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The Deadly Guns of "Buckskin Frank"
There were few men in old Tombstone, if any, that could hold a candle to the deadly and accurate guns of “Buckskin Frank” Lesley. And that bold assertion came from no less than famed lawman Wyatt Earp who compared his skills to those of Doc Holliday.
In the early days, Tombstone was sometimes referred to as the “spider web from hell.” All manner of gunslingers and outlaws called the place home. Lesley was one of the worst. He had been a scout for the Army, gambler, prospector and even a part time bartender. Franklyn Leslie got his nickname "Buckskin Frank" because of a fringed buckskin jacket he wore all the time. However, little is known about his early life or “golden years.”
At times Leslie claimed to be born in Nashville, Tennessee, but frequently listed other places as well. By the time he arrived in Tombstone in1880, the town was a haven for outlaws and other shady characters. Leslie was relatively short, standing only 5 feet 7 inches and weighing 135 pounds. But his reputation as a gunfighter had preceded his arrival.
Lesley was known as one of the most dangerous hombres to ever grace the streets of Tombstone. He is said to have killed 13 men and one lady. Leslie was probably best known for killing Billy Claibourne of the Clanton Gang who went up against the Earps at the O.K. Corral.
Sporting a matched pair of six-shooters Leslie fit right in with tombstone’s other rowdies and shiftless characters. He often liked to show off his shooting prowess, usually on ceilings of the Allen Street saloons. Leslie was an ill-tempered, violent man…especially when drinking. His aggressiveness stood out even among the tough crowd of Tombstone. Leslie went to work at the Cosmopolitan Hotel but spent more time in gambling halls than he ever did at work.
Frank fancied himself quite the ‘ladies' man and one lady that caught his eye was a raven haired beauty named Mae Killeen. Mae was separated from her husband Mike, but Mike was a jealous sort and threatened to shoot anyone caught fooling around with her. The threat failed to impress Buckskin Frank.
Inevitably, Mike caught the two on the porch of the Cosmopolitan Hotel. Mike was unceremoniously buried at Boot Hill the next morning. A week later, Leslie and the "grieving” widow were married.
Sometime later, Leslie pistol-whipped a man outside the Oriental Saloon. Tombstone residents now began to see Buckskin Frank for the dangerous man he really was. And when famed gunfighter Johnny Ringo was found murdered, all eyes focused on Leslie, although it couldn’t be proven.
On November 14, 1882, an egotistical Billy Claibourne argued with Leslie. Egotistical because he insisted on claiming the title of "Billy the Kid” after the death of William Bonney. Bonney had claimed he killed three men who had laughed at him, apparently from rumors he had been seen fleeing the scene of the O.K. Corral gunfight. But, records show he only killed one prior to a previous confrontation with Leslie.
The argument ensued when Lesley refused to oblige him. Later that night, Frank was in the Oriental Saloon when a drunken Claiborne staggered in and resumed his argument with the hard case. Leslie promptly threw him out of the saloon.
However, Claiborne soon returned with a Winchester and stood outside the saloon. He began bragging he would kill Leslie on sight. Frank had heard enough and met Claibourne in the street.
The inebriated Billy fired several times but missed. Frank didn’t…hitting him several times. Leslie walked up to him and Billy said, "Don't shoot me anymore, I'm killed." He died six hours later. Allegedly, his last words were: "Frank Leslie killed John Ringo. I saw him do it."
On Claiborne's headstone are the immortal words: "Billy the Kid takes shot at Buckskin Frank. The latter promptly replied and the former quickly turns up his toes to the daisies."
When Apache uprisings began in the mid-1880’s Leslie returned to work as an Indian scout for the army. Following that stint he returned to Tombstone. After seven years of a rocky marriage with Mae they divorced. Mae claimed she couldn’t put up with Frank’s crazy habits. He would make her stand against a wall and shoot an outline of her silhouette.
By this time, Leslie had changed jobs and was now employed as a bartender in the Oriental Saloon. But, he spent his free time at the Bird Cage Theater consorting with a singer and prostitute by the name of Mollie Williams. Before long, the two moved in together. Mollie also used the names Blonde Mollie and Mollie Bradshaw. Her promoter’s name was Bradshaw, though they weren’t married. Sometime later the promoter was found dead. And as was now becoming commonplace, Leslie was automatically suspected.
Frank and Mollie both had a taste for whiskey which led to many violent arguments. On July 10, 1889, the bad tempered Leslie shot Mollie in the head in a heated argument. However, this time the murder was witnessed by another man named James Neil. Neil, who went by the name "Six-Shooter Jim,” was shot by Frank as well. Though Mollie died, Jim survived to testify against Leslie.
Frank was sentenced to 25 years in Yuma prison. After serving seven years, he was paroled for good behavior with the help of a young divorcee named Belle Stowell. The two later moved to California and were married in Stockton on December 1, 1896. The newlyweds spent their honeymoon in China before returning to the United States and settling down to a more peaceful life.
Some say Buckskin Frank went to Alaska during the Klondike Gold Rush before moving on to San Francisco in 1904. In 1913, he was running a pool hall in Oakland, California. The 1920 census listed him at a lodging house in Sausalito, California. He was 77 years old, unemployed, and single.
By 1922, he wasn’t listed in any public records. His death remains a mystery. Some believe he may have been a broke and homeless man by the same name who died in San Francisco in 1930.
Others believe his skeleton was found in 1921 wearing his signature buckskin clothes but the circumstances surrounding his death were never known.