Bad to the Bones: Top 10 Deadliest Gunmen from the Wild West - History Key

Bad to the Bones: Top 10 Deadliest Gunmen from the Wild West

During the days of the Wild West, the reputation was gained with the pistol and a fast hand. In the western movies, they are usually called “gunfighters” or “pistoleers”, but back then they had a more practical way to be called: Gunmen. Among them and the many related myths, we can identify few confirmed stories, which we arranged for you in a top 10: the 10 most dangerous and deadliest Gunmen.

10. John Wesley Hardin (1853 – 1895)

Also known as “Little Arkansas”, “Wesley Clements” or “J.H. Swain”, Hardin’s full occupation was mostly related to gambling and gunfights. Pursued most of his life, he was the classic Old West outlaw figure. He claimed to have killed 42 men, but other sources assign to him “only” 27 murders. In 1877 he was sentenced to 25 years in prison. While incarcerated, he wrote an autobiography. He was released from prison in 1894 and shot dead in 1895 by Constable John Selman Sr., in a saloon located in El Paso.


John Wesley Hardin
John Wesley Hardin © Image Source:

9. James Brown Miller (1861 – 1909)

Also known as “Killin’ Jim”, “Killer Miller” or “Deacon Jim”, Miller was a saloonkeeper, cowboy, lawman, and assassin. A particular character, James gained the nickname of “Deacon Jim”, because he regularly attended service at the Methodist Church. He did not drink or smoke, neither had other vices. He was accredited with 12 victories in gunfights. He was lynched by an angry mob of citizens after he assassinated a former deputy US Marshal. He was related to another well-known outlaw, John Wesley Hardin, by his marriage with Hardin’s cousin.


James Brown Miller
James Brown Miller © Image Source:

8. James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickok (1837 – 1876)

One of the most publicized outlaws from the Old West. Hickok was a true star: driver, soldier, spy, farmer, and vigilante. Gambler, showman or actor, he did everything. Born and raised in northern Illinois, Hickok became an outlaw at the age of 18. He fought and spied in the support of the Union Army, during the American Civil War. He was involved in various gunfights, which became some sort of myths, presented in the many tales (often fabricated) related to his life. He died in 1876, shot from behind while playing poker in a saloon in Deadwood. Dakota. A hand of cards went wrong for Jack McCall, and his fury resulted in Wild Bill’s death.


James Butler
James Butler © Image Source: Wikipedia

7. Thomas “Tom” Horn (1860 – 1903)

His duty as lawman and detective did not stop Horn from being one of the most cold-blooded killers of the Old West. He was accredited with 17 killings, most of them as a hired gunman. In 1902, Horn was sentenced to death for the killing of the 14-year-old Willie Nickell. He was executed by hanging in Cheyenne, Wyoming, one day before his 43rd birthday.


Thomas ''Tom'' Horn
Thomas ”Tom” Horn © Image Source:

6. Robert Clay Allison (1841 – 1887)

Allison was known for his violent personality. He fought in the Civil War but discharged after a blow to his head that made him fall into some kind of mental situation. This incident is often related as a cause for some of Robert’s ferocious actions, like the beheading of a man. After the killing, he went to his favorite bar, with the head next to him, willing to share a drink. He died in 1887, after falling from his wagon. On his gravestone, you can read: “Clay Allison. Gentleman. Gunfighter. He never killed a man that did not need killing.”


Robert Clay Allison
Robert Clay Allison © Image Source:

5. Wyatt Earp (1848 – 1929)

A true legend of the Old West, Earp was an American deputy sheriff in Pima County and Deputy town marshal in Tombstone, Arizona. He took part in the legendary gunfight at the OK Corral, where he scored three killings among the outlaw Cowboys. He had a busy life, being at the same time buffalo hunter, city policeman, county sheriff, gambler, brothel keeper, bouncer, miner or boxing referee. A lifelong gambler, Earp took part in the gold rush, raced horses and had various saloons. His reputation was irreparably affected after the Fitzsimmons – Sharkey boxing match. Earp was accused of fixing the fight. He was the model for numerous films and TV shows, becoming the stereotypical image of the Western sheriff.


Wyatt Earp
Wyatt Earp © Image Source:

4. Dallas Stoudenmire (1845 – 1882)

Even if less known, Dallas was very prolific in gunfights, being involved in more confrontations than most of his famous contemporaries (Wyatt Earp, John Selman, Luke Short or Doc Holliday). He had a career as a lawman, being the town marshal for Socorro, New Mexico. Later on, he became town marshal in El Paso. Stoudenmire had his moment of glory, during the fight remembered as the “Four Dead in Five Seconds Gunfight”, which took place on April 14, 1881. Then, Marshal Dallas accounted three of the four resulted killings. The gunfight was intensively presented in newspapers from all the country, bringing to Dallas the fame of a very skilled gunman. Stoudenmire died on September 18, 1882, in a gunfight with his long time enemy Doc Manning.


Dallas Stoudenmire
Dallas Stoudenmire © Image Source:

3. Henry McCarty “Billy the Kid” (1859 – 1881)

Billy started with small crimes, in the range of stealing food or clothing, but very quickly muted his attention to firearms. He was arrested in 1875, but he managed to escape and move to Arizona. That was the step that made him an outlaw, and also a federal fugitive. He was credited with eight killings, including the Lincoln County Sheriff William J. Brady. He was captured in December 1880, by the sheriff Pat Garrett, and convicted of the murder of Brady. During 1881, Billy was sentenced to death, the execution being scheduled for May of the same year. On April 28, Billy the Kid managed to escape jail, killing two sheriff’s deputies during the escape, and managing to remain undetected for the next two months. Pat Garret found him. Billy was shot and killed by Garrett, in Fort Summer on July 14, 1881. Over the following decades, there were many legends related to the fact that Billy had not died then. He is buried at the Old Fort Sumner Cemetery.


Henry McCarty ''Billy the Kid''
Henry McCarty ”Billy the Kid” © Image Source:

2. John King Fisher (1853 – 1884)

Originally from Collin County, north of Dallas, Texas, Fisher started off his criminal career in 1871, when he was arrested for horse theft, and sentenced to two years in prison. He was released in the same year, because of his young age. After his prison years, he took part in posse activities, presenting himself as a gunman. He started to live as a gunman, starting to operate with a band of outlaws, carrying raids and into New Mexico. When a dispute over the stolen goods degenerated, Fisher killed three of his fellow bandits, an action that made him become the gang leader. He was credited with numerous killings and known for being very fast with a gun. He died at the age of 30, in an ambush in which he was shot for thirteen times. Fisher was initially buried on his ranch but later moved to the Pioneer Cemetery in Uvalde, Texas.


John King Fisher
John King Fisher © Image Source:

1. Sam Bass (1851 – 1878)

Sam’s main occupation was robbery, armed robbery. Even if he started having a simple and positive dream in his mind, the one of becoming a cowboy, he soon realized that that kind of life was not fitting him. His transformation from farmer to outlaw went straight forward without issues. He became specialized in armed robbery, reporting a serious career in that sector. His gang managed to rob also the Union Pacific gold train, reporting a $60,000 “prize”, which is to this day the largest loss caused by a robbery, reported by the Union Pacific. His career ended when he tried to rob a small bank in Round Rock. During the action, Bass was wounded by Texas Rangers and eventually died on his 27th birthday, two days after the gunfight.


Sam Bass
Sam Bass © Image Source:

(Article was written using references from,

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