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."