"Deacon Jim" Miller: Killer for Hire
James B. "Deacon Jim" Miller was a deadly hired assassin willing to kill anyone for a price. Although only 15 men were actually proven to have met their fate at the hands of the brutal killer, he claimed to have killed more than 50. Some believe he had a hand in killing famed lawman Pat Garrett.
The nickname “Deacon” was acquired by his unfailing attendance in the local Methodist church. It was said he could quote scripture as well as any minister, spurned alcohol and tobacco and never used profanity. The fact he always wore a black broadcloth frock coat also likely completed his “Deacon” image.
Miller hailed from Van Buren, Arkansas, but spent a good portion of his life in Texas and Oklahoma as a professional assassin. Born on October 25, 1861, he was the eighth of nine children born to Jacob and Cynthia Miller.
Basically, Miller’s life was uneventful until around the early 1880s when his family moved to Coryell County, Texas. Soon after he became an orphan and was sent to live with his grandparents in Coryell County. However, in 1874 they were murdered and he went to stay with his older sister Georgia and brother-in-law, John Coop, near Gatesville, Texas. Coop was a strict disciplinarian and the young hot tempered Miller apparently didn’t get along well with him.
It was on July 30, 1884 the “Deacon” killed his first man…his brother-in-law, John Coop. Coop was killed in his sleep by a shotgun blast. The date of Miller’s birth indicates he would have been about 23 when he killed Coop, but some accounts say he was only 17. In any case he was charged with the crime and found guilty. But, he filed an appeal and oddly enough, a second trial never took place. Miller somehow always managed to avoid punishment for his crimes.
Actually, Miller was nothing more than a “bushwhacker.” It was a good way to avoid witnesses and his favorite tool was a shotgun.
By 1904, Miller and his wife, Sarah Francis “Sallie” Clements, had moved to Fort Worth, Texas. Sallie was a cousin to the famous outlaw,John Wesley Hardin.. Miller became involved in real estate and became quite wealthy. However, he continued to be a hired assassin.
In the twenty-five years Miller plied his deadly trade he was indiscriminate in who he murdered. Lawman or innocent civilian, it made no difference.
At one time Miller became a deputy sheriff for Reeves County Sheriff George “Bud” Frazer in Pecos, New Mexico. However, trouble soon developed between the two and a feud ensued. On April 12, 1894, Frazer confronted Miller about his involvement with the murder of cattleman Con Gibson. Without giving Miller a chance to reach for his shotgun, Frazer drew and opened fire. “Deacon Jim” was rushed to the doctor's office. What was discovered next may well have been what inspired part of a popular 1964 western film starring Clint Eastwood.
When Miller’s long, black coat and shirt were removed it was discovered Miller was wearing a solid steel plate. The plate was dented from four of Frazer's slugs which had saved his life. Later, Miller began stalking Frazer. He soon found him, playing cards in a Toyah saloon and killed him with a double barrel shotgun blast. Miller stood trial for the murder but again escaped the hangman’s noose.
In early 1909, Miller was hired by three men, Jesse West, Joe Allen and Berry Burrell, to kill former peace officer, Allen Augustus “Gus” Bobbitt in Ada, Oklahoma.
In February, Miller killed Bobbitt in his favorite modus operandi…ambush. Local Ada authorities suspected Miller was the culprit.
However, locals were afraid Miller would once again worm his way out of the charge. So in the early morning hours of April 19, 1909, a mob stormed the jail and the four prisoners were taken to a nearby abandoned livery stable and lynched.
The Daily Ardmoreite reported the mob to be about 200 strong. The Associated Press on the other hand, wrote in part: "estimated from 30 to 40 in number." The four bodies were left hanging for several hours while a photographer could be located.
Miller is buried in Oakwood Cemetery in Fort Worth, Texas.