The Killing of Phil Coe
Thompson's release from prison after being found guilty of the attempted
murder of his brother-in-law James Moore, he returned home to Austin and
remained there with his family for some months. He once again began
frequenting the local gambling haunts and had soon accumulated enough
money to leave his family behind and try his fortune in the North Western
states and territories, to where Texan's drove large herds of cattle each
year. Luck shone brightly on Ben, and he managed to win the grand
sum of $2385.
was to gain control of a saloon business in some central location, where
by proper management he could concentrate the Texan patronage on it.
The saloon business in Abilene, Kansas, where Ben was now operating, was
the paying one.
Just at this
time, Ben's old army comrade, Phil Coe arrived in Abilene and had with him
some thousands of dollars. Phil would attract attention wherever he
traveled. He was a good looking man who stood six feet four inches
tall. He was brave and generous and faithful to his close friends,
yet forgiving of his enemies. An agreement between the two was soon
concluded and they combined their resources to become joint proprietors of
the Bulls Head Saloon. They directed all their energy to the
establishment of the character of their business which through their
determined work, became a very successful and profitable business.
at this time a prosperous town and the Marshall of the city was Wild Bill
Hickok. Bill Hickok had a major say in the affairs within the town and was
surrounded by some of the most unscrupulous men that ever lived. He and
the city authorities were in colleague and in all things, acted
together. Ben Thompson and Phil Coe, saw it as their duty to protect
the citizens, as far as they could, from the practices set upon them by the
associated Abilene authorities. This caused great anger and
frustration to Hickok and his gang who were normally unrestrained in their
It was at
this time, that Ben invited his family to join him in Abilene, and they
became involved in an accident with the carriage in which they were
traveling. The injuries they sustained, and the horror of Ben's wife
undergoing the amputation of her arm, would keep Ben away from his
business affairs for some time.
Hickok and Phil Coe were rivals for the attention of a woman in the town
called Jesse Hazel. One night, Coe and Jesse were out drinking wine
in the Gulf Hotel when Bill entered and aimed a wild kick towards Jesse
which struck her under the chin. Phil Coe responded by kicking Bill
out of the room and down the stairs and had it not been for the fact that
Jesse required his attention, he would probably have killed Bill there and
then. Phil was furious, and after ascertaining that Jesse was well,
he armed himself and went in search of Bill, though he was nowhere to be
found. The next morning, Bill sent a message to Coe asking for a
meeting with him so that he could apologise for his actions the night
before. Coe agreed to meet him. Bill assured Coe that he had not
meant to harm Jesse, and the blow was accidental and Coe was willing to
accept his apology and forget all about the incident.
A few days
passed and the Texan cattle boys were enjoying a last night in the town
before their farewell the following morning. While Phil and some
friends were walking through the town, a savage dog leapt out at them and
Phil instinctively shot it dead. Wild Bill heard the gunfire and made
his way to the rear of the saloon, in front of which Phil Coe was
standing. Calling out to Phil, he stated that he should not be
shooting his pistol in the town. At that moment an incident further up town caused
Phil to glance away and Bill, grasping his opportunity, pulled two pistols
from his pocket and shot Phil four times without prior reason or
warning. Coe, though mortally wounded, managed to return three shots
towards Bill, who by this time had retired into the safety of the saloon,
and the bullets merely hit the door frame and glanced away. A member
of Bills gang came running across and tried to enter the saloon.
Mistaking him for Coe, Bill shot him too and he fell to the floor
dead. Phil Coe collapsed to the ground outside and died later from
the injuries he sustained.
would learn about the death of his business partner and closest friend,
when traveling home to Austin to recuperate after the family's carriage
accident. The shock was to affect him deeply and it would be many
months before Ben felt able to venture out into the world once more.
By this time, the prosperous business that he and Coe had developed, was
no more. Wild Bill and his associates had absorbed everything that
Coe had left behind.
taken from William Walton's book of 1884 ; The Life and Adventures of
Ben Thompson ; The Famous Texan