Russian Bill

shakespeare-new-mexico-blogOne of the West’s most unusual gunfighter gunsels was Bill Tettenborn, better-known as Russian Bill. There are a number of tales about his origins.  Some say he was a young lieutenant serving in the Russian Army deserting to come to the Wild West.

Bill was described as a tall, “gangling man of blonde complexion.” According to one source, he had a “fierce blond mustache and blond hair which hung to his shoulders; he carried a six-gun on each hip and a long knife in his boot, and was always telling how tough he was.”

By 1880, Russian Bill had taken up residence in Shakespeare, New Mexico. The town was also a lair for, outlaws, rustlers, thieves, renegades and other misfits.  Bill fell in with the rough crowd, including a small time outlaw named Sandy King, and in a show of bravado, stole a horse.  He was immediately arrested by Grant County deputy sheriff, Dan Tucker and taken back to Shakespeare where, along with King were taken to the dining room of the Grand Hotel and hanged from a cross beam.

When the morning stagecoach pulled into town the passengers entered the dining room to find the two men were still hanging.

A stranger passing through asked who’d been hanged he was told, “one was a horse thief and the and the other was a damned nuisance.” To add further insult to Russian Bill’s humiliation, a spectator stole his expensive new boots while he was hanging from the rafters.

According to local legend, Russian Bill’s mother, the Countess Telfrin, made diplomatic inquiries two years later into her son’s alleged “misfortune,” and was told he died from shortage of breathing while at a high altitude.