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Letter From Wild West - October 2012

By Gregory Lalire 
Originally published by Wild West magazine. Published Online: August 19, 2012 
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'Miller Time' Meant Blood Would Flow; How Many He Shot We Just Don't Know
When it came to bushwhacking for pay, Killin' Jim led the way

A 1910 El Paso newspaper called him "the worst and most dangerous of all the badmen," and a New Mexico lawman who knew him said he was "the most dangerous man in the West." Ellis Lindsey, who writes about this "personification of a psychopath" in this very issue and is working on his biography, agrees. For a quarter century Lindsey's subject killed men, mostly for pay, until April 19, 1909, in Ada, Oklahoma, when a mob (of good citizens, it can be argued) hauled him out of jail into a nearby barn and strung him up. This lynching victim stands out for having left in his wake perhaps as many as 51 shooting victims. Theoretically the number could have been as low as a dozen (most of his professional assassinations went undocumented), and his executioners were certainly looking for revenge for one particular killing (they also hanged three other men involved in the death of popular Gus Bobbitt). But you can bet the 40-odd men at the Ada necktie party—along with many who weren't there—figured the West would now be a far less dangerous place.

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The assassin's name—Jim Miller—is plain and common enough, certainly too plain and common for those who have written about him. But two contrasting nicknames have come along (exactly when is uncertain) to help distinguish him from other Jim Millers and other more ordinary Western badmen—"Killin' Jim" Miller and "Deacon Jim" Miller.

It didn't take much imagination for some ink-stained wretch to come up with "Killin' Jim" (or the rhyming variation "Killer Miller"). Killing folks is what Jim did best. In fact, Miller may have killed the man who killed Billy the Kid. Nobody was ever convicted for the back-of-the-head shooting of Pat Garrett near Las Cruces, New Mexico Territory, a little over a year before the Ada action. But Lindsey argues that Miller is a prime suspect as the triggerman.

Considering all of Miller's deadly sins, "Deacon Jim" sounds like a stretch. Was Miller the minister of anything but death? Sure there was hardened Texas killer John Wesley Hardin, but his Methodist preacher daddy named him at birth for the founder of Methodism—long before there was any method to J.W.'s madness.

As for Miller's madness, it does have religious undertones. "Miller used religion as a device," author Lindsey says. It seems in July 1884 Jim attended a revival meeting in central Texas, slipped away while the preacher was preaching, rode in the dark back home, put two loads of buckshot into brother-in-law John Coop and rode back to the meeting for further inspiration. His absence was noted, however, and he was arrested, tried and sentenced to life in prison (but, as was his way, he escaped on a technicality). While standing trial in Eastland, Texas, for the murder of personal enemy Bud Frazer, Miller joined the church there. "He is even said to have gone out with the preacher to do personal work," notes Lindsey. "He may have been a deacon, but whatever he was, he was playing Mr. Good to deceive the jury."

At the time Miller was lynched along with Joe Allen, Berry B. Burrell and Jesse West, Lindsey continues, "a Fort Worth paper mentioned that his wife and children attended a Methodist church there, but that Jim was not mentioned as a member." Jim was very well known in Fort Worth, where, according to Lindsey, he was not called Killin' Jim, Killer Miller or Deacon Jim but "Kid Miller." No kidding—another Kid in the West! Not that he looks the part, certainly not in 1906 when somebody took his picture in that Texas city. In that attention-grabbing photo (reproduced in this issue) Miller holds a cigar at shoulder level in a fashion that Lindsey interprets as arrogance. "And he has the stone-cold face of a psychopath," the author adds. You be the judge.

In Ada, of course, no one was calling Miller "Kid." When the citizens helped him to the end of his rope, he was 42, his dark hair was turning gray, and he would soon cease to be dangerous.

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