Sunday, March 11, 2012

Ben Thompson


City Marshal Ben Thompson.

Ben Thompson (November 2, 1843 - March 11, 1884) was a gunman, gambler, and sometime lawman of the Old West. He was a contemporary of Wyatt Earp, Buffalo Bill Cody, Doc Holliday, John Wesley Hardin and James Butler "Wild Bill" Hickock, some of whom considered him a trusted friend, others an enemy.

Ben Thompson had a colorful career, fighting with the Confederates during the American Civil War, and in Mexico under the Emperor, before being imprisoned at the age of 25 for the severely injuring his brother-in-law, who had physically abused Thompson's wife. After his release, Thompson made his name as a gunman and a gambler in Texas and Kansas. After he was hired in 1881 as Marshal in Austin, Texas, the crime rate dropped sharply during his term. He was murdered at the age of 40 in San Antonio on March 11, 1884 during the Vaudeville Theater Ambush.

On March 11, 1884 in San Antonio, Thompson ran into gunfighter and rancher King Fisher; they were there on separate business. The two men, who had known one another for several years, decided to attend a show at the Vaudeville Theater. Thompson was aware of threats from friends of Harris, but he did not appear concerned.

Fisher and Thompson attended a play at the Turner Hall Opera House, and later, at around 10:30pm, they went to the Vaudeville Variety Theater. A local lawman named Jacob Coy sat with them. Thompson wanted to see Joe Foster, a theater owner and friend of Harris's, and one of those fueling the ongoing feud. Thompson had already spoken to Billy Simms, another theater owner, and Foster's new partner.

Fisher and Thompson were directed upstairs to meet with Foster. Coy and Simms soon joined them in the theater box. Foster refused to speak with Thompson. Fisher allegedly noticed that something was not right. Simms and Coy stepped aside, and as they did Fisher and Thompson leapt to their feet just as a volley of gunfire erupted from another theater box, with a hail of bullets hitting both Thompson and Fisher. Thompson fell onto his side, and either Coy or Foster ran up to him and shot him in the head with a pistol. Not able to return fire, Thompson died almost immediately. Fisher was shot thirteen times, but fired one round in retaliation, possibly wounding Coy. He was crippled for life, but the shot may have been from friendly fire.

Trying to draw his pistol, Foster shot himself in the leg, which was later amputated. He died soon after the surgery. The description of the events of that night are contradictory. There was a public outcry for a grand jury indictment of those involved, but no action was ever taken. The San Antonio Police and the prosecutor showed little interest in the case.

Fisher was buried on his ranch. His body was later moved to the Pioneer Cemetery in Uvalde, Texas. Thompson's body was returned to Austin, where his funeral was one of the largest the city has ever seen. He was buried in Oakwood Cemetery in Austin, Texas.

 Leesah

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