Col. Charles Askins

Col. Charles Askins was a gunfighter, lawman and soldier who…

Col. Charles Askins was a gunfighter, lawman and soldier who proved how thin the veil can be between sociopath and professional.

The fact that Askins named his auto­biography Unrepentant Sinner pretty much says it all. When his lifelong best friend, George Parker, was dying of cancer, Askins handed him a .45 auto. Parker shot himself, allowing Askins to brag that he helped his friend “do the manly thing.”

While most of his kills were racked up during his days with the Border Patrol along the Rio Grand River in his native Texas, Col. Askins added to his tally in World War II when he served as a battlefield recovery officer.

Askins rode the river for the U.S. Border Patrol in the lawless “gangster era” of the 1920s and ’30s. His numerous gunfights with contrabandistas and other criminals of the El Paso region are vividly detailed in his autobiography.

The son of Maj. Charles Askins, a noted gunwriter of the day, Charley Junior was born to guns. His old man was perhaps one of the best shotgun shooters of his day, a gifted wingshooter and an avid upland bird hunter. Charley inherited his Old Man’s mantle as a storyteller par excellence, but there was a darker side to Junior’s sagas.

Askins was one of the first recipients of the Outstanding American Handgunner Award. He was a national champion pistol shot. He won the centerfire event with what would be contested as an illegal pistol, but in typical Askins fashion, immediately after firing the winning score he resigned from the Border Patrol Pistol Team so he could go out a champion.

Knowing guns as well as he did, Askins was keenly cognizant of the handling characteristics of the best fighting guns of his time, as well as the terminal ballistics of their cartridges. He fully appreciated the firepower of self-loading weapons and favored a Remington Model 11 self-loading 12 ga., a clone of the Browning Auto-5.

Askins’ war stories were full of details on the guns he favored for combat. He was a master storyteller and his vivid descriptions of gunning down armed and unarmed criminals alike made for riveting reading in the days before political correctness made such confessions impossible.

All’s Fair In War
Always a gamesman when it came to winning at any cost, Askins cheated in gunfights as well as pistol competitions. Once, during World War II when the Allies were set to cross the Rhine into Germany, his unit was stymied on one side of the river while a bedraggled remnant of the Nazi army was facing them, dug in on the German side of the river.

As stalemates tend to go, both sides grew complacent. Askins noticed that every morning at a particular time, a fat German sergeant made his way to a particular bush near the river and squatted for his morning constitutional. This gave Askins an idea.

He found a suitable two-story house with a clear line of sight on the bush and set up a sofa and table in a second story window. He borrowed a range finder from an artillery battery and ranged the bush from the window, a bit over 800 yards. He then found a Garand that was reputed to be more accurate than most and commandeered a Jeep to drive himself to the rear. There, he set up a target using the range finder at the exact distance as the bush was from his house. He zeroed the Garand to be dead-on at that distance.
The next morning, Askins and his Garand were sandbagged when the “fat Kraut” made his way to his usual bush. Once he settled down to his business, Askins centered him on his front sight and squeezed the trigger. Killing doesn’t get any more cold-blooded than that, even if it was done under the color of war in a “legitimate” sense.

Years later, in the late ‘50s, Askins hired himself to Vietnam as a military advisor to the South Vietnamese. Askins had one of the then-new Smith & Wesson .44 Magnum revolvers and was determined to kill the first man with the big magnum.

His opportunity came when he was out on patrol with a few South Vietnamese soldiers, set to ambush some communist infiltrators. Askins gave the word that no one was to fire until he did and he waited patiently until the small column of men had passed. At the right moment, he stepped out into the trail and shot the last man in line. Askins was delighted by the huge revolver’s performance, lifting the body off his feet. He was equally pleased to proclaim that he was the first to kill a man with a Smith & Wesson .44 Magnum.

Combat Training

Focusing on what works in a gunfight, Askins learned to tie a white handkerchief on the muzzle of his shotgun to better see it at night. To better train for moving targets, Askins rigged up a target stand on two clothes lines and had a youngster run back and forth, tugging the target so he could fire. He practiced shooting from awkward positions, on horseback and on the ground, all to better simulate the realities of gunfighting.

Askins was one of the first to pioneer the concept of training the way we fight, with man-shaped targets and rapid fire drills instead of bullseyes and slow fire. Today we accept “reality based” training as just obvious, but in Askins’ day, firearms training was based on bullseye-shooting techniques.

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  • John Everett Walker

    I remember the story about the 44 magnum and the asian guy. Another one about the effectiveness of teh 38 special- He killed a german with it. Said that “Jazbows” who didnt think the 38 was lethal hadn’t shot anything more dangerous than a billy-goat. Modern obiter dictators are not the only ones who thought askins might be a sociopath. He wondered the same thing though he didn’t seem overly concerned about it.

  • It’s not hard to understand, Ben. Men simply weren’t pussies then.

  • OIFVet@USC

    Ben Crookshanks, yes Jack O’Connor was eloquent on paper and in life, but he was a hunter and writer by trade, not a gunfighter who found no eloquence in killing human beings, but told it the only way it could truthfully be told. As far as the selling of articles, Charles Askins apparently sold plenty. Like Jack O’Conner, he had to make a living too. I’ll be sure to locate his book and read it with the same respect and sober state of mind when I read Elmer Keith’s less than eloquent but excellent autobiography.

  • Gary Peek

    Colonel Askins was a hard man from a hard time. Men are alive, or died of old age because of what he did, and what he taught them. He asked for no quarter, and gave none. Then he told the truth about how he acted, and how he felt about it. That is refreshing.

  • Larry Berry

    I have a 1988 autographed copy of Mr Askins book , “unrepentant sinner”. I enjoyed reading it then . I break it out every once in a while and reread portions of it. My favorite is Ed Cox and the rustlers on page 70. In my opinion some people need killing . Apparently so did Charlie.

  • rogelio

    it is ungodly not to respect the “fence”,no such thing as expanded “fence” either,either you belong to one side or the other, he was trying to stop big trouble as far as I am concerned.

  • will meyer

    Dear Mr Crookshanks, You say the Col’s writing sucks yet he wrote over a thousand articles that were published. He also wrote several books of which his autobigraphy is probably the most honest and forthright acount of a writers life I have read and I own 13,000 books all of which I have read. You on the other hand have written a few unpaid remarks on the world wide web and I doubt anyone will ask you to write for them much less pay you a tinkers damn for the scant thoughs which seem to flow so elloquently from your fingers.

  • Ben Crookshanks

    His writing sucked. Gun writing ranges between two extremes–very good and hideously awful. The represenatives of those two extremes are Jack O’Connor and Col. Charles Askins. I don’t see how Askins ever sold a single article, let alone make a living at it!