On 21st July, 1865, Wild Bill Hickok and David Tutt quarrelled over cards and decided to have a gunfight. At 6pm Hickok and Tutt arranged to walk towards each other. When they were about 50 yards apart both men drew his gun. Tutt fired first but missed. Hickok's shot hit Tutt in the heart. This was the first recorded example of two men taking part in a quick-draw duel. The following month Hickok was acquitted after pleading self-defence. Tutt was one of the estimated 20,000 men in the American West were killed from gunshot wounds between 1866 and 1900.
In 1866 gave an interview to a journalist, George Ward Nichols about his exploits as a gunfighter. The article appeared in the February, 1867, edition of Harper's New Monthly Magazine. Newspapers such as the Leavenworth Daily Conservative, Kansas Daily Commonwealth, Springfield Patriot and the Atchison Daily Champion quickly pointed out that the article was full of inaccuracies and that Hickok was lying when he claimed he had killed "hundreds of men".
Hickok responded to these articles by giving an interview to another journalist, Henry M. Stanley. The article appeared in the St. Louis Missouri Democrat in April 1867. It included the following dialogue: "I say, Mr. Hickok, how many white men have you killed to your certain knowledge?" After a little deliberation, he replied, "I suppose I have killed considerably over a hundred." "What made you kill all those men? Did you kill them without cause or provocation?" "No, by heaven I never killed one man without good cause."
The articles by George Ward Nichols and Henry M. Stanley helped to develop the myth of the ritual shoot-out between two gunfighters who confront each other in a quick-draw duel. Most gunman who were in conflict with another westerner were much more likely to shoot them in the back than face a duel. There are no examples in history of two well-known gunfighters fighting in this way. However, once a man developed a reputation as a gunfighter, meant that he sometimes had to face a duel from a young gunman. Good gunfighters also faced the danger of being shot from behind. Wild Bill Hickok, Pat Garrett and John Wesley Hardin all died in this way.
In the early days of the American West gunfighters were called 'shootists' or 'mankillers'. The word gunfighter was first used by Cemetery Sam in Eureka, California, in 1874. However, the word gunfighter was not generally used until the 20th century.
One of the most famous cases of face to face gunfighting concerns the Gunfight at the OK Corral in Tombstone. On 25th October, 1881, Virgil Earp, Wyatt Earp, Morgan Earp and Doc Holliday challenged four cowboys, Ike Clanton, Billy Clanton, Frank McLaury and Tom McLaury. None of the cowboys were good with guns and two of them were unarmed. It was far from a fair fight and the gunman were able to kill three of the cowboys.
In an interview that he gave late in life, Wyatt Earp claimed that deliberation rather than speed was the most important key to survival in a gunfight. The experienced gunman, said Earp, "took his time and pulled the trigger once." Bat Masterson also gave advice to men wanting to be gunfighters: "Many a man has been buried because he foolishly tried to scare someone by reaching for his hardware... Always have your gun loaded and ready, and never reach for it unless you are in dead earnest and intend to kill."
David Tutt, of Yellville, Arkansas, was shot on the public square, at 6 o'clock on Friday last, by James B. Hickok, better known in Southwest Missouri as "Wild Bill." The difficulty occurred from a game of cards. Hickok is a native of Homer, Lasalle County. Illinois, and is about twenty-six years of age. He has been engaged since his sixteenth year, with the exception of about two years, with Russell, Majors & Waddill, in Government service, as scout, guide, or with exploring parties, and has rendered most efficient and signal service to the Union cause, as numerous acknowledgments from the different commanding officers with whom he has served will testify.
The trial of William Hickok for the killing of Davis Tutt, in the streets in this city week before last, was concluded on Saturday last, by a verdict of not guilty, rendered by the jury in about ten minutes after they retired to the jury room. The general dissatisfaction felt by the citizens of this place with the verdict in no way attaches to our able and efficient Circuit Attorney, nor to the Court. It is universally conceded that the prosecution was conducted in an able, efficient and vigorous manner.
Let me at once describe the personal appearance of the famous Scout of the Plains, William Hitchcock, called "Wild Bill," who now advanced toward me, fixing his clear gray eyes on mine in a quick, interrogative way, as if to take "my measure."
The result seemed favorable, for he held forth a small, muscular hand in a frank, open manner. As I looked at him I thought his the handsomest physique I had ever seen.
Bill stood six feet and an inch in his bright yellow moccasins. A deer-skin shirt, or frock it might be called, hung jauntily over his shoulders and revealed a chest whose breadth and depth were remarkable. These lungs had had growth in some twenty years of the free air of the Rocky Mountains. His small, round waist was girthed by a belt which held two of Colt's navy revolvers. His legs sloped gradually from the compact thigh to the feet, which were small and turned inward as he walked. There was a singular grace and dignity of carriage about that figure which would have called your attention meet it where you would. The head which crowned it was now covered by a large sombrero, underneath which there shone out a quiet, manly face; so gentle is its expression as he greets you as utterly to belie the history of its owner; yet it is not a face to be trifled with. The lips thin and sensitive, the jaw not too square, the cheek bones slightly prominent, a mass of fine dark hair falls below the neck to the shoulders. The eyes, now that you are in friendly intercourse, are as gentle as a woman's. In truth, the woman nature seems prominent throughout, and you would not believe that you were looking into eyes that have pointed the way to death to hundreds of men. Yes, Wild Bill with his own hands has killed hundreds of men. Of that I have not a doubt. "He shoots to kill," they say on the border.
In vain did I examine the scout's face for some evidence of murderous propensity. It was a gentle face, and singular only in the sharp angle of the eye, and without any physiognomic reason for the opinion, I have thought his wonderful accuracy of aim was indicated by this peculiarity. He told me, however, to use his own words:
"I allers shot well; but I come ter be perfect in the mountains by shootin at a dime for a mark, at best of half a dollar a shot. And then until the war I never drank liquor nor smoked," he continued, with a melancholy expression; "war is demoralizing it is."
Captain Honesty was right. I was very curious to see "Wild Bill, the Scout," who, a few days before my arrival in Springfield, in a duel at noonday in the public square, at fifty paces, had sent one of Colt's pistol-balls through the heart of a returned Confederate soldier. . . .
"To tell you the truth, Kernel," responded the scout with a certain solemnity in his grave face, "I don't talk about sich things ter the people round here, but I allers feel sort of thankful when I get out of a bad scrape."
"In all your wild, perilous adventures," I asked him, "have you ever been afraid? Do you know what the sensation is? I am sure you will not misunderstand the question, for I take it we soldiers comprehend justly that there is no higher courage than that which shows itself when the consciousness of danger is keen but where moral strength overcomes the weakness of the body."
"I think I know what you mean, Sir, and I'm not ashamed to say that I have been so frightened that it 'peared is if all the strength and blood had gone out of my body, and my face was as white as chalk. It was at the Wilme Creek fight. I had fired more than fifty cartridges, and I think fetched my man every time. I was on the skirmish line, and was working up closer to the rebs, when all of a sudden a battery opened fire right in front of me, and it sounded as if forty thousand guns were firing, and every shot and shell screeched within six inches of my head. It was the first time I was ever under artillery fire, and I was so frightened that I couldn't move for a minute or so, and when I did go back the boys asked me if I had seen a ghost? They may shoot bullets at me by the dozen, and it's rather exciting if I can shoot back, but I am always sort of nervous when the big guns go off."
"I would like to see you shoot."
"Would yer?" replied the scout, drawing his revolver; and approaching the window, he pointed to a letter O in a sign-board which was fixed to the stone-wall of a building on the other side of the way.
"That sign is more than fifty yards away. I will put these six balls into the inside of the circle, which isn't bigger than a man's heart."
In an off-hand way, and without sighting the pistol with his eye, he discharged the six shots of his revolver. I afterwards saw that all the bullets had entered the circle.
As Bill proceeded to reload his pistol, he said to me with a naiveté of manner which was meant to be assuring:
"Whenever you get into a row be sure and not shoot too quick. Take time. I've known many a feller slip up for shootin' in a hurry,"
It would be easy to fill a volume with the adventures of that remarkable man. My object here has been to make a slight record of one who is one of the best - perhaps the very best - example of a class who more than any other encountered perils and privations in defense of our nationality.
One afternoon as General Smith and I mounted our horses to start upon our journey toward the East, Wild Bill came to shake hands good-bye, and I said to him:
"If you have no objection I will write out for publication an account of a few of your adventures."
"Certainly you may," he replied. "I'm sort of public property. But, Kernel," he continued, leaning upon my saddle bow, while there was a tremulous softness in his voice and a strange moisture in his averted eyes, "I have a mother back there in Illinois who is old and feeble. I haven't seen her this many a year, and haven't been a good son to her, yet I love her better than any thing in this life. It don't matter much what they say about me here. But I'm not a cut-throat and vagabond, and I'd like the old woman to know what'll make her proud. I'd like her to hear that her runaway boy has fought through the war for the Union like a true man."
The story of "Wild Bill," as told in Harper's for February is not easily credited hereabouts. To those of us who were engaged in the campaign it sounds mythical; and whether Harry York, Buckskin Joe or Ben Nugget is meant in the life sketches of Harper we are not prepared to say. The scout services were so mixed that we are unable to give precedence to any. "Wild Bill's" exploits at Springfield have not as yet been heard of here, and if under that cognomen such brave deeds occurred we have not been given the relation. There are many of the rough riders of the rebellion now in this city whose record would compare very favorably with that of "Wild Bill," and if another account is wanted we might refer to Walt Sinclair.
Springfield is excited. It has been so ever since the mail of the 25th brought Harper's Monthly to its numerous subscribers here. The excitement, curiously enough, manifests itself in very opposite effects upon our citizens. Some are excessively indignant, but the great majority are in convulsions of laughter, which seem interminable as yet. The cause of both abnormal moods, in our usually placid and quiet city, is the first article in Harper for February, which
all agree, if published at all, should have had its place in the "Editor's Drawer," with the other fabricated more or less funnyisms; and not where it is, in the leading "illustrated" place. But, upon reflection, as Harper has given the same
prominence to "Heroic Deeds of Heroic Men," by Rev. J. T. Headley, which, generally, are of about the same character as its article "Wild Bill," we will not question the good taste of its "make up."
We are importuned by the angry ones to review it. "For," say they, "it slanders our city and citizens so outrageously by its caricatures, that it will deter some from immigrating here, who believe its representations of our people."
"Are there any so ignorant?" we asked.
"Plenty of them in New England; and especially about the Hub, just as ready to swallow it all as Gospel truth, as a Johnny Chinaman or Japanese would be to believe that England, France and America are inhabited by cannibals."
"Don't touch it," cries the hilarious party, "don't spoil a richer morceaux than ever was printed in Gulliver's Travels, or Baron Munchausen! If it prevents any consummate fools from coming to Southwest Missouri, that's no loss."
So we compromise between the two demands, and give the article but brief and inadequate criticism. Indeed, we do not imagine that we could do it justice, if we made ever so serious and studied an attempt to do so.
A good many of our people - those especially who frequent the bar rooms and lager-beer saloons, will remember the author of the article, when we mention one "Colonel" G. W. Nichols, who was here for a few days in the summer of 1865, splurging around among our "strange, half-civilized people," seriously endangering the supply of lager and corn whisky, and putting on more airs than a spotted stud-horse in the ring of a county fair. He's the author! And if the illustrious holder of one of the "Brevet" commissions which Fremont issued to his wagon-masters, will come back to Springfield, two-thirds of all the people he meets will invite him "to pis'n hisself with suth'n" for the fun he unwittingly furnished them in his article - the remaining one-third will kick him wherever met, for lying like a dog upon the city and people of Springfield.
James B Hickok, (not "William Hitchcock," as the "Colonel" mis-names his hero,) is a remarkable man, and is as well known here as Horace Greely in New York, or Henry Wilson in "the Hub." The portrait of him on the first page of Harper for February, is a most faithful and striking likeness - features, shape, posture and dress - in all it is a faithful reproduction of one of Charley Scholten's photographs of "Wild Bill," as he is generally called. No finer physique, no greater strength, no more personal courage, no steadier nerves, no superior skill with the pistol, no better horsemanship than his, could any man of the million Federal soldiers of the war, boast of; and few did better or more loyal service as a soldier throughout the war. But Nichols "cuts it very fat" when he describes Bill's teats in arms. We think his hero only claims to have sent a few dozen rebs to the farther side of Jordan; and we never, before reading the "Colonel's" article, suspected he had dispatched "several hundreds with his own hands." But it must be so, for the "Colonel" asserts it with a parenthesis of genuine flavorous Bostonian piety, to assure us of his incapacity to utter an untruth.
James Butler Hickok, commonly called "Wild Bill," is one of the finest examples of that peculiar class known as frontiersman, ranger, hunter, and Indian scout. He is now thirty-eight years old, and since he was thirteen the prairie has been his home. He stands six feet one inch in his moccasins, and is as handsome a specimen of a man as could be found. We were prepared, on hearing of "Wild Bill's" presence in the camp, to see a person who might prove to be a coarse and illiterate bully. We were agreeably disappointed however. He was dressed in fancy shirt and leathern leggings. He held himself straight, and had broad, compact shoulders, was large chested, with small waist, and well-formed muscular limbs. A fine, handsome face, free from blemish, a light moustache, a thin pointed nose, bluish-grey eyes, with a calm look, a magnificent forehead, hair parted from the centre of the forehead, and hanging down behind the ears in wavy, silken curls, made up the most picturesque figure. He is more inclined to be sociable than otherwise; is enthusiastic in his love for his country and Illinois, his native State; and is endowed with extraordinary power and agility, whose match in these respects it would be difficult to find. Having left his home and native State when young, he is a thorough child of the prairie, and inured to fatigue. He has none of the swaggering gait, or the barbaric jargon ascribed to the pioneer by the Beadle penny-liners. On the contrary, his language is as good as many a one that boasts "college laming." He seems naturally fitted to perform daring actions. He regards with the greatest contempt a man that could stoop low enough to perform "a mean action." He is generous, even to extravagance. He formerly belonged to the 8th Missouri Cavalry.
The following dialogue took place between us; "I say, Mr. Hickok, how many white men have you killed to your certain knowledge?" After a little deliberation, he replied, "I suppose I have killed considerably over a hundred." "What made you kill all those men? Did you kill them without cause or provocation?" "No, by heaven I never killed one man without good cause." "How old were you when you killed the first white man, and for what cause?" "I was twenty-eight years old when I killed the first white man, and if ever a man deserved lolling he did. He was a gambler and counterfeiter, and I was then in an hotel in Leavenworth City, and seeing some loose characters around, I ordered a room, and as I had some money about me, I thought I would retire to it. I had lain some thirty minutes on the bed when I heard men at my door. I pulled out my revolver and bowie knife, and held them ready, but half concealed, and pretended to be asleep. The door was opened, and five men entered the room. They whispered together, and one said, "Let us kill the son of a bitch; I'll bet he has got money." "Gentlemen," said he, "that was a time - an awful time. I kept perfectly still until just as the knife touched my breast; I sprang aside and buried mine in his heart, and then used my revolver on the others right and left. One was killed, and another was wounded; and then, gentlemen, I dashed through the room and rushed to the fort, where I procured a lot of soldiers, and returning to the hotel, captured the whole gang of them, fifteen in all. We searched the cellar, and found eleven bodies buried in it - the remains of those who had been murdered by those villains." Turning to us, he asked: "Would you not have done the same? That was the first man I killed, and I never was sorry for that yet."
Bradley saw me and tried to cut me off, getting in front of me with a pistol in one hand and a Bowie knife in the other. He commenced to fire on me, firing once, then snapping, and then firing again. By this time we were within five or six feet of each other, and I fired with a Remington .45 at his heart and right after that at his head. As he staggered and fell, he said, "O, Lordy, don't shoot me any more." I could not stop. I was shooting because I did not want to take chances on a reaction. The crowd ran, and I stood there and cursed them loud and long as cowardly devils who had urged a man to fight and when he did and fell, to desert him like cowards and traitors.
"Wild Bill," who is an inveterate hater of the Indians, was chased by six Indians lately, and had quite a little adventure with them. It is his custom to be always armed with a brace of ivory-handled revolvers, with which weapons he is remarkably dexterous; but when bound on a long and lonely ride across the plains, he goes armed to the teeth. He was on one of these lonely missions, due to his profession as scout, when he was seen by a group of the red men, who immediately gave chase. They soon discovered that they were pursuing one of the most famous men of the prairie, and commenced to retrace their steps, but two of them were shot, after which Wild Bill was left to ride on his way. The little adventure is verified by a scout named Thomas Kincaid.
Wild Bill is naturally a fine looking fellow, not much over 30 years of age, over 6 feet in height, muscular & athletic, possessing a fine figure, as lithe and agile as the Borneo Boys. His complexion is very clear, cheek bones high, and his fine auburn hair, which he parts in the middle hangs in ringlets down upon his shoulders, giving him a girlish look in spite of his great stature. He wore a richly embroidered sash with a pair of ivory hilted and silver mounted pistol stuck in it. Doubtless this man and his companions have killed more men than any other persons who took part in the late war. What a pity that young men so brave and daring should lack the discretion to sheath their daggers forever when the war terminated! But such is the demoralizing effect of war upon those who engage in it and certainly upon all who love the vocation.
We learn from a gentleman who has frequently met these wild and reckless young men, that they live in a constant state of excitement, one continual round of gambling drinking and swearing, interspersed at brief intervals with pistol practice upon each other. At a word any of the gang draws his pistol and blazes away as freely as if all mankind were Arkansas Rebels, and had a bounty offered for their scalpes.
How long these Athletes will be able to stand such a mode of life; eating, drinking, sleeping (if they can be said to sleep) and playing cards with their pistols at half cock, remains to be seen. For ourself, we are willing to risk them in an Indian campaign for which their cruelty and utter recklessness of life particularly fit them.
It is disgusting to see the eastern papers crowding in everything they can get hold of about "Wild Bill." If they only knew the real character of the men they so want to worship, we doubt if their names would ever appear again. "Wild Bill," or Bill Hickok, is nothing more than a drunken, reckless, murderous coward, who is treated with contempt by true border men, and who should have been hung years ago for the murder of innocent men. The shooting of the "old teamster" in the back for a small provocation, while crossing the plains in 1859, is one fact that Harpers correspondent failed to mention, and being booted out of a Leavenworth saloon by a boy bar tender is another; and we might name many other similar examples of his bravery. In one or two instances he did the U. S. government good service, but his shameful and cowardly conduct more than overbalances the good.
On a blustery day toward the end of October, 1881, the town of Tombstone, Arizona, witnessed the most notorious shoot-out in the history of the West. In a vacant lot at the rear of the O.K. Corral, City Marshal Virgil Earp and his brothers Wyatt and Morgan, joined by a gambler friend, Doc Holliday, exchanged gunfire with four local cowboys, the Clanton and McLaury brothers. "Three Men Hurled into Eternity in the Duration of a Moment," blared the headline over the first report of the affair in The Tombstone Epitaph. The duration, in fact, was slightly more than half a minute, although a deadly staccato of vengeful gunfire echoed for months afterward.
The clash was not unique. Possession of firearms was far more commonplace on the frontier than back East, and newspapers across the West carried accounts of gunfights of every variety - saloon brawls, outlaw raids, vigilante wars and even an occasional face-off in the style of European duels. But the shoot-out at the O.K. Corral was better documented than most, and its fame as a classic confrontation of gunfighters was well deserved, for it embodied some basic frontier animosities - lawman against outlaw, cardsharp against cowboy, citified carpetbagger against weather-beaten settler.
Yet these divisions were far from clear-cut, as the shoot-out also made plain. Though some Western gunfight participants represented the law, the line between bad men and good was, at best, blurred. The facing foes usually had more in common than they cared to admit. Most were men of bristling spirit and minimal compassion or scruple. When they had scores to settle, it hardly mattered which side of the law they were on; their law was the gun.
I have seen many fast towns, but I think Abilene beat them all. The town was filled with sporting men and women, gamblers, cowboys, desperadoes, and the like. It was well supplied with bar rooms, hotels, barber shops, and gambling houses, and everything was open.
I spent most of my time in Abilene in the saloons and gambling houses, playing poker, faro, and seven-up. One day I was rolling ten pins and my best horse was hitched outside in front of the saloon. I had two six-shooters on, and, of course, I knew the saloon people would raise a row if I did not pull them off. Several Texans were there rolling ten pins and drinking. I suppose we were pretty noisy. Wild Bill Hickok came in and said we were making too much noise and told me to pull off my pistols until I got ready to go out of town. I told him I was ready to go now, but did not propose to put up my pistols, go or no go. He went out and I followed him. I started up the street when someone behind me shouted out, "Set up. All down but nine."
Wild Bill whirled around and met me. He said, "What are you howling about, and what are you doing with those pistols on?"
I said, "I am just taking in the town."
He pulled his pistol and said, "Take those pistols off. I arrest you."
I said all right and pulled them out of the scabbard, but while he was reaching for them, I reversed them and whirled them over on him with the muzzles in his face, springing back at the same time. I told him to put his pistols up, which he did. I cursed him for a long-haired scoundrel that would shoot a boy with his back to him (as I had been told he intended to do me). He said, "Little Arkansaw, you have been wrongly informed."
I shouted, "This is my fight and I'll kill the first man that fires a gun."
Bill said, "You are the gamest and quickest boy I ever saw. Let us compromise this matter and I will be your friend.
Among the leading citizens of Pecos City now in El Paso is John Wesley Hardin, a leading member of the Pecos City bar. In his younger days he was as wild as the broad western plains on which he was raised. But he was a generous, brave-hearted youth and got into no small amount of trouble for the sake of his friends, and soon gained the reputation for being quick-tempered and a dead shot.
In those days when one man insulted another, one of the two of them died then and there. Young Hardin, having a reputation for being a very brave man who never took water, was picked out by every bad man who wanted to make a reputation, and that was where the "bad men" made their mistake, for the young westerner still survives many warm and tragic encounters.
Forty-one years has steadied the impetuous cowboy down to a peaceable, dignified, quiet man of business. But underneath his dignity is a firmness that never yields except to reason and law. He is a man who makes friends of all who come into close contact with him.
He is here as associate attorney for the persecution in the case of the State of Texas vs Bud Frazer, charged with assault with intent to kill. Mr. Hardin is known all over Texas. He was born and raised in this state.
John Selman, the victor of not less than twenty shooting affrays in Texas, the exterminator of "bad men" and the slayer of John Wesley Hardin, is dying tonight with a bullet hole through his body. About three months ago Selman and United States Deputy Marshal George Scarborough had a quarrel over a game of cards, since which occurrence the relations between them have not been cordial. This morning at 4 o'clock they met in the Wigwam saloon and both were drinking. Scarborough says that Selman said, "Come, I want to see you," and that the two men walked into an alley beside the saloon, and Selman, whose son is in Juarez, Mexico, in jail on a charge of abducting a young lady from there to this side, said to Scarborough: "I want you to come over the river with me this morning. We must get that boy out of jail."
Scarborough expressed his willingness to go with Selman, but stated that no bad breaks must be made in Juarez. Scarborough says that Selman then reached for his pistol, with the remark, "I believe I will kill you." Scarborough pulled his gun and began shooting. At the second shot Selman fell, and Scarborough fired two more shots as Selman attempted to rise. When Selman was searched no pistol could be found on him or anywhere around him. He says he had a pistol, but that it was taken from him after he fell and before the police reached him. Scarborough's first shot hit Selman in the neck. The next two shots also took effect, one through the left leg just above the knee and the other entering the right side just under the lower rib. A fourth wound in the right hip is supposed to have been caused by Selman's pistol going off prematurely, as the ball ranged downward. Scarborough is about 38 years old. He was born in Louisiana and was raised in Texas, and for several years was sheriff of Jones County. Selman was raised on the Colorado River in Texas. He was about 58 years old and has lived a stormy life. When not drinking he was as gentle as a child, but he did not know what fear was, and has killed not less than twenty outlaws. He was a dead shot and quick with his gun. He was an old officer in the service. Some years ago he fought a band of cattle thieves in Donna Anna County, New Mexico, killing two and capturing the others, four in all. He killed Bass Outlaw, a deputy United States Marshal, in El Paso a few years ago.