James Brown Miller and Death in Oklahoma: Was Justice Denied in Ada?
, Chuck Parsons (self-published, 2009), 64pp., $10.00.
James Brown Miller. “Killin’ Jim.” “Killer Miller.” “Deacon.”
By any name, Jim Miller is an Old West figure with plenty of life still in him—even 100 years after his demise. He’s the archetypical killer for hire, the tall, dark man dressed in black who brings death at night—for a price.
Several books have been written about him; at least one more is in the works. Into the fray comes Texas historian Chuck Parsons and his new book on the circumstance surrounding the lynching of Jim Miller and three others on April 19, 1909. It’s one worth buying.
So much isn’t known about Miller. How many men did he kill (he supposedly admitted to 51 just before the rope was tied around his neck)? Did he kill Pat Garrett? Did he murder his grandparents when he was still a little kid? Did he really wear a metal plate under his coat, serving as a primitive bullet-proof vest? How the heck did he become a Special Texas Ranger attached to Frontier Battalion Company B in 1898? And those nicknames—were any used during his lifetime (it’s pretty clear that some knew him as “Kid”, even though he was in his late 40s when he died)?
Parsons doesn’t answer those questions.
But using his knowledge and research skills, the author does give as complete an account of the Ada incident as has been provided.
The whole thing started as a feud between former friends, A.A. “Gus” Bobbitt and Jesse West. The latter accused Bobbitt of stealing cattle; West also resented Bobbitt’s support for the man who killed son Martin West. West’s partner J.C. Allen had business disputes with Bobbitt, a well-respected former lawman. So West and Allen decided to eliminate the problem; their friend B.B. Burrell knew just the solution: Jim Miller.
Gus Bobbitt was shotgunned on a lonely road near his ranch on February 27, 1909.
Suspicion quickly fell on Miller, who was well known throughout the southwest. A couple of his local associates were forced to talk. Things moved fast; the law reached out and grabbed Miller, West, Allen and Burrell and hauled them to Ada.
Feelings were running high anyway. But the mob fuse was lit when Miller hired prominent defense attorney Moman Pruiett to handle his case. The lawyer was famed for getting people off—and Miller had eventually beaten every rap brought against him over the years.
The folks of Ada believed that justice would not be done for Gus Bobbitt.
So in the early hours of April 19, a large group of men—estimates run from a few dozen to 200—went to the jail and “liberated” the four. They went to the nearby Frisco livery stable. Slip-knot nooses were put around the prisoners’ necks, and Parsons believes that each was put on the back of a white horse…and then someone slapped the animal’s rump, swinging Miller, Burrell, Allen and West into eternity.
A local photographer caught the scene on film in the famed Four Men Hanging picture.
None of the vigilantes was ever identified, let alone arrested. Evidence indicates that local law officials may have been complicit in the lynchings.
As one would expect, James Brown Miller and Death in Oklahoma is very well researched, with extensive notes adding even greater credibility to the book. That’s typical Chuck Parsons, and one reason that he remains an important figure in Old West outlaw/lawman history circles. It’s a quick and easy read, and there are plenty of photos that help tell the story.
If there is one quibble, it’s that the book never really answers the title question: Was justice denied in Ada? It’s up to the reader to reach a conclusion.
And like so many other aspects of Jim Miller’s life and character, that answer may not be crystal clear when you finish reading.