Benjamin Thompson

Benjamin Thompson

Benjamin Thompson was born in Knottingly, Yorkshire, on 2nd November, 1843. When he was a child his family emigrated to America and settled in Austin, Texas. After leaving school he became a printer. The following year he killed a Native American but was not charged with any offence.

In 1860 Thompson moved to New Orleans where he became a gambler. During the American Civil War he joined the Confederate Army and fought with the 2nd Texas Cavalry. He was accused of killing Union Army prisoners and in 1865 was forced to flee to Mexico.

Thompson returned to Texas and once again became a professional gambler in Austin. In 1868 he was charged with shooting a man and spent two years in Huntsville Penitentiary. On his release he opened the Bull's Head Saloon in Abilene. On 5th October, 1871, Wild Bill Hickok killed Thompson's business partner, Phil Coe, in a gunfight.

Thompson now moved to Ellsworth. On 1st June, 1873, his brother, Billy Thompson, killed Sheriff Chauncey B. Whitney. With Ben's help Billy escaped from the town. On 25th December, 1876, Ben Thompson he shot and killed businessman Mark Wilson. He also seriously wounded Charles Mathews. He was tried for murder but was acquitted.

In 1877 the Thompson brothers moved to Dodge City. He worked as a gambler and developed a close friendship with Bat Masterson. In 1879 he found work as a hired gun on the Santa Fe Railway during a dispute with the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad.

Thompson returned to Austin where he ran for office as city marshal. He was initially defeated but the following year he won the election. While in San Antonio he was accused of killing Jack Harris. Some sources claim that Harris was Thompson's 21st victim. Thompson was eventually acquitted but on 11th March, 1884, he was killed in the Vaudeville Theatre in San Antonio. It is believed that this was a planned assassination in revenge for the killing of Jack Harris.

Primary Sources

(1) John Wesley Hardin, Life of John Wesley Hardin as Written by Himself (1896)

I have seen many fast towns, but I think Abilene beat them all. The town was filled with sporting men and women, gamblers, cowboys, desperadoes, and the like. It was well supplied with bar rooms, hotels, barber shops, and gambling houses, and everything was open.

Before I got to Abilene, I had heard much talk of Wild Bill, who was then marshal of Abilene. He had a reputation as a killer. I knew Ben Thompson and Phil Coe were there and had met both these men in Texas. Besides these, I learned that there were many other Texans there, and so, although there was a reward offered for me, I concluded to stay some time.

Jim Clements took the train and went back to Texas. Phil Coe and Ben Thompson at that time were running the Bull's Head saloon and gambling hall. They had a big bull painted outside the saloon as a sign, and the city council objected to this for some special reason. Wild Bill, the marshal, notified Ben Thompson and Phil Coe to take the sign down or change it somewhat. Phil Coe thought the ordinance all right, but it made Thompson mad. Wild Bill, however, sent up some painters and materially changed the offending bovine.

For a long time everybody expected trouble between Thompson and Wild Bill, and I soon found out that they were deadly enemies. Thompson tried to prejudice me every way he could against Bill, and told me how Bill, being a Yankee, always picked out Southern men to kill, and especially Texans. I told him, "I am not doing anybody's fighting just now except my own, but I know how to stick to a friend. If Bill needs killing, why don't you kill him yourself?"

He said, "I would rather get someone else to do it."

I told him then that he had struck the wrong man. I had not yet met Bill Hickok, but really wished for a chance to have a set-to with him just to try his luck.