(November 2, 1843- March 11, 1884)
Born in Yorkshire, England, Ben migrated to Austin, Texas with his parents in 1851. He joined the Confederate Army during the Civil war and his gambling habits resulted in several gunfights. He fought with Emperor Maximilian in Mexico, but returned to Austin when Maximilian was executed. After serving two years of a four year prison sentence for threatening a justice of the peace, Ben with Phil Coe opened the Bull's Head saloon in Abilene, Kansas.
While in Kansas City, a buggy overturned crushing Ben's leg and severely injuring other family members. Later, Ben became a hired gun for the Santa Fe Railroad in their dispute with the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad.
In 1881 Ben became Austin City marshal, but resigned in 1882 after killing Jack Harris, owner of the Vaudeville Theater in San Antonio, Texas. Ben began drinking and gambling.
On March 11, 1884, Ben Thompson, along with John King Fisher, entered the Vaudeville Theater in San Antonio, Texas for some entertainment. The remembrance of Jack Harris' death at the hands of Ben was not forgotten. While seated in the establishment, a flurry of gunfire was directed at both men. King Fisher died from nine wounds and his gun was still in his holster. Ben died from thirteen bullets and managed to get off one accidental shot prior to the confusion when the current owner grabbed his gun during an argument. Because of his reputation, the New York Sun sent a reporter to interview Ben Thompson. This is what he had to say:
I always make it a rule to let the other fellow fire first. If a man wants to fight, I argue the question with him and try to show him how foolish it would be. If he can't be dissuaded, why then the fun begins but I always let him have first crack. Then when I fire, you see, I have the verdict of self-defense on my side. I know that he is pretty certain in his hurry, to miss.
I never do.
Ben Thompson in buried in the Oakwood Cemetery in Austin, Texas.
Information compiled by Steve Grimm
Drawing by Richard Florence
Books About Ben Thompson
Life and Adventures of Ben Thompson by W. M. Walton
This book provides a detailed study of Ben Thompson, but may be hard to find. The original 1884 edition is very scarce and the 1956 reprint is almost as difficult.
The Authentic Wild West: The Gunfighters by James D. Horan
This book has a chapter on Ben Thompson as well as other gunfighters. It's a good book with lots of photos and documents. I have seen this book in reprint at Barnes and Noble bookstores (in their Bargain Book section) from time to time.