Post By Cruel Hand Luke
Post By Cruel Hand Luke
March 29th, 2012 10:51 AM
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.
March 29th, 2012 10:52 AM
According to the Pensacola Gazette, Bowen chased a black man through the terminal and hotel dining room. The man escaped as Chipley passed by while going to his office.Bowen shouted at Chipley asking why he had not stopped the man and Chipley replied he had nothing to do with it! Bowen proceeded to point his cocked pistol at Chipley who jammed his hand between the hammer and frame preventing it from firing. He snatched the gun from Bowen and hit him over the head with it. The confrontation ended with Bowen leaving swearing to kill Chipley. Here we see again that a weapon disarm is a viable tactic especially if the object of the disarm is very close. It is often much easier to take a gun away from someone than to outdraw the drawn gun. Most people probably look at the disarm as a modern"progressive" technique, but it has been performed as long as people have been pointing guns at each other.
Another "modern" item is the backup gun. How many carry a snubnose or small auto as a backup to their primary pistol? There is evidence of backup guns being carried by various individuals in the late 19th century. Wells Fargo detective James B Hume was known to carry a cut down Colt 1860 Army .44 cap and ball revolver.Hume was the man who captured Charles "Black Bart" Boles. Noted El Paso marshal Dallas Stoudemire carried a similarly chopped 1860 Army as a backup to his pair of Smith and Wesson .44 Americans. Wild Bill Hickok was known to carry a derringer or two in his vest as backups to his Colt 1851 Navy pistols. John "Doc" Holliday was also known to carry a .41 caliber Remington derringer also. Though it seems some folks did carry them documented cases of using them seems thin. There is however at least one account.
John Wesley Hardin was gambling over a bowling match one day. He had removed his pistols so he could roll, and an argument ensued. His opponent a man named Phil Sublette threatend him and went for his pistol. Hardin pulls a "Bulldog" pistol and sticks it in the man's ear! So not only did Hardin carry his two "belt pistols" but apparently also a "hideout gun" too! Hardin also mentions drawing and firing a derringer at another man.But aside from these instances I have not found many documented cases of small backup guns being employed. The lack of documentation of usage however should not be viewed as an indictment against backups. Most fights just did not go long enough to empty one (or both) "primaries" and then pull the backup too! Much like today, carrying a backup is an insurance policy against a worst case scenario!
The last Hardin incident we will look at is his last. On the night of August 19,1895 Hardin stood at the bar of the Acme Saloon in El Paso, drinking and rolling dice with a grocer named Henry Brown. Earlier in the evening Hardin had a heated exchange of words with constable John Selman. In the hours since then Selman had been fuming over the incident. Around midnight while Hardin stood at the bar Selman stepped through the doorway and shot Hardin in the back of the head. He fired several more shots as Hardin fell to the floor. Just like Wild Bill, Hardin met his end not in a shootout, but in an ambush from behind. Hardin had such a reputation as a gunman that even at age 42 folks were not lining up to challenge him. Ambush eliminates the advantage of skill! Though Hardin was armed, reportedly carrying a SW New Frontier 44/40 double action revolver and a Colt 1877 .41 double action, he was shot from behind and had no chance to get his gun into play.
It is also interesting to note that Selman said he shot Hardin in the head because Hardin was "known to wear a metal breastplate".The newspapers even reported no sign of a mail shirt on Hardin as it was rumored among the citizens of El Paso that he always wore one. Hardin makes no mention of ever wearing armor but his manuscript was not finished when he was killed. It is also unlikely that he would have mentioned it if he did wear a "vest" as it would not have been smart to "advertise" . Wyatt Earp was also rumored to have worn some type of mail shirt under his shirt, but I can find no documentation of him ever actually doing so. Again, not the sort of thing you tell people.
Now before you say "RUBBISH" to this let us look at another historical event. Comanche chief Pohibit Quasha (also known as Iron Shirt or Iron Jacket) was rumored to be impervious to gunfire. He was in fact witnessed having been shot in numerous confrontations to no ill effect. On May 12,1858 on the banks of the South Canadian River after pursuit by John "RIP" Ford's force of Texas Rangers and Brazos River reservation indians Iron Jacket's luck would run out. Indian sharpshooter Jim Pockmark patiently waited for the shot and put a .58 caliber musketball through Iron Jacket's unprotected side. It turns out that armor not magic is what had preserved the chief for so long. He wore an armor breastplate vest left over from the Spanish Conquista hundreds of years before. Hmmm.... maybe something to wear to stop bullets is a good thing? Interestingly though, we see that rifle fire is still a good solution to armored opponents!
The final confrontation we will look into is the February 8,1887 streetfight between gambler/gunmen Luke Short and "Long Hair" Jim Courtright. Luke Short was a gambler/gunman who had moved to Fort Worth, Texas from Dodge City , Kansas.He had been a half owner of the Long Branch Saloon in Dodge City.He was friends with Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday and had survived several altercations before moving to Texas.In Fort Worth he had bought into the White Elephant Saloon and ran afoul of town marshall Jim Courtright.
"Long Hair Jim" Courtright was a gunman of some repute. He was a rumored to be a crack shot, even skilled enough to be able to shoot the dangling ear rings from his wife's ears without harming her. He was reputed to have killed between 6 and 10 men in the performance of his duties. However most of his duties were running a "protection racket" where he fleeced area saloon proprieters for payments for his "protective services". Short refused Courtright's offer for protection and the animosty grew between them.
On the night of February 8 an intoxicated Courtright called Short out into the street. Short came out to see what the commotion was. There he was confronted by Courtright. The two men argued for a minute. Short was a notoriously dapper dresser and during the argument he grabbed hold of the lapels of his vest. Courtright yelled out "Don't you pull a gun on me!" and Short answered, replying he had no gun.He told Courtright to see for himself.
As the two stood literally face to face Courtright pulled his pistol and projected it toward Short. Now as far as EXACTLY what happened is not clear. Courtright's pistol snagged on a watch chain.But it is unclear whether it was his own or Short's. At the distance they were standing EITHER is possible. Some reports had Courtright shoving the muzzle of his Colt Single Action Army .45 into Short's stomach and the hammer falling with Short's watch chain getting caught between the hammer and frame preventing the gun from firing. Other accounts have Courtright getting tangled in his own watch chain as he drew the pistol.
Regardless of whose time piece was involved, Courtright's pistol did not fire.At the same time Short pulled a .38 Colt 1877 DA "Lightning" pistol from his back pocket firing as it came up. The bullet struck the frame of Courtright's pistol and tore off Courtright's right thumb! Courtright passed the pistol to his left hand in an attempt to stay in the fight, but Short took this time to step back and fire three or four rounds into Courtright's chest. Courtright crumpled to the cold street.
The next day local hardware stores experienced a run on double action pistols. Word had gotten out about how fast Short had dispatched a gunman of Courtright's skill and reputation.Short had used the double action Colt to good effect, and folks thought that Courtright's demise surely had more to do with his single action pistol than picking on the wrong man.Much like today people thought it had more to do with the equipment than the skill and nerve of the operator.
In this final fight we see all the elements of a classic close quarter engagement stemming from an alcahol fueled argument.The combatants begin the fight at range close enough to touch each other. Courtright yells for Short to not pull a gun , likely in an attempt to make murder look like self defense.Even today what the witnesses hear may be as important as what they see! Again we see a draw getting fouled when it is made from street clothes and not from "range gear". Do we see a pattern developing? We also see projecting the pistol toward the target when you are in touching distance is a bad idea. Short's fast draw and shooting along the line of presentation of the pistol saved the day here.
Courtright showed good instinct if not good judgement. After being wounded in the gun hand he tried to pass it off to the off hand to stay in the fight. The problem was he was facing a skilled gunman. Training for the lowest common denominator of an opponent has always been bad for your health! And as always luck sometimes plays a part!
I hope this has shown a glimpse of how the REAL wild west gunfights were. They were fast,close up, violent affairs that rarely looked anything like TV or movies.They really are just like what we encounter today. The equipment changes but the dynamics are the same. If this interests you further you might read some of my source material. The Life Of John Wesley Hardin as Told By Himself by J.W. Hardin, John Wesley Hardin; Dark Angel of Texas by Leon Metz, The Last Gunfighter by Richard Marohn, Wild Bill Hickok-Gunfighter by Joseph Rosa,Guns and the Gunfighters by the Guns and ammo editors, and the History Channel's Wild West tech.
March 29th, 2012 11:06 AM
interesting post.....and thank you
got to the part about the Acme Saloon though and my reading voice changed to Elmer Fund
an interesting aspect of handguns is that relative to history, they are recent. so as technology advanced them, people
changed how they were used. but the basics have stayed the same:
it the person, not the tool
though the individual most accomplished with his tools, coupled with the fortitude of being a survivor
stands the best chance of still standing when the dust settles.
Arthritis sucks big-big
Why do those elected to positions of power than work so hard
to deny those same opportunities to the same people who empowered them
March 29th, 2012 11:25 AM
Good read...interesting. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Thanks for sharing.
"The beauty of the Second Amendment is that it will not be needed until they try to take it".
March 29th, 2012 12:20 PM
Thanks for the history. Training with the double action developed with Fairbairn, Bryce, McGivern, and Jordan. The auto came into its own with the modern method of Jeff Cooper. The basics haven't changed from the stone age.
Liberty, Property, or Death - Jonathan Gardner's powder horn inscription 1776
Tu ne cede malis, sed contra audentior ito.
("Do not give in to evil but proceed ever more boldly against it.")
-Virgil, Aeneid, vi, 95
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