the old Iron Front Saloon on Congress Avenue in Austin,
Texas was torn down in the 1920s, a most peculiar object was found in the
basement. It was a fine marble tombstone—but there was no inscription on it.|
Iron Front was once the property of Ben Thompson, a very dangerous man. He was
a gunfighter, he was known to have a very short fuze, and the more he had to drink,
the shorter that fuze got. Strangely, he also had a sense of humor.
Avenue, Austin, Texas|
tombstone salesman named Luke Watts happened to be in Austin.
Watts was a talented stonecutter. When he sold a tombstone he would often carve
the name, dates of birth and death, and an epitaph suggested by the family, to
be included in the price of the stone.|
Watts had done quite well in New
Marcos, and Austin, and he had a
fair-sized roll in his pocket. Apparently the money was burning a hole in his
pocket, so he came to the Iron Front to play poker. One of the players that night
was Ben Thompson himself. Thompson was kidding Watts about making his money off
dead people. Watts told Thompson there was a definite possibility he might die
suddenly and Watts might not be available to sell the family a stone and carve
it. He suggested Thompson buy a stone. Thompson replied that all he needed was
a wooden board.
Watts was not as good a poker player as he thought he
was, and sometime after midnight he announced that he was cleaned out and was
leaving the game. Thompson asked him how much his tombstones were worth. “It depends
on what kind it is,” Watts replied.
Thompson said he wanted the best tombstone
Watts had. Watts told him he had a fine marble stone that was worth $200. Thompson
told him to bring it up and put it in the game. Thompson would accept it in lieu
of $200 cash. The game began again and Thompson won the tombstone. Watts suggested
that he carve at least Thompson’s name and date of birth on it, but Thompson said
no. The stone sat in the poker room in the Iron Front for a few months, until
Thompson ordered it moved to the basement.
Ben Thompson was ambushed and
murdered in Jack Harris’s old saloon in San
Antonio, along with John King Fisher. His body was returned to Austin.
He was buried in Oakwood cemetery—but as of 1925 his grave still had not been
marked. His tombstone remained in the basement of the Iron Front Saloon until
it was demolished. Whether or not the tombstone Ben won that night now sits above
his grave I don’t know.
F. Eckhardt March
10, 2012 column
"Charley Eckhardt's Texas"
Texas Cemeteries | People
| Columns | Texas
by Mike Cox
Whatever became of Ben Thompson’s six-shooter? Thompson,
a British-born former Texas Ranger and soldier of fortune with a penchant for
booze and gambling, made quite a reputation as city marshal of Austin in the early
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