Sunday, October 7, 2012

Luke Short - Gambler, Saloon Owner, Defiant

Among the legends of the Old West who I enjoyed reading about, there is Luke Short.

He was a gambler, and supposedly a gunfighter, who had also worked as a farmer, a cowboy, whiskey peddler, Army scout, dispatch rider, saloon keeper, and bar owner at various times during his life.

Luke Short was born sometime in 1854 and died on September 8th, 1893. Some say he was born in Mississippi and his family moved to Grayson County, Texas, when he was just two years of age. Others say he was born in Texas.

As a teenager he left home after it was rumored that he had killed another youth with a pair of scissors, but no record of that has ever been found. And yes, it was the late-1860s, like many others during the start of the great cattle boom, he became a thirty dollar-a-month cowhand on the dangerous longhorn drives from Texas to the Kansas rail towns.

After working as a cowhand, he worked dealing cards and faro in mining camps and soon traveled to Abilene, Kansas. This is where in 1870, where at the age of 16, he first attempted to make a living as a professional gambler.

Then with gambling being the tough and not too dependable profession that it was in those days, he hunted buffalo for their hides during the heydays of 1874 to 1875, where along the way he met Bat Masterson. It was then that he scouted and rode dispatch for General Crook and Major Thornburgh during the Sioux and Cheyenne uprising of 1876-78.

In Sidney, Nebraska, he became a whiskey peddler. And there, he traded with the Sioux and Cheyenne around Camp Robinson in northwestern Nebraska until he was finally arrested for trading whiskey to the Indians for buffalo robes. Selling whiskey illegally to Sioux Indians from a trading post far north of Sidney was a federal offense, and the Army arrested him. But, while in route to Omaha, he escaped and never made it to trial.

Since he left the territory, and the Army had bigger concerns at the time, they didn't pursue him. And according to Ed Lemmon in "Boss Cowman," he was in Ogallala, Nebraska, the northern point of the Texas Trail, from 1877 to 1878, but others say he left Nebraska after escaping from arrest and never went back to Nebraska.

One writer says that Short practiced handling a gun on the banks of South Platte River, supposedly a "fast draw" that one observer claimed that he had never seen anyone faster than Short.

Just for the record, if I had a dollar for every witness who said that he saw someone practicing who was so fast that he never saw anyone faster than so-and-so, I'd be rich. And frankly, as far as notoriety as a gunfighter goes? Well it may have started as a result of who he associated with.

When he was in Dodge City, Kansas, he associated with Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson and Doc Holliday among others. But all in all, fact is, Luke Short was a professional gambler and businesses man.

Short had developed a habit of "dressing to the nines" which gave him the reputation of being "a dandy." Dressed up in silk hat and long-tail coat, he looked like a real dapper gentleman.

A "dandy" is a man who places particular importance upon physical appearance, refined language, and leisurely hobbies, pursued with the appearance of nonchalance in a cult of self.

Historically, especially in the late 18th- and early 19th-century, a dandy was a self-made man very devoted to style, neatness, elegance and fashion in dress and appearance. In many cases, they often strove to imitate an aristocratic lifestyle despite coming from middle-class backgrounds.

In the Old West, dandies were looked at as soft dainty man from the cities back East. Like "dudes," they were city dwellers unfamiliar with life on the range -- most were Easterners in the West. These men were looked at as being "citified" - more accustomed to urban life than the frontier. Dandy, like "dude" and "citified" were often derogatory terms which use dates to the 1820s.

The term "Dude" denotes someone who has the customs, manners, and dress of city people. Because of their dress and demeanor, many in the wild and woolly parts of the Old West looked at "dandies" and "dudes" as not being very manly or rugged in Western terms.

Sort of like a peacock, a dandified man is usually all pretty and harmless - scares easy with no bite. In Luke Short's case, though he liked to dress the dandy, he wasn't a dude. The guise of a harmless dandy was just a fashionable guise in his case.

In June 1880, Wyatt Earp telegraphed Short, who was living in Leadville, Colorado, and offered him a job as a faro dealer in Tombstone, Arizona. At that time, Tombstone was a boomtown full of dozens of saloons and gambling halls.

By this time, through his experiences in various mining camps as a Faro dealer, Short had already developed a reputation as being good with a gun and a man of few words.

While in Tombstone, Short and professional gambler and gunfighter Charlie Storms had a verbal altercation which was defused by Masterson, who knew both men.

Charlie Storms was a professional gunfighter and gambler in his own right. Of course, Storms is best known for having been killed in a gunfight with Luke Short in Tombstone, Arizona. But before being kinlled, Storms had a reputation as being a pretty fair gunman in his own right during the 1870s, and he traveled to many towns throughout the Old West as a gambler.

When Wild Bill Hickok was murdered by Jack McCall in Deadwood, South Dakota, Storms was allegedly there that day. Some have said that Storms was a good friend Hickok and allegedly took one of Hickok's pistols as it lay on the floor, as a souvenir. To my knowledge that has never been confirmed so who really knows if that's was true or not.

Storms drifted for some time, travelling through Dodge City, Kansas and El Paso, Texas, during which time he was known to have been involved in at least three shooting incidents. Though they were with no "notable" gunmen. And of course, he was not mentioned in any papers as there were no reports of anyone getting killed to support those claims.

As with other "gunmen" at the time, the outcome and details of those gunfights are not known, and may be mostly just myth and rumor. Many in the Old West inflated their reputations the same as convicts do in prison so that they can appear a lot more of a threat than they actually are. And yes, that goes for almost every so-called "gunfighter" in the Old West with the exception of maybe Killer Jim Miller and John Wesley Hardin. 

Luke Short killed Storms in self-defense. And yes, it was very much really self-defense and not just someone pleading hat with no grounds to back it up as was done a lot back then.

Storms arrived in Tombstone in 1881. He immediately made himself known in several gambling houses and saloons around town. 

On February 25th, Luke Short was dealing faro at Lou Rickabaugh's Oriental Saloon located at Fifth and Allen Streets. It was there that he got into an argument with noted gambler and man killer Charlie Storms.

Remember that Storms had a record of killing three men, although he was known for killing several more than that. And by then, Luke Short had a reputation of killing about 8 or 9 men depending on who you spoke with and if they believed it or not.

Storms had been drinking all night. And yes, he was known to be a mean drunk. He began to make rude remarks to Short, and as tensions rose, Bat Masterson entered the saloon and put a stop to it. Masterson knew both Short and Storms well, and was able to defuse the argument. Storms left the saloon still angry.

He supposedly returned to his rented room, but in reality he didn't and was waiting for Luke outside the Oriental. Later as Masterson and Short left the Oriental Saloon, Storms reappeared and jerked Short by the arm off the boardwalk and into the street. 

Storms then went for his gun and pulled a .45 caliber revolver. At extremely close range, Luke Short was just a little faster and pushed his firearm into Storm’s chest firing his weapon. 

One account says Short fired a single shot, another says he fired two rounds, and there is a report out there that said Short fired his pistol until it was empty. I like to believe that the newspaper account was correct and it was a single shot that dropped Storms. After all, a .45 caliber slug will do that!

But then again, was it a big .45 caliber round and not something smaller? The reason I ask this is that Luke Short who was known for carrying his pistol in his back pocket. Some say it was a cut short Single Action Army, but I read another report that said it was a lighter smaller Smith & Wesson Model 2 type pocket pistol -- an everyday concealed carry hideout gun.

Frankly, a smaller lighter pistol makes more sense since he carried in his back pocket because even a cut down hog-leg is a big pistol to keep in one's back pocket. But really no matter how many times or what size the round was that he used to shoot his assailant, as close as they were, Short beat him to the draw and shot him in the chest at point-blank range. His round killed Storms instantly.

The fight was at such close quarters that Short's muzzle flash set Storms' clothes on fire. 

And friends, this is typical of gunfights as they are usually at very close range. Besides, we should remember that this was a few years before smokeless powder came on the scene -- so everyone was still shooting black-powder. 

Its said that Short then turned to Bat Masterson and stated, "You sure pick some of the damnedest friends, Bat".

Short was arrested for the shooting. He was given a hearing, and a grand Jury considered the case, and deemed it justifiable self-defense. No one pressed charges.

Luke Short and Masterson left Tombstone for Dodge City a few months later and returned to Leadville, Colorado. Although friends with Earp, neither Short or Masterson were present at the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral later that year.

In 1883, Short settled in Dodge City, where he purchased a half interest in the now famous Long Branch Saloon, partnered with friend W. H. Harris. The Long Branch looked like a big money maker for both. The purchase of the Long Branch did put him at odds with the mayor of Dodge City and his allies, who made attempts to run Short out of town as an "undesirable."

In the next few years a reform movement swept through Dodge City. Taking particular exception to Luke Short and three of his female “singers”, who worked in in his Long Branch Saloon. What transpired next came to be called the "Dodge City War".

The Dodge City War was a bloodless conflict that took place in 1883 in Dodge City, Kansas. It came at the close of the first ten years of the city's history at a time when whiskey and saloons were fading as a dominant force in the city's politics.

From its founding, Dodge had a reputation for corruption and was often called "the Wickedest City in America." The informal association known as the Dodge City Gang dominated the law enforcement and much of the political life of the community, and monopolized the whiskey trade.

A few years before, in 1879 the anti-gang faction won a closely fought election for Ford County, defeating popular gang member Bat Masterson. This was the first in a number of elections that ousted the members of the gang from positions of power.

While the new political faction identified themselves as reformers, it became very apparent that they wanted to reap the profits of the whiskey trade for themselves. Mayor Alonzo B. Webster, elected mayor in 1881 owned two saloons himself.

The new mayor lost no time in firing Bat Masterson's brother, Jim Masterson, as City Marshal and posting a series of new 'moral' ordinances, complete with a warning:

"To all whom it may concern: All thieves, thugs, confidence men, and persons without visible means of support, will take notice that the ordinance enacted for their special benefit will be rigorously enforced on and after tomorrow."

Tensions built between the Mastersons and Webster and his allies over the next several months.  What triggered the war was the purchase of a half interest in the Long Branch Saloon by a gambler and gunfighter named Luke Short in 1883.

Short was a friend of the Mastersons and other gang members. Webster hoped to drive Short out of the business and had several of the prostitutes who worked for the Long Branch arrested. Policeman Louis C. Hartman arrested three of Luke’s girls in the Long Branch, and Luke went to the jail to protest the matter.

The next time they passed in the street they exchanged shots, neither hitting the other. Neither man was hurt, but Short mistakenly believed he had killed the officer in the exchange of gunplay.

So Short barricaded himself in the Long Branch. When he learned that Hartman was unharmed Short submitted to arrest. He was sent out of town as an "undesirable" several days later.

A citizen’s committee escorted Short to the train station and gave him the choice of east or west. He took the one headed east. Short contacted his friends to protest the matter and Bat Masterson and Wyatt Earp began to assemble a small army of former lawmen to support him.


Seven of the gunfighters posed with Short for the most famous Dodge City Peace Commission photo. Shown are: (top) W. H. Harris, Luke Short, Bat Masterson, and W. F. Petillon, (bottom row) Charlie Bassett, Wyatt Earp, Frank McLain, Neal Brown.

As a note, more than one photo was taken, and there was at least one man not pictured in this most well circulated photo, who was better known as a gunman than Petillon, Brown, Harris or McClain, and who was present in at least one other photo taken at the same time. That other gunman was famed lawman Bill Tilghman, who in one photo replaces W. F. Petillon.

It should be noted that Short's old friends Bat Masterson and Wyatt Earp did in fact petition Kansas Govenor George Glick on his behalf to avoid violence.

When Luke returned to Dodge City, the mayor in panic begged for the National Guard to help preserve peace, and newspapers predicted blood running in the streets, but nothing happened. At least as far as shooting was concerned, the war was over without a shot or any deaths. 

Afterwards in a long rambling editorial, one newspaper talked about how the mayor’s stand on gambling had eroded away and that the city would fall in to a general state of lawlessness again. But facts were that gambling was already a dying enterprise in Dodge City, and Short was a gambler. So yes, it is ironic that only a few months after the "war" ended, Short sold his interest in the Long Branch.


Instead of staying in Kansas, Short moved to Fort Worth Texas where he purchased another saloon called the White Elephant. And frankly, despite rumors that Doc Holliday took part in the Dodge City War on the side of Wyatt Earp and Luke Short -- fact is Doc Holliday was not there.

The impressive show of force had Webster negotiating peace in no time at all. He allowed Short to return to his place of business in return for a promise there would be no violence.

In Fort Worth, Texas, Luke Short come face to face with former lawman and noted gunman Jim Courtright. Yes, Courtright was a true man-killer.

Standing barefoot, Short was said to be about five foot six or seven and had a slight build of maybe weighing in at about 140 to 150 pounds. He was known as being wiry and quick. And also, he possessed a mind keenly attuned to games of chance like cards. And as said before, Luke Short dressed quite the "dandy" favoring a Prince Albert coat, shiny polished walking stick and a tall silk hat.

People talked behind his back. It’s true, people were aghast that the rumor may have been right that he bathed everyday -- something which was absolutely unheard of in those days.

As for his choice of pistols, Short favored a .45 cal pistol with the barrel cut short. Yes, a Colt Sheriff's model. He learned working the cow towns and mining camps that most gun fights over cards take place at close range across card and faro tables.

There was a reason that most lawmen of the time carried pistols with the barrel cut short. Having a short barreled pistol made those pistols quicker to clear their holsters and clothing to get into action if need be.

Years ago, someone asked me if I thought Wyatt Earp really carried such a gun as the legendary long barreled Buntline Special with a 12 to 16 inch barrel. My response was then, as it is today, "not if he wanted to stay alive." 

I believe that Luke Short, like most lawmen and bounty hunters and criminals of the times, understood the need to get a pistol out and into action swiftly. Because of that, Short was smart enough to carry a pistol with a short barrel. And yes, in his case he kept it in a hip pocket whenever he wasn’t gambling. He was known to rest it on his lap when sitting a card table. 

Some say he was fast and a great shot, while other say Luke was not a really great pistol shot. Either way, across a card table, accuracy was helped by your target being so big and close.

Before his gunfight with Charlie Storms, except for his "supposed" killing Indians and killing two whites which no one has proof of, it is actually believed that Short had never killed anyone.

They say Longhaired Jim Courtright did not own Fort Worth, but he thought he did. He was the best known and most notorious citizen in town.

The two men were not as well known, or really attracted as much attention as some others in the histories of the old west. It's said that Wyatt Earp for example was really unknown until his death in 1929 after his memoir was published.

Few were actual legends in their own time like say Wild Bill Hickok, deserved or not. Where Luke Short’s profession was as a gambler, Jim Courtright was usually described as a lawman and man killer.

It seems the more you dive into the lives of some of these characters in the Old West, the more you find out that they really were not exactly what they themselves advertised in most cases . In the case of Jim Courtright, he is known to have killed men in Fort Worth as Marshal there. He was also a criminal sort.

In 1876, Jim Courtright became the first elected Marshal of Fort Worth, Texas, and had to keep peace in the notorious "Hell's Half Acre" section, the town's wild red-light district. At that time, Fort Worth was a very dangerous place, with altercations between unruly drunks and lawmen being commonplace. 

On August 25th, 1877, Deputy Marshal Columbus Fitzgerald was shot and killed while attempting to break up a street fight. Marshal Courtright shot and killed the suspect in that shooting that same night.

On August 2nd, 1879, Deputy Marshal George White was gunned down by the family of a man arrested for horse theft, and his assailants were sentenced to prison, although the conviction was later overturned on allegations that White was not a sworn law officer.

On October 2nd, 1884, Deputy Marshal W.T. Wise was killed in Oxford, Mississippi while attempting to arrest suspects who had committed a murder in Fort Worth.
One suspect in Deputy Marshal Wise's murder was executed by hanging, and the other two received prison sentences. 

Courtright was tasked with controlling "Hell's Half Acre", and he was apparently a bad enough hombre to do it in an interesting fashion. He seemed to have been in his element there. Few crossed him, and most who did were killed by him.

During Courtright's time there, it is believed that he killed at least five men during altercations and shootouts, including Deputy Marshal Fitzgerald's killer. He became known for his long hair, and gaining a reputation of using his badge as a matter of convenience. He was believed, during this time, to have taken part in several assassinations as a part of a protection service he was running.

Basically, in the city's most dangerous area, he would offer his “protection” to business owners for a price. Yes, he sold “protection” just like organized crime has for years. Most would pay that price, as business owners understood that to decline his services meant that you would make him an enemy. Few who declined survived, and those who did eventually caved in to making payment.

It is debated if he came from Iowa or Illinois. It is known that his real name was Timothy Isaiah Courtright. He did not like the name and it is noted that after he strapped on his twin guns there was a serious decline in the number of people who called him "Timothy."

Men who carried two guns in the West were relatively rare, but Courtright bore the bonified credentials of a man killer in the mold of Hickok. With long blond hair combed neatly to the back, he is said to have been "a dashing figure" along the streets of Fort Worth.

Not general known outside of Fort Worth, he had the reputation as a colorful and deadly gunman. Known for scouting during the Civil War for Federal General Logan, afterwards he became marshal of Fort Worth.

Not much remains in the records of this time, but it is generally believed that in conjunction with the mayor -- he was shaking down the saloon owners and prostitutes for protection money. Surprisingly, his running a protection racket in Fort Worth finally ended with his dismissal. He then drifted West and was rumored to have Marshaled in Mesilla, New Mexico for awhile.

Then in 1883, he showed up in America Valley, New Mexico, where he and another gunfighter killed two men and fled the state. But as with many supposed killings, it may be just hearsay and rumor because there are no records of anyone being killed by him during that time.

But as the legend goes Jim Courtright returned to Fort Worth where he was arrested by the Texas Rangers. Only in custody for a few hours, it's said that he escaped and fled to Mexico. In 1886, he returned to Socorro, New Mexico, where he stood trial and was freed. No witness remained.

Jim Courtright stopped for a short time in El Paso after gaining his freedom. There he awed some of the population with his abilities with a six gun. Yes, like John Wesley Hardin, Jim Courtright had developed a reputation as being fast with a gun. 

He then returned to Fort Worth, but there was not much demand for a two gun racketeer in Fort Worth. During this time, the railroads hired him as a strike breaker. And supposedly, on several occasions he bullied the strikers. It is said that on one occasion shots were exchanged with no one being injured.

Finally the disturbance was settled and Jim was once again out of work. His solution to his unemployment problem was to open a "detective agency" and enter into a life of crime again by selling protection to businesses. This time, he used his newly found "Commercial Detective Agency" as a front for his activities.

He strapped on his pistols and started visiting the gambling dens, dance halls and saloons demanding "protection" money. Yes, Courtright was a shakedown artist.

Most took a look at the two guns slung on his sides and paid up. Every one paid up except for Luke Short.  And yes, there started the problem.

At that time, Short owned the White Elephant in Fort Worth - and was becoming known as the "Gambling King of Fort Worth." He had told Courtright that he did not need protection.

One evening, Courtright actually strolled into the White Elephant to collect his extortion money. Short told him, "Go to Hell!"

A very angry Courtright snapped back, "I'll be back, and you'd better pay up!"

Short was an obstacle in Courtright's shakedown operation, and until Short was under control Courtright knew that he could not have the shakedown racket fully under control.

He needed to make an example of Luke Short, who people knew also had a sizable reputation as a gunfighter mostly due to his 1881 gunfight with gunslinger Charlie Storms at the Oriental Saloon in Tombstone, Arizona.

On February 8, 1887, at about 8:00pm, Courtright called Luke Short out of the White Elephant to meet to talk.

Always the great dresser, Short put on his flowered vest and hat, made sure his six gun was in his hip pocket, and stepped outside.

When Short was outside, both men walked up the street one block, until they were in front of bar and brothel owner Ella Blackwell's Shooting Gallery.

According to reports, a few words had been spoken, and the two men faced one another as more words passed. Then an angry Courtright, who had been drinking considerably, made some indication about Short having a gun. Short assured Courtright he was not armed, although he was of course.

With that Short moved slowly toward Courtright saying that he could have a look himself. At that point Short pulled open his vest.

But the argument got worse and as Short dropped his hands to re-adjust his vest, right then probably for the sake of bystanders and justification apparently to give the impression that the inevitable gunfight was in self-defense, Courtright loudly yelled "Don't you pull a gun on me!"

With that, Courtright drew his pistol.

According to reports, it hung up for just a second on his watch-chain, and in that second Short produced his pistol and fired first. That shot was one of the luckiest shots in Old West history.

The bullet tore off Courtright's right thumb, rendering him incapable of firing his single-action revolver with that hand. 

Yes, Short shot off Courtright's thumb. And please remember for a moment that with a single-action pistol -- the shooter has to thumb cock the hammer back before firing each shot. 

As he tried to switch the pistol to his left hand, Short fired at least four more shots in quick succession. Short fired at point blank range until his gun was empty. 

Courtright fell backward. The long haired gunfighter and former lawman fell to the ground. Some say he was dead before he hit the ground. Others say he lingered a while.

The outcome stunned Fort Worth. Jim Courtright had terrorized the town for such a long time and everyone expected the fight to happen sooner or later, but most did not expect Short to survive.

The gunfight became well known because of the notoriety of both men. Courtright was given a grand funeral with hundreds in attendance, as despite his corruption, he had lowered Fort Worth's murder rate by more than half during his time as town Marshal.

No blame was held toward Short however, and although he was brought to trial for the shooting, it was ruled justifiable self-defense. The entire affair was a clear case of self defense.

Luke Short continued his life as a gambler and invested in other saloon interests, traveling to several other cattle towns over. And yes, it's said that he was also involved in more than just gambling and owning saloons. For example, he may have he had a ranch located in Montague County, Texas.

This is known because of the brand #542 registered on February 14, 1883 in Montague Co. whose owner was named Luke Short. If this is true, then it throws more light on who he was as a man. 

Luke Short ran out his string the way he knew how even as he himself was dying. Because he drank too much and kept terrible hours, his health began to quickly fail.

Tough living took it's toll when at 36 years of age, his kidneys began to fail him. And to complicate matters, in December of 1890, an assassin's shotgun blast from behind crippled his left hand and leg. No record shows who did the deed.

He knew he was dying from his own hard living and paid $20 for a Oakwood Cemetery lot in Fort Worth. He purchased his own granite stone with the inscription "L. L. SHORT 1854-1893".

Yes, Luke Lamar Short died peacefully in bed in Geuda Springs in Kansas on September 8th, 1893. He was not buried in Kansas, as in fact he was buried in the same cemetery as Courtright in Fort Worth.

Luke Short was a young man when he died. The cause of his death was listed as "dropsy". That's the 19th century term for "Congestive Heart Failure" with severe swelling (body edema). He was only 39 years old.

OK, so now for the myth and legend of how many he killed!

Supposedly, Short later admitted to having killed a half dozen inebriated Sioux natives on various occasions during his venture of selling whiskey to Indians, but really there's no record of it. As I said before we must remember that when reading the history of even some of the most famous characters in the Old West - in most cases, they usually inflated their own reputation to ensure their own survival.

And yes, it was for good reason. As in Short's case, a gambler was less likely to have a whole lot of trouble from a drunk who just lost a lot of money if that drunk just "thought" that that gambler had racked up a bunch of notches on his six-gun.

Truth or lie, it didn't matter if it worked to their advantage in a fight - or in many cases if it stopped one from happening. And yes, many so-called "gunfighters" of the Old West banked on their reputation helping to keep them alive. There were few to none who actually had the number of killings that they were reported to have had.

Very few were your John Wesley Hardin type of stone cold killers. And even with Hardin, when he was finally captured and sent to prison in 1878, he claimed to have already killed 42 men. That was an not the case as records and newspapers, any sort of evidence of the era, only attribute 27 killings to him.

As for Luke Short, there are some out there who claim that he killed a total of 14 men. Yes, imagine that, 14 men. Where's the proof in a time when just about everything was written down? No where to be found.

Luke Short's first mythical killing, believe it or not, was supposedly a Kiowa Indian when Short was just 8 years old. So now, to add to that picture of a very small 8 year old boy "man-killer," remember that the said fairy tale also says that he wounded a second Indian at that same time. Imagine that for a minute will you, myth says that he was a "quick draw" at age 8! 

If you believe that, you are free to write and send me a check for $100 for a sample of my bona fide genuine hair restorer weight-loss system snake oil that I'm sure I can get out of our creek! Of course, don't mind the invisible return envelope or non-existent bottle. You see just like the story of Luke Short killing two Indians when he was 8 years old, you can just pretend it's real. 

And yes, supposedly in the summer of 1877 while scouting for the Army, Luke was supposedly attacked by five Sioux warriors. Again, there is no record anywhere of this happening, but he supposedly killed all 5 in a running gun battle.

Then late in 1877, while selling whiskey to the Indians, again no record of this either, he supposedly killed 4 Indians that tried to raid his camp. Then a year later, he supposedly killed 2 white men after they walked into Short's camp.

The truth is that Luke Short is only recorded to have killed 2 men, Charlie Storms and Jim Courtright. From what I can find, his killing Charlie Storms after he was physically attacked by Storms, and his killing Jim Courtright after being forced into a fight are his only 2 "gunfights".

There is a problem when people want to exaggerate the number of killings that Old West legends like Luke Short actually do during their life. I really believe that some folks out there think that that itself makes them more impressive somehow.

To me, the myth diminishes the real story, his real achievements. He was a gambler and saloon owner in a time when the frontier had some real shady characters. He only had to kill twice and both rightfully in the act in self-defense. If that was indeed the real situation as recorded by newspapers and court records, then I tip my hat to the man. Gamblers were not always dealing with sterling characters. In fact, many gamblers were part of the dredges of society.

Sure he could have been in other gun battles. It is very likely that he was. But from what I can find, Luke Short had to kill two men in his life out of self-defense. And frankly, killing two assailants in self-defense does not make one a "gunman".  It does make you a man who stands up for himself and fights the odds. It goes to show that he wasn't a coward. And yes, that I can respect a great deal.  

Anyone who has had to take a life, whether it’s in the line of duty as a law enforcement officer or in the military as say one of our troops fighting terrorism overseas, you know real well that just having to do it once is enough to last you a lifetime.

Short did both times in real self-defense situations at close range at night. Thank God that he was armed and could protect himself in both situations. Thank God that he did not follow the law of not wearing a gun in town.

When people ask me why I have written so fondly about some characters in the Old West and not others, I answer this way. First, I try not to because I can't stand historians, those who study history, who are "fans" of their subject. I feel their objectivity, their neutrality, in looking at evidence goes right out the window. Second, while I try to be as objective as possible, I like stories where the good guys win.

And yes, I believe we can learn from the lives which others have had. We can learn from what happened to them both the good and bad. We can learn from what others do, whether it's those who walked the Oregon Trail or people like Luke Short who tried this and that line of work and actually died relatively young even for back then.

We can learn from their ordeals, their perseverance, what it took to prevail. It is because in many ways we are them. And like it or not, yes they lived situations that are no different than what people face today in many instances.

Luke Short has become an Old West legend, but I don't believe it was because of him being some sort of cold blooded killer. I believe it is because he stood up to others when he was pushed and said "enough!"

And while I know that I beat the drum of standing up for one's self maybe a little too much, fighting back when pushed, fighting against the odds and not simply leaving town or giving up, that itself is the true spirit of the Old West. That's what we can learn from our history! 

And yes, that's just the way I see it.
Tom Correa

1 comment:

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