Luke Short

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Not to be confused with Luke Short (writer).
Luke L. Short
Luke Short.jpg
Luke Short
Born Luke L. Short
Mississippi, USA
Died September 8, 1893 (aged c. 39)
Geuda Springs, Kansas, United States
Cause of death
Nationality American
Occupation Gunfighter

Luke L. Short (1854–September 8, 1893) was an American Old West gunfighter, farmer, cowboy, whiskey peddler, army scout, dispatch rider, gambler, and saloon keeper. He survived a shoot-out with well known gunman Jim Courtright.

Early life[edit]

Short was born in Mississippi, his family having moved to Texas when he was two years of age.[citation needed] 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. Short traveled to Abilene, Kansas, in 1870, and attempted to make a living as a professional gambler.

In 1876, he arrived at Sidney, Nebraska, where he obtained employment as a whiskey peddler. During this time, he sold whiskey to Sioux Indians from a trading post far north of Sidney, which was a federal offense. Short admitted to killing a half dozen inebriated Sioux natives on various occasions during this venture.[citation needed]

Short was hired as a scout for the United States Army and worked in that capacity from 1878 to 1879. He was in Ogallala, Nebraska, the northern point of the Texas Trail, from 1877 to 1878.[1] During this time, he gambled at Cowboy's Rest Saloon, sometimes in the company of "Bat" Masterson.

Short frequented Dodge City, Kansas, where he became acquainted with Wyatt Earp, among others. 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 developed a reputation for being good with a gun and a man of a few chosen words.[2]

Notoriety as a gunfighter[edit]

The Dodge City Peace Commission: (l to rt) standing: W.H. Harris, Luke Short, "Bat" Masterson, W.F. Petillon; sitting: Charlie Bassett, Wyatt Earp, Frank McLain, Neal Brown (June 1883)[3]

In June 1880,[4] Earp telegraphed Short, who was then living in Leadville, Colorado, and offered him a job as a faro dealer in Tombstone, Arizona (a boomtown full of dozens of saloons and gambling halls).[5][6]

On February 28, 1881, at the Oriental Hotel, Short and Charlie Storms, a professional gambler and gunfighter, had a verbal altercation which was temporarily defused by Masterson, who was an acquaintance of Storms as well. Storms later returned to the scene and yanked Short off the sidewalk as he and Masterson left the gambling hall. Storms pulled his cut-off Colt .45 pistol, but Short was quicker. Short shot Storms twice before he hit the ground; the first shot fired so close that it set fire to Storms' shirt.[7] Short was alleged to have then turned to Bat Masterson and stated: "You sure pick some of the damnedest friends, Bat." Tombstone city marshal Ben Sippy arrested Short, but the shooting was determined to have been made in self-defense.[8]

Short left Tombstone in April and returned to Leadville.[4]

Dodge City War[edit]

Main article: Dodge City War

In 1883, Short settled in Dodge City, where he purchased a half-interest in the Long Branch Saloon in partnership with a friend, W. H. Harris. The mayor of Dodge City and his allies attempted to run Short out of town as an "undesirable." Short appealed to Masterson and Earp for help with the situation.

While Short was in Kansas City discussing the matter with Governor George Washington Glick, Earp showed up in Dodge City with Johnny Millsap, "Shotgun John" Collins, "Texas Jack" Vermillion, and Johnny Green. They marched up Front Street into Short's saloon where they were subsequently sworn in as deputies by constable "Prairie Dog Dave" Marrow. The town council then offered to allow Short to return for ten days to get his affairs in order, but Earp refused any compromise. When Short returned, there was no force ready to turn him away. His Saloon reopened, and the "Dodge City War" ended without a shot being fired.[9]:p67 Later that year, Short sold his interest in the saloon and moved south to Fort Worth, Texas.

Short versus Courtright gunfight[edit]

Ft. Worth City Marshal Jim Courtright was killed in a gunfight with gambler and gunfighter Luke Short

Short invested in the White Elephant Saloon in Ft. Worth. Jim "Longhair" 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 would not be intimidated and refused, saying that he would personally provide any protection that his saloon needed. This irritated Courtright, who felt that it was necessary to make an example of Short as to what could happen if his services were declined.[10]

Courtright had a reputation as an excellent gunman[11] who had killed several men in the line of duty, and Short was known to have killed Storms. Both men were feared within the community. Short's reputation was based mostly on hearsay, except for the Storms gunfight, whereas Courtright's exploits were well documented.

On the night of February 8, 1887, Courtright called Short out of the White Elephant. Courtright reportedly had been drinking. 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 that he was not armed, although he was. Short then indicated that Courtright could check for himself, and walked toward Courtright while opening his vest. When he did so, Courtright said loudly "Don't you pull a gun on me!" and quickly went for his pistol.[10] Courtright's pistol, however, got hung-up on his watch-chain. Short pulled his pistol and fired once, tearing off Courtright's right thumb. Courtright attempted to shift his pistol to his left hand, but Short fired at least four more times, killing him.[10][11]

The gunfight became well known due to the notoriety of both men. Courtright's funeral was attended by hundreds of Ft. Worth residents. Despite his reputation for corruption, he had lowered Fort Worth's murder rate by more than half during his time as town marshal. Short was arrested for the shooting, but his actions were ruled justifiable self-defense.[10]

Later life and death[edit]

The gunfight gained Short considerable notoriety and a legend as an Old West gunman. He continued his life as a gambler and invested in other saloon interests, living in several other cattle towns over the next five years. He died peacefully in bed in Geuda Springs in southern Kansas, on September 8, 1893.[citation needed] The cause of his death is listed as "dropsy".[notes 1]

In popular culture[edit]

Short is featured in the Activision video game Gun.[citation needed] He was the inspiration for the French/Belgium comic book series Lucky Luke![citation needed]

Short was played by actor Wally Cassell in a 1955 episode of the syndicated Stories of the Century. The part of rival Jim Courtright was portrayed by Robert Knapp.[12]

On February 25, 1958, Grant Richards played 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 saloon owners 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.[13]

On January 25, 1960, Bob Steele played Short in the episode "The Terrified Town" of the CBS western television series The Texan, starring Rory Calhoun.[14]


  1. ^ "Dropsy" is the 19th century term for congestive heart failure with severe body edema.


  1. ^ Lemmon, Ed; Boss Cowman
  2. ^ Cook, James40 Years...; Notation: Cook said that he had watched Short practicing drawing his gun on the banks of South Platte River; and claimed that he had never seen anyone faster than Short.
  3. ^ Luke Short in Dodge City Peace Commission; 1883; original photograph; Ford County Historical Society; retrieved October 2014
  4. ^ a b Wood, Bob. "Luke L. Short". Retrieved 15 April 2011. 
  5. ^ Wood, Bob. "Luke L. Short - Photos". Retrieved 15 April 2011. 
  6. ^ "Frontier Gamblers - Luke Short". Frontier Gamblers. Retrieved 14 April 2011. 
  7. ^ Erwin, Richard E. (1993). The Truth about Wyatt Earp (2nd ed.). Carpinteria, CA: O.K. Press. ISBN 9780963393029. 
  8. ^ Thrapp, Dan L. (1991). Encyclopedia of Frontier Biography (Bison Book print ed.). Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. p. 1313. ISBN 978-0-8032-9420-2. Retrieved 25 March 2015. 
  9. ^ Woog, Adam (February 28, 2010). Wyatt Earp. Chelsea House Publications. p. 110. ISBN 1-60413-597-2. 
  10. ^ a b c d Tarrant County Historical Journal - Edition 01 Jim Buel
  11. ^ a b Tarrant County Historical Journal - Bad Blood
  12. ^ "Stories of the Century: "Jim Courtright"". Retrieved August 30, 2012. 
  13. ^ ""Wyatt Fights", The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, February 25, 1958". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved May 6, 2014. 
  14. ^ "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.