James Miller – Hired Killer of the Old West

 

Jim Miller

Jim Miller

James “Jim” Brown Miller was one of the worst of the many violent men of the Old West. Miller was a law officer, Texas Ranger, outlaw, and professional killer who was said to have killed 12 people during gunfights, and more in outlaw activities and assignations. Often impeccably dressed with good manners, he didn’t smoke or drink and often attended church, earning him the nickname “Deacon Miller.” But, he was a wolf in sheep’s clothing and was seemingly one of those “bad seeds” from an early age.

Miller was born on October 25, 1861 (some sources list October 24, 1866) in Van Buren, Arkansas to Jacob and Chynthia Basham Miller. When he was just a year old, he and his family moved to Texas in 1862. Jim’s father, Jacob, who was a stonemason, helped build the first capitol building in Austin. However, somewhere along the line, Jacob died as his mother was listed as a widow in census reports. When the boy was just eight, some accounts said that he killed his own grandparents. However, this has never proven to be true.

By 1880, he was documented as living with his widowed mother and siblings in Coryell County. Four years later, his sister Georgia was married to a man named John Coop — a man that Jim Miller detested. On July 30, 1884, John Coop was killed by a shotgun blast while he was in bed at his home about eight miles northwest of Gatesville, Texas, also in Coryell County. It was well known that Jim did not like his brother-in-law and he was soon arrested for the murder. He was tried, convicted and sentenced to life in prison. However, his attorneys took the case to the Texas Court of Appeals, where the conviction was reversed on a technicality.

Train Robbery

Train Robbery

Afterward, Miller hooked up with an outlaw gang in San Saba County, Texas, robbing trains and stagecoaches, and often killing in the process. He also purchased a one-half interest in a saloon in San Saba. It was at that time that he also embarked on a career as an assassin, casually proclaiming that he would murder anyone for money (accounts of his price vary between $150 and $2,000.) In his new-found career, he would eventually earn a reputation for getting the job done quickly and efficiently, usually by means of a shotgun ambush at night.

In appearance, Miller was a mild-mannered man, never cursed, didn’t drink or smoke, and was very well dressed, wearing a white shirt with a stiff collar, a stick pin on his lapel, a diamond ring, and always wearing a heavy frock coat, regardless of how hot it might be. Despite his occupation, he was often known to attend church and read the bible. He was not a fast draw gunfighter like so many other men of the west, but, was quick to use a gun when it suited him. In addition to killing for hire, he was also known to have killed several men in saloons when arguments would erupt over poker games.

Jim Miller with wife, Sallie and child

Jim Miller with wife, Sallie and child

In about 1882, Miller was arrested and disarmed by young San Saba Deputy Sheriff Dee Harkey, later one of the most famous lawmen of the West. Shortly afterward, Miller drifted into McCulloch County, where he raced horses and worked as a cowboy for Emmanuel “Mannen” Clements, Sr., a violent man who was the older cousin of John Wesley Hardin. While there, Miller became good friends with Emmanuel’s son, Emmanuel “Mannie” Clements, Jr., as well as Mannen’s daughter, Sallie. Jim and Sallie married in McCulloch County on February 15, 1888, and would eventually have four children

Miller next drifted through southeast New Mexico and West Texas, along the Mexican border. Little is known of his activities during these years, but he would later brag: “lost my notch stick on Mexicans that I killed out on the border.”

By 1891, Miller was in Pecos, Texas where he was soon hired on by Reeves County Sheriff, George A. “Bud” Frazer. The 27-year-old Frazer, who had been sheriff for less than a year, was badly in need of a deputy in the frontier town and asked few questions of Miller. In those days, it was considered rude to ask too many questions of one’s past. It would be a fatal mistake for Frazer.

Emmanuel Clements, Jr.

Emmanuel Clements, Jr.

Miller soon moved his family, along with brother-in-law, Mannie Clements, to Pecos, where the family attended church, and by all appearances, were an upstanding group. At about the same time, cattle rustling and horse theft increased up and down the Pecos Valley and Miller spent much of his time in pursuit of the thieves. But, when he never captured any, it raised suspicions in the mind of local gunfighter and hard-case, Barney Riggs, who just happened to be Bud Frazer’s brother-in-law. As the increase in thefts had started to occur at just about the same time as Miller became a deputy, Riggs pointed out that perhaps Miller should be looked at as a suspect and suggested the Miller be fired. When Frazer confronted his deputy, Miller laughed off the accusation.

Miller, who was supported by members of his church and with no proof of the allegations, was kept on by Frazer and continued his serve as a deputy. However, when Miller killed a Mexican prisoner who was “trying to escape,” Frazer began to investigate. Barney Riggs alleged that Miller had murdered the man because he knew where the deputy had hidden a pair of stolen mules. When Frazer found that Riggs was correct and located the stolen mules, he immediately fired Miller. This would be the beginning of the deadly Frazer-Miller feud, which would last for the next several years.

Barney Riggs

Barney Riggs

The next year, in the 1892 Pecos Sheriff’s election, Jim Miller opposed Bud Frazer but lost. This, however, did not stop Miller from getting himself appointed as the Pecos City Marshal. Marshal Jim Miller then hired his brother-in-law, Mannie Clements as his deputy and surrounded himself with gunmen, including a hard-case gunfighter named Bill Earhart, John Denson, another cousin of John Wesley Hardin’s and Martin Q. Hardin, who is not known to have been related to John Wesley, but the two evidently referred to themselves as “cousins.”

In May 1893, Sheriff Frazer was away on business and Miller’s criminal element virtually took over the town. In the meantime, Miller and his henchmen were also hatching a plan to assassinate upon his return. The plan was to stage a shoot-out on the railroad station platform when the sheriff returned. Nearby, would be a third man who would shoot Frazer, making it appear as if he had been killed by a stray bullet. However, when a man named Con Gibson overheard the plan while in a local saloon, he contacted Frazer to let him know about it. Frazer, in turn, contacted the Texas Rangers, and when Frazer arrived, he was flanked by Texas Rangers. Captain John R. Hughes soon arrested Miller, Clements and Martin Hardin. The three were indicted on September 7, 1893, for conspiring to kill Frazer. The case was transferred to El Paso to be tried; however, Con Gibson, the primary prosecution witness, fled to nearby Eddy (now Carlsbad,) New Mexico, where he was shot and killed by Miller henchman, John Denson. With their witness gone, the state was forced to release the three prisoners.

Though Miller had once more escaped the long arm of the law, he did lose his job of marshal and bought a hotel in Pecos. Miller then appeared to be living the life of an honest citizen and the town settled down. However, word began to spread that Frazer couldn’t handle Miller and had no business being sheriff. The talk naturally built up resentment in the young sheriff.

George A. “Bud” Frazer

George A. “Bud” Frazer

On April 18, 1894, when Bud Frazer encountered Miller on the street, he yelled at him “Jim, you’re a cattle rustler and murderer! Here’s one for Con Gibson.” Frazer then opened fire on Miller, striking him in the right arm near the shoulder. Miller fired back but succeeded in only grazing a man named Joe Kraus, a local storekeeper. Frazer then emptied his pistol into Miller’s chest and he collapsed. Bud then walked away only to find out later that, amazingly, Miller wasn’t dead.

Several of his friends picked up Miller and carried him into his hotel. Also surprised that the man wasn’t dead, they discovered a metal breast-plate plate that Miller wore under his coat. Now, it became clear why the hired killer always wore a heavy frock coat. However, that information would not be shared with Frazer.

Though Miller survived, he would spend the next several months convalescing and there were no more conflicts between the two men, though Miller had been making threats the entire time. In November 1894, when the sheriff election came up again, Frazer lost. He then moved to Carlsbad, New Mexico, where he opened a livery stable.

Frazer returned to Pecos the next month to settle his affairs. The ex-sheriff encountered Jim Miller in front of Zimmer’s blacksmith shop on December 26, 1894. Having heard the frequent threats that Miller had made against him, Frazer drew his gun, sending two shots into Miller’s right arm and left leg. Jim then began firing left-handed, without success, while Frazer sent two more slugs into Miller’s chest. Amazed again that Miller was still alive and standing, the confused Frazer fled. It was only later that the ex-sheriff would find out about Miller’s protective breast-plate.

John Wesley Hardin

John Wesley Hardin

In March 1895, John Wesley Hardin, who had become an attorney while in prison, arrived in Pecos and filed charges of attempted murder against Bud Frazer. The ex-sheriff’s trial was scheduled to be heard in El Paso. However, Hardin was killed before it came to trial and Frazer was acquitted in May 1896. Miller, of course, was furious and in the end, would take his final revenge.

Bud Frazer was not Miller’s only target. Barney Riggs, Bud’s brother-in-law, hard-case gunfighter, and the man who had exposed Miller’s thievery while he was a deputy, was also in Jim’s crosshairs. Riggs also said to have been the only man that Killer Jim Miller ever truly feared. In typical fashion, Miller decided that Riggs should also die. In early 1896, two of Miller’s henchmen — John Denson and Bill Earhart were overhead in Fort Stockton, Texas muttering threats against Barney Riggs. Later, the pair left for Pecos, Texas to seek out Miller’s nemesis. However, U.S. Deputy Marshal Dee Harkey wired a telegram of warning to Riggs and when the pair arrived, Barney avoided them. However on the morning of March 3rd, as Riggs was substituting for a friend as a bartender in R.S. Johnson’s Saloon, he was alone. Denson and Earhart burst into the room and a shot from Earhart grazed Barney, who instantly fired back killing the other man. He then grappled with Denson before the would-be assassin was able to flee. Riggs followed and as Denson was running down the street, Riggs shot him in the back of his head, killing him on the spot. Miller’s scheme to eliminate the one man he feared had failed. After the shooting, Riggs surrendered himself. He was later tried for murder and acquitted.

Later that year, even though Bud Frazer knew that Miller was out to get him, he made the mistake of visiting family in nearby Toyah, Texas in September 1896. On the morning of the 14th, Bud was playing cards with friends in a saloon, when Miller pushed open the door and fired with both barrels, practically blowing Frazer’s head from his body. When Bud’s distraught sister approached Miller with a gun, he said to her: “I’ll give you what your brother got — I’ll shoot you right in the face!”

Once again, the far too lucky and evil Jim Miller was acquitted of the murder of  Frazer, his defense being “he had done no worse than  Frazer.” During the trial, a man named Joe Earp (no known relation to the Earp Brothers,) who had testified in his trial, became his next target. Several weeks afterward, Joe Earp was shot down, reportedly by  Miller himself, before galloping 100 miles in one night to establish an alibi.

Pecos, Texas, early 1900's

Pecos, Texas, early 1900’s

Next, Miller made his way to Memphis, in the Texas Panhandle. There, he ran a saloon, where he openly boasted of his many murders. He was also said to have worked as a part-time deputy sheriff again and in August 1898 was allegedly made a Texas Ranger for a brief period. Whether this is accurate is unknown. At that time, there was a thin line between law and crime, but many accounts indicate he was only masquerading.

In 1899, an attorney named Stanley, prosecuted Miller on a charge of subornation of perjury, meaning, persuading another to commit perjury. This charge was allegedly related to Joe Earp’s account during Miller’s murder trial of Bud Frazer. Mysteriously Attorney Stanley soon after died of food poisoning, which history tells was more than likely another of Miller’s work.

Miller then returned to the Pecos area, where he spent some time in Monahans. However, by 1900, he and his wife, Sallie, were living in Fort Worth, where the assassin became involved in real estate and did very well financially. Even so, killing appeared to be in his blood, and his financial situation had little impact on his choice to continue his career as a killer. At that time, the great sheep wars were taking place with the cattlemen, and Miller was quick to hire out to kill the sheepmen at just $150 per job, killing as many as a dozen men. At the same time, there were numerous feuds going on regarding fences, which got in the way of the great cattle herds, and Miller was only more than happy to help the cattlemen by killing the farmers who fenced their land.

In 1904, Miller ambushed and killed Lubbock lawyer James Jarrott, who had successfully represented several farmers against the big cattle interests. He received $500 for ambushing the attorney. That same year, he also killed a man he did real estate business within Fort Worth. T.D. “Frank” Fore, was an honest businessman who threatened to tell a grand jury that Miller was selling lots that were actually submerged in the Gulf of Mexico. On March 10, 1904, Miller cornered Fore in the washroom of the Delaware Hotel and shot him to death. As people rushed to see what had happened Miller fell over Fore’s body tears in his eyes exclaiming “I did everything I could to keep him from reaching for his gun.” Amazingly, Miller was acquitted again.

Jim Miller

Jim Miller

Continuing his wicked ways, Miller took a job Indian Territory in 1906 in the small town of Orr, Oklahoma, located in the Chickasaw Nation. There, lived a U.S. Deputy Marshal named Ben Collins who also served as an Indian policeman.

Several years earlier, Ben Collins had tried to arrest a man named Port Pruitt, a prominent citizen in Emet, Oklahoma. Resisting arrest, Collins shot him, leaving Pruitt partially paralyzed. Port and his brother publicly swore vengeance on Ben Collins. They soon hired Killer Miller, for the price of  $1,800 to take care of their enemy. On August 1, 1906, as Collins was riding home to his farm, he received a load of buckshot which knocked him from his horse. Though the young lawman got off four rounds while he was on the ground, another shotgun blast soon tore through his face. An intense investigation was soon begun which pointed at Killer Miller, and another man named Washmood.

Once again arrested, Miller spent a short time in jail but, he was soon released on bail. Before Miller could be tried, any witnesses were soon killed and once again, the prosecution died from lack of witnesses and evidence.

Next, Miller was accused of killing Pat Garrett on February 28, 1908. Garrett was allegedly killed because of a land dispute and by some accounts, Miller committed the murder as a paid assassin. However, this is unlikely as a man named Wayne Brazel later confessed to the crime. A man named Carl Adamson, who was married to a cousin of Sallie Miller, was also with Garrett when he was killed. This led to the rumors that Miller was involved. However, most historians agree that Garrett’s murder happened without the killer’s involvement.

Gus Bobbitt

Gus Bobbitt

On December 29, 1908, Emmanuel “Mannie” Clements, Jr., Miller’s longtime friend and cohort was killed in a saloon fight in El Paso, Texas. Miller swore revenge, and, no doubt, would have followed through, except he had been offered some $1,700 to kill former U.S. Marshal Allen Augustus “Gus” Bobbitt in Ada, Oklahoma. 

At this time, the flourishing town of Ada was a thriving cotton center, but, also had a violent reputation. In 1908, some 36 people had been murdered.  Bobbitt had retired from his U.S. Deputy Marshal position after Oklahoma became a state the previous year and moved to a ranch near Roff, Oklahoma. However, though retired, Bobbitt was not quiet about his feelings about many of the events taking place in the area. A number of citizens including saloon owners, Jesse West and Joe Allen, were practicing what was known as “Indian Skinning.” This practice involved taking advantage of Native Americans, who had earlier been granted 160 acres each in exchange for their reservation land. Though Oklahoma law required that any such land being sold to whites had to have the approval of the county court judge, a number of opportunists took advantage of the situation, often getting the Indians drunk, and buying their 160 acres for as low as $50.

From left to right: Jim Miller, Joe Allen, Berry Burrell, and Jesse West, hanged by vigilantes in Ada, Oklahoma, 1909.

From left to right: Jim Miller, Joe Allen, Berry Burrell, and Jesse West, hanged
by vigilantes in Ada, Oklahoma, 1909.

Gus Bobbitt, appalled at what was going on, began to publicize the events and pushed for changes to elected offices in the town and county. As a result, those who were handsomely profiting hired the notorious Jim Miller to solve the problem. On February 27, 1909, Bobbitt, was shot as he drove his wagon home from Ada. He lived for about an hour, but, before he died, he instructed his wife on how to dispose of his property, which included a $1,000 as a reward for the man who had killed him.

Within no time, a posse was after Bobbitt’s, killer, as well as numerous others, hoping to land the reward. Having long escaped “Scot Free,” like he had so many times before, Miller was so confident, that this time, his escape was sloppy. The posse soon found his horse at the home of a man named Williamson, who was said to have been yet, another one of Miller’s many relatives. Miller borrowed a mare from Williamson, admitting to him that he had killed a man and threatened to kill Williamson if he talked.

In the end, the posse tracked down the notorious killer and found that Bobbit’s paid assassin was indeed, Jim Miller, the result of a conspiracy among several individuals. A livestock speculator named Berry Burrell had hired Miller, but, he was not alone. Several others who were involved in the profitable “Indian Skinning” were also part of the murder.</style=”margin-top:>

In April, Miller, along with Jesse West, Joe Allen, and Berry B. Burrell, were arrested for the killing of Gus Bobbitt. By April 6, 1909, all of the conspirators had been jailed in Ada, Oklahoma. Though it was well-known that Miller and the others had killed Bobbitt in a murder-for-hire scheme, the evidence was not solid. Awareness of the lack of evidence as well Miller’s history of never having suffered the consequences of his actions caused a lynch mob of about 50 men to storm the jail on April 19th. The mob quickly overpowered the jailers and dragged the four men outside. In an abandoned livery stable behind the jail, the prisoners were bound with baling wire, and ropes tossed over the rafters. Miller’s cohorts were hanged first, after which, the vigilantes asked him to admit to his crimes. Miller then allegedly responded: “Let the record show that I’ve killed 51 men.” Before he died, he also asked for his black broadcloth coat to be draped around his shoulders. He then said, “Let her rip!”

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Cowboy & Old West T-Shirts exclusively from Legends of America

After his death, one respected citizen said of Miller: “He was just a killer–the worst man I ever knew.”

Miller’s body was returned to Texas, where he is buried in the Oakwood Cemetery in Fort Worth.

© Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, updated May 2019.

Also See:

Bud Frazer

Barney Riggs

John Wesley Hardin

U.S. Marshals

Old West Outlaws

2 thoughts on “James Miller – Hired Killer of the Old West”

  1. Always heard some of our ancestors rode with JW Hardin but confused w Arch Clements and the James Gang out of Missouri.

    Guess I’m going to have to join Ancestry.com and find out.

  2. Jim Miller, likely got his idea of a bullet proof vest, from news paper articles out of Australia featuring Ned Kelly & his gang. Who at that time had the largest posted reward of apprehension “Dead or Alive” for any outlaw in the world.
    The Kelly’s famously wore suits of armour in a shoot out with the Victorian Police at Glenrowan in 1880.

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