Friday, April 16, 2021

Frank Loving -- Death of a Young Gunfighter


Frank Loving, sometimes called "Cockeyed" Frank Loving, was born in Missouri sometime in 1860. His family later moved to Texas. At around the age of 12, his father died. While it isn't known how his family got by after his father passed away or what young Frank did to help his family, most biographies of Loving say he was making his living as a professional gambler by his late teens. 

Most of his biographies also say that he moved around a lot and eventually landed in Dodge City, Kansas. Supposedly, Frank Loving's favorite saloon was the Long Branch Saloon, where according to myth, he associated with Doc Holliday, Bat Masterson, Wyatt Earp, and Charlie Bassett. 

During his time, he supposedly became close friends with a gambler and reputed gunfighter Levi Richardson and the Long Branch Saloon's owner Chalkley Beeson.

As was the case with most supposed gunfighters in the Old West, most of Levi Richardson's prowess with a gun was hearsay. And yes, just as with Holliday, Masterson, and most of the Earp brothers, Richardson built up his own reputation for his own advantage. Keep in mind, a great reputation as a killer was one stay alive. 

So okay, there were exceptions where a reputation could get one killed. Wild Bill Hickok, Ben Thompson, King Fisher, Jessie James, Pat Garret, Billy the Kid, and John Wesley Hardin were all ambushed because of their reputations as killers. But all in all, gamblers liked to have an edge, especially to stop someone from calling your hand when they were caught cheating. 

As for Richardson, it's said that he was disliked by most of the townspeople. And while Loving and Richardson were said to be close friends, that all changed in early 1879 when Richardson made some unwanted advances toward Loving's wife. 

There are two stories here. The first story says they quarreled in March and then got into a fistfight over Richardson's advances toward Loving's wife, Mattie. The fistfight supposedly took place on Front Street. And after exchanging punches, Richardson got the worst of it. So much so that the story goes on to say that Richardson yelled at Loving, "I'll blow the guts out of you, you cockeyed son of a bitch!"

Supposedly, Loving wasn't armed and simply left. That was supposed to be that until April, when things turned deadly. 

The second story is that the fistfight took place on April 5, 1879. And after Loving walked away, Richardson retrieved a pistol. With a hidden pistol, Richardson entered the Long Branch Saloon looking for Loving. 

Richardson found that Loving was not there, so he joined in a game of poker while he waited. He was there when Loving walked in and took a seat at a table just before 9 pm. It's said Richardson moved over so that he was directly across from Loving. It was soon after that the two men started arguing.

Witnesses said they heard Richardson shout at Loving, "You wouldn't fight anything, you damned son of a bitch!" Loving is said to have replied, "Try me and see."

It was then that Richardson jumped to his feet and drew a pistol. Loving did the same. And yes, both men opened fire. They both repeatedly fired their weapons from across a table at each other. When the shooting stopped, Richardson got off five rounds, and Loving fired six. 

Levi Richardson was on the floor, hit in the chest, the side of his stomach, and in one of his arms. Richardson was as dead as George Armstrong Custer. On the other hand, Frank Loving was luckily only hit when one of Richardson's rounds grazed his left hand.

Let's keep in mind that shootouts in saloons were pretty rare in the Old West. In most of the incidents, when such a thing did happen, it wasn't unusual for bystanders to be hit due to shooters shooting trying to get off rounds. In the Loving and Richardson shootout, it was surprising that no one else in the saloon was hit. When Dodge City's city marshal Charlie Bassett arrived after hearing the shots, he arrested Loving until things could be sorted out by a coroner's inquest. 

Loving was arrested, booked, and held while a coroner's inquest convened. After witnesses were called and the medical examiner examined the body, on April 7, 1879, a coroner's inquest ruled the shooting was "self-defense." Loving was released without charges. 

It is said that newspapers labeled the shootout "The Long Branch Saloon Gunfight." Of course, Dodge City's newspaper The Globe wrote: "It seemed strange that Loving was not hit, except for a slight scratch on the hand, as the two men were so close together that their pistols almost touched each other." 

According to Old West lore, right after the gunfight, Frank Loving left his wife Mattie and their two children for unknown reasons. But really, who knows if that's accurate or not since I haven't been able to find a marriage record or birth records. Of course, we do know that by 1880, Loving is known to have moved on to Las Vegas, New Mexico, where he gambled for a few months before moving on to Trinidad, Colorado. It was there in Trinidad, Colorado, that he would be in a gunfight with a dealer by the name of John Allen who had known Loving in Dodge City.

On April 15, 1882, Frank Loving and John Allen got into an argument. Some say it was over a loan, while others say it was over Allen's lack of skill as a dealer. What's interesting about their argument is that it was in the middle of Main Street. And while there are those reports that say that both men drew pistols when their argument erupted, such a thing was not mentioned in the local papers. As for the tale that says mutual friends quickly intervened and stopped things from getting out of hand, who knows if that's true. 

The next morning, Loving obviously had not let things pass. Loving walked into the Imperial Saloon with a pistol in his hand and headed straight for Allen, who was working there. Allen seeing Loving coming at him quickly drew his own pistol and shot at Loving  -- but missed. With that, Loving returned fire back at Allen but also missed. 

As with any time shots are fired, people start scrambling for the door. And as is the case, confusion ensues. In this case, the confusion worked against Loving as his gun was knocked from his hand by someone hurrying past him. 

While Loving was trying to find his pistol, Allen used a patron as a shield and repeatedly fired at Loving. It's said that Allen fired two shots at Loving while he was searching for his revolver. Imagine that for a moment. Allen fired two rounds at Loving when he was unarmed and trying to find his dropped pistol. Of course, all of Allen's shots missed their mark. 

When Loving finally found his pistol, he emptied it shooting at Allen as Allen ran out the saloon's rear door. All of Loving's shots missed Allen as he ran out the door and into an alley behind the saloon. Into the alley behind the saloon. Allen, who immediately took refuge a few doors down in Hammond's Hardware Store. Loving searched the alley for Allen but was unable to find him.

Trinidad Deputy City Marshal James Masterson knew Loving in Dodge City. James Masterson heard the shooting and responded as quickly as possible. When he arrived, he found Loving searching for Allen. Masterson disarmed him before setting out to look for Allen. While Masterson was looking for Allen, Frank Loving with two revolvers and again looking for Allen.

Most don't think about ammunition when thinking about gunfights, especially rolling gun battles that drag out for a while. Frank Loving thought about it and entered a hardware store to buy ammunition. It was there that John Allen crept up on Frank Loving from behind and ambushed him. Allen shot Loving from behind. 

It's said James Masterson heard the shot, and so did local City Marshal Lou Kreeger. They entered the hardware store and found Frank Loving shot and bleeding. It's said that when Loving saw Masterson, he stated, "Jim, I'm shot." 

Masterson and Kreeger arrested Allen after finding him still hiding in the back of the store. Though Frank Loving was treated, he died five days later, on April 21, 1882.

John Allen was tried for the murder of Frank Loving in September 1882. Allen argued that he acted in self-defense. He said that he feared for his life. He said that he knew Frank Loving had a notorious reputation and didn't want to be killed. Yes, this is where killing a man with a reputation has helped many a murderer. And because Frank Loving was seen as a dangerous man, John Allen was acquitted.

Frank Loving was either 21 or 22 years old when he was killed. That's very young to be killed. He was a gambler and gunman and was involved in two of the most well-publicized gunfights back in the day. Being well-publicized helps when it comes to chronicling what took place. 

Old West myths speak of several gunfights, that we know never took place. The problem with some of those supposed shootouts is that they are just hearsay and really took on a life of their own as the story was being circulated -- even though they never happened. 

One of the ways to determine if an event was just a tale versus it really taking place is to see if whether or not they were chronicled in the local newspapers. Town newspapers would have certainly reported a shooting if it did happen. The number one reason for that is the fact that shootings in the Old West did not happen every day, and they made sensational news when they did. Both of the shootouts that Frank Loving took part in were very well known because they were well reported. 

As for John Allen, he was acquitted mostly because the jurors believed that Allen would have certainly been killed if Frank Loving found him. And while the shootout became known as the Trinidad Gunfight, John Allen was not a gunfighter. Some say Allen only started carrying a gun after Loving threatened him. In fact, to anyone's knowledge, that was the only time he was ever in a life and death situation that called for his protecting his life against someone armed and seeking to kill him. 

If he was indeed frightened of Loving, the opportunity presented itself to Allen to save himself -- and he did. It's said that John Allen stopped working in gambling halls and saloons dealing cards after that. It's said he actually returned to Dodge City, where he took up a different occupation. It's said that John Allen became a preacher.

Tom Correa


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