Ben Thompson – Lawman and Gunman

Ben Thompson

Ben Thompson

Benjamin “Ben” Thompson, aka Shotgun Ben, was a gambler, gunfighter, and lawman in the Old West who was a contemporary of Buffalo Bill Cody, Bat Masterson, John Wesley Hardin, and “Wild Bill” Hickock. Some of these men considered Ben a friend, while others saw him as an enemy.

Ben was born in Knottingley, Yorkshire, England on November 2, 1843, and several years later, the Thompson family immigrated to the United States in 1851. Settling in Austin, Texas, Thompson grew up to become a printer working for various Austin newspapers. At age 15, he wounded his first man in an argument about his shooting abilities. By 1859, Thompson had moved to New Orleans, Louisiana, where he worked for a bookbinder and killed his first man when he saw him abusing a woman. When the Civil War began, he returned to Texas, enlisting with the 2nd Texas Cavalry. After fatally shooting a teamster in an argument in May 1865, he fled to Mexico.

Returning to Texas, he wounded his brother-in-law, who abused his pregnant sister, and spent two years in the Texas State Penitentiary. Afterward, he headed to Abilene, Kansas, hoping to change his fortunes. For the next several years, he moved about Kansas and Colorado, primarily as a professional gambler, and was involved in several shootouts.

Later he returned to Austin, where he became the city marshal in December 1880. In 1882, while still serving as an Austin marshal, Thompson quarreled over a card game in San Antonio, where he killed the owner of the Vaudeville Theatre, Jack Harris, allegedly his 21st victim. Though he was acquitted of murder, he was assassinated on March 11, 1884, in the Vaudeville Theatre, in revenge for the killing of Jack Harris.

© Kathy Alexander/Legends of America, updated November 2022.

Also See:

Adventures in the American West

Ben Thompson by Bat Masterson

Gunfighters of the Old West

Old West Photo Galleries