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 21st, 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, and named for Boston financier and railway owner H. H. Hunnewell.

Back then the Leavenworth, Lawrence and Galveston Railroad provided ready access to the Kansas City, Kansas stockyards, and in Hunnewell's boom 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. Imagine that.

Being a rail-head, there were plenty of railroad workers and cowboys on hand. And yes, it's said that violence in the saloons in the form of fist fights was a common occurrence. Of course, the law was pretty spread out in Sumner County. 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 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.

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 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, but it's believed 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 rancher. Ironically, Halsell would later employ outlaws as Bill Doolin and George "Bittercreek" Newcomb all while being close friends to later U.S. Marshal Evett D. Nix. But no, the town of Halsell, Texas, is not named after him. 

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


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