Patterson was born in Texas in 1821 and little is known of his early life, though he was said to have shown early signs of rebellion and had a bad temper.
In the late 1850s, he arrived in California at the tail end of the gold rush. He stood over six-foot, weighed more than 200 pounds, had red hair and a pair of restless blue eyes, He presented himself as a “dandy,” wearing cashmere shirts, silk vests, and a long black frock coat trimmed with fur. His outfit also consisted of an ivory-handled Colt .31 caliber revolver and matching Bowie knife.
In 1859, he made his way to the mining camp of Waldo, Oregon, where his appearance made it clear he wasn’t there to use a pick and shovel in the nearby mines. Instead, he quickly began to make the rounds of the gaming tables in the saloons. The local miners were no match for the prolific gambler and lost much of their hard-earned money to the visiting stranger. On one occasion, Patterson was said to have gotten into an argument with two local miners over a card game and promptly gunned them both down.
He also got on the bad side of George Wells, the local lawman, and a former Texas Ranger. On one afternoon, in front of a saloon, the two men got into an argument which soon led to gunplay. Wells shot Patterson in the side, but as Patterson went down, he continued shooting, hitting Wells in the arm. Both men recovered from their wounds, although Wells ended up with a permanently disabled arm. Afterward, Patterson was run out of town.
Patterson then continued his gambling and gunfighting ways in Oregon and California, especially in San Francisco’s seamier attractions. But, no one got the better of him.
He next made headlines in 1861, while on a steamer called the Panama, which was crusing from San Francisco, California to Portland, Oregan. The passenger list included a party of so-called sporting men and women, of which Patterson appeared to be the recognized leader. Once the vessel had cleared the harbor and was out to sea, Patterson and his cohorts took possession of the saloon and cardroom where they began to ply their trade, introducing three-card monte and other gambling games. He was traveling with a woman who was about 28 years-old, who was also proficient at cards.
As the ship was anchored at Astoria, Oregon, the group partied hard late into the night. After Captain G.W. Staples received a visit from a committee of passengers who demanded that the boisterous conduct and the profane language be stopped, he went to the card room, where he courteously requested that the sporting fraternity retire. When Patterson replied in an insulting manner, the captain threatened to put him in irons. The party then dispersed, with Patterson saying that he would see the captain after the ship landed in Portland.
Once in Portland, the still-simmering Patterson tracked Staples to the lobby of the Pioneer Hotel and shot him dead. The murderer surrendered to a policeman, who entered the hotel after hearing the shot fired. Patterson was arrested and tried for the murder but was found not guilty by a local jury.
Commenting later on the encounter with the Captain, Patterson said, “Guns were drawn, shots exchanged, he’s dead, I’m not – and the court found the killing justified.”
However, Patterson’s run-ins with the law in Portland were far from over. Next, after accusing his girlfriend of making eyes at other men, Patterson, using his sharp bowie-knife, cut off a large lock of her hair and ended up with a piece of her scalp as well. A policeman, hearing the woman scream, entered the house and placed the offender under arrest. Again Patterson was in the hands of the Portland authorities
He went to trial but was again acquitted. Patterson would afterward recall, “When a woman’s mine, she’s mine – and she’d better not blink her eyelashes at anything else in pants. This one – never mind her name – did a bit of blinking.”
Ferd Patterson was next heard from when he arrived in Idaho City, Idaho, a booming mining camp in the mountains outside Boise, in 1863. Upon his arrival, Patterson was pleased to find a large population of Southerners who would support his fervent hatred of “them damn Yankees.” Here, he would come into conflict several times with Boise County Sheriff Sumner Pinkham.
On one occasion, while he was partying with some of his friends, they took unlawful possession of a brewery. The owner called upon Sheriff Pinkham to do something about it. When Pinkham entered the brewery he was met with violent resistance. Pinkham and Patterson saw in each other everything they loathed. Patterson was Southerner who was crooked by nature and Pinkham was a Northerner who tended to be self-righteous. In the end, Pinkham was successful and Patterson was arrested.
The following year Pinkham was running for re-election as Boise County Sheriff in October 1864. In a bitter contest between the Democratic successionists and Republican candidates, Pinkham, an outspoken Union supporter, was defeated by A.O. Bowen.
As the last of the ballots were being counted, Ferd Patterson was celebrating when he encountered his old nemesis Sumner Pinkham, who was in a rage. Wasting no time, the lawman took a swing at Patterson, hitting him in the jaw, throwing the gambler off the street and into the gutter. Then Pinkham walked away. Locals expected immediate retaliation from Patterson but it did not occur.