Tag Archives: Luke Short

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.

.

Today in Texas History – February 8

From the Annals of the Old West –  In 1887, “Longhair Jim” Courtright was killed in a gunfight with Luke Short.  This particular violent episode actually matched the largely inaccurate movie legends which typically involve a face-to-face showdown at high noon in the middle of the street.  Most such shootouts were more of the ambush or hide behind the water trough while taking potshots variety.  However, this famous gunfight lived up to the classic Hollywood image.

Courtright had been at various times a jailer, Fort Worth City Marshal, deputy sheriff, deputy U.S. Marshal, hired killer, private detective and racketeer.  What was not disputed was Courtright’s ability with a gun and willingness to use it with deadly results.  After losing a race for another term as City Marshal he decamped to New Mexico where he participated in the killing of two men in a range war.  He escaped back to Texas where he had friends and resisted extradition ending up back in Fort Worth.

Luke Short was a gunfighter, gambler and bar owner who came to Fort Worth from Dodge City where he had dabbled in gambling, and befriended such legends as Bat Masterson and Wyatt Earp who were also friends of Courtright. In Fort Worth, he managed the White Elephant, a saloon and gambling house in the area around the Fort Worth Stockyards known as Hell’s Half Acre.  HHA contained numerous bars and whorehouses and was largely left alone by law enforcement.

Most historians believe the gunfight arose from Courtright’s protection racket.  When Short refused to pay for protection for his saloon, Courtright apparently felt the need to make him an example.  Short also had a reputation as a gunfighter mostly due to an 1881 gunfight with gunslinger Charlie Storms at the Oriental Saloon in Tombstone.  At 8:00 in the evening, Courtright called Short out of the White Elephant.   Short came out and confronted Courtright in front of a bar and brothel appropriately called the Shooting Gallery.   Few words were exchanged until the men faced off.  Courtright, who was probably drunk, said something about Short having a gun. Short claimed he was unarmed – a flat lie.  Probably for the benefit of future witnesses,  Courtright loudly exclaimed, “Don’t you pull a gun on me,” while drawing his own pistol.   Courtright’s gun hung for a second on his watch chain allowing Short to draw.  Short’s first shot blew off the thumb on Courtright’s shooting hand. As he attempted to shift the pistol to his other hand, Short fired four more shots in quick succession killing the notorious Courtright.

Two weeks later a prostitute named Sally was murdered and combined with the earlier gunfight, efforts to clean up the area gained irresistible momentum.  HHA would remain a rather wild spot for many more years but its days of abject lawlessness were coming to an end.