|Born||James Brown Miller
October 25, 1861
Van Buren, Arkansas
|Died||April 19, 1909
|Cause of death||Hanged|
|Occupation||Cowboy, lawman, saloon keeper, assassin|
|Children||Carrie Brown Miller
Claude B. Miller
Mary Wesley Miller
James Brown Miller (October 25, 1861 - April 19, 1909), also known as "Killin' Jim", "Killer Miller" and "Deacon Jim", was an American outlaw and assassin of the American Old West said to have killed 12 people during gunfights - perhaps the most of his era. Miller was referred to by the alias Deacon Jim by some because he regularly attended the Methodist Church and he did not smoke or drink. He was lynched by a mob of angry citizens because of his assassination of a former deputy U.S. marshal.
Miller was married to the cousin of another famous old west outlaw, John Wesley Hardin.
Miller was born in Van Buren, Arkansas, but moved with his parents to Franklin, Texas, at one year of age. Miller's father, Jacob, was born in Pennsylvania in 1801, was a stonemason, and helped build the first capitol building in Austin. Miller's mother was Cynthia Basham. Just a few years after the move, Miller's father died, so he and his mother went to Evant to live with the grandparents. When Miller was eight, his grandparents were found murdered in their home. Miller was arrested, but was not prosecuted for the crime.
His sister, Georgia, and her husband, John Thomas Coop, accepted him onto their farm at Plum Creek near Gatesville. The 1880 census records him as being nineteen years old, living in Coryell County, Texas, with his siblings and widowed mother. On July 30, 1884, Miller shot his brother-in-law (with whom he had an argument), with a shotgun while the latter was sleeping on his porch. Miller was arrested for the murder, convicted, and sentenced to life in prison; however, the conviction was overturned on a technicality.
After leaving the Coop farm, Miller became a hired hand on the McCulloch County ranch of John Wesley Hardin's cousin, Emanuel "Mannen" Clements. Clements was killed by Ballinger City Marshal Joe Townsend on March 29, 1887, during Miller's time of employment at the ranch. Townsend was later ambushed by an assailant wielding a shotgun, Miller's signature style. Townsend survived, but lost his arm to amputation.
Over the next couple of years, Miller traveled the Texas-Mexico border region and operated a saloon in San Saba County. In Reeves County, Miller became a deputy sheriff and later town marshal in Pecos. During this time, he gained a reputation for killing Mexicans, claiming that they had been attempting to escape.
Miller married Sallie Clements, daughter of Mannen Clements, in 1891. Assuming the appearance of a devout Methodist, he would earn the nickname Deacon Jim. He was well liked by the townspeople because he was polite and an avid member of the church. Regardless of the weather, he would wear a large black frock coat.
Miller would become involved in a feud with Pecos Sheriff George A. "Bud" Frazer. While Frazer was on a trip to El Paso, he was informed that Miller had allowed criminals to gain greater control over Pecos. Frazer enlisted the help of Texas Ranger John R. Hughes to once again secure Pecos. Frazer immediately jailed Miller upon his return to Pecos on a charge of murder. A jury later released Miller. Frazer believed that Miller had stolen mules and had Miller arrested.
On April 12, 1894, in Pecos, Miller was confronted by Frazer about his involvement in the murder of cattleman Con Gibson. Frazer did not wait for Miller to go for his shotgun, shooting him in the right arm. While Miller was attempting to fire his gun with his left hand, hitting a bystander, Joe Krans, Frazer fired again, hitting Miller in the groin, which finally put him down. Frazer emptied his six-shooter into Miller's chest. After Miller's friends had rushed him to a doctor, his frock coat was removed to reveal a large steel plate that Miller wore under his clothes, which saved his life. Miller recovered.
On December 26, 1894, Miller was standing outside of a blacksmith's when Frazer began to fire at him. Frazer hit Miller in the arm and leg. Rushing in to finish him off, Frazer tried to shoot Miller in the chest, but the iron plate in Miller's coat saved him again. Frazer, demoralized, quickly retreated. Miller had Frazer charged with attempted murder. The case, heard in El Paso, ended in a hung jury.
Frazer lost his bid for reelection as sheriff and left town for Eddy, New Mexico (now Carlsbad). Just a few months later, however, he returned to the Pecos area to visit his mother and sister. The feud ended on September 13, 1896, when Miller learned of Frazer's presence in the area. Frazer was at a gambling table in Toyah, Texas. Miller opened the saloon's swinging doors, levelling his shotgun onto one of them. He shot Frazer, who was dealing, removing most of his head. Frazer's sister confronted Miller, who threatened to kill her as well. A jury would not convict Miller.
Miller muttered threats towards Joe Earp, a witness who testified against him. Just three weeks after the trial, Earp was killed by a shotgun blast. To secure an alibi, Miller spent the night riding his horse on a grueling 100 mi (160 km) journey. The prosecuting district attorney, Judge Stanley, would later die of food poisoning in Memphis, Texas.
Miller became a Texas Ranger, despite his legal issues, working as a resident ranger in Memphis. Later he served in Hall County, killing a man in the neighboring county of Collingsworth. The Miller family moved to Fort Worth in 1900, and Sallie opened a boarding house. It is here that Miller advertised himself as a professional assassin, charging $150 for each murder.
Miller killed two men near Midland that year and was arrested for the murder of one of them. Miller's partner on the trip, Lawrence Angel, was convinced to take credit for the killing. Miller, now as a witness, claimed that Angel acted in self-defense.
During the summer of 1902, Miller claimed that he caught three men stealing cattle in Ward County. He killed two of them using his Winchester, but one escaped, shot, by clinging to his horse. Miller killed lawyer James Jarrott on August 28, 1902; Jarrott had been successful in cases for area farmers who were raising fences that disrupted the business of ranchers near Lubbock. Those ranchers hired Miller for the murder, paying $500. Miller caught Jarrot while watering his horses near his farm. Miller had to shoot Jarrot four times: "He was the hardest damn man to kill I ever tackled."
In 1904, Miller took a contract for the murder of Frank Fore. On March 10, Miller followed his target to the Westbrook hotel, accompanied by three other lawmen: Dee Harkey, Jinx Clark and Tom Coggins. He left the trio in the lobby and shot Fore in a restroom upstairs. Immediately afterward, Miller attempted to surrender to Harkey, but the latter refused to participate. Clark and Coggins would later claim that they witnessed the shooting and that Miller acted in self-defense. Fore died on March 13.
On August 1, 1906, Miller killed the Bureau of Indian Affairs lawman Ben C. Collins in Oklahoma as retribution from a man called Port Pruitt, who had been shot and crippled by Collins in 1903 while resisting arrest. Pruitt had already hired another gunman for $500, but the gunman took the $200 advance, told Collins, and left the territory. Miller was reportedly paid $2,000 for that murder, which he carried out in front of Collins' home in front of Collins's wife. Miller shot Collins with a load of buckshot. Collins returned six shots, but was hit in the face by a subsequent load and died. Miller was arrested for the murder, but was never convicted and was eventually released.
On February 28, 1908, Pat Garrett, ex-lawman and killer of Billy The Kid, was killed near Las Cruces, New Mexico, ostensibly because of a land dispute. Miller was alleged to have committed the murder and to have been paid to do so, but this is unlikely since Jesse Wayne Brazel confessed to the crime. Brazel was tried and released on the grounds of self-defense. Carl Adamson, who was married to a cousin of Miller's wife, was also with Garrett when he was killed, which most likely led to the rumors that Miller was involved. Historians still disagree over the ultimate facts of Garrett's murder, but the consensus is that it happened without Miller's involvement.
Miller was contracted by local ranchers Jesse West and Joe Allen, through middleman Berry B. Burell (though there is controversy over the spelling of the man's name), for the murder of Oklahoma cattle rancher and former Deputy U.S. Marshal Allen Augustus "Gus" Bobbitt of Ada, Oklahoma, either to acquire his land or because of a personal grudge. The fee was $1,700.
On February 27, 1909, Miller carefully chose his point of ambush, concealing himself near Bobbitt's ranch house. Bobbitt and his hired man Bob Ferguson arrived with their supply wagons from town. Miller shot Bobbitt in the side with both barrels from his shotgun. Bobbitt fumbled out of the lead wagon and then Miller left the scene on his way to Fort Worth, passing by Ferguson. Bobbitt's wife dashed out to check on her injured husband. Before dying, Bobbitt was able to confirm the identity of his assailant. The murder was also witnessed by Oscar Peeler, the 19-year-old cowhand who had accepted $50 to lead Miller to Bobbitt. Miller was arrested in Texas by a Texas Ranger and extradited to Oklahoma to stand trial alongside Jesse West, Joe Allen and Berry Burrell.
The evidence against the four suspects, however, was not considered strong, leaving open the chance for an acquittal. Only weeks earlier, a man named Stephenson, a suspect in the murder of Town Marshal Rudolph Cathey in Pauls Valley, Oklahoma, on November 3, 1907, had been acquitted on murder charges, which possibly motivated the citizens' ensuing actions.
A mob, reported by The Daily Ardmoreite as numbering 200 and by Associated Press as "estimated from 30 to 40 in number", broke into the jail "between two and three o'clock" on the morning of April 19, 1909. They dragged the four men outside to an abandoned livery stable behind the jail. Miller remained stoic while the other three reportedly begged for their lives. Miller made two final requests: that his diamond ring be given to his wife and that he be permitted to wear his black hat while being hanged. Both requests were granted. He also asked to die in his black frock coat; this request was denied. Miller is reported to have shouted, "Let 'er rip!" and stepped voluntarily off his box.
The bodies of all four men were left hanging for several hours while a photographer could be brought in to record the moment. These photos were sold to tourists in Ada for many years.