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Elfego Baca and the Frisco Shootout

In the 1880’s Elfego Baca was a deputy sheriff in Soccoro County, New Mexico and was determined to clean up the town of Reserve.  In 1884 a drunk cowboy named Charlie McCarty ambled down the streets of Reserve, shooting up the town, yelling, hooting, and causing a ruckus.  Baca arrested the drunk cowboy, much to the ire of his fellow cowboys.  The cowboys tried to jump Baca, but he deftly fended off the attack, wounding one cowboy in the knee and shooting the horse of another, the horse falling on the cowboy and killing him.

William McCarty was taken into custody and later held for trial.  A very large gang of cowboys attended the trial, all eyeing up Baca with obvious evil intent.  McCarty was fined $5 and released.  Immediately Baca hightailed it out of the courtroom, taking refuge in the house Geronimo Armijo.  Around 40 heavily armed cowboys surrounded the house and opened fire.  Over the next six hours the cowboys fired over 4,000 rounds, eventually disbursing when they ran out of ammunition.  Baca, however, remained unscathed as the house he was taking shelter in had a floor that was lower than ground level, allowing him to take cover.  During the shootout, Baca killed four cowboys and wounded eight others.

After the gunfight, the cowboys turned to the law the get back at Baca, claiming that he had murdered their four fellow comrades in cold blood.  However the townspeople produced the door of Armijo’s house, riddled with 400 bullet holes, proving Baca’s innocence.  Baca would later become sheriff, deputy marshal, and an attorney.  He died in 1945 at the age of 80.

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Obit of the Day (Historical): The First Shootout (1865)

David Tutt and James “Wild Bill” Hickok met in the center of Springfield, Missouri on July 21, 1865. It was nearly 6:00 p.m. when the two men stood seventy-five yeards apart from one another and pulled their pistols. 

On friendly terms just a day earlier*, Mr. Tutt and Mr. Hickok were playing cards in a local saloon with “Wild Bill” doing well while Mr. Tutt was not. In what appeared to some as the talk of a sore loser, Mr. Tutt decided to bring up an old debt of $40 which Mr. Hickok promptly paid. Not satisfied, Mr. Tutt also told Mr. Hickok that he still owed him $35 in a previously gambling debt. Mr. Hickok said it was only $25. Refusing to compromise over a $10 difference, Mr. Tutt decided to take Mr. Hickok’s watch as collateral on the debt, placed it in his pocket and began to walk out of the bar.

Mr. Hickok was not only furious but embarrassed. By taking collateral it sullied his reputation as a gambler who could pay off his debts in a timely manner. And on top of that Mr. Tutt’s friends began mocking him and making jokes about the watch.

When Mr. Tutt pressed the issue, bragging that he would wear the watch in the town square the next day, Mr. Hickok was heard to say, “He shouldn’t come across that square unless dead men can walk.”

But there was Mr. Tutt at 10:00 a.m. the next morning proudly taunting Mr. Hickok by wearing the pocket watch for all to see.

Over hours the two men talked and some attempted to intervene but as 6:00 approached there was no turning back and Mr. Tutt placed his hand on his pistol and began to draw it from the holster. Mr. Hickok did the same. Mr. Tutt fired but missed, while Mr. Hickok took aim and shot Mr. Tutt in the left side from a distance of 75 yards. (There are markers in Springfield showing the exact locations of the shooters.) Mr. Tutt knew immediately the wound was mortal shouting “Boys, I’m killed.”

Mr. Hickok was arrested and tried for manslaughter. After three days he was found not guilty, the court finding that Mr. Tutt’s watch-wearing was a provocation and the victim took hold of his gun first. Mr. Hickok had killed him in self-defense.

This incident was the cornerstone for Wild Bill’s fame as a gunslinger and, ironically, lawman. It was also recorded as the first-ever shootout, an iconic moment that would become the symbol of America’s Wild West, and recounted myriad times in popular media.

Mr. Hickok himself was killed on August 2, 1876 while playing cards in the town of Deadwood, South Dakota. Here is my post on Mr. Hickok from 2011.

Sources: Wikipedia, City of Springfield, and knowledgenuts.com

(Image of a February 1867 illustration from Harper’s Magazine depicting the immediate aftermath of Mr. Hickok killing Mr. Tutt on July 21, 1865.)

* Their friendship was of note since Mr. Tutt served in the Confederate Army and Mr. Hickok scouted for the Union during the Civil War which had ended only a few short months before.

Other relevant posts:

Calamity Jane - Possible husband of “Wild Bill” and another famed resident of Deadwood. 

Patt Garrett - The man who killed Billy the Kid