It seems that a reoccurring trend in the Old West (mid- late 1800’s) is that lawmen are often described as being criminals by some and heroes by others. Another trend seen is that lawmen in those days were extremely proficient with their iron… without mandatory annual range qualification. This month’s legendary lawman is no exception. I give you John King Fisher (yes, his real name).
There are those who claim that the most effective lawmen were once criminals and John King Fisher surely fit this description. He was born 1854 to Jobe Fisher and Lucinda Warren in Collin County, Texas (northeast of Dallas). Just prior to the Civil War the family relocated to Florence, Texas (north of Austin). Fisher grew to 5’ 9” and a svelte 135 pounds. The 1870s in Texas was particularly lawless mostly as a result of the end of the Civil War and thousands of armed and unemployed soldiers wandering the west. This is where a young (very young) John King Fisher would learn the ropes of survival.
In 1869 he was accused of stealing a horse after he borrowed it without bothering to inform the horse’s owner (hey, it happens) to track down his own ride that had wandered off in the night. He was tracked down by a posse and arrested but reportedly escaped with the help of the horse's owner, Mr. Turnbow. After returning home to Goliad, Texas he once again ran afoul the law when he was, according to a family story, arrested for housebreaking. Apparently he had hooked up with a bad crowd and led astray. He was sentenced on 5 October 1870 to two years in the state penitentiary but was released in February of 1871 due to good behavior and his age. He was under sixteen at the time of his sentencing.
After his release he moved to Dimmit County and established his own ranch on the Pendencia Creek, located near Eagle Pass on the border of Mexico. Not one for subtlety, 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." This area was Nueces Strip and commonly known as an area where cattle rustling was the number one industry. King Fisher hired on every drifter, rustler and criminal in the area and quickly became the leader of the Strip. At one time Fisher rode with Mexican rustlers and is claimed to have killed as many as 10 gang members before emerging as their leader. Some say that King Fisher traded cattle with the eventual president of Mexico, Porfirio Diaz (another colorful figure) taking stolen Mexican in trade for Texas cattle.
During the 1870s Fisher also took a liking to gambling and was reportedly pretty good at it. Of course he was quick to anger and even quicker on the draw which resulted in more than a few shootings. In 1878 he claimed to have killed seven men, mostly in gambling arguments, and he was not including "several Mexicans.”
One persistent account concerns an argument between King and four vaqueros that had approached his cattle pen on the Pendencia Creek. King Fisher assumed these men were there to rustle his cattle and “asked” them to leave. When they refused he struck the nearest opponent on the skull with a branding iron, outdrew, shot and killed a second man, who had drawn his revolver, with a single shot through the head, then whirled and drilled the other two men as they, too, were drawing their pistols, killing both. The last two were still sitting on the fence. Although these four killings were never verified, tall tales about King Fisher abounded throughout Texas during his lifetime and continue to this day.
Apparently Fisher was not the best choice for a drinking buddy either. On Dec. 25, 1876 in a bar in Zavala County, Texas, a cowboy named William Donovan refused to buy Fisher a drink, so he fired three bullets into Donovan, killing him. Fisher was subsequently arrested by Texas Ranger Lee Hall who charged him with murder. Fisher however, was expertly defended in court by Major T.T. Teel and was found not guilty. Of course we don’t have all the facts here but we clearly see a history of a quick temper followed by dead bodies.