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