Known for his mercurial personality and violent temper, Clay Allison was a gunfighter who is remembered as one of the most notorious and downright deranged outlaws of the Old West. Allison fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War, but was discharged after a blow to the head started causing erratic behavior in him. It is this ailment that many historians have said explains his shockingly brutal actions, which included once beheading a man he suspected of murder and carrying the head into his favorite bar. After this, which cemented his reputation as one of the most murderous figures of his day, Allison went on to participate in a number of gunfights against fellow gunslingers. The most famous of these was against outlaw Chunk Colbert, whom Allison shot in the head when the other drew his gun on him following a meal they had shared. When asked why he had eaten with a man who wanted to kill him, Allison replied, “I wouldn’t want to send a man to hell on an empty stomach.” For a man who led such a dangerous lifestyle, Allison met a rather ironic and unimpressive death in 1887, when he fell off a wagon and broke his neck. His gravestone is said to read: ”Clay Allison. Gentleman. Gun Fighter. He never killed a man that did not need killing.”
‘Killer’ Jim Miller, far left, wearing black hat, hangs from a livery stable rafter after lynching in Ada, Oklahoma, 1909
One of the most downright murderous figures of the Old West, Jim “Killer” Miller was an assassin and gunfighter who is credited with killing at least 14 people, though legend has it that the number is somewhere closer to 50. One of the most famous stories about him involves a confrontation he had with a sheriff named Bud Frazer over Miller’s alleged involvement in the murder of a cattle rancher. Miller pulled his gun on Frazer, who proceeded to shoot him six times. Killer’s friends managed to escape with him, only to find that he had been wearing a metal plate under his shirt, which had blocked all of Frazer’s bullets. Two years later, Miller tracked the Sheriff down and killed him with a shotgun. Described as being cold to the core, Miller famously declared that he would kill anyone for money, and is rumored to have gunned down everyone from political figures to famed sheriff Pat Garrett. His days of bloodshed finally came to an end in 1909, when he was arrested for the murder of a U.S. Marshall. After a mob of some forty people broke into the prison, Miller and three other outlaws were dragged to a nearby barn and lynched. In his typical maniacal fashion, prior to being hanged Miller is said to have shouted, “Let ‘er rip!” and voluntarily jumped off the box to his death.
Tom Horn spent a good portion of his life legitimately employed both as a lawman and a detective, but in actuality he was one of the most cold-blooded killers of the Old West. In the 1880s, Horn made a name for himself as a scout and tracker, and was responsible for the arrest of many feared criminals. This caught the attention of the famed Pinkerton Detective Agency, and Horn worked for them for several years as a tracker and bounty hunter. Though known as being eerily cool under pressure, Horn was considered to have a dangerous capacity for violence, and in 1894 he was forced to resign his post as a detective after he became linked to the murders of 17 people. Following his resignation, he developed a reputation as a killer for hire, and is said to have been responsible for the deaths of some 20 cattle rustlers over the course of several years. Horn was finally caught and hanged in 1901 after being linked to the murder of a 14-year-old boy. Ironically, some modern historians have claimed that on this particular occasion Horn was actually innocent. Still, there is no denying that he was responsible for a great many other killings. Some historians have reasoned that he may have had a hand in as many as 50 murders.
In a relatively short life, famed outlaw and gunslinger John Wesley Hardin established himself as easily the most bloodthirsty figure of the Old West, and is credited with the deaths of no less than 42 people. The son of a Methodist preacher, Hardin displayed a capacity for violence early on in life when he stabbed a fellow student in the schoolyard at the age of 14. At 15, he gunned down an ex-slave, and then proceeded to kill three Union soldiers before going on the run. He was known for carrying two pistols in holsters strapped to his chest, which he claimed facilitated the quick draw, and he used them to gun down three more people in various gunfights soon after his flight. Hardin was eventually arrested at age 17 for the murder of a Texas City Marshal, but he was able to procure a gun while in jail, and when transferred he killed one of his guards and again went on the lam. Now a celebrated gunfighter, he made his way to Abilene and fell under the tutelage of Wild Bill Hickok. But Hardin was forced to flee the city soon after his arrival when he is said to shot and killed a fellow guest at his hotel because the man’s snoring was keeping him awake. At 25, Hardin was finally arrested by a team of Texas Rangers, and eventually served a total of 16 years in prison before being released at the age of 41. Reformed form his years behind bars, Hardin began studying law and even passed the bar, but his old reputation eventually caught up with him. In 1895, he was killed after being shot in the back by a lawman in El Paso, Texas.