JOHN KING FISHER
In my last post I stated that the dress of the “Shootest”, as they preferred to be called, was not as the entertainment media would have us believe. These dangerous gunmen did not walk the streets or ride from town to town, gun-fight to gun-fight, dressed in sleek black clothing with silver trimmed low-slung holsters advertising their profession. Nor have I found an instance where one sought another to prove that he was faster on the draw.
That all being said, we will now visit probably the most flamboyant character in the old west, other than Bill Cody and a few showmen like him.
Due to the fact that he never had a good press agent, King Fisher never gained the fame, interest or notoriety he probably deserved. He was flamboyant, good looking and possessed a flair for style. Fisher was deadly and had extremely cool courage. Though he never received wide ranging fame, Fisher was known as the “King of The Hill” in the Nuecus Strip. It is said that even today men a in bar rooms and and around camp fires argue the balance of his good against his evil.
King Fisher was about six foot tall and close to 186 pounds, he had a good set of strong white teeth, flashing eyes, with black hair and mustache. His eyes eyebrows were thick and in his photograph appears very handsome. (I have to admit that if you were to darken the hair and shave the goatee and thicken the mustache, my oldest son would resemble King very much).
One contemporary of Fisher described him thus “Fisher was the most perfect specimen of a frontier dandy and desperado that I ever met. He was tall, beautifully proportioned and exceedingly handsome. He wore the finest clothing procurable, the picturesque, border, dime novel kind. His broad-brimmed white Mexican sombrero was profusely ornamented with gold and silver lace. His fine buck-skin Mexican short jacket was heavily embroidered with gold. His shirt was the finest and thinnest linen and open at the throat, with a silk handkerchief knotted loosely about the wide collar. A brilliant crimson shah wound about his waist, and his legs were hidden by a wonderful pair of Chaparejos or chaps as the cowboys called them– leather britches to protect the legs while riding through the brush.”
As you can see the old boys had a flair for words back when. I would like to interject here the the chaps mentioned were made out of a tiger skin. This is from a second book, and I remember reading some 45 years ago that he acquired the hide when they way-laid a small traveling circus. King Fisher was intrigued by the caged tiger and shot it and had it skinned and a pair of chaps made for him from the hide.
Well, as stated before several times this was not his ordinary work out-fit, but his every-day clothes were of good quality in any event. An example: his boots were black patent leather with fancy trimming. His six-gun that hung from his belt was .45 Colt with a gutt-perka handle (black hard rubber). The barrel and frame was blue-bronze steel and was a gift from Pofirio Diez, who would ultimately become president of Mexico.
Now a fellow dressed in such a manner would ordinarily become the laughing stock and butt of jokes. But nobody ever laughed at John King Fisher. His enemy and detractor’s might have hated and despised him, but they never lost their respect or fear of him. John King was able to wear his clothing with impressive manner that did not appear to be a showoff or dandy, a feat few other men could have accomplished.
He was born John King Fisher in 1854, and had a strong dislike for his step-mother. It is reported that she used to hang him up by his suspenders in a doorway while she did here chores.
At sixteen he was sentenced to prison for horse theft, shortly after his family moved to Goliad. His two year term was was reduced to four months by the governor.
In another account his family claimed that John King had been returning home from a stay at a school when he camped for the night and woke the next morning and discovered his horse had wandered off during the night. He supposedly caught a nearby horse and saddled it up with the intention of finding his own, when the owner caught him and had him arrested. Then allowed him to escape on the way to the jail by passing him a pen knife allowing him to cut his bindings.
Their claim was that the jail term was a result of him being duped into breaking and entering by an older man who fled and left young John King to take the fall.
After his release from prison he drifted to the area between the Rio Grande River and the Nuecus River, known as the Nuecus Strip, a virtual now-mans land. This was during the period known as the “terrible 1870’s”. The area was such a haven of lawlessness that it became a subject of congressional, as well as Mexican, inquiries and investigations. Hordes of outlaws and thieves, murders and thugs from both sides of the border battled and preyed upon each other, as well as the few honest settlers brave enough to settle down there.
By 1871 John had moved to Pendencia, Texas, ranching country east of Eagles Pass, so named for the migrations of Eagles through the Pass. The ranchers hired him to clean out the nest of rustlers in the area. He built his reputation here and became known as a man of courage and determination. After a time John started his own ranch and registered his own brand, but he did not hire regular cowboys. Instead he hired desperate men from the strip – Especially Mexican desperado’s, many on the run from the law, he provided them refuge as well as work. Fisher soon became a well recognized figure as he rode around the territory with his band of Vaqueros, all heavily armed riding in his van. He did not like strangers and posted a sign on the road that read “this is King Fishers road-Take the other one.”
Eagle Pass became the center of King Fisher’s operations-part of Fishers empire. There was no one that did not know and recognize him. And those who did not like him knew enough to keep their mouths shut and eyes averted.
Fisher never claimed more than seven killings, and the most famous was with his own vaqueros. The gang had brought a bunch of cattle stolen in Mexico to the ranch and were smudging the brands to make them unrecognisable. Everyone was in the corral including Fisher.
The vaqueros felt that fisher was cheating them on the division of the money and planned to kill him. Fisher knew this. As the vaqueros were awaiting their opportunity, one jostled Fisher toward the fire. Swinging the branding iron in his hand he struck him behind the neck driving him to the ground. Then Fisher drew his pistol and shot the second one in the corral with him. Quickly after a second shot, he shot the other two off the corral fence where they sat. All died instantly and nothing was ever done about it.
By the mid 1870’s the lawlessness in the Nuecus strip was about to come to a screeching halt. The Governor sent in the Texas Rangers and new grave yards popped up over night all over the area. John Fisher received special notice. He and nine of his men surrendered to a Captain Leander H. McNelly, a man dying of tuberculosis. Fisher was bound and taken to Eagles Pass for jailing. Once they arrived in town no one could find any charges to bring to bear against the men so they were released.
McNelly died the following year (1877) and a Captain Lee Hall assumed his duties. Hall set out to break up the Fisher gang and send King to prison for life. With his hard perseverance people began to come forward and tell what they knew of John King’s activities. Soon King found himself facing three counts of horse stealing and one count of murder. The murder charge stemmed from the shooting of a lesser known outlaw named William Donovan. Hardly had these charges been leveled when others were added. The rangers accused him of killing Severin Flores and two other Mexicans known only as Estanislado and Pancho.
Fearing interference from King supporters he was transferred to the “bat cave”, a jail in San Antonio. He was stuck there for five months until at last he was released on $25,000 bail.
Now began a personal struggle between King and Hall, the first trying to stay out of prison and the later trying to send him there for life. Hall amassed a total of twenty-five indictments against King. He threw his hands up in disgust after the juries found in Kings favor six times in a row. The rest of the charges faded away when Hall married and quit the rangers.
Fisher now settled down and began serious ranching and became a better husband and father to his three daughters. He soon tired of the sedentary life of peaceful ranching and jumped at the chance when the sheriff of Uvalde county offered him the position as a deputy. Now on the side of the law he became a diligent peace officer. He soon tracked down a pair of brothers Tom and Jim Hannehan, accused of robbing the El Paso-San Antonio stage. When they resisted arrest he killed Tom and captured Jim and recovered the money.
As sometimes happened the sheriff, who had hired King was accused of dipping his hand in the public funds. Fisher campaigned and won the job in the next elections in 1884.
The cattle business was on a decline after many turbulent and profitable years. Barbed wire closed off the open range. Fence cutting became rife and bloody fights erupted all over Texas. The state legislature made fence cutting a felony. Fisher traveled to Austin for more information on the new law.
In Austin he bumped into an old, long time friend ,the notorious Ben Thompson, now serving as city marshal. Thompson had just returned from San Antonio where he had shot and killed Jack Harris, the proprietor of the Vaudeville Variety theater, a place that specialized on wicked entertainment.
Thompson was acquitted of the murder and had just returned to Austin to resume his duties of marshal. After running into Fisher he hauled him into a saloon where he proceeded to tell King of his troubles. Fisher withheld his judgment as Harris had been a friend of his also.
Fisher set out for San Antonio and Thompson stupidly tagged along. San Antonio was an armed camp with the city police having received orders to “kill him (Thompson) if he causes any trouble.” So the two men, Fisher basically a innocent bystander, went first to the Turner Hall Opera House, then to Gallagher’s Saloon and on to the Vaudeville Variety Theater.
Thompson and Fisher watched a few shows from the upstairs gallery then started to leave. Someone pointed out the new manager of the theater – Joe foster and a close friend of the now dead Harris. Thompson in a drunken state approached Foster and tried to shake hands with him. Foster refused and Thompson became augmentative and soon threats were made. Slowly Fisher got Thompson started toward the stairs, and it was at that point they were ambushed.
Rifle and pistol fire blossomed from all points, Fisher was the only person not to draw a pistol. He fell to the floor with a total of thirteen bullets in his body, Thompson died with nine. And in this manner two of the old west most remarkable gunmen died.
Here again we see a deadly gunfight that sprang out of no where and the gunmen not prepared for it. No one stalked the street and called these guys out. They were there and someone was ready to put an end to their ways.
So passed probably one of the west most flamboyant characters and probably one of the most handsomely dressed.
Recon its time to ramble on down the trail in search of somebody else to palaver about.
thanks for rambling with me