Luke Short

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Luke L. Short
Luke Short.jpg
Luke Short
Born Luke L. Short
1854
Mississippi, USA
Died September 8, 1893 (aged c. 39)
Geuda Springs, Kansas, United States
Cause of death
Edema (formerly known as dropsy)
Nationality American
Occupation Gunfighter, farmer, cowboy, gambler, cattle rustling, Army scout, saloon-keeper

Luke L. Short (1854-September 8, 1893) was an American Old West gunfighter, who had worked as a farmer, cowboy, whiskey peddler, army scout, dispatch rider, gambler, and saloon keeper at various times during his almost four decades life.

Early life[edit]

Short was born in Mississippi; his family having moved to Texas when he was two years of age. As a teenager he left home after it was rumored that he had killed another youth with a pair of scissors. He became a cowboy, working herds north to the Kansas railheads. He traveled to Abilene, Kansas, in 1870, and attempted to make a living as a professional gambler.

In 1876, he arrived in Sidney, Nebraska, where he obtained employment as a whiskey peddler. During this time he sold whiskey illegally to Sioux Indians from a trading post far north of Sidney. This was a federal offense. Short later admitted to killing a half dozen inebriated Sioux natives on various occasions during this venture. Despite this, Short was hired as a scout for the United States Army and worked in that capacity from 1878 to 1879.

According to Ed Lemmon in "Boss Cowman," he was in Ogallala, Nebraska, the northern point of the Texas Trail, from 1877 to 1878. During this time, he gambled at Cowboy's Rest Saloon, sometimes in the company of Bat Masterson. James Cook, in "40 Years..." said that he had watched Short practicing drawing his gun on the banks of South Platte River. Cook claimed that he had never seen anyone faster than Short.

Notoriety as a gunfighter[edit]

Short then wandered through Dodge City, Kansas, where he became associated with Wyatt Earp and, again, Bat Masterson, among others. Shortly afterward he moved to Tombstone, Arizona, a boomtown full of dozens of saloons and gambling halls. He developed a habit of "dressing to the nines", which gave him the reputation of a dandy. By this time, through his experiences in various mining camps, Short had already developed a reputation as being good with a gun and a man of few words.

The "Dodge City Peace Commission" June 1883. From left to right, standing: W.H. Harris, Luke Short, Bat Masterson, W.F. Petillon. Seated: Charlie Bassett, Wyatt Earp, Frank McLain and Neal Brown.

In June 1880,[1] Wyatt Earp telegraphed Short, who was living in Leadville, Colorado, and offered him a job as a faro dealer.[2][3]

In Tombstone on February 28, 1881, Short and professional gambler and gunfighter Charlie Storms had a verbal altercation which was temporarily defused by Bat Masterson, who knew both men. but Storms returned, and when Short left the Oriental Hotel, Storms yanked him off the sidewalk and pulled his cut-off Colt .45 pistol. Luke Short was quicker and pulled his own pistol, shooting Charlie Storms twice before he hit the ground.[4] The first shot was so close it set fire to Storms' shirt.[5]

Short was alleged to have then turned to Bat Masterson who was with him, and stated "You sure pick some of the damnedest friends, Bat." Short was arrested, but the shooting was determined to have been self-defense. Short left Tombstone in April and returned to Leadville.[1] Although friends with Earp, Short was not present at the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral later that year.

Dodge City War[edit]

Main article: Dodge City War

In 1883, Short settled in Dodge City, where he purchased a half interest in the now famous Long Branch Saloon in partnership with friend W. H. Harris. This put him at odds with the mayor of Dodge City and his allies, who made attempts to run Short out of business and then out of town as an "undesirable." In what became known as the Dodge City War, Short appealed to Bat Masterson who contacted Wyatt Earp. While Short was discussing the matter with Governor George Washington Glick in Kansas City, Earp showed up with Johnny Millsap, Shotgun John Collins, Texas Jack Vermillion, and Johnny Green.

They marched up Front Street into Short's saloon where they were sworn in as deputies by constable "Prairie Dog" Dave Marrow. The town council offered a compromise to allow Short to return for ten days to get his affairs in order, but Earp refused to compromise. When Short returned, there was no force ready to turn him away. Short's Saloon reopened, and the Dodge City War ended without a shot being fired.[6]:p67 Later that year Short sold his interest and moved south to Fort Worth, Texas.

Short versus Courtright gunfight[edit]

In Fort Worth, Short was involved in another of the most famous historical gunfights. Short had developed an invested interest in the White Elephant Saloon. "Longhair" Jim Courtright, a former marshal of Fort Worth, reportedly ran a protection racket in which he offered his "protection" to saloon and gambling house owners. Short told Courtright that he would protect his own place. This irritated Courtright, and many now believe that Courtright felt it was necessary for his other protection interests to make an example of Short as to what could happen if his services were declined.[7]

On a cold night of February 8, 1887, Courtright called Short out of the White Elephant saloon. Courtright reportedly had been drinking, some words were passed, and the two men walked down the street about one block. There, facing one another, Courtright said something in reference to Short's gun, apparently to give the impression that the inevitable gunfight was "in self-defense." Short stated he was not armed, although he was. Short then indicated that Courtright could check for himself, and walking toward Courtright, he opened his vest. When he did so, Courtright said loudly "Don't you pull a gun on me.", and quickly drew his pistol.[7][8]

However, Courtright's pistol hung on his watch-chain for a brief second, at which time Short pulled his pistol and fired one shot. The bullet tore off Courtright's right thumb, rendering him incapable of firing his single-action revolver. As he tried to switch the pistol to his left hand, Short fired at least four more times and killed Courtright.[7][9]

The gunfight became a well known because of the notoriety of both men. Courtright was given a grand funeral with hundreds in attendance. Despite his corruption, he had lowered Fort Worth's murder rate by more than half during his time as town marshal. No blame was held toward Short however, and although he was brought to trial for the shooting, it was ruled justifiable self-defense.[7]

Later life and death[edit]

Short continued his life as a gambler and invested in other saloon interests, traveling to several other cattle towns over the next five years. Short died peacefully in bed in Geuda Springs in southern Kansas, on September 8, 1893. The cause of his death was listed as dropsy, the 19th century term for congestive heart failure with severe body edema.

In popular culture[edit]

Luke Short is featured in the Activision video game Gun. He was also an inspiration for the French/Belgium comic book series, Lucky Luke!

Short was played by the actor Wally Cassell in a 1955 episode of the syndicated Stories of the Century, with Jim Davis in the starring role of railroad detective Matt Clark. The part of rival Jim Courtright was portrayed by Robert Knapp.[10]

On February 25, 1958, Grant Richards plays Short in the episode "Wyatt Fights" of the ABC/Desilu western series, The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp. In the story line, deputy Wyatt Earp (Hugh O'Brian) is caught in the middle when two saloonowners want to take over a third establishment, the Long Branch Saloon. Paul Brinegar plays the role of James H. "Dog" Kelley, the mayor of Dodge City.[11]

On January 25, 1960, the actor Bob Steele played Short in the episode "The Terrified Town" of the CBS western television series, The Texan, starring Rory Calhoun. Barbara Stuart played the frontier gambler Poker Alice, and Reed Hadley portrayed "Wild Jack Tobin" in the same episode.[12]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Wood, Bob. "Luke L. Short". Retrieved 15 April 2011. 
  2. ^ Wood, Bob. "Luke L. Short - Photos". Retrieved 15 April 2011. 
  3. ^ "Frontier Gamblers - Luke Short". Frontier Gamblers. Retrieved 14 April 2011. 
  4. ^ Erwin, Richard E. (2000). The Truth about Wyatt Earp. San Jose, CA: iUniverse. ISBN 978-0595001279. 
  5. ^ Erwin, Richard E. (1993). The Truth about Wyatt Earp (2nd ed.). Carpinteria, CA: O.K. Press. ISBN 9780963393029. 
  6. ^ Woog, Adam (February 28, 2010). Wyatt Earp. Chelsea House Publications. p. 110. ISBN 1-60413-597-2. 
  7. ^ a b c d Tarrant County Historical Journal - Edition 01
  8. ^ A contemporary anecdote concerning Luke Short
  9. ^ Tarrant County Historical Journal - Bad Blood
  10. ^ "Stories of the Century: "Jim Courtright"". tv.com. Retrieved August 30, 2012. 
  11. ^ ""Wyatt Fights", The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, February 25, 1958". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved May 6, 2014. 
  12. ^ "The Texan". Classic Television Archive. Retrieved January 31, 2013. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Luke Short: A Biography, by Wayne Short (Luke Short's great-nephew), 1997, Devil's Thumb Press.

External links[edit]