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.

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.”




+ posts

18 thoughts on “Famous Last Words: “Killer” Jim Miller”

  1. Hi Kathleen,
    I sure enjoy your posts! You’re right–what a scary man! I can’t imagine someone like him being the “pillar of society” in Fort Worth…but it seems killers are really camouflaged in society and look just like regular folk. He sure did a lot of damage in his 42 years! I’m so glad we have things like DNA testing and such to help catch criminals like him now-a-days. At least I hope it is getting harder for “bad guys” to get away with killing now. That may be my naivete talking…

  2. I enjoy reading your posts and the information it has. He must have been a real character to bost about killing so many.

  3. You wonder sometimes what makes a person think and how he or she got to this point? To be so cold and calculating. Jenny

    • You do, don’t you? There always have been people who would do whatever they needed or wanted to do to further their own agendas, without any regard for others’ lives, rights, and/or dignity. I’m not sure whether Miller’s agenda was blood lust or money, but whatever it was, he acted without a shred of compunction, evidently. You do have to wonder what in his background made him what he was, huh?

  4. He sounds like a true sociopath. Rather frightening to think a boy of 8 would or could kill his uncle and grandparents. The way the rest of his life went, the rumors he did it might be true. One has to wonder if his wife had any idea who her husband really was. It seems he was capable of projecting an entirely different persona than what he really was.

    • I agree with you, Patricia: a true sociopath, maybe with a bit of narcissism thrown in. I doubt his children knew, but one would hope his wife didn’t. No one except Miller and the people who hired him knew who committed the assassinations until the marshal-turned-rancher identified his killer as he lay bleeding to death, so Miller’s wife probably was taken in by his charade right along with everyone else. Poor woman.

  5. I have to say I am no longer surprised by the “upstanding” citizens in the old west who turned out to be criminals and murders. Of course, vigilante justice wasn’t any better. Such seems to be the way of the west. Maybe that’s part of why we’re all so mesmerized and interested in old west history. There were so many unique characters then. Okay, maybe we still have our fair share of psychopaths. So, what happened to his wife and kids after he died?

  6. Being as he was one of the nastiest and most duplicitous scoundrels I could find, I used Deacon Jim Miller as the model for my (almost) equally nasty villain in Terms of Engagement. Except I had my fictitious bad guy do in his grandparents when he was ten. Good heavens, who’d have ever believed eight?

    This is such an interesting post, Kathleen! Thanks for sharing!

Comments are closed.