A TRUE BUSHWHACKER
Killin Jim Miller, a true “Bushwacker” if ever lived one. A well known historian and folklorist said of Jim Miller he was superior to most other badmen in one respect–”He had the best manners.”
Jim Miller did not seem to fit the popular mold of a old west gunman. He was often known as “Deacon Jim” for his regular church attendance and his pursuit of the Bible. But to others he was known as “Killin Jim”. A cold blooded, seemingly almost inhuman killing machine. He raised the art of bushwhacking and ambush to a exact science. His tool of choice was a shotgun and sometimes a rifle. In his own estimation he claimed to have killed over fifty men, although this claim cannot be substantiated today. It is stated elsewhere in another source that eight documented cases of murder for hire and at least six more killings in drunken encounters and brawls are attributed to him. What is known his trigger finger was for hire and there were enough purchasers around to give it exercise.
Miller was born in Van Buren, Arkansas on October 25, 1861 (his birth date is one day before mine, different year of course, which has nothing to do with the story. except we are both sneaky Scorpions with a stinger in our tail. who knows how I would have turned out in those wild days?). He was born with large, egg-shaped knots behind his rather prominent ears.
As a youth he lived with his brother-in-law, a relationship he ended with a shotgun blast when he reached 21 years old. He was imprisoned but the case was overturned on appeal.
Miller drifted to Pecos, Texas in 1891, there he became a deputy sheriff. the sheriff bud Frazer was uncertain about this this fellow who had killed his own relative. He had also heard some uncertain stories about other crimes linked to Miller but had no substantial proof, and deputy’s were hard to find.
the towns people took a liking to this young man who was polite and never smoked, drank, kept out of the saloons. He spoke politely to the women and did not use tobacco or snuff, and rarely swore. Miller attended Church every Sunday and sang all the hymns and was in the Amen corner when the revivals came to town. His idiosyncrasy of wearing a long black frock coat even in the summer was over looked, although it did look strange buttoned up in July.
Miller entered the cattle business after marrying Sallie Clements. Miss Clements family were a hard working, honest folk who were reputed to be fast with guns. People did wonder where Miller got the money to go into business, and some suspected rustling. but a investigation by Sheriff found no evidence of wrong doing on millers part. some were still not convinced, and the town split down the middle on the subject.
The relationship between Frasier and Miller began to deteriorate. Frasier left town on business and Miller allowed the criminal element to flourish, Frasier received stories that Miller intended to kill him on his return. Frasier thwarted the plan by stopping in El Paso and asking Texas Ranger John Hughes to accompany him home. No body in Pecos wanted to tanglewith Hughes, as he was known as a hard case with a reputation. After arriving town the two lawmen had Miller in jail on charges of plotting to commit murder. A trial found Miller not guilty and he was released.
Miller returned to Pecos in 1894 and he bought a hotel and announced he was going to lead a quite life. the churches welcomed him back enthusiastically. However Frasier had his doubts. On April the two tangled in a affair in which Miller should have been killed.
Frasier approached Miller from behind and when Miller turned to see who was there Frasier fired his gun. Amazingly the bullet bounced off the black coat. Unfazed the sheriff fired repeatedly disabled Millers right arm. Miller now had his own pistol out of his coat pocket and shooting with his left hand, not his forte. He hit a Innocent bystander. Frasier in frustration lowered his aim and shot Miller in his lower diaphragm, ending the gunfight. Frasier left and Miller was carried into his hotel where on removing the coat it was discovered why bullets bounced of his chest. Inside the coat was sewn a heavy iron plate. (believed to be the inspiration for the iron plate in Clint Eastwood’s, character in Fist Full Of dollars).
Bud Frasier lost his bid for reelection and left town. Miller in his recuperation boasted he had run Frasier out of town and would kill him someday.
Six months later Frasier returned to town on business and the two met on the street and gunfire erupted again. Frasier shot Miller in the arm and leg and rushed in for a killing shot. Unfortunately he did not know of the iron plate when the bullet failed to kill Miller he ran away and left the Town to Miller.
Miller swore out a murder complaint against Frasier. In Pecos the trial resulted in a hung jury. In Colorado city, they figured miller got what he deserved and set Frasier free.
Things simmered until September 13, 1896 when Miller laid a shotgun across the bat-wing doors of a saloon in Toyah, Texas and blasted Frasier at a gambling table, sending him to the promised land.
Miller was tried for murder in Eastland, Texas the jury could not agree on a verdict. While awaiting a second trial Miller conducted a prayer meeting and the preacher went to court and testified that the prisoner “Deacon Jim” was as “exemplary as that of a minister of the Gospel”. Miller was acquitted.
after the turn of the century Miller went to Fort Worth where he entered into the real-estate business’s. His partner was a honest man named Frank Fore. Fore threatened to tell a grand jury that land Miller was selling was located in the Gulf Of Mexico. Miller cornered Fore in the wash room of the Delaware Hotel and shot him to death. As people rushed to see what had happened Miller fell over Fore’s body tears in his eyes exclaiming “I did everything I could to keep him from reaching for his gun.” Naturally Miller was acquitted again.
Men continued to die over the next few years at the wrong end of Millers guns. And Miller continued to have a lot of money to spend. He started to wear starched white shirts and sport a diamond stick pen and wear a diamond ring.
there were a lot of rumors and some evidence that Miller might have killed Pat Garret, (some years after Garrets killing of billy the Kid). (this episode to be covered later, perhaps).
Miller was nearing the end of the line by now (or more correctly the end of his rope.)
Over in Ada, Oklahoma, a feud between Angus Bobbitt and a group led by a Jesse West, Joe Allen and Berry Burrell, was boiling over fast. None of these people would ever wear a hallow in heaven, but Bobbitt might have been considered respectable. there was many sides to the feud but in principal it involved cattle and whiskey.
Miller did not know any fo the members of either fraction. the West, Allen and Burrell bunch paid him $2,000 to get rid of Bobbitt. One evening as Bobbitt was returning to his ranch “Killin JimMiller” simply laid his shotgun across a crouch of a tree and shot him as he passed by. Bobbitt lived about a hour unable to identify his killer.
In this area where killing were commonplace something about this one incised the community, maybe it was the callous way it was committed. authorities lured Allen, West and Burrell back to the territory and captured them. Miller was found and arrested in Fort Worth.
When apprehended in Fort Worth Miller meekly surrendered saying “I never give police officers any trouble since I prefer taking my chances in court.” After forty or fifty killings (his own estimate) his track record in court was impressive.
West, Allen and Burrell were frightened, but Miller was calm. He changed his cloths every day and shave twice a day and ordered Porter House steaks for dinner tipping the jailer $5 and insisted on clean bed linens each day. Letters and telegrams were pouring into town every day from preachers and prominent people praising Miller as a man of high morals and reputation. a famous trial lawyer named Moman Pruiett went on record as intending to defend Miller.
the good people of Ada began to fear the justice might not be served. Just a short time before two known killers had been acquitted and set free, and the fear was the same was going to happen again.
On Sunday, April 19, 1909, at two A.M., about forty vigilantes broke into the jail clubbed the two jailers and removed all four prisoners binding them with bailing wire.
West tried to resist and was savagely beaten. all were dragged to a abandoned livery stable behind the jail. Ropes were thrown over cross beams and the prisoners were stood on boxes and the ropes placed around their necks.
West, Allen and Burrell were strung up first pleading for their lives. Miller asked to be hung with his coat on this request was denied. He then asked to have his diamond ring removed and sent to his wife and gave his stick pen to a guard who had treated him with kindness. finally asking for his hat to be placed on his head when this was completed he calmly shook his head and said ”Let her rip” and stepped of the box.
The bodies were allowed to hang until daybreak when a photographer could be summoned to take a picture of the grisly proceedings. In the background of the photo a white horse can be seen calmly standing droop headed. the photos were widely sold as in the case of Black Jack Ketchem.
In one of the sources I used it is stated that ‘Killin Jim’ received anywhere from $750 to $2,000 for the use of his talents.
Thanks for hanging around with me.