Thursday, May 19, 2016

Four Bad Men Who Made a Specialty of Carrying Guns

Wyatt Earp (Columbus Journal, January 27, 1897)
(This article on four western gunfighters—Bat Masterson, Doc Holliday, Luke Short, and Wyatt Earp was published in the Omaha Daily Bee on March 13, 1887. It offers an interesting look at their life and times.)

An El Paso (Tex.) correspondent says: When Luke Short, a bad man with a record, shot Jim Courtwright, another bad man with a record, at Fort Worth recently, he reduced the professional killers of the west to a quartet. The list stands at present, in order of precedence, Bat Masterson, Doc Holliday, Luke Short, and Wyatt Earp. There used to be more, but the same wise Providence that disintegrated the Jesse James gang and distributed it among the cemeteries, penitentiaries, and dime museums of the land, has elected that bad men eventually kill each other. Thus the supply has been kept ahead of the demand. The interest that attaches to those men is purely transitory; a dead killer is as quickly forgotten as a knocked-out pugilist, but the qualities of nerve and desperation that brought them to the surface in a country where everybody carries a "gun" and people go to glory every day without a benediction or a bootjack stamps them as rather extraordinary characters. Bat Masterson first became a border celebrity through this paper, in which a correspondent rehearsed his pedigree some years ago. Since that time more has been written about him than all the other three put together. He is the Maud S. of man killers. Nobody has ever lowered his record, but he claims that the twenty-six or twenty-seven inmates of his private graveyard were all sent thither in pursuit of his duty as an officer.

All his life has been spent on the frontier. He was first a cowboy, then a scout in the United States employ, and afterward marshal in several western towns, notably Dodge City, Kansas, and Trinidad, Colorado. Personally, Masterson is the best extant specimen of the gentleman desperado, copyrighted by Bret Harte. He has trained the voice that erstwhile yelled for cows down to a low, gentle baritone; he always dresses in black, wears no jewelry save a slender gold thread of a watch chain; a white cambtic handkerchief peeps from the breast pocket of his four-button cutaway, and he is careful about his boots and ties. A friend who invaded his room when he was here recently found two six-shooters and a manicure set on his bureau. He never blusters. When he gets mad his mustache creeps up under his nose in a peculiar smile that has no merriment in it, and he reaches for his revolver, which he carries thrust in the waistband of his "pants," directly under the lower buttons of his vest. It looks like the irony of fate that such a man should gravitate into a theatrical husband. Such, however, was the destiny of Masterson. Not long since he married Nellie McMahon, a western soubrette; and now he carries the pug and wears fur on his overcoat collar. Mrs. 'Masterson (nee McMahon) is not troubled with mashers.

Bat Masterson in 1879
Doc Holliday was a dentist at Tombstone, Arizona, before he became a killer. When he gave up the forceps for the xix-shooter his old patients said it was simply a change of method. The glare of publicity first struck him in 1883, in an article in Harper's Monthly, descriptive of a trip through the territories, and detailing, in connection, a street tragedy at Tombstone. At the time a deadly feud existed there between the gambling fraternity and the cowboys. When killings were a matter of almost daily occurrence, a long, lean man with a straw-colored moustache and a facile six-shooter suddenly bloomed out as a leader of the sports. This was Doc Holliday. He killed three or four cowboys and his careless indifference to danger made him conspicuous even among his dare devil associates. He did not know what fear was, and when the town became too hot to hold him, calmly walked out, down the length of the main street, through a continuous cross-fire from both sides. But the friends and relatives of his victims were relentless. Warrants were sworn out and he fled to Durango, Col. The leading men of that place feared his presence might discourage immigration and determined to get rid of him. Accordingly, one night at 12, Holliday was awakened by the deep-tolling of the boil that called the Vigilante Committee together.

He knew that a lynching was on foot; realized that he would probably furnish the subject, and quietly jumped out of a back window. Everything grew still and he was slipping out of town when, at the end of the street he saw the motionless figure of n man on horseback barring the way. The horseman sat his saddle like a statue of bronze, and the fugitive marked the dusky barrel of a Winchester balanced across the bow. Every road had been guarded in advance. Holliday treaded his way back, keeping in the shadows. He felt the circle of pursuit closing on him. His haunts were being ransacked; the sound of opening and shutting doors came to him on the night air, and then the tramp of men. It came nearer and nearer, when of a sudden his eyes fell upon a wooden gutter crossing almost at his feet. In an instant he had crawled underneath, and a moment later and his pursuers passed over where he lay. He stayed there all that night, all next day, and the following night walked over a mountain pass toward Leadville, where society was less exclusive. An effort was made to get him back to Arizona, but the governor of Colorado refused to sign the requisition papers, and he has since lived at Leadville and Denver. He was at Colorado Springs for a while, but was not regarded as a suitable accessory to a health resort, and got the hint to leave. He ekes out a livelihood as a faro dealer and "stake player."

Luke Short illustrates the fact that a bad man (the term is used in its conventional sense) can acquire a reputation without "killing a great many men. Jim Courtwright was only his second. Something about his manner, difficult to describe—for he is by no means a braggart—convinced people that he was a good man to let alone. He was always cool and imperturbable. The first man he killed was Charley Storms, a gambler. Storms began shooting at him from across the street, and Short, quietly dropping on one knee, aimed over his elbow and sent a bullet through his heart. Luke Short is a gambler by profession. He is very small, about five feet four inches tall, and weighs somewhere near 140 pounds—without his gun. He obtained national notoriety some years ago through being exiled by the authorities of Dodge City and returning with all the noted desperadoes of the west to claim his own. Such a collection of bad men was never seen in one spot before. They all made their headquarters at the "Long Branch," Short's saloon, and promenaded the streets in a body, armed to the teeth. The expense of purchasing clothes, food and whisky for his congress of killers eventually forced Short to leave Dodge and he went to Fort Worth, Texas, where he became interested in a rather gorgeous saloon called the White Elephant. He is the most popular man of his class, and, when not professionally engaged is really disposed to be quiet and pleasant in his manners. Oddly enough he is a well posted biblical student, and fond of arguing on religious topics.

An incident will illustrate the fearlessness of this man occurred al Salida, Col., in 1881. A foot race been arranged between a couple of local sprinters. Short backed one and had fixed things to win by what is technically known as a "double cross." That is to say, his man agreed to sell out to the other side to lose the race but had it privately understood with Short to win anyhow. The referee got a tip and promised to see the thing through. On the day of the race the track was lined with the toughest kind of western sports, and upwards of $8,000 was bet on the result. All, however, did not come out according to program, for, as is customary with sprinters, the crooked racer decided to double cross Short himself, and actually did lose the race by about four feet. Amid tremendous excitement the referee, stakeholder, and winners adjourned to a neighboring saloon to divide the spoils, but before the money was produced Short strode in, his hand on his pistol and inquired:

"Who won that race?"

"Why, didn't you see?" asked the referee.

"Who won that race?" repeated Short.

"I guess your man won it by about a foot," replied the referee, getting out of range.

“I thought so," said Short, coolly taking the sheaf of bills out of the nerveless hand of the stakeholder. "The fact is, gentlemen," he continued, as he moved toward the door, "you know my man can win, but you did your best to rob me and I just reversed things on you.” By next to a miracle he got away with the money. The following day John Cozad, the referee, was poisoned by unknown parties.

Jim Courtwright, the man Short killed, was a tall, rawboned individual, with K legs, a suspicious stare, and a thin, sallow face. He was the sort of a man who is almost inseparably connected, on the frontier with an official star; in fact, he was a life-long officer, having been a sheriff, marshal, detective, and agent of the department of justice, United States. His record as a killer was a long and gory one, but included a number of Mexicans and Indians, whom the border authorities do not count, but threw out of the returns. During the late great southwestern railroad strike he added a couple of homicides to his tally, and at the time of his death the New Mexican authorities were trying to get him to try for murder. Nobody realized better the danger of having a record, and he always carried two heavy revolvers. Noblesse oblige. A bad man may be called on at any moment to defend the title. Short's defense was that Courtwright reached for his revolver and to allow him to pull it was death. So it seems that every sort of greatness has its drawbacks.

Wyatt Earp, the last of the quartet, was evolved from the license, liberty, turmoil, danger, and outlaw that he always fringed the ragged edge of civilization with red tire.

Hurrah and Homicide. He came to the front easily and naturally and has many of the qualities of a leader about him. He was the cause of numerous tragedies, but it can be truthfully said that his presence checked a good many more, for he was an officer when his killing took place. His record was made in Arizona at about the time Doc Holliday distinguished himself there, and since that time he has lived in that territory, Texas, and New Mexico. Personally Earp is tall and slim. He has red hair and wears one of those long, drooping moustache in which a section of the beard is worked in to bring it to the edge of the jaw. He is the last of three brothers, territorial vendetta having disposed of the others.

Of late years Earn has been a gambler. His last exploit in that line was at Tombstone, Ariz., where he turned up with a Chicago sport named Hamilton, and a couple of companions, and shortly after began playing faro with phenomenal success. The party won so much and so regularly that it was soon apparent that they had some sort of an advantage over the game, but what it was nobody was able to discover. They nearly broke up the gambling at Tombstone, and the games were finally barred to them. It subsequently leaked out that the edges of the cards had been marked, and were read by means of a convened mirror attached to the sleeve of a man who sat next to the dealing box. He guided the other by his bets, and as he only played a few chips at a time he was not suspected. To those who understand the cheerful game this explanation will be reasonably clear. Since this episode Earp has not figured much on the surface.

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