Last week's column told of the violent death in Oklahoma City of Red Kelly, who killed Bob Ford, slayer of Jesse James. This one tells of the death in Ada of "Deacon" Jim Miller, who killed Pat Garrett, killer of Billy the Kid.

"Shotgun for Hire," a University of Oklahoma Press biography of Miller by Glenn Shirley of Stillwater, said Garrett was a popular sheriff of Lincoln County, New Mexico Territory, when he killed the Kid near Fort Sumner in 1881. However, Billy had enough sympathizers to keep Pat from getting re-elected.

Miller was arrested for the murder of his grandparents when he was 8 years old but not prosecuted. He was sent to live with an older sister and her husband but didn't get along with his brother-in-law. When the in-law was killed by a shotgun blast while he slept, Jim was convicted of murder. A new trial was granted on a technicality and never held.

"The case was marked by all the color, action and intrigue that later characterized (Miller's) technique," Shirley wrote. "A blast from a shotgun (his favorite weapon), escape on horseback, release on bond if arrested, a capable lawyer for defense and an alibi."

For several years Miller worked as a cowboy or in other jobs, including some in law enforcement. He was friendly and likable and a consistent church patron wherever he was living. He never used tobacco or alcohol.

His "Deacon" nickname came from his habit of always wearing a black coat even in the hottest south Texas and New Mexico summers.

He always carried a pistol, for defense, and if the job called for it he would take a rifle instead of a shotgun. He killed Garrett with a rifle. By 1900 he was openly in the contract killer business.

"The word went out that his gun was for hire," Shirley wrote.

"He would kill anyone for a price."

When Garrett was killed on a lonely road in New Mexico in 1906, Wayne Brazil, one of two men traveling with Pat, surrendered to the local sheriff saying he had killed Garrett in self-defense. Investigators, however, found evidence that the killer was a fourth man, shooting from ambush. A jury quickly acquitted Brazil.

Welborn Hope, who became a well-known poet, was a boy of 8 living in Ada when Miller pulled his last job in 1909. Hope recalled that experience in a book. "Four Men Hanging," published by Century Press in Oklahoma City.

"It was known across the West," Hope wrote, "that Jim Miller was the real killer -- that he had been hired by Texas cattlemen to kill Pat Garrett."

Miller and three Ada men were arrested in the death of Gus Bobbitt, a popular local rancher. Then, it appears, Miller got too smart for himself. He hired the famous criminal lawyer Moman Pruiett of Pauls Valley. Pruiett had defended 342 murder defendants, and not one was executed. Ada men who wanted Bobbitt's slayer to die did not like the odds if Miller went to trial. They overpowered jailers and hanged Deacon Jim and his co-defendants from the rafters of an old barn.

Trending Video