King Fisher (gunfighter)

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John King Fisher

Birthdate: (30)
Birthplace: Collin County, Texas, United States
Death: March 11, 1884 (30) (killed in the Vaudeville Theater Ambush)
Immediate Family:

Son of Jobe Fisher and Lucinda Fisher

Managed by: Private User
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Immediate Family

About King Fisher (gunfighter)

King Fisher (1854 – March 11, 1884) was a gunslinger of the American Old West.

Early life

John King Fisher was born in Collin County, Texas, to Jobe Fisher and Lucinda Warren Fisher. He had two brothers, Jasper and James, and his mother died when he was two years old. His father then remarried to a woman named Minerva. After the Civil War ended, the family moved to Williamson County, Texas, where his brother James was then living.

His father was a cattleman, and owned and operated two freight wagons. After his father's second wife died, the family moved to Goliad, Texas, and were joined there by his father's mother who wanted to help Jobe Fisher raise his children. King Fisher was restless, handsome, popular with the girls, and prone to running with a tough crowd. Concerned, his father sent him back to live with his brother James around 1869. Shortly thereafter, in 1871, King was arrested for horse theft and sentenced to two years in prison. However, because of his youth, he was released after only a short time that same year.

Cowboy and outlaw

After his release from prison, Fisher began working as a cowboy, breaking horses. Because of the incessant raids, lootings, and rapes of Texas ranching and farmer families by bandits, he soon found himself taking part in posse activities. As a result of his successes in this arena he soon fancied himself quite the dandy gunman. He began to dress rather flamboyantly, often wearing bright colors, sashes, and wearing two silver plated, ivory handled pistols. He became quite proficient with a gun and began running with a band of outlaws which carried out frequent raids into Mexico.

However, after only a short time, a dispute arose over how the spoils of their loot would be divided. One of the men drew his pistol, and Fisher immediately pulled his guns and managed to kill three of the bandits in the ensuing shootout. He then took over as leader of the gang, and over the course of the next months killed seven more Mexican bandits. In 1872, he bought a ranch on the Rio Grande near Eagle Pass, Texas, in Maverick County, Texas. He used this ranch as his gang's base of operations and even was so brazen as to place a sign that read "This is King Fisher's road. Take the other one."

During this time, King Fisher rarely committed acts of violence or theft against other Texan settlers, instead opting to raid and rustle cattle across the Mexican border. This was a time of massive raids, pillaging, looting, raping, and murdering of white and Mexican bandits. In response to feelings of alleged lack of reprisal or defense by authorities, the Texans formed more groups of bandits. This activity only fueled disputes and ill will from the Mexican side and generating substantial problems for Texas Ranger battalions who were trying to quell Mexican bandit raids into Texas. The Texas Rangers were opposing the Mexican rebel leader Juan Cortina, with the Rangers being led by Leander McNelly, who eventually raided the Fisher Ranch. He arrested King Fisher but released him after a "gentleman's agreement"' was reached that his cattle rustling into Mexico would end. Pressure from the Texas Ranger caused Fisher to retire from this trade, and he began legitimate ranching.


By the late 1870s, Fisher had a reputation as being fast with a gun. In 1878, an argument between Fisher and four Mexican vaqueros erupted. Fisher is alleged to have clubbed the nearest one to him with a branding iron, then as a second drew a pistol Fisher drew his own pistol and shot the man, killing him. He then spun around and shot the other two, who evidently had not produced weapons and both of whom were merely sitting on the fence the entire time.

He was arrested several times for altercations in public by local lawmen, and had been charged at least once with "intent to kill", but the charges were dropped after no witnesses came forward. Although well known as a trouble maker, he was fairly well liked in that part of the state of Texas. He married Sarah Vivien in 1876 and had four daughters.

Over time, with a new family he began a more settled life by working in the cattle business. He served briefly in 1883 as acting sheriff of Uvalde County, Texas, and during this service he trailed two stage coach robbery suspects. The two men were brothers, Tom and Jim Hannehan, and Fisher tracked them to their ranch near Leakey, Texas. The two brothers resisted, and Fisher shot and killed Tom Hannehan. Jim Hannehan then surrendered and was taken into custody along with the stolen loot from the robbery. For years after King Fisher's death, Tom Hannehan's mother would travel to Fisher's grave on the anniversary of Tom Hannehan's death. She would build a fire on top of the grave and then dance around it.

Ambush and murder

In 1884, while in San Antonio, Texas, on business, Fisher came into contact with his old friend, gunfighter and gambler Ben Thompson. Thompson was not popular in San Antonio, since he had earlier killed a popular theater owner named Jack Harris there. A feud over that killing had been brewing since between Thompson and friends of Harris. Fisher and Thompson attended a play on March 11 at the Turner Hall Opera House, and later, at around 10:30pm, they went to the Vaudeville Variety Theater. A local lawman named Jacob Coy sat with them. Thompson wanted to see Joe Foster, a theater owner and friend of Harris's, and one of those fueling the ongoing feud. Thompson had already spoken to Billy Simms, another theater owner, and Foster's new partner.

Fisher and Thompson were directed upstairs to meet with Foster. Coy and Simms soon joined them in the theater box. Foster refused to speak with Thompson. Fisher allegedly noticed that something was not right. Simms and Coy stepped aside, and as they did Fisher and Thompson leapt to their feet just as a volley of gunfire erupted from another theater box, with a hail of bullets hitting both Thompson and Fisher. Thompson fell onto his side, and either Coy or Foster ran up to him and shot him in the head with a pistol. Thompson was not able to return fire, dying almost immediately. Fisher was shot thirteen times, and did fire one round in retaliation, possibly wounding Coy, but that is not confirmed, as Coy may have been shot by one of the attackers, leaving him crippled for life.

Foster, in attempting to draw his pistol at the first of the fight, shot himself in the leg, which was later amputated. He died shortly thereafter. The description of the events of that night are contradictory. There was a public out cry for a grand jury indictment of those involved. However no action was ever taken. The San Antonio Police and the prosecutor showed little interest in the case. Fisher was buried on his ranch. His body was later moved to the Pioneer Cemetery in Uvalde, Texas.


The film Texas Rangers, released in 2001, featured King Fisher played by Alfred Molina.

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King Fisher (gunfighter)'s Timeline

Collin County, Texas, United States
March 11, 1884
Age 30