Friday, November 22, 2013

The Newton Massacre & Reciprocal Justice, 1871


The Newton Massacre is also known as the Gunfight at Hide Park. That was the name given to an Old West gunfight that occurred on August 19, 1871, in Newton, Kansas. To me, it was a murder. But more than that, it was the best case of reciprocal justice to ever take place in the West.

It was well publicized at the time, but since has really received very little attention from Hollywood which has been the real legend maker. The reason that it's not very is interesting because unlike other more 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's true, its legend has grown because one of the participants simply walked away from the scene. Yes, like an avenging angel who did his task and just disappeared 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 with stores and shops selling all sorts of goods to get in on the cattle money. Along with the stores and other merchants were saloons, gambling parlors, dance halls, brothels, and inevitably the those of low character who were 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 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. Mike McCluskie was an Irishman from Ohio who was known to be a pretty tough character by anyone's standards. He had made his way to Kansas via his employment with the Santa Fe Railroad as a Railroad Night Policeman.

At that time, the fledgling town of Newton was trying to form a new county and who would lead these efforts was a major debate among the locals. Though they worked together and in tandem, the town and the railroad, McCluskie and Bailey had a personality conflict from the start and were constantly arguing about just about everything. They had one of those relationships in life where two guys just disagree to disagree because they don't like each other. I'm sure you've known a few people like that. I know I have.

Round One!

The two men were in the Red Front Saloon on August 11th, again this was in 1871. Their argument soon led to violence in the form of a fistfight as McCluskie and Bailey got into it. Bailey is said to have been knocked out of the saloon and into the dirt street. McCluskie was close behind and aiming to give Bailey a shellacking.

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 is said to have slammed into Bailey's chest.

So an incident that began with an argument between the two lawmen, Billy Bailey and Mike McCluskie, over local county politics on election day in the Red Front Saloon located in downtown Newton, turned into a fist fight. Bailey was knocked outside the saloon and into the street, and the fight ended when McCluskie followed after him and shot Bailey in the chest. Bailey is said to have never produced a weapon, and he died the next day on August 12th, 1871.

They say that "Innocent people don't run!" But they also say that "It good to stay a step ahead of a Vigilance Committee so that you can live long enough to tell your side of the story."

In this case Mike McCluskie fled town to avoid arrest and maybe facing an angry citizenry. He returned a few days later after getting the word that the shooting was deemed self defense. It's said that despite the fact that Bailey hadn't pulled a gun, he may have made a move for the one he was wearing. At that move was enough for just cause to shoot.

To add to that, McCluskie had claimed he feared for his life. He said 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. 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 over say suspecting him of cheating.

The downside of having a reputation as a gunman is that people were more apt not take any chances in a fight. If someone was a known killer, it was a real good chance that they would be shot merely out of knowing that they were not people to trifle with. For example, take the case of John Selman who found the famous gunman John Wesley Hardin playing dice at the bar of the Acme Saloon. Without a word, Selman walked up behind Hardin and killed him with a bullet 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 whether it was or wasn't.

Round Two!

Billy Bailey was a native of Texas. He had several cowboy friends who were in town as well. Yes, others who knew him on the trail and had also stayed in Newton. Upon hearing of his death, they vowed revenge against McCluskie. It was all about an eye for an eye since they saw the law as siding with McCluskie. They also believed the people in Newton didn't care if their friend Bailey was killed simply because the people there saw all cowboys as trouble-makers. Yes, even though Bailey was a Special Officer for the town, many there saw him as a lowlife Texan. It's said that some even wondered why it took so long for someone to shoot Bailey since some say he was known to bully others. 

On August 19th, 1871, Mike McCluskie was in Newton. He was 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 initial arrival in Newton, McCluskie befriended Riley who was dying of tuberculosis. Riley and McCluskie were said to be inseparable to the point that people called Riley, "McCluskie's shadow."

Enter the Texas Cowboys

As McCluskie was gambling and drinking, just after midnight three of Bailey's Texas cowboy friends walked in. They were Billy Garrett, Henry Kearnes, and Jim Wilkerson. 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 for a while in the saloon. But mostly, it's said they waited and watched Mike McCluskie.

A few minutes later another Texas cowboy by the name of Hugh Anderson, the son of a wealthy Bell County, Texas, cattle rancher also entered the dance hall. Anderson is said to have walked up to McCluskie, and started yelling, "You are a cowardly son-of-a-bitch who killed my friend! I will blow the top of your head off!"

McCluskie's friend Jim Martin jumped up and attempted to stop the fight from occurring. Anderson simply ignored Martin, and drew his pistol and shot McCluskie. Knocked to the floor and reeling in pain, McCluskie actually drew his pistol and attempted to shoot Anderson. Sadly for McCluskie, his pistol misfired.

Hugh Anderson then stood over McCluskie as he rolled over on the floor in pain. 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 into McCluskie and the ceiling to keep the crowd back. 

Here comes James Riley!

As James Riley sat in the saloon, he witnessed what just took place in front of him. Being as young as he was, its believed that Riley had never been involved in a gunfight before. Of course there are some accounts that say 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.

Which ever way it happened, Mike McCluskie's friend and mentor, Riley then and there decided to get into the fight and maybe even out the odds by pulling two Colt revolvers and opening fire on the Texans. 

Riley was actually in a fairly good position to avenge his friend McCluskie. You see by now the Texas cowboys who sought revenge against McCluskie had one huge disadvantage. It's believed that those Texas assassins had used all of their rounds on McCluskie and shooting into the ceiling to keep the crowd at bay. When Riley took them on, 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. This was 1871 and everyone was shooting Black Powder rounds as Smokeless Powder hadn't been invented yet. So yes, it must have been thick enough to cut with a knife. But even though visibility was horrible as gunsmoke filled the air, Riley ended up shooting seven men that day.

Jim Martin, the would-be peacemaker, was shot and later died of his wound. Why he was shot is unknown, but one round did in fact strike Jim Martin. It's sad that he was shot in the neck, and stumbling out of the saloon. He later died 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. 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. 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.

James Riley simply disappears.

His leaving is one of the more interesting parts of the story. 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. Imagine that for a moment. 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.

No, it wasn't over yet!

As for the rest of what happened? Later that day, a warrant was issued for the arrest of Hugh Anderson for premeditated murder. It's said that his wealthy father and a few of his friends smuggled Anderson aboard a train and away from the law. He was seen in Kansas City, and later Hugh Anderson made his way back to Texas and his father's ranch. Once in Texas, he recovered from his wounds. Sadly, Anderson was never brought to trial for McCluskie's murder.

But that doesn't mean that justice wasn't served. You see 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 stayed safe in Texas.

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

The story goes that Arthur McCluskie sent a friend into the trading post to call out Anderson to come out into the street for a dual. Arthur invited him to a dual and gave him a choice weapons. Anderson could chose either guns or bowie knives. Anderson agreed and chose pistols.

Soon afterwards, Anderson emerged from the trading post. And in what has been described as one of the worse fights in the history of the Old West, the two men went about the process of trying to kill the other.

In what could only be considered an incredibly brutal and bloody battle, both men shot each other several times. In fact, both men emptied their guns into each other. But that didn't stop them, as they then went after each other with bowie knives. Slashing, hacking, and stabbing each other, neither man survived.

It's said that a man is duty bound to go after the killer of one's brother. As with Arthur McCluskie, in many cases in the Old West they did just that. And while it can be said that the Texas Cowboys were faithful friends to Billy Bailey, James Riley too 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, an eye for an eye?

Though the Newton Massacre, the shootout that is also known as "The Gunfight at Hide Park," had gotten 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 of the more famous gunfights we know of today. Certainly more drama than Wild Bill Hickok versus Dave Tutt, or what took place at the shootout in the lot near the OK Corral.

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

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. It wasn't until 1931, that 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.

As for how justice was dealt with outside the law? Life and the law may have been an "eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth." After all, the principle that a person who has injured another person is penalized to the same degree has been around a long time. And in the case of the Newton Massacre, it may be the perfect example of retaliation and punishment in kind repeated over and over again.

The downside to the law of reciprocal justice when trying to settle a score is that sometimes, people lose track of what started it and end up living in a world of mutual retaliation. And while violence feeding on violence is never a good thing, some say the upside is having known that justice had been served when the law failed to act.

Whether we like it or not, as human beings, we do get a sense of satisfaction from knowing that someone has gotten what's coming to them. And as is the case today, enforcement of justice does not always mean law enforcement. It certainly did not mean that in the Old West.

Tom Correa












1 comment:

  1. Good story, enjoy reading your posts

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