"Buckskin Frank" Leslie

In the early days, Tombstone was known as the spider web from hell. What little law it had belonged to one feuding faction or another, and all manner of gunslingers called the place home. No one was particularly safe from the brawling, rowdy men who rode into town, and one of the worst of the miscreants was Nashville Franklyn Leslie, known as "Buckskin Frank" because of the fringed buckskin jacket he wore all the time..

Frank Leslie was good with his guns, a matched pair of six-shooters that he wore on each hip, and he took every opportunity to demonstrate this by shooting flies off the ceilings of the Allen Street saloons. Wyatt Earp once said that Leslie was the only man to compare to Doc Holliday’s blinding speed. Leslie rode into town on a hot summer day in 1880, and he stayed for nine long years, shooting several men in the process, much to the annoyance of most of the citizens of Tombstone, who wished he’d move on.

Leslie was a consummate ladies’ man, the most notorious one in the whole area. Although he had filed numerous mining claims and had much of the area under his claim markers, he much preferred the painted women and gambling halls to the hard work of mining. One of his favorite ladies was a black-haired beauty named Mary Killeen. She was separated from her husband Mike, but Mike told everyone he would shoot any man he caught around her. This suited Buckskin Frank just fine. The night Mike Killeen caught the two lovers on the porch of the Cosmopolitan Hotel, Leslie made sure he had Mike neatly deposited in Boot Hill by the next morning.

The widow Killeen and Buckskin Frank soon married, but Leslie could not control his drinking, and Mary finally divorced him. She remarried two years later, and moved to California. Leslie continued working as bartender in the Oriental Saloon and was even appointed a special deputy with the power to make arrests on the premises. One of his favorite night spots soon became the Bird Cage Theater, where he was attracted to a young singer there. One night in a fit of fury, he shot the boot heel off a cowboy who did not show the proper respect.

About this same time (1880), John Slaughter drove his cattle from Texas to the Tombstone country, and a young cowboy named William Claibourne rode with him. Going locally under the name of "Billy the Kid," William became a close friend of Johnny Ringo. When the feud between the Earps and the Cowboys led to the shooting at the O.K. Corral, Leslie somehow managed to remain neutral, but not Claibourne and Ringo. When the shooting started, Claibourne wisely decided it was not his fight and departed the scene.

Several months later, Johnny Ringo was found dead on the Galeyville trail. Billy promptly convinced himself that Buckskin Frank had killed Ringo. On 14 November 1882, Claibourne staggered into the Oriental, obviously drunk, and picked a fight with Leslie. As Billy grew more and more profane, Leslie finally escorted him to the door and heaved him out. It was the wrong thing to do. A short time later, a man entered the Oriental and informed Leslie that Claibourne was outside with a Winchester, saying he would kill Leslie on sight. Buckskin Frank wasted no time in going out the back door of the Oriental to Fifth Street, where the two men shot it out. Claibourne missed. Leslie didn’t. The Epitaph read: "Billy the Kid takes shot at Buckskin Frank. The latter promptly replied and the former quickly turns up his toes to the daisies." Billy Claibourne became Buckskin Frank Leslie’s second victim in Tombstone.

When public opinion against Leslie caused the Oriental to lose business, Mike Joyce sent Leslie to his ranch in the Swisshelm Mountains. From 1883 to 1889, he served as scout for the Fourth Cavalry, a mounted customs inspector, and a rancher. He took with him for companionship, a young lady from the Bird Cage named Blonde Mollie. She was also known as Mollie Bradshaw, but Bradshaw was her "promoter," not her husband. When he turned up dead, Leslie was accused of his murder. Frank never admitted it, but he never denied it, either.

Blonde Mollie was as much a drunk as Frank Leslie. Every night, they drank great quantities of whiskey, and every night they got into violent quarrels. On the evening of 10 July 1889, Frank Leslie pulled his gun and shot her in the head. One of the hands he had hired, a young man named James Neil, called "Six-Shooter Jim" because he was prone to recite fantastic tales of his ability with guns, witnessed the death of Mollie. Buckskin Frank promptly turned his gun on Jim and shot him, too.

Six-Shooter Jim did not die (an epitaph in Boot Hill states he was killed by Burt Alvord). Jim told on Leslie, who realized things were all over and confessed. He had killed thirteen men, but his fourteenth victim---a woman---sent him to Yuma prison for twenty-five years. Sheriff John Slaughter delivered him on 9 January 1890, where he was entered as convict number 632, height 5 feet 7 inches and weight 135 pounds.

Six years later, he was paroled for being a model prisoner. On 1 December 1896, he married Belle Stowell, and disappeared from Arizona. Reports were that he struck it rich in the Klondike around the turn of the century; that he became a land baron in the San Joaquin Valley; that he worked various San Francisco stores and pool halls, but the truth of the matter is that no one knows what really happened to Buckskin Frank Leslie. He vanished from history as if he had never been.

Note:  There is reason to believe that he was the Frank Leslie who died in San Francisco, broke and homeless, except for the generosity of a saloon owner, who allowed him sleep in the back room in exchange for sweeping up each night.  He died in his sleep, and it was estimated that he was 80 years old, which would make him the right age to be Buckskin Frank Leslie of Tombstone fame.  The year?  1930. 

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