LUKE SHORT & JIM COURTRIGHT
These two men were not as well known nor attracted as much attention as some others in the histories of the old west. Luke Short’s profession was as a gambler. While Jim Courtright was a colorful gunfighter, he just never attracted much attention to himself. The thing that ties them together is their clasic clamatic end in Forthworth in 1887.
Luke was born in Mississippi in 1854, number six of seven children. At the age of two his family moved to Grayson County, Texas. It is believed that Luke ran away from home around the age of sixteen. He worked his way north on a trail drive and along the way learned to shuffle cards and honed his skill as a gambler. Setling his course in his prusuit to the top as a gambler.
Standing tall with his boot’s on he was about five foot seven and never weighed more than 140 pounds. Quick of hand and possesing a mind keenly attuned to mathamatics, he mastered the games of cards. Of course he had the almost mandatory droopy mustache hanging limply over his lower lip.
Luke dressed faditiously, favoring a Prince Albert coat, shiney polished walking stick and a tall silk hat. People talked behind his back , it was rumored that he even bathed everyday (unheard of in those days).
Luke favoried a .45 cal pistol with the barrel cut short which he carried in a hip pocket. Luke was not a really great pistol shoot , but across a card table accuracy was not much of a factor.
He moved around quite often in the next several years. He scouted for the army a short while, them met and took up with Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson in Dodge City , Kansas. He also drifted to Nebraska where he sold whiskey to the Indians (a federal offence, never caught and proscuted).
By the time he showed up in Tombstone his reputation as a gambler was well established. Except for a few Nebraska Indians, he had never killed anyone.
In Tombstone he and a man named Charlie Storm tangled. Storm enjoyed the reputation of having killed several men. The way the story is related, Storm after a bout of heavy drinking decited to feterlize the streets with Short’s blood. On feburary 25, 1881, in the company of Bat Masterson, Luke exited the Oriental Saloon ( the Orential figures in much of tombstones bloody history).
Waiting on a street cornor Storm acosted Short and grabbed him while reaching for his gun. Luke was just a little faster, drew and pushed his firearm into Storm’s chest and fired until his weapon was empty. A grand Jury considered the case and deemed it justafiable, and pressed no charges. Luke and Masterson left Tombstone for Dodge right afterwards.
In the next few years a reform movement swept through Dodge City. Taking paticulat exception to Luke Short and three of his female “singers”, who worked in in his Long Branch Saloon (no Miss. Kitty here). What transpired next came to be called the “Dodge City War”.
City Clerk Hartman arrested three of Luke’s girls in the Long Branch, and the next time they passed in the street they exchanged shots, neither hitting the other. A citizen’s committie excorted Short to the train station and gave him the choice of east or west. He took the one headed east.
Luke bounced around like a cork in the water for several months. His old friends Bat Masterson and Wyatt Earp petitioned Kansas Govenor George Glick on his behalf. Finally Luke just returned to Dodge City on his own. The mayor in panic begged for the national guard to help preserve peace, and newspapers predicted blood running in the streets, nothing happened though. at least there was no shooting.
In a long rambling editorial, one newspaper lamented the fact that the mayor’s stand on gambling had eroded away and that the city would fall in to a general state of lawlessnes again. But the fact gambling was a dieing enterprise in Dodge. Luke was a gambler, so he eventually moved on.
Long haired Jim Courtright did not own Fort Worth, but he thought he did. He was the best known and most notorious citizen in town. It is debated if he came from Iowa or Illinois. His name was Timothy Isaiah Courtright. He did not like the name and it is noted that after he strapped on his twin guns there was a serious decline in the number of people who called him Timothy.
Men who carried two guns in the west were relative rare, but Courtright bore the bonified credentials. With long blond hair combed neatly to the back, he cut a dashing figure along the streets of Fort Worth. Not general known out side Fort Worth, he had the reputation as a colorful and deadly gunman.
During the Civil War he scouted for Federal Genera Logan. Afterwards he became marshal of Fort Worth. Not much remains in the records of this time, but it is generaly believed that in conjunction with the mayor he was shaking down the saloon owners and prostitutes for protection money, that ended with his dismissal. He drifted west, rumored to have marshaled in Mesilla, New Mexico for awhile.
In 1883 he showed up in America Valley, New Mexico, where he and another gunfighter killed tow men and fled the state. Returning to Fort worth, he was arrested by the Texas Rangers. Only in custody for a few hours he excaped and fled to South America. In 1886 he returned to Socorro, New Mexico, where he stood trial and was freeded. No witness remained.
Jim stopped for a short time in El Paso after gaining his freedom. There he awed some of the population with his abilitys with a six gun. Feeling pretty good about himself he returned to Fort Worth.
There was not much demand for a two gun, gunman in Fort Worth. In desperation he opened a detctive agency and soon went bankrupt.
The railroads came to his rescue and hired him as a strike breaker. On several occasions he bullied the strikers and on one occasion shots were exchanged, with no one bring injuried.
Finally the disturbance was setteled and Jim was once again out of work. He strapped on his pistols and started visiting the gambling dens and saloons demanding protection money. Most took a look at the two guns sllung on his sides and paid up.
Ever one paid up except for Luke Short, Luke owned the White Elephant. Luke was known as the Gambling King of Fort Worth. He was therefore a key figure in any shake down, and until he was under controll, Courtright could not have the shakedown under controll.
Naturally hard feelings existed between the two, the showdown came on a overcast evening of Feburary 8, 1887. For a week Courtright had been drinking heavly and at 8 PM he stopped in front of the White Elephant and sent word for short to come out and talk.
Always the natty dressser Luke put on his flowered vest, hat and made sure his six gun was in his pocket and stepped outside. Engaged in conversation they strolled down the street, stopping in front of all places, a shooting gallery. (apopular fixture in many towns of the time).
The discussion quickly degenerated into a agurment. Short had his thumbs hooked in the armholes of his vest. As he dropped his hands to read adjust his vest, Courtright yelled ” don’t you pull a gun on me”.
Both men had guns out at the same time, luckly Luke got of the first shot, one of the luckluest in frontier history. the bullet smashed Courtrights right thumb, disabling his revolver.
Luke fired repeadly untill his gun was empty at point blank range. The longhaired gunfighter fell to the ground, unconscious before he hit the ground. He died a few minutes later. The outcome stuned Fort Worth, every one expected the fight to happen sooner or later. what they did not expect was for Luke short to survive. In their minds it was like David slaying Goliath.
Luke never went to trial, the entire affair was a clear case of self defense. Neverthless, Short also was dying. He ate too much, drank too much, kept terrable hours and his health began to quickly fail. At thirty-six years of age his kidneys began to fail him. In Decamber of 1890 a shotgun blast from behind crippled his left hand and leg, no record shows who did the deed.
He knew he was dying from his own hard living and paid $20 for a Oakwood Cemetery lot in Fort Worth. He purchased his own granite stone with the inscription “Luke Short, 1854-1893”
Luke Short passed on to the great gambling emporuim in the sky on September 8,. A man who, according to his biographe, had outlived his life in less than forty years.
I guess the real thing of note here is the two drawing their pistols in the street, in a close imation of the shootouts of the western movies and TV.
In one of my books I have graph or chart if you will, that shows the ages of the most famious gunfighters at the time of their deaths. They fall into two catagories, those who lived fast and violent, and those who quit and lived a long age. Most of the violent deaths occured before the age of 36.
Anyway like before I am sure you can find more on these two fellows by researching the web.
I’ll introduce you to a few more later.
gotta rambel on out of here now