed kill—and his first jaw-dropping escape from justice—happened a few months before Miller turned 18. After arguing with a brother-in-law he didn’t like, Miller shot the sleeping man to death. Had the subsequent sentence of life in prison stuck, Miller’s reign of terror might have ended right there—but a court overturned the murder conviction on a technicality.

Upon his release, Miller joined an outlaw gang that robbed stagecoaches and trains before turning his back on a life of crime and taking a succession of jobs in law enforcement. Reportedly, he even briefly served as a Texas Ranger. Based on his boasting, the badges may have been a calculated way for Miller to indulge his bloodlust behind a thin veneer of respectability.

And he was respectable, at least on the surface. A Bible-thumping Methodist who never missed a Sunday church service, Miller didn’t curse, drink, or smoke. In fact, his clean-cut appearance and apparent piety—bolstered by an ever-present black frockcoat that made him look a bit like a minister—earned Miller the nickname Deacon.

James Brown Miller and wife Sallie Clements Miller with one of their four children, 1890s

James Brown Miller and wife Sallie Clements Miller with one of their four children, 1890s

Miller married John Wesley Hardin’s second cousin in 1888, fathered four children, and enjoyed a financially rewarding career selling real estate in Fort Worth. Reports indicate the family was considered a pillar of the community.

Behind the scenes, though, Miller advertised his services as a killer for hire, charging $150 a hit to “take care of” sheep ranchers, fence-stringing farmers, Mexicans, and almost anybody who got in someone else’s way. He specialized in doing away with lawmen, lawyers, and personal enemies, most often employing a shotgun from ambush under cover of darkness. Murder charges caught up with him several times, only to evaporate when witnesses for the prosecution mysteriously disappeared.

Frontier justice finally caught up with Miller on April 19, 1909. A cartel of ranchers outside Ada, Oklahoma, paid him $1,700 to silence a former deputy U.S. marshal who was a little too outspoken in his opposition to a shady land-acquisition scheme known as “Indian skinning.” Before the marshal-turned-rancher died, he identified his murderer. Miller and three of the conspirators were arrested, charged, and awaiting trial when an armed mob broke into the jail, overpowered the guards, and wrestled Miller and the others into an abandoned livery stable. Fearing Miller would slip a noose yet again, the mob hanged all four men from the rafters.

JimMillerLeft1909AdaOK

A souvenir photo taken at the scene of “Killer” Jim Miller’s lynching. Miller’s body is on the far left.

By the time of his death at age 42, Miller was known to have killed fourteen men. His boast of fifty-one executions may have been truthful. A photo of the grisly scene became a must-have tourist souvenir.

Killer Jim Miller was buried in Fort Worth’s Oakwood Cemetery. At the time, one respectable citizen reportedly commented, “He was just a killer—worst man I ever knew.”

 

 

 

Petticoats & Pistols © 2015