Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Hunnewell Gunfight 1884

Hunnewell, Kansas 1880s

I've spent a pretty good part of my life reading about and researching the Old West. Yes, especially gunfights. Some obviously very well known, while others just aren't.

Take for example the Hunnewell Gunfight that took place on August 12th, 1884, in Hunnewell, Kansas. Because it was a gunfight that didn't involve anyone we know today by way of the movies, it's mostly forgotten about. That doesn't mean that the story of what took place wasn't widely circulated, it just means no one picked it up to use it in a movie and made it famous.

The gunfight took place in Hunnewell which was a cow town frequented by cowboys working on the local ranches and feed pens. Hunnewell was founded in 1880. It was named after H. H. Hunnewell who was a Boston financier and railroad owner. Yes, in the Old West, one of the surest way to have a town named after you was to own your own railroad. And actually, both of the railroad towns of Hunnewell, Kansas, and Hunnewell, Missouri, were named in his honor.

Hunnewell, Kansas, is located in Sumner County. It was a railroad town that was a very prosperous cattle town during the 1880s as it served as jumping off point to ship Texas cattle. Using the Leavenworth, Lawrence and Galveston Railroad, it shipped cattle to Kansas City, Kansas stockyards.

As for Hunnewell's boom, it's said it had a hotel, a couple of general stores, and a barber shop. To show you how big a town it was, it was big enough for two dance halls and eight saloons which all popped up shortly after being founded.

Being a rail-head, there were plenty of railroad workers and cowboys on hand. And of course along with railroad payrolls and cowboys with pockets full of money after coming off of the trail, there were all sorts of people there who wanted their money. As most know, that included bath houses to shake the lice off of a cowboy coming off the long trail, merchants selling hats, clothes, boots, tack, and snake oil. Let's not forget the gamblers, con artists, cheats, prostitutes, and lawmen who in many cases turned a blind eye to the towns folks beating some young cowboy for looking at a local girl or when some cowboy was cheated at a gambling hall.

In many towns local lawmen, if they existed, served as enforcers in whore houses while getting a cut from the action in the brothels and the gambling halls. Many made a lot of money arresting cowboys and fining them. Most times lawmen got paid "extra" for each arrest. That meant a lot of lawmen at the time arrested cowboys for things they didn't do. Of course, lawmen were known to buffalo a cowboy and drag him to jail. That cowboy would be able to plead his case in front of an "Arrest Judge" in the morning. Mostly to no avail. Stiff fines and abuse of cowboys actually had many a Trail Boss bypass a town that had reputations of being too "unfriendly" but that's hardly ever talked about. 

For Hunnewell, it's said that violence in the saloons in the form of fist fights was a common occurrence. As for gunfights, it was not the Hell-on-wheels town that some were. There were towns that had heavy-handed lawmen who didn't care if a cowboy was buffaloed too hard and killed, or if a cowboys was clipped by merchants charging 100 times the normal price to visiting cowboys, or if a cowboy was rolled in an alley after winnings at a faro table.

Hunnewell was not a town with a feuding outlaw factions fighting over territory as with other places in the West. Of course, that's not to say they didn't have problems. The law in Sumner County was pretty spread out. And like a lot of small cow towns in Kansas, there was really no law to speak of in and around areas that were fairly off the beaten track. That's especially true during the 1880s.

In fact, part of the reason ranchers had problems with lawmen later on is that they themselves were typically the law when it came to cattle rustling and other crimes. It's true. Most times, the big ranchers dealt with things themselves -- and later didn't like giving up their "authority" to organized law.

On August 21st, 1884, Oscar Halsell and Clem Barfoot were a couple of cowboys who entered Hanley's Saloon for a good time and soon enough got drunker than three sheets to the wind. As young men will do, being drunk, they started causing problems in the saloon. 

Just so happens, Sumner County Deputy Sheriff Ed Scotten and another lawmen entered Hanley's Saloon about the same time. It is said that though only 23 years of age, Sumner County Deputy Sheriff Ed Scotten may had also been a Texas Ranger at some point. Of course, being the law, the lawmen took it upon themselves to try and quiet the situation there at Hanley's. 

Friends, if you've ever dealt with drunks then you know real well how there's no dealing with the ornery ones. While one can hope that they just sort of burn themselves out, dealing with drunks is always a bad situation that can get worse in a hurry. 

Both lawmen decided that they were going to get the two cowboys to quiet down since they starting to shoot up the town, starting with Hanley's Saloon.  As expected, very quickly an argument developed. Then believe it or not, several people there, not only the lawmen and the two cowboys, drew their pistols. This was not a good situation at all! This was a powder keg! 

Who fired the first shot is not really known for certain. Historians speculate that Clem Barfoot was the fool who cut loose first. After that, well all Hell broke loose with several shots being fired every which way. The end result was that Clem Barfoot was killed and Deputy Sheriff Ed Scotten was badly wounded.  

Deputy Sheriff Ed Scotten was actually shot in the neck. This caused paralysis until his death. Yes, sadly Deputy Sheriff Ed Scotten would die from his wounds ten days later on September 2nd, 1884. 

The other sad part of this is that no one was ever prosecuted. Most felt that Clem Barfoot's death was enough justice for what took place. Some felt Oscar Halsell should have been held responsible as well, but he wasn't. 

In fact, Oscar Halsell would live a good life and become a prosperous cattle man. He is noted for once employing outlaws as Bill Doolin and George "Bittercreek" Newcomb of the Wild Bunch fame all while being close friends to later U.S. Marshal Evett D. Nix. 

As I said before, although the Hunnewell Gunfight was publicized at the time, the gunfight was soon forgotten. As for the town of Hunnewell, as of the 2010 US census it has a population of 67.  So yes, that one time prosperous little cattle town that served as a shipping point for Texas cattle is technically a Ghost Town today. 

Also, some sources say that the Hunnewell Gunfight took place on October 5th, 1884. But that is an error that those sites need to correct because the gunfight did happen on August 21st, 1884. For one thing, the gunfight couldn't have taken place on October 5th, since Deputy Sheriff Ed Scotten would die from his wounds from that gunfight on September 2nd, 1884. 

Tom Correa

1 comment:

  1. I am so glad that someone has done all the leg work on this incident. I see children in that picture. Anyway you have given all the facts and have proven these facts, so I am glad that you have done this for prosperity


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