Las Cruces was platted in 1849 on the hills south of several graves that served as a landmark for travelers, marking a crossroad and a place to cross the Rio Grande. The area became known as El Pueblo del Jardin de Las Cruces (City of the Garden of Crosses). The original Las Cruces town site was laid out in 1849. The city was established as a pueblo in 1907 and incorporated as a city in 1946
The archeological history of Las Cruces dates from 200 B.C. Pueblo Indian Villages were established by 300 A.D. But by 1450, the Puebloan people disappeared, perhaps due to drought, internal political strife or attacks by nomadic tribes.
One of the first Europeans to traverse this area was Alvar Nuņez Cabeza de Vaca, who survived a shipwreck in the Gulf of Mexico, then lived among the Gulf Coast Indian tribes. In 1535, he made his way to the Mesilla Valley in search of Spanish settlements. Five years later, the renowned Coronado who led the first organized Spanish expedition through the Mesilla Valley followed De Vaca.
In 1598, Don Juan de Oņate led hundreds of colonists along El Camino Real (The King's Highway). This route passed through Las Cruces and Mesilla and extended from Ciudad Chihuahua all the way to Santa Fe. It crossed the dreaded Jornada del Muerto (the Journey of Death). Many settlers who traveled this 90-mile stretch of barren desert never made it to their destinations.
Along this trail an event occurred in 1830, which led to the naming of Las Cruces. The fierce Apache ambushed a caravan of travelers from Taos. The dead was buried, their graves marked with crosses. Subsequent travelers dubbed the sites La Placita de Las Cruces (The Place of the Crosses); later it was shortened to Las Cruces.
With the ratification of the Gadsden Purchase,
which was signed in 1854, the boundary between the U.S. and Mexico was
established. Las Cruces became the major supply center for miners staking
their claims in the Organ Mountains and for soldiers stationed at Fort
Selden. The nearby town of Mesilla was a major stopover for passengers
on the Butterfield Overland Stage route, which extended from St. Louis to San
Francisco. It was said that the only place that one could find a bed
between San Antonio and Los Angeles was at the Mesilla Stage Stop!
Wild west heroes and outlaws were also part of the Mesilla Valley history. William Bonney--better known as Billy the Kid--was tried for murder in Mesilla, was sentenced to hang, but escaped before the sentence was carried out. He was eventually tracked down and shot by Pat Garrett, who later wore the badge of Sheriff of Doņa Ana County. Garrett himself was mysteriously shot just outside Las Cruces.
Today, fields of cotton and chile and groves of pecan trees stand on what was once dangerous and wild land. This year, Las Cruces will celebrate its 150th Birthday
The Alameda-Depot Historic District is situated in a half-mile-wide area between the railroad tracks and the original Las Cruces townsite. The earliest residential suburbs composing the District were platted in the town's farm plots in the fertile bottomlands of the Rio Grande after the arrival of the railroad in 1881. The 42-block district is centered around Pioneer Park near the railroad depot and extends to Alameda Boulevard. The boulevard, an old transportation route, became a fashionable place of residence at the turn of the century. Back then, Las Cruces was known as the "garden spot of southern New Mexico." Not for the dusty streets of the old townsite, build on the sandy hills overlooking the Rio Grande, but for the flowering suburbs that had begun to spread out upon the agricultural land below. As the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad approached the Mesilla Valley in 1880, land speculators began to buy parcels amid these farm plots. Irrigation ditches, which had once watered farm crops, now watered the wide lawns and various ornamental plants and trees, which now shaded the dusty old streets. The Development of this new depot area was largely residential, since the commercial center on Main Street in the old townsite already served this purpose. The Alameda area was a showpiece. of the latest fashions in architecture, which was conviently due to the railroad. Earlier architectural styles were still used but combined with more contemporary styles. The district retains its historic character as well as its gardens, trees and broad grassy lawns.
A distinctive landmark of the Alameda-Depot district is Pioneer Park. Bounded by W. Las Cruces, W. Court, N. Miranda and N. Reymond, it is an open square composed of an entire block, landscaped with trees and other plantings, diagonally crossed by cement pedestrian walks, and featuring an octagonal wooden lattice-work gazebo in the center. Hipped-roofed with aired openings, the gazebo is a replacement for the original built in 1896, except for radiating pavilion wings that extended from the original. Land was purchased for the park in 1896 by the Woman's Improvement Association, landscaped with 17 cottonwood trees in 1903. The Park was turned over to the City in 1924.
The Territory of New Mexico, in the mid-1870-80s, experienced a wave of rampant lawlessness, unparalleled in the history of the United States. One must walk a mile in their shoes before coming to conclusions about the lives of men and boys in that era.
Billy the Kid authentic tintype
Patrick Floyd Garrett, born in Alabama, led a successful life as a buffalo hunter in Texas, before drifting into New Mexico. His election as Sheriff of Lincoln County drew him into this legend. He was a good Sheriff at the time New Mexico needed such a man.
The White Oaks skirmish on December 1, 1880 caused an accidental shooting at the Greathouse Stage Station, near Corona. The trail goes on to Anton Chico, Puerto de Luna, Sunnyside Spring and Old Fort Sumner, where Tom O'Folliard fell in an ambush. The connections of Wilcox-Yerby ranches and Brazil Spring played a part in the surrender at Stinking Springs, and the end of Charlie Bowdre. On to Las Vegas, by wagon, to Santa Fe by railcar, through Albuquerque, on to Old Mesilla for trial. Under heavy guard they trudged through La Luz, Alamogordo, and back to Lincoln, where Billy performed his daring escape, after the death of Bell and Olinger.
Now, with a wanted poster for Billy The Kid, Pat Garrett was hot on the trail back to Old Fort Sumner. There, on July 14, 1881, Pat Garrett, in the Maxwell house, killed the famous Outlaw. In the old fort cemetery a vagrant wind whisks across the plain, a tiny dust devil will spin for a moment madly, futilely, and is swallowed up in the nothingness. This was the life of the Kid, and certainly, he is buried there, in Old Fort Sumner.
Henry McCarty, alias Kid Antrim, alias William H. Bonney, alias Billy The Kid, born in the east, came to New Mexico in the 1870's and started out on his own from Silver City. In Lincoln, he became involved in the famous Lincoln County War. This was a time of political strife and financial power struggles. In most cases, one must kill or be killed.
Upon the death of John Tunstall, Billy vowed vengeance on every man who participated in that cruel, wanton murder. Later, the Kid was involved in the death of Morton, Baker, McCloskey, Brady, Hindman and Beckwith. The vendetta led him through the heart of New Mexico. At Blazer's Mill, near Mescalero, Brewer and Buckshot Roberts met their destiny. The Rio Ruidoso took them to Dowlin's Mill, the Hondo Valley led to the Chisum South Springs Ranch near Roswell. The Pecos River trail winds up to Old Fort Sumner, where Joe Grant caused his own demise. A dim trail off east to Los Portales Springs hideout. Seven Rivers crossing, near Carlsbad, tallied 200,000 head of cattle from Texas following the Goodnight-Loving, Chisum trail.
Garrett's trails continued to the Roswell area, where he made his home. He made trails to the gold and turquoise mines in the Jicarilla Mountains, he followed the trails of Albert Fountain, trying to solve his mysterious disappearance. On the trail from Organ to Las Cruces, Pat Garrett met his death, in 1908, and is buried in the Masonic cemetery in Las Cruces.
Garrett left his mark on New Mexico in many ways; one of significance is, his daughter Elizabeth wrote O Fair New Mexico, the state song. So the Legends live on!!!
Included within the White Sands Missile Range boundaries are many
prehistoric (Indian) archaeological sites and historical sites from the
ranching and mining activities which preceded the military acquisition of the
land in 1942. In addition, White Sands maintains two national historic
landmarks: Trinity Site where the first atomic bomb was exploded on July 16, 1945
and Launch Complex 33 where America's early missile and space developments
began with German V-2 rocket launches.
All archaeological and historical sites (any physical remains of man's
activities up to 1950) are protected on the missile range. Federal law
prohibits the collection of artifacts or disturbing sites in any way without a
The National Historic Preservation Act requires White Sands to identify
and protect these resources and to consult with historic preservation
authorities before impacting any site.
Experts estimate there are about 100,000 prehistoric sites on the
range, dating from 12,000 years ago to the 1800s. These sites include
Paleoindian (the oldest), archaic hunters and gatherers, Jornada Mogollon
agricultural villages and Apache sites. In addition, the Chiricahua Apache
sacred mountain, Salinas Peak, is in the heart of the San Andres Mountains on
the west boundary of White Sands.
The sites vary in size from small overnight camps in the sand dunes to large towns with adobe room blocks. Prehistoric picture galleries are found in the San Andres and Oscura mountain ranges.
The most common artifacts found are pottery and chipped stone. The pottery is generally a plain brown type and is always broken and fragmented. These pieces are all that remain of bowls, ollas and jars made by the Indians from 400 to 1400 AD.
The chipped stone pieces are the remnants from the manufacture of stone tools. They consist of pieces of sharp edged flint which come in a large variety of shapes, sizes and colors. Chipped stone was used in all prehistoric periods, beginning 12,000 years ago.
Other common indications of prehistoric sites on the missile range are
clusters of burnt rock, grinding stones and mortar holes (conical holes ground
into stone by generations of pounding).
In addition to the prehistoric sites, there are approximately 300
historic sites on White Sands Missile Range, ranging from Trinity Site National
Landmark to the Spanish Salt Trail and salt gathering sites.
Although most of the Spanish settlement followed the Rio Grande, various military expeditions traveled through the Tularosa Valley. In addition, caravans of carretas, or ox carts, traveled the salt trail to gather salt which was important for the table and also to extract gold and silver and preserve foods. Remains of the trail and gathering sites can still be found on WSMR.
Most settlement of the valley took place between 1860 and 1900, mostly by ranchers and miners. Among the famous inhabitants of what is now WSMR was Pat Garrett who shot Billy the Kid and was later shot to death on the road to Las Cruces on Feb. 29, 1906. He was also involved with the investigation into the disappearance of Col. Albert Fountain and his son on Feb. 1, 1896. Their wagon was found near Chalk Hill, a small rise on the Las Cruces/Tularosa road. Although presumed murdered, their bodies were never found.
Miners combed the mountains looking for valuable metals including gold,
silver, copper, lead, zinc, as well as other minerals such as fluorite, talc
and turquoise. Estey City, a copper mining town that flourished from 1904 to
1910, is one of the few ghost towns on the range. Investors poured money into
the development only to discover there wasn't enough ore to keep it going.
Eugene Rhodes, a famous Western writer, grew up in Rhodes Canyon. Most
of his novels and stories are drawn from his experiences in the Tularosa Basin.
He is buried in Rhodes Pass in the San Andres Mountains.
Because of the missile range's military mission, access to archaeological
and historic sites has been limited. The result of this protection is a unique
Myth: Billy the Kid was a Westerner. (Implying he was born in the West.)
Fact: No one knows for certain. Three possible birth sites: New York City, Indiana, and Missouri.
Myth: His name was William H. Bonney.
Fact: His name was Henry McCarty.
Myth: He killed a man at age 12.
Fact: He was seventeen when a bully sat on him and beat him. Billy pulled a pistol out of his pocket and shot him.
Myth: Billy killed 21 men by the age of 21.
Fact: Only 4 men he shot, died. All were in self-defense. (Self-defense also implies an act to escape being wrongfully killed or hung. There is no proof he was the one to shoot Sheriff Brady.)
Myth: Billy rescued a wagon train by scaring off the indians with an axe.
Fact: A bald-faced lie.
Myth: Billy rode 81 miles in 6 hours to free a friend from jail.
Fact: A figment of a writer's imagination (it didn't happen)
Myth: The Kid escaped to Mexico, where he died an old man.
Fact: Sheriff Pat Garrett killed Billy with a single shot to the heart, in a dark room, when he recognized Billys voice saying "Who is it?"
Myth: Brushy Bill Roberts of Texas was really Billy the Kid.
Fact: He was not, nor were some 20 other men who said Garrett did not kill them.
Myth: Billy the Kid was a cold-blooded killer.
Fact: Billy the Kid shot only to revenge the killing of his employer who treated him as a son. Billy was educated, wrote many letters to the then Governor of New Mexico, Lew Wallace (Author of Ben Hur) asking him to keep his promise of amnesty.
We don't mean to glorify Billy the Kid. He did wrong, we won't deny that. He paid for his wrong-doings with his life at the age of 21.
Don McAlavy, Editor of The Outlaw Gazette and president of the Billy the Kid Outlaw Gang
http://www.nmia.com/~btkog/btk_link.htm WWW links
to Billy the Kid information
http://www.whit.org/gunslingers/ THE ROCKY MOUNTAIN GUNSLINGERS
Most Billy buffs will recall that Tom was Billy the Kid's steadfast friend. Not much is really known about Tom's past, but this much we do know:
Tom was born in 1858, in Uvalde, Texas, the son of Tom O'Folliard Sr., an Irish immigrant, and Sarah Cook. Still in his mother's arms, the family moved to Monclova, Coahuila, Mexico. His parents died of smallpox there. Sarah's brother John Cook, upon his return from the Civil War, went to Mexico and brought the orphan Tom back to Uvalde. Until 1873 Tom lived with his aunt, Margaret Jane Cook. That year she married Pat Dolan. Tom then went to live with his uncle, John Cook, until he married a Miss McKinney in 1875. Then Tom, age 17, was passed along yet again, this time to his grandmother, Mrs. James Cook.
Tom and a friend, James Woodland, in the spring of 1878, hit the trail for New Mexico, probably arriving in Lincoln County in late May or early June. (Remember that Billy's employer, John Tunstall, was killed in February of the same year, and all hell had broken loose.) Don't know what happened to James Woodland, but Tom joined the supporters of Alexander McSween, now the leader of the faction opposed to the Murphy-Dolan gang's heavy-handed rule of Lincoln County. And that's where Tom met up with William Bonney. There is an account of Tom being involved in stealing cattle from Emil Fritz, a member of the Murphy-Dolan faction, thus putting him against the House.
Tom, recalled Mrs. Susan McSween a long time later, was a "good-natured, rollicking boy, always singing and full of fun." Pat Garrett, after he was elected Sheriff of Lincoln County on November 7, 1880, described him as "something of a gun expert, in his own belief at least. He was a man of medium height and dark complexion, and of no very great amount of mental capacity. He was one of those who wanted a reputation as a bad man." Newspapers in 1880-81, upon Tom's death at the hands of Sheriff Garrett, said he was 5' 8" tall and weighed about 175 pounds.
Tom O'Folliard was there along with Billy The Kid and twelve other men in the midst of the big five day battle, when McSween's house was set afire by the Dolan crowd between 3 and 4 p.m., July 19, 1878. With the house almost consumed by flames, Billy took charge as McSween had broken down and didn't know what to do. At dark Billy and 4 others: Tom, Jose Chaves y Chaves, Jim French, and Harvey Morris, made a break for the gate in the east fence to draw attention away from McSween and the others, who were to escape out the north gate. All of Billy's bunch got away, except for Harvey Morris, who was killed. It was said later that Tom halted and knelt beside Morris in the hail of bullets to help his friend, but Harvey was dead. By stopping Tom exposed himself to gunfire. Tom, it has been said, caught a bullet in the right shoulder and dropped his gun, darted through the gate, stumbled down the river embankment and collapsed in the underbrush. McSween, Francisco Zamora, Vincente Romero, and Yginio Salazar were not so fortunate. They were riddled with bullets from a line of riflemen crouched behind a low adobe wall and most died instantly. Yginio, although severely wounded, played dead and later after the Dolan crowd left, crawled off and lived to be an old man. After the Lincoln County War, anarchy reigned. Billy and his "Pals" decided it was best that they head for a more agreeable clime, and henceforth made for Ft. Sumner and the vicinity. There they commenced making their living rustling John Chisum's cows. Billy figured somebody owed his "Pals" compensation for fighting in the war, and with Tunstall and McSween both dead, Chisum was the richest Tunstall ally left above ground. As Billy saw it, Chisum owed him for back wages. When Chisum refused to pay up, Billy figured each cow he took from Jinglebob John was worth $5 toward the debt.
All others deserted Billy, except Tom O'Folliard and Charlie Bowdre (Bowdre was in the act of quiting too, but ran out of time). Of course Billy had Billy Wilson, Tom Pickett and Dave Rudabaugh (and Bowdre) with him when Garrett and Barney Mason and a posse of Texas cowboys tracked them to Stinking Springs, but what had happened to Tom?
Two nights before, on Dec. 19, 1880, Billy and his "pals" rode into Fort Sumner, thinking they were safe to come in and get supplies. One of Garrett's spies (Jose Roibal) had spoiled all that, and the lawman and his posse were playing cards and waiting for them in the old hospital building where Bowdre's wife Manuela was making her home. (Along the trail Tom and Billy rode side by side out front, but Billy confessed a hankering for some chewing tobacco Billy Wilson had in his saddlebags, and fell back to get some. Tom Pickett rode up and took Billy's place, and it was Pickett and O'Folliard who rode up first to the old hospital building.) Suddenly Garrett yelled out: "Halt! Throw up your hands!" Taken by surprise, Billy and his "Pals" fled into the snowy night. All but Tom. As he wheeled his horse about and jerked out his pistol, either Garrett or Lon Chambers shot Tom in his left side, wedging a slug just below his heart. (Tom rode after his pals for a hundred yards, but the pain of riding the frightened, bucking horse was too much, and he resigned to walking it back to Garrett and his men) Apparently he dropped his pistol when hit. (Some say that Tom had his pistol in his hand and cocked, but had not the will left to fire it, so when Garrett and his men took Tom off his horse, they just took his pistol from his hand.) Garrett trained his gun on Tom and called for him to drop his firearms. Tom is reported to have said "Don't shoot anymore, I'm dying." Tom asked that he be taken from his horse and made to die as easily as possible. They helped Tom off his horse and took him into the building and laid him on the floor. It was said that in great pain, he first begged to be put out of his misery as Barney Mason taunted him by saying "Take your medicine!" (Tom is reported to have repiled weakly; "It's the best medicine I ever took.") Tom asked Mason to have Thomas C. "Kip" McKinney (who was one of Garrett's deputies at the time of the killing of the Kid, and who was a cousin of Tom's), to write his grandmother in Texas, informing her of his death" (Another relative, Uncle Thalis Cook, reported to have been a Texas ranger, also once tried to get Tom to give up his lawlessness, but to no avail.)
None of the witnesses agree on what Tom's last words were (though some report Garrett as having told him; "Tom, your time is short." To which he replied; "The sooner the better. Then I'll be out of pain."). Tired of waiting for him to die, most of the posse resumed the poker game that had been interrupted by the Kid's "pals". Jim East, one of the Texas cowboys in the posse, gave Tom a cup of water which he drank a little of, shuddered, and was dead. (It took poor Tom three-quarters of an hour to give up his ghost, and he was in great pain most of the time.)
He, Charlie and Billy are the "Pals" engraved on the big headstone over their graves in the lonely military cemetery at Old Fort Sumner.
Don McAlavy, president of the Billy the Kid Outlaw Gang, had help from Ed Erdelac in writing the above article on Tom O'Folliard. Erdelac says: "Reason I had asked for anything about Tom (in an email to BTKOG) is I had written a short four page ballad about Tom's death called The Ballad of Tom O'Folliard, and was thinking of turning it into a short story for one of my writing courses in school. Your article has sure helped me out. I really appreciate it." - Ed Erdelac at email@example.com
Jessie Evans (Billy and Jessie were friends before the Lincoln County War), Charlie Bowdre, Billy Wilson, George and Frank Coe, Dick Brewer, Godfrey Gauss, Alexander McSween, Susan McSween, John Tunstall, Ma'am Jones and her boys, Pat Garrett (before Garrett became sheriff, but his granddaughter says that Billy was more of a friend to her grandmother (Apolonaria) than to her grandfather), Gus Gildea, Fred Waite, John Middleton, Jose Chaves y Chaves, Francisco Zomora, Beaver Smith, Jim French, Tom Pickett, Vincente Romero, Yginio Salazar (a special friend), Paulita (Pablita) Maxwel (most historians now think she was Billy's real amor), Celsa Gutierrez, Doc Scurlock, Henry Brown, John Chisum (during the Lincoln County War), Sally Chisum, Manuela Bowdre, Nasaria Yerby, Joe McCarty (his brother and of course his Chaves, Sam Smith, Martin Chaves, Fernando Herrera, Steve Stevens, Isaac Ellis, Juan Patron, William Harrison Antrim, James Bell (yes, Billy did like his jailer and Bell did not dislike Billy), Sam Corbett, Dan Dedrick, and probably Moses and Sam Dedrick too, Jim Greathouse, Ira E. Leonard, Jesus Silva, Vicente Otero, Paco Anaya, Pete Maxwell, but it was probably Pete that got word to Garrett of Billy's whereabouts, trying to protect his sister), Deluvina Maxwell, Miguel Otero, Frank McNab, David Rudabaugh (Dirty Dave was a real badman and joined Billy as Rudabaugh needed the protection of a "gang". He was really no real friend of Billy, yet he is usually listed as one.), "Sombrero Jack" George Schaefer was a boyhood pal, but he was responsible for being the one to first get Billy into trouble, so it can be said he was really no real friend.), Sheriff Harvey Whitehill (who tried to teach Billy a lesson by putting him into jail at Silver City after being caught with Sombrero Jack's stolen goods), Green Wilson, the Truesdell family, the Knight family, Louis Abraham, Ed Moulton, Mary P. Richards, a childhood teacher, etc., etc., etc. . . .
(Received an email from Margie Trujillo, a g-g-granddaughter of Jose and Josefita Montano and she says "I believe that another friend of Billy's was old Jose Montano, who owned and operated the Montano store in Lincoln at the height of the Lincoln County War." She says Billy had a special affection for Ms. Montano (Josefita) and often said that she was the kindest person he'd ever met. Billy was said to have stayed with the Montano's many times.)
Doc Scurlock, Age ?
Josiah Gordon "Doc" Scurlock was born at Tallapoosa, Alabama, on January 11, 1849 (he was about 10 years older than Billy). His nickname was come by honestly: he is believed to have studied medicine in New Orleans. He was a most unusual gunfighter: a doctor, farmer, poet, teacher, later a linguist and reader of the classics.
At the age of twenty he went to Mexico, fearing tuberculosis, he returned to the states in 1871 and worked for John Chisum in Texas. By May 1875 he was working for Chisum in New Mexico. When his line-riding partner, Newt Higgins, was scalped by Indians "in the fall of 1875 or the spring of 1876," Scurlock rode sixty miles to South Springs (Chisum's headquarters on Pecos River near present day Roswell) and told Chisum he wanted to quit; Chisum refused to let him go or pay him
off, whereupon Scurlock stole some of Chisum's horses, two saddles, and a gun and left for Arizona. Chisum sent a couple of fighting men after him, when they caught him Scurlock told them that he'd taken the animals as Chisum hadn't paid him, and they told him "he had done the right thing."
He was described as being "five feet eight or ten inches tall, light hair, light complexion, front teeth out, quick spoken." The missing teeth were the result of a shootout over a card game: the bullet took out Doc's teeth and came out the back of his nect without serious damage. The man who fired the shot was not so lucky.
Scurlock family tradition has it that he and Charles Bowdre operated a cheese factory on the Gila River (in New Mexico), and that one of their employees was Henry "Kid" Andtim. With financial assistance from L. G. Murphy & Co., Bowdre and Scurlock went into partnership on a Ruidoso ranch, and on October 19, 1876, just a few weeks after accidentally killing his good friend Mike Harkins, Scurlock was married to sixteen- year-old Antonia Miguela Herrera. Altogether they had ten children. Scurlock was active in posses pursuing, - and in some cases lynching - the horse thieves infesting the Lincoln area in 1875-76.
After the Lincoln troubles he left New Mexico for Texas, lived awhile in the LX ranch headquarters in Potter County, Texas (near "Amarillo) drifted on to teach school in Vernon, Texas, moved on again to Cleburne, near Fort Worth, then to Granbury, then Mabank, near Dallas. Throughout the rest of his life Scurlock adamantly dissociated himself from his past; his reluctance to discuss his early life suggests he might have had something to ;hide. In 1919 the Scurlocks moved to Eastland, Texas (a few miles east of Abilene). There he died July 25, 1929. (Photo courtesy of Mike and Harold Stewart, grandsons of Doc Scurlock. Mike: Mstew2266@aol.com, Harold: firstname.lastname@example.org) (From Lincoln County War - A Documentary History, by Frederick Nolan, p. 484-5. Nolan's sources were: Haley, "Interview with Frank Coe," 3-20-1927; Santa Fe New Mexican, 5-15-1875; Haley, "Horse Thieves"; Rasch, Buckbee, and Klein, "Many Parts.")
Jessie Evans, Buck Morton, Jimmy Dolan, Lawrence Murphy, John Henry Riley, Tom Hill, Billy Mathews, Bob Olinger, Frank Baker, the Santa Fe Ring and the agents they controlled, including some of New Mexico's judges, lawmen, etc., Andy Boyle, Barney Mason, Joe Grant, John Hurley, Manuel Segovia, Buckshot Roberts, John A. Jones (once a friend but fought on Murphy-Dolan side), John Kinney, Jack Long, Col. Nathan Dudley, Jose Chaves y Baca, Windy Cahill, John Beckwith, Sheriff Pat Garrett, who killed Billy. This list is certainly not complete by any means. (An email came in 12 Feb 99 from an Eastern Canadian saying "maybe a dumb point, but how could Sheriff Brady possibly be left out of the list of Billy's enemies???") He is in that list now, but poor Brady had some good traits too!
Tularosa: Frontier Encore
HERE'S THE FIRST line from my all-time favorite history book: "The Tularosa country is a parched desert where everything, from cactus to cowman, carries a weapon of some sort, and the only creatures who sleep with both eyes closed are dead." I first picked up C.L. Sonnichsen's 1960 book Tularosa: Last of the Frontier West a dozen years ago, and I couldn't put it down, even though I was driving down missile-straight U.S. Highway 70 in a cantankerous Volkswagen Rabbit at the time. I was living in Las Cruces then, right on the edge of that tough and lonely southwest New Mexico basin full of sun-scorched sand--some of it as white as the ghosts of Albert and Henry Fountain--and mesquite bushes--all of them nearly as thorny as the questions raised by the Fountain murders and the later shooting of Pat Garrett. With one eye on the pages of riveting frontier history and the other eye trying to spot flying objects from the enormous White Sands Missile Range, I was on the verge of running right off the road that day in 1985. Not that there were any trees around to hit, but I very well could have plowed into Chalk Hill or Alameda Arroyo and gone right to sleep with both eyes closed. Since I am writing this, you can assume that I made it to the other side of the Organ/San Andres mountains (the west wall of the Tularosas Basin) and to my favorite armchair back in civilization. Lucky for me. It allowed me to finish Sonnichsen's book.
At this writing in October 1997 I have just re-read Tularosa; in fact, my re-reading delayed this very writing (but at least I no longer read behind the wheel, except at a certain long traffic light). It was a thrill being transported by a master back to Chalk Hill (at the southern point of the White Sands), where the Fountains' buckboard was waylaid on February 1, 1896, on the way to Las Cruces; and Alameda Arroyo, where Pat Garrett's buckboard stopped, also on the way to Las Cruces, on February 29, 1908, because of fate...and, more specifically, because somebody had to pee. Those two sites are linked not only inside my parched head but also geographically--both are off Highway 70, about 20-25 miles apart--and historically. Garrett had come to the area specifically to investigate the disappearances of 8-year-old Henry Fountain and his father, who had just obtained grand jury indictments against Oliver Lee and 31 others for such charges as "larceny of cattle" and "defacing brands." Thanks to Garrett's persistence, Oliver Lee and Jim Gililland (the chief suspects, along with Bill McNew) were eventually tried for Henry's murder; but thanks to lawyer Albert Bacon Fall's determined defense, a jury acquitted them (and I hope this doesn't make O.J. Simpson jealous) in just eight minutes. Garrett's death 12 years later probably did not have anything directly to do with the Fountain case; cowboy-turned-"goatboy" Wayne Brazel claimed he shot Billy the Kid's slayer in self-defense. But again Fall was the main man at the trial and again a jury did not deliberate long (15 minutes this time) before bringing in a verdict of not guilty.
Questions about who killed the Fountains and why and who killed Garrett and why still swirled around the Tularosa Basin and beyond when Sonnichsen wrote his book, and they are still swirling today. In 1996, 100 years after the Fountain murders, a symposium was held in Hillsboro, N.M., the site of the Lee-Gililland trial, and plenty of descendants of the principals were there to argue among themselves and with historians. Gordon Owen, the author of the recent book The Two Alberts: Fountain and Fall, told me that there may be a centennial re-enactment of the controversial trial in Hillsboro in 1999 and that there are people--he's one of them--who still hope to dig up the skeletons of the Fountains, whose bodies were never found. "I'm not convinced Lee and his men did it," Owen said. "I don't think he would have been a party to the killing of a boy. Legend says Gililland killed the boy, but he and McNew wouldn't have done anything without Oliver Lee. Remember, there were a lot of other men indicted in Lincoln, N.M., who were also upset at Albert Fountain." But listen to Leon C. Metz, author of Pat Garrett: The Story of a Western Lawman: "There isn't any question in my mind that Oliver Lee, Bill McNew and Jim Gililland were guilty as sin. I once interviewed a Snooks Burris out in California. Burris and his father had purchased the Gililland Ranch, and Snooks told me that if he heard that confession (from Gililland) once, he heard it a thousand times."
As for the strange death of Garrett, Metz says it is even more controversial than the slaying of the Fountains. Metz discounts various conspiracy theories that have rancher W.W. Cox (a brother-in-law of Oliver Lee) and even Albert Fall, who was Cox's attorney, behind a murder plot that may also have involved one or more of the following--Wayne Brazel, "Killin' Jim" Miller, Carl Adamson, "Print" Rhode, Mannie Clements and, yes, Oliver Lee. "You cannot write about W.W. Cox and Garrett without the name of Oliver Lee cropping up," Metz told me. "However, Lee has never been a serious suspect in Garrett's murder, although he would not have been above participating. Lee certainly approved of Garrett's death."
You can read about the Fountain case and Metz's article on Garrett's death in the February issue of Wild West, Metz, by the way, says that the late C.L. Sonnichsen was his mentor and was the one who suggested that he write about Garrett back in the 1960s. Metz clearly is another fan of Sonnichsen's Tularosa, but he points out that Sonnichsen "waffled in some areas about what really happened. He learned things from descendants that he decided to leave out of his book; he knew a lot more than he told."
'Deacon Jim' Miller's suave, well-spoken demeanor cloaked a professional killer's icy calm. Murder for hire was not only his vocation--it was his hobby, as well.
By Robert Barr Smith
"OH, GOD!' CRIED GUS Bobbitt, when the shotgun roared out of the twilight gloom. His body lurched erect on the wagon seat as buckshot tore into his legs. Then the shotgun boomed again from behind an elm, its load tearing into Bobbitt's left side. The cattleman toppled from his wagon into the pasture below, and his panicked team ran away into the night.
Behind Bobbitt, his neighbor Bob Ferguson jumped from his own wagon to take cover. But there was no more shooting, only the clatter of hooves as a horseman broke out of the thicket from where the fire had come. Ferguson was sure he knew the rider. He couldn't say the gunman's name, maybe, for the killer was a stranger, but Ferguson knew him as the same man who had passed Bobbitt and Ferguson on the trail just moments before. He had even greeted Bobbitt, although he had partially obscured his face with a rag, as if he had something in his eye. He had been riding a scruffy brown mare, and behind his saddle had been something wrapped in what looked like a folded slicker.
It was a shotgun, trademark and favorite weapon of one of the Old West's best-known professional killers, James B. Miller, commonly known as "Deacon Jim," from his favorite dress of black broadcloth and his pious pretense of church-going respectability. Men also called him "Killin' Jim," in reference to his chosen vocation, murder for hire.
Deacon Jim was precocious in the ways of violent death. Born in Arkansas in 1866, he was orphaned early and sent to live with his grandparents in Coryell County, Texas. When Miller was 8, his grandparents were murdered, and the boy was arrested for the crime. Never tried, he was sent to live with his sister and brother-in-law, John Coop. Ten years later, in July 1884, a shotgun blast killed John Coop as he slept on his front porch early one evening. His murderer galloped off into the night.
That time, 17-year-old Miller was tried and convicted. In addition to his well-known vile temper and hatred of Coop, there was substantial evidence of careful planning. It was enough to override Miller's alibi that he had been at a camp meeting that evening. His major witness, a young lady, failed him, admitting at his trial that Miller had left her and "did not return until the regular service was over and the shouting commenced." Miller was sentenced to life, but his conviction was overturned on appeal, and the case was never retried.
Miller then wandered into San Saba County and immediately began to run with bad company. After being disarmed and arrested by Dee Harkey, later one of the most famous lawmen the West ever produced, Miller drifted into McCulloch County, where he raced horses and punched cows for Emmanuel ("Mannen") Clements, Sr., one of the four murderous Clements brothers of Taylor-Sutton feud fame.
Clements was a violent man and had killed at least a couple of men himself. He was also cousin to deadly John Wesley Hardin and had personally helped Hardin to break out of jail in the fall of 1872. Miller got to know Little Mannen, Clements' equally violent son, and Sallie, the pretty daughter of the family.
In 1887, Mannen Clements was killed in a Ballinger, Texas, saloon by City Marshal Joe Townsend. Not long afterward, Townsend, riding home at night, was swept from the saddle by a shotgun fired out of the dark. The ambusher was never identified, but Miller was widely suspected. Townsend lost an arm but survived, and Miller left the county at a high lope.
Miller drifted through southeast New Mexico and the Mexican border area, and little is known of his activities for the next couple of years. He would later brag, however, of having "lost my notch stick on Mexicans that I killed out on the border." In 1891, he rode into Pecos, Texas, a raw, tough town just beginning to acquire a little civilization. Its population, it was said, spent its time "making a living, going to church, picnics, engaging in a friendly drink now and then, praying three times a day and fist-fighting twice a week."
Miller hired on as a deputy to Sheriff George A. "Bud" Frazer, who did not question his new assistant's antecedents. In west Texas around the turn of the century, asking about a man's background was both discourteous and hazardous.
For a while, Miller's conduct was exemplary. He neither smoked nor drank, a rarity in that hard-bitten land, and was a regular member of the church congregation. He quickly became a familiar figure in Pecos, making his rounds clad in his inevitable black broadcloth coat, black boots and black Stetson. The nickname "Deacon Jim" was a natural.
In 1891, Miller married Sallie Clements. Her brother Little Mannen came to town with her, and Miller began to use him as a deputy. As cattle rustling and horse theft increased up and down the Pecos Valley, Miller spent more time away from town in pursuit of the thieves. The trouble was, he never caught any, and the ranchers gathered to plan some way to stop their losses. Sheriff Frazer's brother-in-law, Barney Riggs, suggested that maybe a first step would be to fire Miller, whom he rightly suspected of being involved in the rustling.
Miller laughed off the accusation, members of his church supported him, and the town took sides. The wonder is that Miller did not immediately reply to the accusation with gunpowder. Perhaps he did not because his lawman's job was such a wonderful cover for his part-time rustling business. Or possibly he was reluctant to challenge Riggs, who was something of a hard case himself. Sentenced to life in Yuma after he had killed a rival for a woman's favors, Riggs had been pardoned in 1887--he had killed two convicts who attacked the warden during an escape attempt.
Frazer, without proof of Miller's dishonesty, kept him on. A few weeks later, Miller killed a Mexican prisoner who was "trying to escape." Riggs alleged that Miller had murdered the man because he knew where Deacon Jim had hidden a pair of stolen mules. Sure enough, on instructions supplied by Riggs, Frazer found the mules--and immediately fired Miller.
In the summer of 1892, Miller opposed Frazer in an election for sheriff and was defeated. Miller managed to win the office of city marshal, however, and began to surround himself with gunmen, some of them relatives, including Little Mannen Clements and one of the Hardin clan. Animosity festered in Pecos, and the boil finally came to a head in May 1893, while Frazer was away. The criminal element simply took over Pecos, and law-abiding citizens feared to leave their homes.
Somebody sent a telegram to Frazer, who immediately caught a train for home. Miller arranged an ambush on the station platform, but a citizen overheard the plan and sent a wire to warn Frazer. When Frazer got off the train flanked by Texas Rangers, the trap fizzled. So, unfortunately, did the case against Miller, Clements and Hardin, who promptly resumed their swaggering ways in Pecos.
Miller, now out of a job as marshal, opened a hotel, and the Pecos ulcer began to fester again. Con Gibson, who had warned Frazer, was murdered in New Mexico by a man apparently working for Miller, but Frazer could do nothing. Finally, one morning in 1894, Frazer took matters into his own hands.
Passing Miller in front of his hotel, Frazer roared: "Jim, you're a thief and a murderer! Here's one for Con Gibson!" He drew his six-gun and opened fire, drilling one bullet into the front of Miller's customary black coat and a second into the gunman's right arm. Miller drew left-handed and returned fire, but his slugs went wild. Frazer emptied his revolver into the middle of that black coat, and Miller finally went down in the street. Frazer had put three rounds into a space you could cover with a coffee cup, right over Deacon Jim's heart. And then his friends learned why he wore the black broadcloth coat in every kind of weather--underneath it, Miller wore a steel plate that had caught and turned Frazer's bullets. Miller was badly bruised, but very much alive and panting for revenge. "I'm going to kill Bud Frazer," he promised, "if I have to crawl 20 miles on my knees to do it." While Miller nursed his battered body and his grudge, the town polarized. Many leading citizens, pillars of the church, supported Miller because of his sanctimonious Sunday behavior and his recent "conversion" at a revival meeting.
The problem seemed to have solved itself when Frazer lost the next election. Stung, he left Pecos for new prospects in New Mexico. But the feud wasn't over yet. Frazer returned to Pecos briefly to settle some personal affairs and ran into Miller on the street. This time, Frazer carried a Winchester, and Miller was packing his favorite weapon, a shotgun.
Knowing Miller had been looking for him, Frazer opened up, nailing the Deacon in the right arm and left leg, then twice over the heart. Still, Miller stayed on his feet, and Frazer, apparently unaware of the steel plate, took to his heels.
Frazer was arrested, but his impending trial was transferred to El Paso. Miller called for assistance from yet another relative, the urbane ex-con and murderer-turned-lawyer Wes Hardin. But Frazer's trial ended in a hung jury, and the retrial was put off for a year. In the interim, Hardin was killed in El Paso's Acme Saloon by tough John Selman.
To complete Miller's unhappiness, Frazer was acquitted and returned to his business in New Mexico. In September, Frazer visited his family in Toyah, Texas, about 18 miles from Pecos, carrying a specially made revolver loaded with what he called "explosion balls." It would do him no good.
Frazer sat playing seven-up at a saloon table on the morning of September 13. Miller, forewarned by a confederate, crossed quickly from the hotel where he had been waiting. Without a word to the unsuspecting card players, he slid his shotgun through the saloon door and squeezed off both barrels. The buckshot tore Frazer's head off in a shower of blood and bone, leaving his body still seated at the table.
Miller saddled up and rode back to Pecos, where he was promptly jailed for murder. Before he went to jail, he grandly ordered all of Frazer's supporters to leave the county. Barney Riggs, at least, stayed around town, but kept his powder dry. Instead, he tangled with two Miller henchmen in the Orient Saloon. One of them, Bill Earhart, was the man who had acted as lookout for Miller in Toyah.
Earhart got off the first shot, but Riggs drilled the man between the eyes. Chasing the second man into the street, Riggs blew off the back of his head. Scooping up a few of the brains, he promised to send them to the widow of the man Miller had killed for revealing the first Frazer ambush. Tried for murder in El Paso, Riggs was promptly acquitted.
Miller himself was tried in Eastland, Texas, for the Frazer murder. After the first jury hung 11-to-1, Miller spent the next few months helping his minister hold prayer meetings. After such a public display of devotion, a second jury acquitted Miller in January 1899.
Deacon Jim moved to Memphis, Texas, where he ran a saloon and worked as a part-time deputy sheriff. He began to openly boast of his murders--and even "predict" them. He was soon convicted for suborning perjury after he urged a man named Joe Earp (no relation to Wyatt) to swear away an innocent man's life in return for a $10,000 reward. Earp turned state's evidence, but Miller's conviction was reversed.
As he rode the train back to Memphis, Miller boasted: "Joe Earp turned state's evidence on me--and no man can do that and live. Watch the papers, boys, and you'll see where Joe Earp died." Three weeks later, Earp was ambushed and shot down. Miller apparently did the job himself, then galloped 100 miles in one night to establish an alibi.
Miller wasn't through. Soon thereafter, the district attorney who had prosecuted Miller stayed overnight on business in a Memphis hotel. By morning he was dead, officially of peritonitis. Later, however, the doctor revealed that the "peritonitis" had been arsenic. The temporary hotel cook had been a friend of Miller's and had disappeared after the prosecutor's death. The doctor did not make an issue of the arsenic; he knew Jim Miller's charming ways.
Miller moved on, ending up in Fort Worth in 1900, where he gambled a little and speculated in real estate. He and his wife opened a rooming house, and Deacon followed his familiar pattern by joining the church. His real occupation, however--and maybe his hobby--was killing.
These were the days of the great sheep wars, and Miller hired out to exterminate sheepmen at $150 per job. He may have killed as many as a dozen men, some anonymously, others on some excuse such as self-defense. He soon expanded his line of work to include murdering farmers whose fences got in the way of the great cattle herds.
In 1904, he ambushed Lubbock lawyer James Jarrott, who had staunchly and successfully represented several farmers against the big cattle interests. This time Killin' Jim cut his man down with a rifle, shooting his helpless victim again and again as he lay writhing on the ground. "Hardest damned man to kill I ever tackled," said Miller.
Miller was moving up in the world. He had received $500 for dry-gulching Jarrott, and he began to strut the streets wearing a diamond ring and studs. He branched out into land speculation, promoting the sale of lots well submerged in the Gulf of Mexico. When his innocent salesman threatened to reveal the fraud in 1905, Miller shot him down in the men's room of Fort Worth's Westbrook Hotel. Again he escaped the law, this time on perjured alibi testimony.
The next year, 1906, Miller took a job in Oklahoma, still a year away from statehood. Up in the Chickasaw Nation, at a little town called Orr, U.S. Marshal Ben Collins had earned the permanent hatred of the outlaw Pruitt brothers by shooting and crippling one of them during an arrest. The Pruitts swore revenge, and they knew who to call.
One August evening, the roar of a shotgun split the night near the gate to Collins' little farm. The young marshal had died hard, getting off four rounds from his revolver after the first load of buckshot knocked him from his horse. But another shotgun blast tore into his face, and he was dead by the time his frantic wife got to him.
The public was outraged, and a hard-driving investigation soon identified several conspirators, including the Pruitts and a chubby fingerman called Washmood. It did not take long to learn that Miller had killed Collins for $1,800.
As usual, Miller was both smart and lucky. As months dragged on before the trial, one conspirator died, and one of the Pruitts was killed by a lawman in an unrelated incident. Miller spent some time in jail, but by late 1907 he was out on bail. He returned to Fort Worth just in time to answer a call from a relative in New Mexico. He had been unemployed for a while, and now there was work for him.
This time his quarry was very big game indeed, and the pay was commensurate with the job. His target was none other than Pat Garrett, the legendary sheriff who had killed Billy the Kid back in 1881. The price tag was $1,500. They did not come any tougher than Pat Garrett, who had survived an assortment of gunfights with the worst of the Southwestern badmen. Garrett was semiretired now, after a career of ranching and law enforcement. He was living up in Dona Ana County, N.M., about 20 miles from Las Cruces, and he had become a major problem to powerful neighbors who coveted his land and the spring that watered it.
Financially strapped, Garrett decided to lease part of his range to Wayne Brazel, who, by prearrangement with Garrett's avaricious neighbors, imported the unthinkable--goats. Garrett was appalled, and he sought any way to rid his range of these destructive beasts before they destroyed it entirely.
In January 1908, Deacon Jim appeared in Dona Ana County, posing as a cattleman in the market for grazing rights. He made an attractive offer to Garrett, who immediately began to dicker with Brazel to get those accursed goats off his land. Negotiations quickly broke down, however, and Garrett struck Brazel and told him exactly what kind of a man ran goats in cattle country.
In February, however, Garrett agreed to go to Las Cruces to talk to Deacon Jim. He traveled with Brazel and a man named Carl Adamson, to whom, in the Western spirit, he had extended hospitality the night before his trip. In spite of his wife's apprehensions about his journey, Garrett carried no side arm, only a folding shotgun tucked away in its case in his buggy. He obviously did not connect cattleman Miller with the deadly Deacon Jim. After all, Garrett was pushing 60 and had not been an active lawman for years.
Garrett should have listened to his wife. Along the trail to Las Cruces, suspecting nothing, he stopped his rig to answer a call of nature. While he was doing so, a bullet tore through the back of his head and another lodged in his stomach. He died quickly, and the other two men drove into Las Cruces. Their story was that Brazel had killed Garrett with his revolver in self-defense after another argument about goats on cattle range.
The Las Cruces sheriff, a perceptive lawman named Lucero, smelled a rat. He found Garrett still lying in the road, his shotgun beside him. But the famous sheriff's fly was still unbuttoned, and his right hand was still encased in a heavy glove, hardly the garb of an experienced gunfighter getting ready to attack someone. Lucero concluded that Garrett's shotgun, loaded only with birdshot, had been placed near the body after he was killed.
The killing emitted an even stronger smell after a mounted police officer, prowling the off-road brush near the killing site, found horse droppings and two spent Winchester shells near the spot where Garrett was killed. The same officer knew Deacon Jim's record and discovered he was related to Adamson.
It didn't matter. Brazel was acquitted, and Miller was never arrested. He went back to Fort Worth to continue his gambling and real estate speculations.
Toward the end of 1908, Killin' Jim's friend and brother-in-law, Little Mannen Clements, died in a saloon fight in El Paso. Good riddance, honest people said, but Miller was determined to seek revenge. First, however, there was another matter of business to attend to. He had been offered another contract. This time it was no unsung nester or humble sheepman, or even a famous sheriff, but the biggest payday of his career. It was a prominent man, a pillar of his community of Ada, Okla. The blood price was $2,000, the richest prize of Deacon Jim's ugly career. Vengeance would have to wait. Deacon Jim rode north.
Ada was a bustling young town, named for a daughter of one of the founding families and policed effectively by the twin Colts of a skinny shrimp of a marshal named Nestor. By the time Miller rode into Ada, the town was the growing center of a thriving cotton trade, a city on the way up.
It was also a very tough place, in or near which 36 people had been murdered in 1908 alone. It was home to a bitter quarrel between unscrupulous saloon operators Jesse West and Joe C. Allen and a hard-nosed businessman and sometime-lawman named Allen Augustus "Gus" Bobbitt. Ada thought the worst of the feud was over by now. Bobbitt's rivals had left the area to run cattle in Texas, but they had not forgotten Bobbitt, after all.
Instead, they had hired Jim Miller, the suave and courteous angel of death, who rode north early in 1909. And so it was that Gus Bobbitt drove his wagon back from town that winter night, and that terrible scattergun tore the life out of him at the gate to his own field. Bobbitt lived about an hour, lying with his head in his wife's lap. Tough and clear-headed to the end, he told her how to dispose of his property, including $1,000 as a reward for the man who killed him.
A posse immediately set off to run down Bobbitt's killer. This time, perhaps arrogant from long immunity, Miller had not covered his trail well. The townsmen found his horse at the home of someone named Williamson. Beaten and cowed by a crowd of angry men, Williamson spilled the beans.
Williamson, it developed, was yet another of Deacon Jim's relatives--a nephew, in fact--and had sheltered his uncle before and after the killing. Miller had borrowed a mare from Williamson, admitting to him that he had killed a man and threatening to kill his nephew if he talked.
Miller was traced to Ardmore, Okla., and his landlady there told officers the Deacon had been carrying a shotgun. The trail then led to a youngster named Peeler, who admitted that he had been paid to take Miller to Ada. West and Allen had paid Miller his $2,000 fee through a livestock speculator named Berry Burrell.
The law moved quickly then. Burrell was arrested in Texas and returned to Ada. Then a tip led lawmen to the brakes of the Trinity River near Fort Worth and to Miller, who was arrested without resistance. By the first of April, he was securely locked in the Ada jail. Allen and West were lured out of Texas by a simple--and wholly fraudulent--wire: "Come to Ada at once. Need $10,000. Miller."
By April 6, all the conspirators were jailed. Miller, Burrell, West and Allen occupied cells in Ada. Peeler and Williamson, ready and eager to testify for the state, had been moved to another town. Sensing the temper of the town, Allen and West were terrified that Judge Lynch would hurry the course of the law a little too much. As it turns out, their instincts were excellent, even if their morals were not.
The good citizens of Ada had had about enough of due process. They had been treated to the spectacle of Miller living high on the hog in jail, shaving twice a day, changing his sheets each morning, eating steak brought in from the Elite Cafe, even softening the floor of his cell with carpet. They knew, too, that he was openly scornful of the pitiful attempts of the state to punish him. After all, he had been tried repeatedly before, without success. A regular army of Texas and New Mexico cattlemen was ready to give testimonials for him; a multitude of wires and letters praised his character.
And, as he had before, Miller shrewdly retained the best lawyer around, in this case Moman Pruitt. Pruitt was a legend, a dynamic litigator who had never had a client executed, winning acquittals in 304 of his 342 murder cases. The citizens of Ada could read the omens as well as Miller could.
And so, in the early morning hours of Sunday, April 19, about 40 men broke into the jail, overpowered and bound the two lawmen there and pulled Miller, West, Allen and Burrell out of their cells. Down an alley they dragged their prisoners, into an abandoned livery stable behind the jail.
The mob wasted no time. The prisoners were bound with bailing wire, and ropes were tossed over the rafters of the gloomy stable. Miller's three co-defendants were quickly jerked from the floor to twitch and convulse in ghastly silence. Then it was Miller's turn, and the implacable men around him urged him to confess his crimes.
Miller, to his credit, was as impassive as he had been when he blew other men into eternity. "Let the record show," he said, "that I've killed 51 men." He pulled off a diamond ring and asked that it be given to his wife; a diamond shirt stud he left to the jailer for some kindness. Then, as the noose slid around his neck, Deacon Jim Miller asked for his trademark, his black broadcloth coat. "I'd like to have my coat," he said. "I don't want to die naked."
No, said the posse members; they had had enough of the cool killer's effrontery. At his repeated request, somebody did set Killin' Jim's hat on the side of his head, and Miller actually laughed. "I'm ready now," he supposedly said. "You couldn't kill me otherwise. Let her rip!"
The vigilantes pulled away, and at last, after Miller's convulsive struggles were over, one of the mob hung Deacon Jim's famous coat across his shoulders. "It won't help him now," he said. The executioners went home through a misty rain, leaving the four bodies hanging in the gloom of the empty stable.
Nobody ever found out who the mob members were. Nobody really cared. As an Ada historian wrote later: "The forty-odd men who took part in the lynching were honorable men, for the most, who had patiently endured desperado rule until it could no longer be tolerated....It can be written down as the one mob action in America entirely justified in the eyes of God and man."
If it was a bit presumptuous to announce that God approved, it is certain that most of Ada did. The message to hoodlums was clearly posted, and Ada was on her way to the peace and quiet her citizens so devoutly wanted.
To be sure, there were those who still believed Miller had been wrongly accused. Long lines of people paraded through the undertaker's parlor. Even so, Ada had done the rest of the Southwest a mighty favor, for Miller had definitely killed at least a dozen men (maybe his own figure of 51 wasn't too far off) and would certainly have continued his murdering ways. Not counting any future contracts he might have been offered, he had sworn to kill Barney Riggs and the man who had cut down Little Mannen Clements in El Paso.
With Deacon Jim Miller gone, the world was surely a cleaner, brighter place. One respected citizen spoke Miller's epitaph, cutting cleanly through Miller's smooth manners and churchgoing facade, "He was just a killer--the worst man I ever knew."