The Most Notorious 1-on-1 Duels of the Wild West Era
As mentioned in previous articles, formal duels were actually quite rare in the Wild West. Despite what you may have seen in Western movies, the European tradition of ritualistic rule-based gunfighting did not gain popularity in the Wild West, where drunken free-for-all shootouts were far more common. But that’s not to say classic duels never took place. Here are four of the most infamous duels that took place in the Wild West period.
4. Frank Loving vs. Levi Richardson
On April 5, 1879, tensions that had been simmering between Frank Loving and Levi Richardson came to a deadly climax at the infamous Long Branch Saloon in the equally notorious Dodge City, Kansas. The source of their dispute was Richardson’s inappropriate advances towards Loving’s wife, which had been a brewing conflict. In a chilling showdown, the two men confronted each other, drawing their firearms within arm’s reach. In the exchange that followed, Richardson bore the brunt of the confrontation, sustaining three gunshot wounds. Astonishingly, despite the dangerously close range, Frank Loving emerged from the encounter relatively unscathed, with just a graze, marking a fateful and deadly chapter in the Wild West’s storied history.
3. Harry Morse vs Juan Soto
On May 14, 1871, a legendary gunfight unfolded in the Saucelito Valley of California, marking the dramatic end of the notorious outlaw Juan Soto’s criminal career. Soto, a feared killer and bandit of the 1860s and ’70s, crossed paths with determined lawman Harry Morse. Tracking Soto and his gang to an adobe hideout, Morse confronted them, igniting a fierce shootout. Bullets flew as Soto and Sheriff Morse exchanged a barrage of shots in a perilous face-to-face confrontation. Despite taking a rifle bullet in his right shoulder, Soto charged relentlessly, wielding pistols in both hands. In a moment of unwavering precision, Sheriff Morse aimed carefully and delivered a fatal shot to the outlaw’s head, thus bringing an end to one of the most notorious criminal careers of the time.
2. Luke Short vs. Longhair Jim
The Luke Short-Jim Courtright Duel of 1887 stands as one of the most legendary gunfights in the annals of the American West. Timothy Isaiah “Longhair Jim” Courtright, then overseeing the T.I.C. Commercial agency in Fort Worth, Texas, which provided protection to gambling establishments and saloons in exchange for a cut of their earnings, had clashed with Luke Short. On February 8, 1887, their simmering feud reached its climax. In a moment etched in Wild West history, with Bat Masterson standing by Short’s side, the two adversaries faced off in the street. At close range, Short fired the opening shot, severing Courtright’s thumb. Courtright switched his gun to his uninjured hand, but Short’s bullets proved faster, striking him 5 times in the chest and ending his life.
1. Wild Bill Hickok vs. Davis Tutt
On July 21, 1865, a dramatic and historic showdown occurred. Wild Bill Hickok and Davis Tutt engaged in a lethal duel on a square in Springfield, Missouri. Just before 6:00 p.m., Hickok calmly approached from the south, brandishing his Colt Navy revolver, prompting the crowd to scatter for safety. Tutt remained alone in the northwestern corner of the square. About 75 yards apart, Hickok halted, facing Tutt, and initiated contact with a call, “Dave, here I am.” He cocked his pistol, holstered it, and issued a final warning. Tutt, his hand on his own pistol, remained silent. Both men adopted the dueling position, facing sideways, and hesitated momentarily. Tutt reached for his weapon, and Hickok swiftly drew his gun, steadying it on his opposite forearm. Almost simultaneously, they fired single shots, with Tutt’s shot missing its mark. Hickok’s bullet found its target, striking Tutt in the left side between the fifth and seventh ribs. Mortally wounded, Tutt cried out, “Boys, I’m killed,” and made a desperate attempt to flee, seeking refuge on the courthouse porch before collapsing and succumbing to his injuries.
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