In Custer, South Dakota, a downtown building sign states that it is the site of a saloon where Flyspeck Billy murdered Abe Barnes in February 1881. Can you tell me anything more about this?

In Custer, South Dakota, a downtown building sign states that it is the site of a saloon where Flyspeck Billy murdered Abe Barnes in February 1881. Can you tell me anything more about this?

Larry Charleston

Orland Park, Illinois

Flyspeck Billy’s real name was James Fowler. He was a minor member of Lame Johnny Donahue’s gang, an outlaw band that rustled Indian horses and committed other mischievous dealings in the Black Hills. Lame Johnny (his real name was Cornelius) was ultimately caught and hanged in Custer City, Dakota Territory.

Flyspeck Johnny continued his deviltry after the gang disbanded. On January 6, 1881, he arrived in Custer City on a bull train operated by Abe Barnes, who loaned Flyspeck a pistol. Later that evening, the two got into a fracas in a local saloon, and Flyspeck plugged Barnes with his own pistol. They locked Flyspeck up in the calaboose, but an angry mob extracted him and gave him a “suspended” sentence. Today, Custer boasts Lame Johnny Donahue and Flyspeck Billy as the town’s earliest “swingers.”

What do you think?

Marshall Trimble

Marshall Trimble is Arizona’s official historian and the Wild West History Association’s vice president. His latest book is 2018’s Arizona Oddities: A Land of Anomalies and Tamales. Send your question, with your city/state of residence, to marshall.trimble@scottsdalecc.edu or Ask the Marshall, P.O. Box 8008, Cave Creek, AZ 85327.