Texas Gunslinger, Outlaw and Lawman
John King Fisher was the son of Jobe Fisher and Lucinda Warren.
Jobe Fisher was the son of James Fisher and Anna Ladd Damron.
Anna Ladd Damron was the daughter of Captain John Damron and Anna Ladd.
By Charles C. Chaney
John King Fisher's parents were Jobe Fisher and Lucinda Warren. They had two sons, Jasper and King, while living in Collin County, Texas. He went to Jack County and then to Denton County where he lived during the Civil War. Lucinda died about 1856 when John King was about two years old. Jobe then married Minerva . After the War, the family moved to Williamson County where his brother James lived. Jobe was in the cattle business and operated one or two freight wagons.
Minerva's health was frail so they moved to Goliad County to live closer to the coast. Jobe moved several hundred head of Durham cattle and his freight wagon business. However, Minerva soon died. Jasper drove one of the wagons with his father. Anna, Jobe's mother, moved to Goliad to help him rear his children.
Jobe became concerned about the unsavory company King was keeping. About 1869, he sent King to back to Williamson County to live with James. King attended school and was a fairly good student although, reportedly, rather quite and mild mannered. He was also good at fist-fighting. Good-looking and popular with girls, he attended numerous camp meetings of the time. He began buying wild or untamed horses at cheap prices, breaking them and selling them for a tidy profit.
Then he got into trouble over a stolen horse. A family version of the episode has King on a long, two or three days, sleepless, ride. He grew tired and unsaddled the horse and lay down to sleep. When he awoke, his horse had roamed away. King put his bridle on an available horse that belonged to a Mr. Turnbow. He claimed he was chasing his own horse. Mr. Turnbow filed a complaint against King for using the horse without his consent. King was captured a few days later. Mr. Turnbow would not drop the charges. The story relates that Turnbow slipped King a pocket knife that he used to cut the lead rope attached to his horse and quickly escaped. King returned to Goliad.
Back in Goliad, he was soon in trouble. The family story holds that he was led astray by some men named Bruton. Official records show that he was charged with horse theft. The family story states that it was housebreaking instigated by an older man. He was sentenced on 5 October 1870 to two years in the state penitentiary but was released in February of 1871 due to his youth. He was only in his mid-teens! He then became a cowboy in the "Nueches Strip" country in south Texas where he broke horses, chased Mexican bandits and learned to shoot. He often ran with a motley crew of rustlers and other desperadoes.
He was 5' 9" tall, 135 pounds with light hair and brown eyes. A photograph (right with a friend named Culp) of King shows that he was quite good looking and wore a mustache. He began to dress rather flamboyantly. He wore sombreros with gold braid, embroidered vests, silk shirts and crimson sashes. Bengal tiger skin chaps became his most famous trademark. Silver mounted holsters held a pair of ivory-handled, silver-plated pistols. Of course, he wore silver spurs mounted with silver bells that announced to everyone within earshot the presence of King Fisher. His full name was John King Fisher and he was called King by the family from the time he was a child. Some have claimed that he adopted the name to reflect his flashy dress but this is not the case.
He had teamed up with a gang of Mexican rustlers with whom there was an argument over the division of spoils. King shot and killed three of them. He took over the gang and eventually gained control of several bands with membership sometimes of over one hundred and covering three counties. He gunned down seven more men in the process.
Once established he bought a ranch on Pendencia Creek near Eagle Pass, Maverick Co., Texas, across the Rio Grande River from Mexico. King used his ranch as his base of operation. On the road that lead to his ranch he posted a sign reading "THIS IS KING FISHER'S ROAD. TAKE THE OTHER ONE." Evidently somewhat of a wit, he once said, "Fair play is a jewel, but I don't care for jewelry."
He reportedly had an alliance with Porfirio Diaz who eventually became president of Mexico. Diaz brought stolen Mexican stock to King's ranch to swap for stolen Texas stock. The Mexicans did not care if they dealt with stolen Texas cattle just as the Texans cared little if the traded stock bore a Mexican brand.
During the early 1870's, he was arrested several times in San Antonio and Uvalde County for gambling. He developed a reputation as a gunslinger claiming, in 1878, to have been responsible for seven deaths "not counting Mexicans." One story tells of him in an argument with four vaqueros at a cattle pen on his ranch. King clubbed the nearest one with a branding iron, shot and killed the second man who had drawn a gun, then spun around and shot the other two sitting on the fence.
King had several run-ins with the law at this time but the public seemed to consider him to be only an inconvenience. In 1875, he was arrested and charged with "intent to kill" but the prosecution could find no witness who would testify. King was released. In May of 1876, 1st Lieutenant (later, Captain) Lee Hall and a troop of Texas Rangers arrested him, Ben Thompson and some other men charged with murder in Austin. They were soon released. On 4 June 1876, Texas Ranger Captain Leander H. McNelly arrested King along with nine of his men and took them to Eagle Pass. Seven of the men could be convicted of murder but the authorities released all of them. McNelly had recovered about 800 head of stolen cattle but the cattle inspector refused to inspect them and the sheriff would not issue subpoenas for the arrest of the thieves. McNelly could do nothing but set the cattle loose.
McNelly went to Austin where he reported to a newspaper that King Fisher ruled the country between Castroville and Eagle Pass. King's men, a hundred or more, terrorized the area and essentially held control of government. King's men could simply take what they wanted knowing that no one would stop the them. Residents lived in fear of King and his gang and refused to inform on them. In September, Texas Ranger, 2nd Lt. John B. Armstrong took a squad of rangers into King's territory hoping to capture King. On the night of 30 September, Armstrong attacked a group of King's men. However, King had left the previous week with a large drove of cattle.
On 25 December 1876, in Zavala County, Texas, William Donovan made King angry. King pulled a gun, shot Donovan three times, killing him. In 1877, he and some of his men came across some Mexicans stealing one of his horses. One of the thieves shot at King who jumped from his horse onto the man. He took the gun from the thief and began spraying lead. He killed three of the Mexicans. In May, he was arrested by Hall in an Eagle Pass saloon. King was successfully defended in court. King publicly boasted, in 1877, "You could not persuade a man in this whole county to testify against King Fisher or any of his clan." This was no idle boast. King had been indicted for no less than six murders and at least two charges of horse theft each ending in dismissal.
He had married Sarah Vivian in 1876 and eventually had four daughters but no sons. Toward the end of the 1870's he began to smooth over his troubles, expand his business operations and lead a slightly more sedate and respectable life. King must have been somewhat embarrassed, in 1879, when he accidentally shot himself in his leg! By 1881 he was cleared of his final murder charges. He accepted the position of Deputy Sheriff of Uvalde County, Texas. He served as the acting Sheriff for a time. He announced his candidacy for Sheriff of Uvalde County in 1884.
In 1883, while acting Sheriff of Uvalde County, he trailed two brothers suspected of robbing a stagecoach. He followed Jim and Tom Hannehan to their ranch near Leakey, Texas, where, when he attempted to arrest them, resisted. King shot and killed Tom. Jim gave up and surrendered the loot from the robbery. After King's death, the brothers' mother would come to King's grave each year on the anniversary of Tom's death. She would build a fire on King's grave and dance around it.
In March 1884, while in Austin on business, King met his old friend Ben Thompson who was a well-known, notorious gunfighter. Ben was well past his prime as liquor had taken its toll. The two embarked on a tour of the local bars. Ben talked King into stopping by San Antonio on his way back to Uvalde. Both men had a lot to drink and Ben was in a foul mood when they boarded the train going south out of Austin.
San Antonio was a dangerous place for Ben Thompson. Because of a gambling debt, a feud had developed in 1882 between him and theater owners, Jack Harris and Joe Foster. Ben had killed Harris. By 1884, Foster had a new partner, Billy Simms, in operating the Vaudeville Theatre, a gambling hall/theater located at San Antonio's infamous "Fatal Corner." Ben had backed Simms, some time earlier in Austin, in his first attempt as a professional gambler.
Someone in Austin telegraphed Foster that Thompson was coming. King and Ben reached San Antonio about 8:00 p.m. and saw a play at Turner Hall Opera House. It was about 10:30 p.m. when the two made for the Vaudeville Variety Theatre. They were met by Simms who sat with them at a table drinking. Some reports stated that a policeman who acted as bouncer, Jacob S. Coy, also sat with them. Ben demanded to see Foster saying that he wanted him to shake hands or accept a drink. Ben and King were sent upstairs to the balcony to see Foster. Coy and Simms soon joined them. Foster refused to accept Ben's offer of a truce. Simms and Coy, who were standing next to Foster, suddenly stepped back. Ben and King jumped to their feet and a barrage of gunfire from a nearby theater box struck the two gunslingers.
Ben Thompson fell on his right side and either Coy or Simms rushed up with a pistol, put the muzzle close to his ear and fired. He then shot him several times in the head and body. The other man shot King in a similar manner. Thirteen bullets were found in King's head and body. Foster, in attempting to draw his pistol had shot himself in the leg! The leg bone was shattered and the leg later amputated. He died a short time later. Coy received what he called a slight wound that turned out to be more serious, leaving him a cripple for life.
The description of events of that night were, and still are, contradictory. There was quite an uproar for a grand jury investigation and that the killers be indicted. No action was taken. The San Antonio police and the prosecutor gave no indication of taking any interest in the case.
John King Fisher, the terror from Eagle Pass, was buried on his ranch clad in his famous chaps and other of his flashy regalia. He was thirty years old. In the 1930s, his body was moved from its original burial site and buried in the Pioneer Cemetery in Uvalde. The Handbook of Texas tells of this:
"When the city of Uvalde put a street through its cemetery, graves on the east side of North Park Street were moved to a new section, which they designated Pioneer Cemetery. King Fisher's grave was located only after one of Uvalde's senior citizens remembered marking an old oak tree at the time of Fisher's burial. When the grave was opened, Fisher's cast-iron coffin with its glass viewing panel and welded lid was still intact. His body and fancy clothing also were well-preserved.
An iron fence and marker in Pioneer Cemetery identify the new grave of this remarkable young Texan who died with his law boots on."
NOTE: Most of the links above are to entries in the Handbook of Texas Online, a multidisciplinary encyclopedia of Texas history, geography, and culture sponsored by the Texas State Historical Association and the General Libraries at the University of Texas, Austin. It also has an entry for John King Fisher.
Damron, Leonard L. "Some Descendants of Anna Damron & James Fisher" in The Dameron/Damron Family Newsletter. Vol. 13, Fall 1987.
Fehrenbach, T.R. LONE STAR: A HISTORY OF TEXAS AND THE TEXANS. Collier Books, New York. 1980 c1968.
Fisher, O.C. KING FISHER: HIS LIFE AND TIMES. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, OK. 1966.
Fisher, O.C. THE TEXAS HERITAGE OF THE FISHERS AND THE CLARKS. The Anson Jones Press, Salado, TX. 1963.
Gaddy, Jerry J., comp. DUST TO DUST: OBITUARIES OF THE GUNFIGHTERS. The Old Army Press, Fort Collins, CO/Presidio Press, San Rafael, CA. 1977.
Horan, James D. THE AUTHENTIC WILD WEST: THE GUNFIGHTERS. Crown Press, New York. 1976.
O'Neal, Bill. THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF WESTERN GUNFIGHTERS. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman. 1979.
Worcester, Donald. THE WAR IN THE NUECES STRIP. Doubleday, New York, 1989. Although this is published as a work of fiction, the author utilized actual historical characters and events linked with a fictional character. Those sections with King Fisher have been well researched and quite accurately depicted.
BLOODY TRAGEDY. BEN THOMPSON AND KING FISHER KILLED - JOE FOSTER WOUNDED. San Antonio Light, San Antonio, Texas. 12 March 1884. Click to see image of this front page newspaper article.
The following were not used as primary sources for the article but are certainly of interest:
True West Magazine, March 2006: Forewarned & Forearmed. Ben Thompson & King Fisher vs Joe Foster & Billy Sims by Bob
Tombstone Oak marking the site of John King Fisher's original burial site.
John King Fisher's grave: Find A Grave website.
The photographs of John King Fisher (not his grave) are from the WESTERN HISTORY COLLECTIONS, UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA LIBRARIES.
To purchase copies please contact the following address:
Western History Collection
University of Oklahoma
Room 452, Monnet Hall
Norman, Oklahoma 730
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