More Lessons From the Past
Last time we looked at how the dynamics of confrontation and the issues that we deal with today are essentially the same as they dealt with in the Old West. Things may not be exactly the same, but the similarities vastly out weigh the differences. After all how different is an alleyway mugging with a knife on a hot summer night in 1870 than the same event in 2012?
For many of us TV has been our only frame of reference for what gunfighting in the 19th century was like. Unfortunately the majority of the western movies and TV were stylized,sanitized and modernized and glamorized renditions of how events really happened. You simply can't have the good guy have a fistfight go less than a couple of minutes in a western movie. It also doesn't make for good cinematography for a gun fight to be a clinch situation with a flurry of strikes to the badguy's midsection followed closely by a contact shot to the sternum. "Walk down" gunfights where both parties start at different ends of the street look much better on screen. Boxing match length fist fights also film better than a quick strike to the throat, a punch in the nose followed up by kicking their now downed opponent. Hollywood and reality rarely converge.
So when we look a little closer at what REALLY happened, we see alot of similarities to what still happens in life and death struggles today. The hardware may change, but we still have the same operating software! Last month we looked at some specific gunfights and what we can learn from them. This month I'm going to hit upon several issues that we might just think of as "modern" issues but were in fact issues back then too.
Last month we left off with the 1874 killing that would ultimately send John Wesley Hardin to prison in 1878. Hardin's capture shows us a few things too.Among these are dispelling the myth of open carry in the old west and the importance of a smooth fumble free draw.
Hardin left Texas with the highest bounty of the time on his head ($4000). He moved east to Florida and then to Alabama. He spent 1876 and half of 1877 living in the southeastern US living under the assumed name John Swain. He was finally tracked down and captured August 23, 1877 in Pensacola Junction, Florida which is actually present day Flomaton, Alabama. The capture took place in a railroad smoking car. As Hardin and travelling companions sat waiting for the train to leave, an "entry team" of Texas rangers and Pensacola sheriff's deputies boarded the train.
Accounts vary as to EXACTLY what happened. Hardin saw the rangers and knew they were there for him but he claims to have yelled out that he was being attacked by robbers maybe hoping to get help form other passengers. Sheriff William Henry Hutchinson and Deputy A.J Perdue had entered the car from behind Hardin and they both grabbed him and wrestled him to the floor.As the three men struggled on the floor, ranger John Armstrong came forward and struck Hardin over the head with the barrel of his pistol.One of Hardin's travelling companions Jim Mann, not knowing who the assailants were, pulled a pistol and was promptly shot and killed.Mann was not wanted for anything and it is doubtful he even knew who Hardin really was!
Hardin claims to have never gone for his gun because it was being carried concealed and he knew he'd never outdraw their drawn guns. He was going to wait until later and try to take them by suprise.When asked where his pistol was he claimed to be unarmed but upon being searched the lawmen found a.44 caliber Colt 1860 Army stuffed inside his waistband under his shirt. Another more popular version of this (that I believe is the version Armstrong gave the newspapers) is that Hardin went for his pistol but it snagged on his suspender and he was wrestled to the ground and hit over the head by Armstrong with a revolver. Hardin himself states in his book and in letters that if he had drawn he'd be "a corpse" as there were 40 men outside all about the train station acting as the perimeter team.
In this scene we see several issues that we still deal with today.Hardin's pistol was carried concealed inside the waistband and under his shirt NOT in an exposed belt holster. Many folks think that everyone moved about openly armed in the last half of the 19th century. In fact most states, cities and towns had laws against carrying firearms at all, or at least against open carry in public.It was big business for the police departments and city and town marshalls assessing fines for carrying pistols in town. Guns were typically carried openly out "on the range" but in town they were carried concealed. In fact the shoulder holster and pocket holster were not 20th century inventions, but 19th century inventions to be able to better carry guns concealed.In fact El Paso Saddlery still makes a reproduction of the shoulder holster Hardin commissioned them to make for him in 1895.
Hardin was carrying concealed just like we do today. And just like we do today he had to be able to access the gun under duress. In this instance if we believe the "stuck in the suspender story" his normal quick draw was impeded by the way the gun was carried. Lets face it, even the fastest most deadly pistoleer in the west won't win if he can't get his gun into play! That is why it is so imperative to devote time to drawing your gun from your ACTUAL mode of carry not just open carry range holsters! On the other hand if we believe the accounts that he did not try to draw, we see where even for a man with a lightning fast draw, drawing against a drawn gun is a course of action he decided to avoid in order to wait for the right time later.
We also see here that an impact weapon (in this case a gun barrel) can very well beat a pistol in close quarters. As Hardin struggled to clear his pistol, Armstrong struck him in the head and knocked him to the floor.In fact he lay motionless so long that Armstrong thought he had killed him. It might just as well have been a sap, blackjack or baton. The point is that the mere presence of Hardin's gun AND Hardin's considerable skill, and even his awareness and ability to see the fight coming before it was on could not keep him from being knocked silly and wrestled into submission. For all the guys that think just being aware of your surroundings and carrying a gun and knowing how to use it will solve ALL your problems this incident from history shows that is NOT always the case! If you get "smoked in the melon" by an impact weapon, your pistol skills may never even come into play!
Hardin talks later about about getting ready to affect a gun disarm in order to escape."I knew my only hope was to escape.My guards were kind to me but they were not most vigilant.By promising to be quiet,I had caused them to relax somewhat.When we got to Decatur we had to stop and change cars for Memphis.They took me to a hotel,got a room and sent for our meals.Jack [Duncan] and Armstrong were now getting intimate with me, and when dinner came I suggested the necessity of removing my cuffs and they agreed to do so.Armstrong unlocked the jewelry[manacles] and started to turn around,exposing his six-shooter to me,when Jack jerked him around and pulled his pistol at the same time. 'Look out!' he said 'John will kill us and escape'. Of course I laughed at him and ridiculed the idea. It was really the very chance I was looking for,but Jack had taken the play away just before it got ripe.I intended to jerk Armstrong's pistol, kill Jack Duncan or make him throw up his hands.I could have made him unlock my shackles,or get the key from his dead body and do it myself.I could then have easily made my escape. That time never came again."
It is chillingly clear that had Hardin got hold of the pistol he would have probably tallied at least two more killings. This is no different than today when an officer transports a prisoner. Again, the mere presence of the gun is no real insurance even against an unarmed assailant.Weapon retention and disarm training can save your life! In another incident related from Pensacola a few weeks before Hardin's capture, one William Chipley, the superintendant of the Pensacola Railroad, had an altercation with Hardin's brother-in-law Brown Bowen.