A Guide to the State of Texas versus Ben Thompson Case Records, 1882
Gunfighter and lawman Ben Thompson (1843-1884) immigrated to Austin, Texas, in 1851 from Yorkshire, England. He earned his living through the printing trade in Austin and New Orleans, before joining the Confederate Army during the Civil War. Thompson married Catherine L. Moore, the daughter of a prominent Austin merchant, during his military service. Returning to Austin in 1865, he shot and killed teamster John Coombs in an argument over an army mule. Thompson was jailed, escaped to Mexico, where he fought with Emperor Maximilian’s forces, and eventually returned to Texas. After being pardoned for assaulting his bother-in-law, Thompson moved to Abilene, Kansas, where he opened a saloon and gambling hall in 1871 with fellow Texan Phil Coe. After Wild Bill Hickok killed Coe in a shootout, Thompson left town. From 1874 to 1879 Thompson made his living as a gambler in various Texas cities and Colorado. There, in 1879, he worked as a hired gun for the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad in a right-of-way dispute.
Upon Thompson’s 1880 return to Austin, he opened a gambling hall and was elected city marshal. The crime rate dropped substantially during his term. While visiting San Antonio in 1882, Thompson shot and killed Jack Harris, a gambler-politician and owner of the Vaudeville Theater, over a card game. Thompson was tried and acquitted, but resigned as city marshal. On an 1884 trip to San Antonio, accompanied by King Fisher, deputy sheriff of Uvalde County, Thompson returned to the Vaudeville. The two men were shot and killed from behind within minutes of walking into the theater. Many believed that Harris's friends and partners, Joe Foster and William Simms, arranged the assassination, though no one was ever charged with the murders.
Handbook of Texas Online. s.v. "Thompson, Ben," (accessed October 22, 2010).
The State of Texas versus Ben Thompson Case Records, 1882, document Thompson’s trial for the murder of Jack Harris. The collection is comprised of original documents used by Thompson’s lawyer, William M. Walton, in his defense, including affidavits, signed depositions of 13 witnesses to the gun battle, a writ of habeas corpus, and a defendant’s petition from the court proceedings. The records served as the basis of Walton’s 1884 book Life and Adventures of Ben Thompson, the Famous Texan.
This collection is open for research use.
State of Texas versus Ben Thompson Case Records, 1882, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, The University of Texas at Austin.
This collection was processed by Alison Beck, 1988.
Detailed Description of the Papers