24 Mar 13

Luke Short, 1854-1893

Luke Short, a weedy, diminutive alcoholic (like most of his gunfighter colleagues of the era) is less well known than his friends and contemporaries Wyatt Earp, “Wild Bill” Hickok, “Bat” Masterson, et al.

Like another contemporary, “Doc” Holiday, Short never enjoyed good health, and, like Hickok, never saw his fortieth birthday.

Like Hickok, Short disdained holsters and normally carried a “snubby” revolver concealed in his right pocket.

Like so many of his contemporaries, Short tried to make a living on the western frontier as a gambler and bar-owner, roaming from KS to AZ to TX, although in his early years he had served as an army scout and was competent frontiersman, cowboy, and shootist.

Short was best known for his dapper dressing. In one of the few existing photographs of him, he is sporting a top-hat, cane, coat, vest, and tie. His “handlebar” moustache was standard for the era.

Short had been involved in at least one fatal gunfight in Tombstone, AZ, while in the company of his friend, Bat Masterson. It was early in 1881. Short had a reputation for fearlessness and never backing down. As with Doc Holiday, odds never troubled him!

In Ft Worth, TX in February of 1887, Short, then owner of a local bar called the “White Elephant,” was angrily confronted by an inebriated Jim Courtright. Courtright was famous for openly wearing two revolvers, one on each side. He cut a dashing figure, but was little more than a perpetually unemployed, down-and-out alcoholic trying to make a living by running a local “protection” racket.

Short was one of the few business-owners who refused to pay protection money to Courtright, so a showdown between the two was probably inevitable!

Courtright, standing (more like tottering) at the front entrance of the White Elephant on the cool evening of Tuesday, 8 Feb 1887, called Short out. Short appeared at the door and greeted Courtright. The two then reportedly started walking together down the street.

At one point, Courtright exclaimed, “… don’t pull a gun on me!” He was apparently referring to a gesture by Short of opening his coat. In any event, Courtright didn’t hesitate! He attempted to draw one of his pistols, but the pistol’s hammer became entangled in an errant watch-chain. That misstep proved fatal!

Short quickly removed his own pistol from his pocket and fired. Range was very close. His first shot nearly severed Courtright’s right thumb. It dangled by a piece of skin from his hand, making it nigh impossible for him to manually cock his pistol’s hammer. It is not clear if, at that point, Courtright attempted to transfer the pistol to his left hand, or draw his other pistol with his left hand. In any event, Short didn’t pause. He fired at least four more shots, this time directly into Courtright’s torso.

Courtright, having never fired even his first shot, slumped to the ground, DRT. He subsequently enjoyed an elaborate funeral, having been a former Town Marshall.

Short was charged briefly, but the shooting was ultimately deemed to be self-defense.

Never in good health, Short himself died, of natural causes, barely five years later, at the age of thirty-nine. Official cause of death was listed as “hydropsy.” Today, we would call it “congestive heart-failure.” Short lived through a number a close scrapes, including the one described above, but hard living, hard drinking, etc are not normally associated with long life!

Lessons: Drinking heavily prior to getting into a serious fight represents a poor plan, as Courtright belatedly discovered. When you require plenty of “liquid courage” prior to facing a dangerous situation, don’t imagine it will have a happy outcome!

Train with all the gear you plan on having with you! That annoying watch chain, which ultimately became the game-changer, was probably not present during Courtright’s practice sessions!

Finally, a poker-players axiom: “Don’t get into poker games with those who can’t afford to lose, nor into gunfights with those who can!”