Theodore Roosevelt, 1903

"Let us speak courteously, deal fairly, and keep ourselves armed and ready." - Theodore Roosevelt, 1903

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Newton Massacre & Reciprocal Justice, 1871


The Newton Massacre, also known as the Gunfight at Hide Park, was the name given to an Old West gunfight that occurred on August 19, 1871, in Newton, Kansas.

It was well publicized at the time, but since has received little historical attention. And the reason for that is that unlike most other well-known gunfights of the Old West, the Newton Massacre did not involve any notable or well known gunfighters. And frankly, like say with Wild Bill Hickok versus Dave Tutt, it did not propel any of its participants into any degree of fame.

But, even though that is all true, its legend has grown because one of the participants simply walked away from the scene -- never to be seen again.

Why Newton, Kansas?

When the Santa Fe Railroad extended its line to Newton, Kansas in 1871, the new frontier town of Newton succeeded Abilene as the end of the Chisholm Trail. Like other Kansas cowtowns, Newton quickly filled up with stores, as wells as saloons, gambling parlors, brothels, and inevitably lawless violent men.

The whole affair began when two local lawmen by the names of Billy Bailey and Mike McCluskie argued over local politics on August 11th in the Red Front Saloon.

Billy Bailey was a Texas cowboy who had probably wound up in Newton after one of the long cattle drives. He decided to stay and get work there. Both men had been hired by Newton town police department as Special Policemen to keep order in the city during the heated August elections.

McCluskie, an Irishman from Ohio who was known to be a pretty tough character by anyone's standards, had made his way to Kansas via his employment with the Santa Fe Railroad as a Railroad Night Policeman.

At that time, the fledgling city was trying to form a new county and who would lead these efforts was a major debate among the locals. Though they worked in tandem, McCluskie and Bailey had a personality conflict from the start and were constantly arguing.

Round One!

The two men were in the Red Front Saloon on August 11th and their dispute soon led to violence. Starting out as a fistfight, Bailey was knocked out of the saloon and into the dusty street. And yes, McCluskie was close behind. 

It isn't known if McCluskie thought Bailey went for a concealed pistol or not, but for whatever reason McCluskie drew his pistol and fired two shots at Bailey - the second shot hitting him in the chest.

So an incident that began with an argument between the two lawmen, Billy Bailey and Mike McCluskie, over local politics on election day in the Red Front Saloon located in downtown Newton, developed into a fist fight with Bailey being knocked outside the saloon and into the street, and ended when Mike McCluskie followed after him and fired two shots at Bailey - the second round hitting him in the chest.

Bailey is said to have never produced a weapon. And yes, he died the next day on August 12, 1871.

McCluskie fled town to avoid arrest, but was only away for a few days before returning, after receiving information that the shooting would most likely be deemed self defense, despite the fact that Bailey never produced a weapon.

McCluskie had claimed he feared for his life, and that he shot Bailey in Self-Defense because he knew that in three previous gunfights Bailey had killed two men. Remember, in those days, just being threatened meant that you could defend yourself.

And yes, the downside of having a reputation as a gunman in the Old West worked against Billy Bailey. You see, the upside to having a reputation is that it may keep you safe if someone is thinking about taking you on - as for example in the case of Doc Holiday who had exaggerated his own reputation as a killer just as a way of protecting himself. It made people think twice before wanting to take him on.

The downside of having a reputation as a gunman is that people were more apt not take any chances in a fight with you because you are known to be a lethal killer - as for example in the case of John Selman who found the famous gunman John Wesley Hardin throwing dice at the bar of the Acme saloon and without a word Selman walked up behind Hardin and killed him with a shot in the head.

Hardin's reputation as a gunslinger worked against him and made Selman look at getting an edge when wanting to kill him. The Texas jurors acquitted Selman of any wrongdoing and called it Self-Defense.

As stated before, the downside to Billy Bailey having a reputation is that it helped Mike McCluskie claim that it was a Self-Defense killing.

Round Two!

Billy Bailey, who was a native of Texas, had several cowboy friends who were in town as well. And yes, upon hearing of his death, they vowed revenge against Mike McCluskie. They wanted an eye for an eye.

On August 19, 1871, McCluskie entered Newton and went to gamble at Tuttles Dance Hall located in an area of town called Hide Park. Yes, that's why it's also called "The Gunfight at Hide Park."

He was accompanied by two friends, Jim Martin, and an 18 year old young man who he befriended by the name of James Riley. Shortly after his arrival in Newton, Mike McCluskie befriended Riley who was dying of tuberculosis. Riley and McCluskie were said to be inseparable to the point that people called him "McCluskie's shadow."

Enter the Texas Cowboys

As McCluskie settled into gambling, just after midnight, three of Bailey's Texas cowboy friends by the names of Billy Garrett, Henry Kearnes, and Jim Wilkerson, also entered the dance hall.

All were armed, and Billy Garrett supposedly had a history of at least two prior gunfights where he had been supposedly killed two men. The three mingled in the saloon, waited, and watched Mike McCluskie gamble. Soon, another Texas cowboy named Hugh Anderson, the son of a wealthy Bell County, Texas, cattle rancher also entered the dance hall.

Walking directly up to McCluskie, Anderson started yelling, "You are a cowardly son-of-a-bitch! I will blow the top of your head off!"

Jim Martin jumped up and attempted to stop the fight from occurring. Anderson simply ignored Martin, drew his pistol and shot McCluskie in the neck.

Knocked to the floor, McCluskie attempted to shoot Anderson -- but his pistol misfired.

Hugh Anderson then stood over McCluskie as he rolled over on the floor. It was then that Anderson shot McCluskie several times in the back. In the meantime while this was going on, Texas cowboys, Kearns, Garrett, and Wilkerson also began firing. It is believed that this was done as a way to keep the crowd back. 

But then again maybe not, because they may have shot McCluskie in the leg at the same time that Anderson shot him in the neck.

Here comes James Riley!

As James Riley sat in the saloon, he witnessed what just took place in front of him. As Mike McCluskie's friend and mentor, Riley then and there decided to get into the fight and maybe even out the odds by pulling his two Colt revolvers and opening fire on the Texans.

Being as young as he was, its believed that Riley had never been involved in a gunfight before. And yes, some accounts say the James Riley calmly walked over and shut and locked the saloon doors before calmly taking revenge on those who just shot his friend. Others say he simply just started shooting and blazed away wildly. He was looking for an eye for an eye. 

And yes, by now, any shooter seeking revenge on those assassins had one huge advantage -- it is believed that the assassins had used all of their rounds on McCluskie and now their guns were empty! Imagine the shock when someone started shooting at them and they were not able to return fire?  

It is said that the room was already filled with gunsmoke from all the shots fired at McCluskie. Remember, this was 1871 and everyone was shooting Black Powder rounds as Smokeless Powder hadn't been invented yet. So yes, it must have been think enough to cut with a knife. But even though visibility was horrible in the thick gunsmoke, Riley ended up shooting seven men that day.

Jim Martin, the would-be peacemaker, was shot in the neck and later died of his wound. Why he was shot is unknown, but one round did in fact strike Jim Martin. He was shot in the neck, and stumbling out of the saloon, he later died across the dusty street on the steps of Krum's dance hall.

Texas cowboy Billy Garrett was shot in the shoulder and chest and died a few hours later. His friend and fellow cowboy Henry Kearnes was also hit but hung on for a week before he finally died.

The other two Texas cowboys, Jim Wilkerson, and the first shooter Hugh Anderson were both hit as well. Jim Wilkerson was shot in the nose and the leg, but surprisingly recovered from his wounds. Hugh Anderson took two shots in the leg and also recovered

Riley shot a bystander by the name of Patrick Lee, who was a Santa Fe Railroad brakeman. And no, no one really knows if Lee went for a gun or simply happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Patrick Lee was shot in the stomach and died two days later. Another Santa Fe employee known only as Hickey was also shot in the calf, but the wound was not serious and he survived.

With both of his Colt's empty and all of his enemies on the floor bleeding, wounded, or dying, James Riley simply walked away from the saloon and left.

That is one of the more interesting parts of this gunfight, that with seven men lying on the floor, young James Riley, who had never been in trouble before, simply walked out of the smoke filled saloon and was never seen again.

James Riley simply disappears.
Yes, after what most believe is probably the biggest gunfight in the history of the Old West, the man who enacted justice and vengeance simply disappeared as if he were never there.

Some say James Riley left the area, and changed his name to began a new life elsewhere. But frankly, due to his ill health because of the TB, it's more likely that he died not long after the shooting -- probably under an assumed name.

Later that day, a warrant was issued for the arrest of Hugh Anderson. It's said that his wealthy father and a few of his friends smuggled him aboard a train destined for Kansas City and away from the law. After Kansas City, later Hugh Anderson made his way back to Texas and his father's ranch. Once in Texas, he recovered from his wounds.

Anderson was never brought to trial for McCluskie's murder, but that doesn't mean that justice wasn't served.

No, it wasn't over yet!

Arthur McCluskie, Mike's brother, wanted revenge. So, believe it or not, for two years, Arthur and his friends kept a lookout for Hugh Anderson - who was staying safe in Texas.

That is until July 4th, 1873 when Hugh Anderson made the mistake of returning to Kansas. That's when Arthur McCluskie tracked him down in Medicine Lodge. Anderson was said to be working at Harding's Trading Post as a bartender, when Arthur and his friends found him.

It is said that Arthur sent a friend into the trading post to call out Anderson to come out into the street for a dual. Yes, he invited him to a dual and gave him a choice weapons - either guns or bowie knives. Anderson chose pistols and soon emerged from the trading post.

After what can only be considered an incredible brutal and bloody battle with both men shooting each other several times, both men emptied their guns into each other. That didn't stop them as they then went after each other with bowie knives. Slashing and hacking, neither man survived.

It's said that a man is duty bound to go after the killer of your brother, as with Arthur McCluskie, in many cases in the Old West they did just that.

While it can be said that the Texas Cowboys were faithful friends to Billy Bailey, James Riley was also faithful to that rule that says a man should stand with his friends even if it means putting your own life in jeopardy.

Was it a matter of Justice being served?

Though the Newton Massacre, the shootout that is also known as The Gunfight at Hide Park, received a lot of publicity during its time - it has received very little attention through the years.

Frankly, I think that's strange considering it was a gunfight that produced a higher body count than many more famous gunfights like that of Wild Bill Hickok versus Dave Tutt, the Gunfight at the OK Corral, and others.

Many believe this is probably because there were no "famous" people involved in the gunfight -- even if those "famous" people didn't become "famous" until after their death like say in the case of Wyatt Earp.

My belief is that, unlike James Butler Hickok who was made famous by a Dime Novelist and unlike Wyatt Earp who was actually unknown in his own time and only became famous after his death when his biography was published, no one wrote a book about the Newton Massacre or made it into a movie.

We forget that that the gunfight at the OK Corral in 1881 was overshadowed by bigger feuds and was really only a local story for more than 50 years.

In 1931, the OK Corral became famous with the publishing of Wyatt Earp's version of what took place.

Imagine the tales, the acts of vengeance and valor, of self-sacrifice and loyalty, that have passed us by. All which we simply don't know about because they are only local stories.

There might be more than what we know to the story of what took place there that day in Newton, Kansas? But of what we do know allows us to see how life was measured at the time, and how justice was dealt with outside the law.

It may have been measured an "eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth," the principle that a person who has injured another person is penalized to the same degree.

The Newton Massacre may be the perfect example of retaliation and punishment in kind repeated over and over again. And while there are other examples, the shootout in Newton is the perfect example of the law of the reciprocal justice when trying to settle a score - especially when it happened in the Old West.

The downside to the law of reciprocal justice is that sometimes, like the feud between the Hatfields and the McCoys, people lose track of what started it and end up living in a world of mutual retaliation.

Violence feeding on violence is never a good thing.

The upside is having known that justice had been served when the law fails to act. Like it or not, as human beings, we do get a sense of satisfaction from knowing that someone has reaped what they have sown.

As is the case today, enforcement of justice does not always mean law enforcement. It certainly did not mean that in the Old West.

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












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