Franklin Leslie

Franklin Leslie
Franklin Leslie
Nashville Franklin "Buckskin Frank" Leslie
Nashville Franklin "Buckskin Frank" Leslie
Born March 23, 1848(1848-03-23)
Galveston, Texas
Died c. 1930
poss. San Francisco, California
Alias(es) Buckskin Frank Leslie, Nashville Franklyn Leslie
Conviction(s) Murder of Molly Williams
Penalty 25 years
Status Pardoned in 1893
Occupation U.S. Army scout, gambler, outlaw
Spouse Mary Killeen, Belle Stowell, Elnora Cast

Nashville Franklin [Franklyn] Leslie was an lawman, U.S. Army scout, gambler, and an outlaw. He was known for his fringed buckskin jacket and his twin revolvers. He became famous in Tombstone, Arizona for killing two men in self-defense before he killed one of his wives while drunk and in a fit of jealousy. He served nine years in prison before he was pardoned and left for California. He remarried twice in California before disappearing from public records in 1922. The most reputable source reports that he died in San Francisco in the back of a pool hall, homeless, at about age 80.


Early life

Leslie was born Galveston, Texas[1] on March 23, 1848 where he grew up. His father's last name was Kennedy and his mother was Martha Leslie. He took his mother's last name as his after a falling out with his father.[1] Frank Leslie was first recorded as a scout for the U.S. Army in Texas, Oklahoma and the Dakotas during the 1870s.

Tombstone, Arizona

He arrived in Tombstone, Arizona in 1880 and became a bartender at the Oriental Saloon. Frank had long, blonde hair and a wide, drooping mustache. He wore a jacket festooned with fringed buckskin, yellow-braided cavalry pants, and a wide-brimmed hat—an outfit to which a “fully laden twin-gun harness added a lethal touch.”[2] He was 5 feet 7 inches (1.70 m) tall and wore 2 inches (51 mm) heels to boost his height.[3]

Kills Mike Killeen

On June 22, 1880, he began dating the buxom Mary Killeen.[2] Accounts differ as to whether she was separated from her husband[4] or still married to him.[2] After the dance, they sat on the porch of the Cosmopolitan Hotel and were spotted by her husband.[5] Mike appeared out of the dark street and shot at Leslie, barely missing him. Leslie fired back and shot Mike Killen twice. Mike Killen died five days later and was buried in Tombstone's Boot Hill cemetery on June 22, 1880.[6]

Leslie and Mrs. Killeen were married two weeks later. According to The Tombstone Epitaph newspaper:

Tombstone, Arizona July 6, 1880 Wedding - Last evening, at 8 o'clock, Mr. N. F. Leslie (Nashville Franklyn) was united in holy bonds of matrimony to Mrs. Mary Killeen, (née Evans) by Judge Reilly. The wedding was a quiet one, only a few intimate friends of the parties being present. Miss [Louisa] Billicke attended the bride, Col. C.F. Hines supporting Mr Leslie. There were present during the ceremony, which took place in the parlor of the Cosmopolitan Hotel, Mr and Mrs Bilicke, Col. H. B. Jones and wife, Mr C.E. Hudson and daughter, Miss French, Col. Hafford, Mr E. Nichols, Mr J. A. Whitcher, Mr Maxon, Mr J.A. Burres, Mr Geo E. Whitcher, F.E. Burke, Esq., and Mr Fred Billings. At the conclusion of the ceremony the bridal party and friends repaired to the dining room of the hotel, where a bounteous repast awaited them. The EPITAPH congratulates Mr Leslie, un chevalier sans peur et sans reproche, {a knight without fear and reproach} and his most estimable wife upon this happy event, and earnestly wishes them a pleasant voyage over life's troubled ocean.

Leslie was reputed to be the owner of a special revolver. On January 14, 1881, Leslie sent a letter to the Colt firearms company.

Gentlemen I want a pistol as follows. Colts Frontier Model to take Winchester Cartridges 44 Cal., the revolver to have a twelve (12) inch barrel, browned, superior finished throughout with carved ivory handle, also send scabbard or belt with everything complete for carrying & cleaning the Pistol answer soon as convenient, stating price and when I can have Pistol by Wells Fargo & Cos. and oblige.[citation needed]

Kills Billy Claiborne

On November 14, 1882, Leslie became involved in an argument with Billy Claiborne who, after the recent death of William Bonney, had demanded to be known as "Billy the Kid". A survivor of the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, Claiborne claimed to have killed three men who had ridiculed him, but there is only evidence of Claiborne 's fight with Bill Hickey. After the O. K. Corral shootout, Claiborne's reputation suffered because he fled the scene.[3]

According to Leslie, he was talking with some friends in the Oriental Saloon when Claiborne elbowed his way in and began using insulting and abusive language.[7] Claiborn was very drunk, threatened patrons, and vandalized the saloon.[3] He demanded that Leslie call him "Billy the Kid". Leslie asked Claiborne to not interfere, but Claiborne returned and resumed his foul and abusive speech. Leslie grabbed Claiborne by his coat collar and escorted him out. Leslie said, "He used very hard language, and as he started away from me, shook a finger at me and said, 'That's all right Leslie, I'll get even on you.'"[7]

A few minutes later first one man and then another said there was a man waiting outside to shoot Leslie.[3] The second man said it was Claiborne and that he was waiting outside with a rifle. When Leslie stepped outside he saw "a foot of rifle barrel protruding from the end of the fruit stand." He tried to talk Claiborne out of shooting but he raised the rifle, missing Leslie. Leslie returned fire and hit Claiborne in the chest. "I saw him double up and had my pistol cocked and aimed at him again... I advanced upon him, but did not shoot, when he said, "Don't shoot again, I am killed." "[7]

Because Claiborne was waiting outside to ambush Leslie and fired first, the killing was ruled self-defense. It was described as "an incident that became an open-and-closed affair over the short period of time required by Frank to puff through a rolled cylinder of Bull Durham."[2]

Service as a Scout

After Leslie killed Billy Claiborne, business at the Oriental Saloon dropped off due to public opinion turning against Leslie. Oriental Saloon owner Mike Joyce sent Leslie to work on his ranch 40 miles (64 km) to the east in the Swisshelm Mountains. During 1884 to 1886, he served during the Apache uprisings as a scout for the Fourth Cavalry, and afterward as a mounted customs inspector along the Rio Grande area and became a rancher.[8]

Kills Molly Williams

Leslie and Killeen divorced in 1887 after seven years of marriage. Killeen claimed that Leslie would shoot at her as he attempted to trace her outline along a wall. May Leslie was granted a Divorce from N.F. Leslie on June 3, 1887 Conchise Co., Arizona. Mary Leslie then married Alexander Durward on October 12, 1889, in Tombstone, Cochise County, Arizona, and moved to Banning, Riverside County where she died on March 24, 1947.

After his divorce, Leslie began living with a prostitute from the Bird Cage Theatre named "Blonde Mollie" Williams.[8] They both drank heavily, and one night were drinking with a friend James "Six-Shooter Jim" Neil. Jim was prone to recite fantastic tales of his ability with guns, and after a few drinks, Frank left to obtain some more booze. When he returned, Leslie saw Molly chatting on the porch with O'Neil. In a jealous fit he thought they were having an affair. When he argued with her, she pulled a pocket revolver but he shot her first, killing her. He then shot O'Neil twice, wounding him.[9]:282

Frank Leslie was brought before Judge Easton this morning, but stated that he was not ready to plead, and asked for time to consult a lawyer. It is said that either Mark Smith, Allen English, or both of them, will take this case. He was remanded to jail and will probably have a hearing some time during the week. Leslie was born in Galveston, Texas, and although giving his name as Franklin Nashville Leslie his father's name was Kennedy. He has an uncle residing in Houston who is very wealthy, and owns much property there. His name is Thomas Kennedy. Leslie's mother's maiden name was Leslie, and after her death he had trouble with his father, and left home taking the name of his mother's family afterward.

Leslie had the appearance this morning of not feeling in the best of spirits. He has probably had time to reflect upon the cowardly crime he has committed in shooting a defenseless woman through the heart.[1]

Convicted of Molly's murder, Leslie was sentenced to 25 years imprisonment in the Yuma Territorial Prison.[3]

Later years

Sheriff John Slaughter delivered him to the Yuma Territorial Prison on January 9, 1890, where he became convict number 632.[8] The Mohave Miner, on Jan 18, 1890, reported "The eleven convicts who were brought here from Tombstone yesterday, arrived in an intoxicated condition. One of the number, a life prisoner, Frank Leslie, was so drunk that he could scarcely walk." Leslie became a model prisoner and volunteered to serve in the prison hospital. During several epidemics, he risked exposing himself and worked hard caring for fellow inmates. Dr. P.G. Cotter, the physician in-charge, wrote that Leslie "was a most humane and self-sacrificing attendant".[3]

After serving 8 years, Governor Franklin pardoned Leslie for good behavior[8] and released from the Yuma Territorial Prison on November 7, 1896. He relocated to California and settled in Stockton, California where he married Mrs. Belle Stowell on December 1, 1896.[10] She had been living in San Francisco when he was imprisoned and "read the narrative of the scout's adventures and, it is said, fell in love with him." They corresponded while Leslie was in prison and she arrived from Warren County, Illinois for the marriage. They allegedly traveled to China on their honeymoon.[10] Leslie later traveled to Mexico and became a field assistant to a Professor Dumell on a geological survey for coal deposits. The San Francisco Call, on 26 November 1902, reported, "Frank Leslie was accidentally shot through the right knee and on the right side of the head by the discharge of his own revolver yesterday morning, while at a saloon at Eddy and Market streets. Leslie, who carries a self-acting revolver, was entering a side room, when the weapon slipped from his pocket and striking on the asphalt floor was exploded, sending the ball through the outside of his right knee. The bullet passed so close to his head that it clipped off a portion of his right ear and cut a furrow along his scalp. " After trying his hand at prospecting in the Alaskan gold fields, Leslie moved to Oakland, California in 1913 where he worked at a pool hall. On November 6, 1913, at Napa, he married Elnora Cast although it is unclear whether he was legally divorced from his other wife Belle (Stowell) Leslie.


Records of Leslie's death do not agree. One source says that he committed suicide in 1925; another story states that he struck it rich in the Alaskan Gold Fields, and died as a rich land baron in the San Joaquin Valley; the best source however, states that he ended his days in 1930, drunk and penniless, except for the generosity of a bartender who let him sleep in his back room in exchange for sweeping up every night. It was estimated that this Frank Leslie was about 80-81, which would make him to be the right age to be the Frank Leslie of Tombstone fame.[citation needed] In June of 1974 a newspaper article reported " A silver buckled belt owned by gunfighter Buckskin Frank Leslie sold for $2,500 at a recent Los Angeles Auction specializing in Old West memorabilia."


  1. ^ a b c "Leslie's Hearing". Tombstone Prospector. July 15, 1889. 
  2. ^ a b c d Booth, Ken. "Tracking Buckskin Frank from Tombstone to Yuma". Retrieved May 6, 2011. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f Hind, Andrew. "Buckskin Frank Leslie: The Tombstone Connection". Retrieved 6 May 2011. 
  4. ^ ""Buckskin Frank" Leslie". Outlaws and Gunslingers. Retrieved 6 May 2011. 
  5. ^ "Tombstone's Cemetery: Boothill". History Magazine. June 12, 2006. Retrieved 6 May 2011. 
  6. ^ "Tombstone Pioneers Burial Places". Retrieved 6 May 2011. 
  7. ^ a b c Leslie's Luck "Billy-the-Kid" Takes a Shot at "Buckskin Frank"". Leslie's Luck. Retrieved 6 May 2011. 
  8. ^ a b c d "The High Chapparral-"Buckskin Frank" Leslie". The High Chaparral. Retrieved May 31, 2011. 
  9. ^ Marriott, Barbara (2009). In Our Own Words: the Lives of Arizona Pioneer Women. Tucson, Ariz.: Fireship Press. ISBN 978-1934757956. 
  10. ^ a b "The Matrimonial Trail. A Chivalrous Scout Weds a Pretty Widow". Stockton Daily Independent. December 2, 1896. Retrieved 7 May 2011. 

Further reading

  • Rickards, Colin. Buckskin Frank Leslie: Gunman of Tombstone, El Paso, 1964.

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