Today in Texas History – February 8

From the Annals of Cowtown –  In 1887, Luke Short killed former Fort Worth town marshal, Timothy Isaiah “Longhair Jim” Courtright, in a gunfight.  This was likely one of the few gunfights that more or less  lived up to the Hollywood version of an actual face-to-face shootout witnessed by others.  Luke Short was a notorious figure of the old west having been a friend of Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson and others and involved in deadly gunfights in Leadville, Colorado and Tombstone, Arizona. He was also a part owner of the legendary Long Branch  Saloon in Dodge City, Kansas.  His travels ultimately took him to Fort Worth where he acquired an interest in the White Elephant Saloon which claimed to be the “largest and most magnificent establishment in the state.”

The dispute arose when Courtright proposed that his help was needed  his “protection.”  Short was attempting to sell his interest in the White Elephant to raised money for the defense of his brother who had killed a man in San Angelo and to deal with his other legal problems.  Courtright’s interference was complicating the sale.  Short was not a man to be intimidated and rejected Courtright’s proposal claiming that he would provide any protection that his saloon needed. Courtright decided it was necessary to show Short what could happen if his services were declined.  The dispute boiled over early on the evening of February 8 when Courtright again confronted Short.  Short’s version of the events was succinct.

“Early in the evening I was getting my shoes blackened at the White Elephant, when a friend of mine asked me if there was any trouble between Courtright and myself, and I told him there was nothing. A few minutes later I was at the bar with a couple of friends when some one called me. I went out into the vestibule and saw Jim Courtright and Jake Johnson. Jake and I had talked for a little while that evening on a subject in which Jim’s name was mentioned, but no idea of a difficulty was entertained. I walked out with them upon the sidewalk, and we had some quiet talk on private affairs. I reminded him of some past transactions, not in an abusive or reproachful manner, to which he assented, but not in a very cordial way. I was standing with my thumbs in the armholes of vest and had dropped them in front of me to adjust my clothing, when he remarked ‘Well, you needn’t reach for your gun,’ and immediately put his hand in his hip-pocket and pulled his. When I saw him do that, I pulled my pistol and began shooting, for I knew that his action meant death. He must have misconstrued my intention in dropping my hands before me. I was merely adjusting my clothing, and never carry a pistol in that part of my dress.”

Before the encounter was over, Short had shot Courtright five times.  Bat Masterson who witnessed the shootout recounted the action.

“No time was wasted in the exchange of words once the men faced each other. Both drew their pistols at the same time, but, as usual, Short’s spoke first and a bullet from a Colt’s 45-calibre pistol went crashing through Courtright’s body. The shock caused him to reel backward; then he got another and still another, and by the time his lifeless form had reached the floor, Luke had succeeded in shooting him five times.”

Photo of Luke Short.

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