The hired assassin Jim Miller briefly joins the Texas Rangers, demonstrating how thin the line between outlaw and lawmen often was in the West.
Many lawmen in the Old West had never been on the wrong side of the law themselves, but more than a few moved easily between the worlds of lawbreaker and law enforcer. James Brown Miller was one of the latter. During his 47 years, Miller worked as a deputy sheriff, a city marshal, and Texas Ranger. He was also a gambler, a swindler, and one of the deadliest professional killers in Texas.
As a young man, Miller was accused of committing several murders-including the double killing of his own grandparents-but the charges never stuck. By age 27, he was living in Alpine, Texas, where he reportedly offered to kill a local judge for $200. That offer was apparently rejected, but thereafter he became a professional killer, charging between $50 to $2,000, depending on the victim and the client’s ability to pay. By his own account, he committed more than 50 murders.
Although Miller was arrested on several occasions, he proved hard to convict. The wealthier clients who hired him often provided expert legal counsel, and he was a careful killer who took pains to cover his tracks. Law enforcement agencies also found men like Miller useful, and they often were willing to overlook his checkered past if they needed help in capturing or killing a dangerous outlaw. The famous Texas Rangers even hired Miller, temporarily appointing him a Special Ranger on this day in 1898.
Miller’s luck eventually ran out. In 1909, two Ada, Oklahoma, ranchers paid Miller $2,000 to kill August Bobbitt, with the promise of an additional $3,000 to pay for his defense in the event Miller was arrested. Miller killed Bobbitt with a shotgun, his favored weapon for assassinations. This time, however, Miller’s victim was a well-liked man who left a widow with four children. Local citizens were outraged by the cold-blooded murder and demanded action. Miller and his two clients were quickly arrested and jailed, but none of them had a chance to mount a legal defense. A mob of Ada vigilantes stormed the jail, extracted the men, and lynched them in a nearby barn. Miller was 47 years old.