The Incredible Life Of Gunfighter Ben Thompson

Born in Knottingley, Yorkshire, England in 1843, Ben Thompson ought to be called "Big Ben" like the famed London clock tower, whose foundations were laid the same year. But even without the "Big," Ben Thompson grew into a larger-than-life figure in America. After moving to Austin, Texas, with his family as a child, he traveled a path that intersected with some of the biggest conflicts and gunfighters of his day.

When Big Ben struck, your time was up

According to the Kansas Historical Society, Ben Thompson said of his altercations, "I always make it a rule to let the other fellow fire first. If a man wants to fight, I argue the question with him and try to show him how foolish it would be. If he can't be dissuaded, why then the fun begins but I always let him have first crack. Then when I fire, you see, I have the verdict of self-defense on my side. I know that he is pretty certain in his hurry, to miss. I never do."

Thompson clearly didn't miss when he shot his first person at age 15. Incredibly, the incident was supposedly triggered by an argument over Thompson's shooting ability, per Legends of America. More than a sure bet in a shootout, he was a betting man who became a professional gambler as a teen. During the Civil War, he bet on the Confederacy. As told by the Texas State Historical Association, Thompson was wounded at the Battle of Galveston Bay and tasted defeat in Louisiana. Much luckier in love, Thompson tied the knot with Catherine Moore in 1863.

Thompson meets his mythmaker

In 1865, Thompson shot a man during a quarrel over an army mule. Incarcerated for murder, he escaped and absconded to Mexico, where he served in the army of Emperor Maximilian. After Maximilian's downfall, Thompson returned to Texas and became acquainted with Doc Holliday of O.K. Corral fame. Mythic lawman Wyatt Earp (above) bragged that he arrested Thompson in Kansas in 1873. However, History Net notes that multiple, unsubstantiated versions of this event exist and have been dismissed as made up.

Thompson later became a cop and arrested Earp's rival, Johnny Ringo, the year following the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Given their respective statures, a shootout between Thompson and Ringo "would have been the frontier equivalent of King Kong versus Godzilla," per the Eagle Pass News Leader. But the infamously belligerent Ringo didn't resist. Toward the end of his life, Thompson participated in Bill Cody's Wild West Show. In 1881, he became a Texas marshal but resigned amid a shooting scandal. In 1884, he was shot to death at a vaudeville theater, putting an end to a legendary life but not the legend.