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Knottingley and Ferrybridge Local History

BEN THOMPSON
GAMBLER, GUNFIGHTER, POET


by TOM BICKNELL

Major William Walton, Ben Thompsonís friend, attorney and biographer wrote that after returning to Texas in the fall of 1871, Thompson "appeared to be a confirmed invalid." Physically, Ben Thompson had only suffered a broken leg but the tragic events that previously occurred in Kansas City, Missouri and Abilene, Kansas had sunk him into a deep depression.

The year of 1871 had begun well for Ben Thompson. His pretty young wife Kate was expecting their second child and he was earning a small fortune off the Kansas cattle trade. His Bullís Head Saloon in Abilene was reported to be a huge success. He had opened up the combination bar-room and gambling den in partnership with his old Civil War buddy Phil Coe and the Bullís Head became a favourite haunt for the Texas drovers.

By mid-summer, Thompson so missed his wife and little son Bennie, he decided to send for them and they met in Kansas City. The family reunion soon turned into a tragedy when a buggy in which the family was riding over turned. Benís leg was broken, his wifeís arm was also broken and little Bennieís foot was crushed. Kateís injury was the most serious. Her arm started to turn gangrene and Ben could only to stand by and watch as his pregnant wife underwent the horror of an amputation. When Phil Coe learned of the accident he immediately wired money to his friend. The Thompson family had to remain in a Kansas City Hotel convalescing for many weeks before they would all have the strength to travel home.

This year of tragedy was not yet finished with Ben Thompson. Travelling in easy stages, the Thompson family met on the road an Austin resident returning from Kansas. His name was Bud Cotton and in his charge were the remains of Phil Coe. Cotton spilled out the tale of how Abilene City Marshal J. B. Hickok shot Coe in the groin during a street fight. Coe died in agony several days later. Thompson listened and then laid his head down upon his friendís coffin and wept.

In early December luck once again shined on Thompson when Kate gave birth to a healthy baby girl. As the year closed Ben must have looked back and it was in this state of mind that he wrote these wordsÖ

"O give not way to dark despair
Within this world of ours,
For still some sweetness is contained
In lifeís fair blooming flowers
And though upon the sea of doubt
You may be tempest tossed
Believe that in this heart of man
All virtue is not lost
."

Ben Thompson
December 28, 1871

According to Major Walton, Thompsonís depression would last nearly a year before the "ruddy hue of health began to again appear on his cheeks, and the eyes danced once more, and the firm will set itself in lines about the mouth." Finally Ben picked up his pistol and his monte cards and once again ventured "out into the wild life he well knew." It was now the spring of 1873 and Ellsworth, the new crown prince of the Kansas cattletown's was to be his next stop.

Knottingley and Ferrybridge Online are indebted  to Tom Bicknell for allowing us to publish the above article, previously published in the Kansas Cowboy newspaper of Ellsworth, Kansas.


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