2/27/1909 - Wild West days dying in the new century, in Ada, Oklahoma, psychopath and professional killer James Brown Miller (nicknames include "Killin' Jim," "Killer Miller," and "Deacon Jim") closes out his murder resume with a $1,700 hit on cattle rancher and former Deputy U.S. Marshal Allen Augustus "Gus" Bobbitt.
James Brown "Killer" Miller
Born in Arkansas in 1866, Miller's life comes off the tracks early ... after a move to Texas, both parents die and he sent off to live with his grand parents, who both also die when Miller is only eight, murdered (some historians believe Miller himself killed the couple, but his youth and lack of evidence keep him from being being brought up on charges for the crime). Third time not a charm either, he is then sent off to live on the farm of his sister and her husband, John and Georgia Coop in Coryell County, Texas. There, on 7/30/1884, he gets in an argument with his brother-in-law, and kills Coop with a shotgun (Miller's weapon of choice) while the man is sleeping on the porch of his farmhouse. Arrested, convicted, and sent to prison for life for the murder, Miller instead is out and on the loose shortly afterwards on a trial technicality ... ready for more killings.
A man of many masks over the years of mayhem that follow, never drinking or swearing, going to church regularly, and usually impeccably dressed, despite whatever the weather is, in a large black frock cloak (so the sheet of metal he wears as armor can best be concealed), Miller will be a cowboy, a rancher, a husband and father (marrying gunman Emmanuel "Mannen" Clement's sister, Sallie, in 1891), a deputy sheriff and marshal in Pecos, Texas, a Texas Ranger, a saloon keeper, hotel owner ... and always, a killer, sometimes for personal reasons and sometimes for money.
The Miller Family
Some proven, and some thought to be his work though never officially solved, Miller puts together a tragic resume that dwarfs the pistol antics and murders of other gunmen of the period:
*1887 - Ballinger City Marshal Joe Townsend, the killer of Miller's friend and father-in-law, Mannen Clements, is ambushed with a blast of buckshot that results in the amputation of the lawman's arm.
*4/12/1894 - Not waiting for Miller to bring his shotgun into play, in the midst of arguing over the recent murder of rancher Con Gibson (and the theft of some mules), Pecos Sheriff George "Bud" Frazier draws his pistol and shoots Miller in the right arm and groin, then empties his weapon into Miller's chest ... but Miller survives thanks to the steel plate he is wearing.
*12/26/1894 - Again, no waiting ... standing outside the town blacksmith's place of business, Miller is shot by Frazier again ... this time in the right arm, left leg, and chest ... and again is saved by his hidden armor.
*9/13/1896 - Miller ends his feud with Frazier when he finds his enemy playing cards in a saloon in Toyah, Texas ... in through the swinging doors, Miller levels his shotgun, fires, and blows off most of his head ... a justifiable homicide according to the locals.
*1896 - Joe Earp, a witness against Miller in his trial for murdering Frazier, is killed three weeks after the gunman is found not guilty ... by someone wielding a shotgun. And shortly afterwards, the district attorney, Judge Stanley, who prosecutes the case, is poisoned to death.
*1900 - With a partner, Lawrence Angel, Miller kills two men in Collingsworth County, Texas ... murders that will go down as self defense.
*1902 - Miller encounters three men he claims are stealing cattle near the Pecos River ... two die with Winchester bullets in their brains, while the third, though wounded, is able to gallop away from the encounter.
*8/28/1902 - Miller completes a contract to kill lawyer James Jarrott for upset local ranchers who have tired of the man winning cases for a group of farmers outside the Texas town of Lubbock (a $500 killing).
*3/10/1904 - In Fort Worth, Miller tracks his next victim, Frank Fore, to the town's Hotel Westbrook, and guns the man down in the lavatory ... and again gets off using the lie of "self defense."
*8/1/1906 - As revenge for shooting and partially paralyze outlaw Port Pruitt, Miller attacks U.S. Deputy Marshal Ben Collins as the lawman is approaching his home near Emet, Oklahoma ... hit in the stomach by a load of No. 8 buckshot, Collins gets off four shots from his pistol, before being stopped by another load being fired into his face (Miller is said to have been paid $2,000 for the hit). Again, Miller is arrested for the crime but eventually released.
*2/28/1908 - Rumors persist to this day that Miller is the killer who takes out ex-lawman Pat Garrett near Las Cruces, New Mexico.
Back in Oklahoma the following year, Miller takes a contract from three cattlemen (his fee for the killing is $1,700), Jesse West, Joe Allen, and Berry Burwell, to take out the rancher they are feuding with, former Deputy U.S.Marshal Allen Augustus "Gus" Bobbitt of Ada, Oklahoma. On 2/27/1909, Miller chooses an ambush site, conceals himself near Bobbitt's house, and when Bobbitt returns home with hired man Bob Ferguson, opens up on his target with both barrels of his shotgun. Hit in his left side and riddled by buckshot, Bobbitt is dead within an hour, but not before identifying Miller as his killer (and offering $1,000 for his capture) ... an identification also made by Ferguson, and 19-year-old Oscar Peeler, who for $50 from Miller, had earlier taken the murderer out to Bobbitt's ranch.
It will be Miller's last murder. Word out on the culprit, Miller is tracked down by the Texas Rangers, arrested near Fort Worth, extradited back to Oklahoma, and along with the men who hired him, goes on trial in April. Record known of Miller escaping retribution for his murderous deeds (his lawyer, Moman Pruitt, has won acquittals in 304 of the 342 murder trials he's tried), at around three in the morning of 4/19/1909, between 200 to 50 concerned citizens break into the jail (sources vary, and no one wanted to be identified), overpower the two guards on duty, and pull the men out of their cells for a necktie party ... which takes place almost immediately in an abandoned livery stable behind the Ada town jail. Begging for mercy, the three ranchers do their fatal air dance and then it is Miller's turn. Cool as a cucumber in the face of certain death, Miller asks his antagonists for three favors before he is hung ... for his wife to be given his diamond ring, and too make the jump into eternity wearing his black hat and his black frock coat. Ring and hat requests are granted, but the coat is denied. Ready, Miller states, "Let the record show that I've killed 51 men. I'm ready now. You couldn't kill me otherwise. Let her rip," before stepping off the box he has been standing on.
Dead at the age of 42 ... Miller and his three confederates pose for a party picture that is sold as a postcard in Ada for years and years ... none of them are mourned.
Miller In Hat At Left