A Brief History
On July 21, 1865, a real life showdown resulting in face to face gunplay happened for the first time, the first of the classic duels we have come to know as a Wild West gunfight.
Wild Bill Hickock, later one of the West’s most famous characters, was gambling in Springfield, Missouri, but not well. Hickock lost his money playing poker, and owed his friend Davis Tutt, also a Civil War veteran but from the opposite side. (Hickock was a Union veteran, Tutt a Confederate) money to repay loans. As collateral, Tutt seized Hickock’s pocket watch, a prized heirloom. Hickock, humiliated at the loss of his watch, warned Tutt to not wear it in public.
Of course, things being what they are, Tutt flaunted the watch in public, enraging Hickock. Hickock called out Tutt in the classic television and movie Western gunfight, the 2 steely eyed gunmen facing each other on the city street, right at the town square. Each drew their pistol and fired, Tutt’s bullet missing Bill, but Bill’s finding its target, killing Tutt.
The gunfight was held at about 75 yards, an extremely long range for such a duel. At Hickock’s trial, exactly who shot first was disputed, but after 3 days Hickock was found not guilty by reason of self defense, although that seemed to be contrary to Missouri law, Hickock having gone into the street with the intention of having a shoot out.
The gunfight received much public attention, and Harper’s writer George Nichols quickly began interviewing witnesses and accumulating information that became an article in Harper’s in 1867. This incident became the basis for the classic Hollywood Western shoot-out, although actual incidents such as this were rare.
Hickock rode his fame from this gunfight to a final 1876 card game in Deadwood, South Dakota, where he was ambushed while holding Aces and Eights, now known as “The Dead Man’s Hand.”
Question for students (and subscribers): Have you ever been to Deadwood, South Dakota? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
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For more information, please read…
Rosa, Joseph G. Wild Bill Hickok, Gunfighter. University of Oklahoma Press, 2003.