About Phillip Houston "Phil" Coe
Phil Coe - Gunfighter and Gambler
Called one of the greatest gunfighters in Texas, Phillip "Phil” Coe, was also a soldier, a gambler, a businessman, and called the famous Ben Thompson, gunman and gambler, one of his best friends.
Born Phillip Houston Coe in July, 1839 in Gonzales, Texas, to Elizabeth Parker Coe and Phillip Haddox Coe, Phil would grow up to be called one of the greatest gunfighters of Texas.
In September, 1861 he joined the Confederate forces in Houston, Texas to fight in the Civil War and was quickly made a 3rd Lieutenant. However, just a few months later, in December, he was mustered out due to illness.
In March, 1862, he re-joined the Confederate forces, enlisting in the 36th Texas Cavalry, fighting for over a year, when he left the force in April, 1863.
After the war over, it is thought that he served with Ben Thompson under Emperor Maximilian in Mexico. It was under famous gunfighter and gambler, Ben Thompson, that Coe would hone his shooting and gambling skills.
By late 1869 he was in Brenham, where his sister, Delilah, and her family lived. There, he met and gambled with such notorious individuals as James Madison Brown, John Wesley Hardin, and William P. Longley. Next he went to Salina, Kansas in 1870, but by May, 1871 he had moved on to the wild Kansas cowtown of Abilene. Also there were Ben Thompson and Bill Hickok, who was serving as city marshal.
Coe and Thompson soon went into a partnership operating the Bull’s Head Saloon, one of the wildest places in the already wild cowtown. This, of course, created dissension between Thompson and Coe with City Marshal, Bill Hickok. Though there were a number of disagreements, tension rose again when Thompson and Coe hanged an oversize painting of a Texas Longhorn, complete in its "full masculinity” at the Bull’s Head Saloon. Most Abilene townspeople were offended by the sign and demanded the animal’s anatomy be altered. As a result, Hickok stood by with a shotgun as the necessary deletions were made to the painting. The tension was, no doubt, so thick it could be cut with a knife, and the alteration was made without serious incident.
Though Coe and Hickok continued to have a number of disagreements and it was well known the two disliked each other, Thompson and Hickok never had problems with each other, seemingly having a mutual respect for each other’s reputations.
Later, Thompson left town and Coe sold his interest in the saloon, although he remained on as a gambler.
When Hickok and Coe began to court the same woman, rumors started to circulate that each planned to kill the other.
At one point, Coe and Hickok passed words during a disagreement, during which Coe bragged of his expertise in shooting, with Coe reportedly stating he could "kill a crow on the wing", to which Hickok replied: "Did the crow have a pistol? Was he shooting back? I will be."
Eventually, the tension between the Phil Coe and Wild Bill Hickok would culminate in the ultimate gunfight. On the night of October 5, 1871, the trouble came to a head.
It was the end of the cattle season and Coe, along with a number of Texas cowboys were celebrating by drinking and carousing in Abilene's numerous saloons. As the cowboys neared the Alamo Saloon a vicious dog tried to bite Coe, and the gunman took a shot at him. Though he missed the dog, Hickok appeared just minutes later to investigate the gunfire.
The marshal demanded that Coe surrender his firearms, as an ordinance prohibited carrying them in the city. But instead of giving over his weapons Coe sent a bullet Hickok's way, to which the marshal returned fire, shooting Coe twice in the stomach. At about the same time, Hickok heard footsteps coming up behind him and turning swiftly; he fired again and killed Deputy Mike Williams, who had been coming to his aid.
Coe lingered in agony for days and finally died on October 9th. He was Hickok's last known victim. His body was transported back to Brenham and buried in Prairie Lea Cemetery.
In the meantime, Hickok drove the rest of the cowboys out of town. But the city of Abilene had had enough. Before long, the city fathers told the Texans there could be no more cattle drives through their town and dismissed Hickok as city marshal.
Though some thought that Ben Thompson would retaliate against Hickok for the shooting, he did not, and by some estimations seemed to believe the shooting was justified.
COE, PHILIP HOUSTON (1839–1871). Philip Houston Coe, gambler, son of Elizabeth (Parker) and Philip Haddox Coe, was born in Gonzales, Texas, on July 17 or 18, 1839. On March 24, 1862, in Gonzales County he enrolled in William L. Foster's Company, which subsequently became Company D of Peter C. Woods's Thirty-sixth Texas Cavalry. He served without distinction in several companies and rose to the rank of lieutenant in Capt. William G. Tobin's Company F of Charles L. Pyron's Second Texas Cavalry. His service to the Confederacy ended on April 30, 1863. Coe may have later served with Ben Thompson under Emperor Maximilian in Mexico.
During the Civil War and Reconstructionqqv he learned to be a professional gambler, probably in Austin working with Thompson and Thomas Bowles. In late 1869 he was in Brenham, where his sister, Delilah, and her family lived. He met and gambled there with such notorious individuals as James Madison Brown, John Wesley Hardin, and William P. Longley.qqv Coe probably left Brenham for Kansas not long after; it was reported that he was in Saline, Kansas, during the summer of 1870. By May 1871 he was again with Ben Thompson, and the pair were partners in the operation of the Bull's Head Saloon in Abilene, Kansas, where James B. (Wild Bill) Hickok was city marshal. Although a number of incidents can be identified as probable causes of hard feelings between the gambler and the lawman, it is almost certain that the real base of their animosity involved a woman. On the night of October 5, 1871, Hickok shot Coe, who had been recklessly shooting in the street. Hickok's deputy was accidentally shot and killed-by the marshal himself-in the confusion. Immediately after the shooting Hickok drove the riotous Texas cowboys out of his town.
Coe lingered in agony for days and finally died on October 9. He was Hickok's last known victim. His body was transported back to Brenham and buried in Prairie Lea Cemetery. The following season the city fathers of Abilene, Kansas, chose peace and order over money and insisted that the Texas drovers take their cattle to other shipping points.