8 greatest gunfights of the Wild West

Beyond the dusty streets at high noon, clinking of spurs, Stetsons, tin stars and calls of "DRAW!" in Hollywood westerns, here are the real gunfights that made this lawless time so iconic.

Charles Marion Russel – Smoke of a .45 @ Google Art Project
1

Wild Bill Hickok vs Davis Tutt, 21 July 1865

Duels to see who had the quickest draw were actually much rarer than the films suggest. On this occasion, Tutt was demanding the payment of a gambling debt and took his former friend’s gold watch as collateral. When words failed to calm matters, they stepped outside into the town square of Springfield, Missouri. Both fired, but Tutt rushed, Wild Bill didn’t.

Advertisement
Hickok Tutt Duel 1865 © Harpers Monthly Magazine
Hickok Tutt Duel 1865 © Harpers Monthly Magazine
2

Long Branch Saloon, 5 April 1879

Frank Loving had been quarrelling with Levi Richardson, who he caught making advances on his wife, for a while. Guns were finally drawn in the notorious Long Branch Saloon in Kansas’s even more notorious Dodge City, with the two men standing right in front of each other. Richardson went down with three extra holes, but despite the very close range, Loving somehow walked away with nothing more than a graze.

Them Three Mexicans Is Eliminated by Frederic Remington, 1897
Them Three Mexicans Is Eliminated by Frederic Remington, 1897
3

Coffeyville Bank Robbery, 5 October 1892

The infamous Dalton Gang got more than they bargained for when they tried to rob two banks, on opposite sides of the street, on the same day. A quick-thinking clerk convinced them the safe had a time lock, which gave the townspeople time to arm themselves. The shooting started as the gang walked out of the bank, leaving four of them dead. Despite being hit 23 times, Emmett Dalton survived and, after serving 14 years in prison, went to Hollywood and played himself in a movie.

The Dalton Gang (deceased)
The Dalton Gang (deceased)
4

Frisco Shootout, 1 December 1884

This is a true David-and-Goliath gunfight. The 19-year-old lawman Elfego Baca, holed up in a small house, withstood a 36-hour siege by as many as 80 shooters. According to legend, 4,000 rounds hit the building, but none touched Baca. The attackers gave up when they ran out of ammo.

Elf ego Baca statue, New Mexico Reserve © Wikimedia Commons
Elf ego Baca statue, New Mexico Reserve © Wikimedia Commons 
5

Davis vs the Sydney Ducks, 19 December 1854

While trekking along a miner’s trail, Jonathan R Davis and his two partners were ambushed by a 13-strong gang – half of which were Australian criminals, known as the Sydney Ducks. His friends were gunned down immediately but the army veteran kept his cool, pulled his guns and dropped seven in quick succession. He killed or fatally wounded a further four with his Bowie knife.

Captain Jonathan R Davis
Captain Jonathan R Davis
6

Wild Bill and the dead man’s hand, 1 August 1876

Another mention for Wild Bill Hickok, but this time he didn’t come out the winner. As he played poker at a saloon in Deadwood, a drunkard named Jack McCall, who lost at cards to Wild Bill the previous day, walked in and shot the famous gunslinger in the back. The hand he was holding at time – the aces and eights of spades and clubs – is now known as ‘dead man’s hand’.

Dead Man's Hand
Dead Man’s Hand
Advertisement

This content first appeared in the April 2017  issue of History Revealed