Number Ten By: Sue Eckhoff, Grundy County Heritage Museum
June 14, 2013
I love lists – best foods, best books, best movies, etc. The other day I found a list of the top ten deadliest gunslingers. Since I’m somewhat of an old west fan, here’s number ten – Ben Thompson. Ben Thompson was a gambler, gunfighter and sometimes lawman who rubbed shoulders with some of the most famous figures of the old west. He was a contemporary of “Buffalo Bill” Cody, Bat Masterson, John Wesley Harden, and “Wild Bill” Hickok, some of whom called him a friend, others an enemy. His career started at age 17 when he killed a fellow gambler whom he accused of cheating him at cards. Shortly after the outbreak of the Civil War, Thompson enlisted in the Confederate Army and became a private in the Texas Mounted Rifles Company H. He was wounded in the Battle of Galveston, and was treated for six weeks in a military hospital. Thompson’s time in the service is most notable for his shooting of two fellow Confederate soldiers on December 31, 1861. Thompson arrived late in collecting his rations. Commissary Sergeant Billy Vance told him he didn’t have any left. (He had actually saved the rations for the camp laundress.) Thompson went to Vance’s tent and took the rations. Twenty minutes later Vance confronted him, drew on him, and Thompson shot him. Within seconds Lt. George Hagler arrived on the scene brandishing his sword and saying “You murderer, I will cut you in two” at which time Thompson shot him also. Ironically both men survived their injuries and Vance even said he and Ben had gone on to be friends. In 1868, Thompson received word his wife was being physically abused by her brother, Jim Moore. Soon after his return to Texas he confronted Moore and severely injured him. He was charged with Attempted Murder and sent to Huntsville Prison, but eventually received a full pardon. In 1870, Thompson left Texas for Abilene, Kansas where he, along with Phil Coe opened “The Bulls Head Saloon” and made the acquaintance of John Wesley Harden and actively recruited him to rid the town of Town Marshall Wild Bill Hickok. Failing at this Thompson and Cox both left Abilene. Thompson moved to Ellsworth, Kansas. Soon after Thompson’s brother Billy shot and killed the sheriff. Things were not good in Ellsworth. Even though the killing of the sheriff was an accident someone filed charges against Ben for firing in his direction. Ben then returned to Texas where he met and befriended another gunfighter Bat Masterson. Both were hired on as hired guns for the Santa Fe Railroad to intercede in a right-of-way dispute between the Santa Fe and the Rio Grande Railroads. Austin, Texas hired him for a marshal, and he did well until he killed a man and had to resign his position. He was tried and acquitted. While in San Antonio in 1884 on business, Thompson and King Fisher attended a show at the Vaudeville Theater. They were ambushed; Thompson struck and fell onto his side, where he was again shot in the head killing him almost immediately. Thompson’s body was returned to Austin, where he’s buried in Oakwood Cemetery.
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