Born: November 2, 1843, West Yorkshire, England. Died: March 11, 1884, San Antonio, Texas.
Ben Thompson was born in Knottingley, Yorkshire, England in 1843. His family soon moved to Austin, Texas, where he grew up. He became a professional gambler while yet a teenager and killed a man at the young age of 17. The man had been harassing a young woman, and threatened Thompson with a knife when he confronted him. Thompson was acquitted of all charges.
Thompson served with the Confederate army during the Civil War, exiting his service with a good record. Shortly after however he was sent to prison for murder. He quickly escaped prison and headed to Mexico, where he joined up with Emperor Maximilian. After the arrest of Maximillian, Thompson returned to Texas. Shortly after arriving home he received news that his sister was being abused by her husband. Thompson assaulted his brother in law, shooting him in the ribs, and was sentenced to four years in prison.
When he was pardoned from prison after two years, Thompson moved to Abilene, Kansas, on the Chisholm Trail. He opened the Bulls Head Saloon there with a partner, Phillip H. Coe, and prospered as the town grew due to the cattle trade. Coe was later killed in a shootout with the town’s marshal, James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickok.
After the death of his partner, Thomson moved to another cattle town, Ellsworth. There Ben’s younger brother, Billy, accidentally shot and killed the town’s sheriff during a dispute with gamblers. The younger brother fled the state while Ben hired a legal team for his defense. Billy was later tried and acquitted of the killing.
Ben Thompson returned to Texas and there met Bat Masterson and Doc Holliday. The Santa Fe Railway hired the men to guard in right-of-way disputes in Texas. At Ben Thompson’s request, Masterson went to Dodge City to aid Billy Thompson, who had been jailed in a bar room shooting.
After working for the railroad Thompson went on to perform in Bill Cody's Wild West Show. The city of Austin, Texas, in 1881 hired Ben Thompson as city marshal. He later resigned his position when he was indicted in another shooting. Soon after the resignation Thompson took to drinking, and lost all popularity. He was killed in 1884 in a retribution shooting at the vaudeville theater in San Antonio, Texas.
Ben Thompson said, “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-defence on my side. I know that he is pretty certain in his hurry, to miss. I never do.”
Entry: Thompson, Ben
Author: Kansas Historical Society
Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.
Date Created: June 2011
Date Modified: January 2013
The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.