Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Wild Bill Hickok–Davis Tutt shootout

The Wild Bill Hickok–Davis Tutt shootout was a gunfight that occurred on July 21, 1865 in the town square of Springfield, Missouri between Wild Bill Hickok, and a local cowboy named Davis Tutt. It is considered to be one of the few recorded instances in the Wild West of a one-on-one pistol quickdraw duel in a public place, in the manner later made iconic by countless dime novels, radio operas, and Western films such as Gary Cooper in High Noon and Clint Eastwood in the Dollars Trilogy. The first story of the shootout was detailed in an article in Harper's in 1867, instantly making Hickok a household name.

Tutt and Hickok were both dedicated gamblers who frequented the same saloons and had at one point been friends, despite the fact that Tutt was a Confederate Army veteran, while Hickok had been a scout for the Union. Little is known about Davis Tutt's background. He originally came from Marion County, Arkansas, where his family had been involved in the Tutt-Everett War, during which several of his family members had been killed. He went west following the Civil War.

The eventual falling out between Hickok and Tutt reportedly occurred following grudges over women; while sources differ, there were rumors that Hickok had once dallied with Tutt's sister, possibly fathering an illegitimate child. Tutt had also been observed paying a great deal of attention to Wild Bill's then paramour, Susanna Moore.

By all accounts, by July 20, 1865, the two men were sworn enemies. Hickok staunchly refused to play in any card game that included Tutt. Tutt retaliated by openly supporting other local card-players with advice and money in a dedicated attempt to bankrupt Hickok.

The simmering conflict eventually came to a head during a game of poker at the Lyon House Hotel (now called the Old Southern Hotel). Wild Bill was playing against several other local gamblers while Tutt stood nearby, loaning money as needed and "encouraging [them], coaching [them] on how to beat Hickok."

The game was being played for high stakes, and Hickok did well, winning about $200 ($3,080 in 2010 dollars) of what was essentially Tutt's money. Irritated by his losses and unwilling to admit defeat, Tutt suddenly reminded Hickok of a $40 debt from a horse trade. Hickok shrugged and paid the sum, but Tutt was unappeased. He then claimed that Hickok owed him an additional $35 from a past poker game, back when Hickok was still willing to play against Tutt. "I think you are wrong, Dave," said Hickok. "It's only twenty-five dollars. I have a memorandum in my pocket."

Tutt had a large following at the Lyon House and, encouraged by his numerous armed associates, decided to take the opportunity to humiliate his enemy; in the midst of their argument over the $10 difference in the debt (and while Hickok was still playing), Tutt grabbed one of Hickok's most prized possessions off the table, his Waltham Repeater gold pocket watch, and announced that he would keep the watch as collateral until Hickok paid the full $35 Hickok was shocked and livid, but Tutt had many armed supporters in the room and Hickok was unable or unwilling to resort to violence on the spot. Humiliated and stone-faced with anger, he quietly demanded that Tutt put the watch back on the table. Tutt reportedly replied only with an "ugly grin" and left the premises with the watch.

Aside from the grave insult of publicly humiliating Hickok and taking his property, for Davis to demand collateral on a debt from a fellow professional card player was also a major allegation, as it implied Hickok was a "crawfish", an insolvent gambler who tried to "wriggle out" of their debts. To ignore such a charge from one as well-known as Tutt would surely have ruined Hickok's career as a gambler in Springfield, which by all accounts was both his favorite activity and his only source of income.

Taking advantage of Hickok's newly weakened position, groups of Tutt's friends reportedly continued to mock Hickok for several days after the initial confrontation, baiting him with talk of the pocket watch to see if he could be goaded into drawing in anger so he could be shot down by the whole group. By this point Hickok's patience was at the breaking point; after a pointed exchange at the Lyon House where a group of Tutt's supporters mocked Hickok by announcing they'd heard Tutt was planning to wear the watch "in the middle of the town square" the next day, Hickok reportedly replied "He shouldn't come across that square unless dead men can walk." Having apparently made up his mind, he then immediately returned to his room to clean, oil and reload his pistols in anticipation of a confrontation with Tutt the next morning.

Though Tutt had humiliated his rival, Hickok's ultimatum essentially forced his hand. To go back on his very public boast would make everyone think he was afraid of Hickok, and so long as he intended to stay in Springfield, he could not afford to show cowardice. The next day, he arrived at the town square around 10 a.m. with Hickok's watch openly hanging from his waist pocket. The word quickly spread that Tutt was making good on his pledge to humiliate Hickok, and reached Hickok's own ears within an hour.

According to the testimony of Eli Armstrong and supported by two other witnesses, John Orr and Oliver Scott, Hickok met Tutt at the square and, along with Armstrong and Orr, they sat to discuss the terms of the watch's return. Tutt now wanted $45, Armstrong tried to convince Tutt to accept the original $35 and negotiate for the rest later, but Hickok was still adamant that he only owed $25. Tutt then held the watch in front of Hickok and stated he would accept no less than $45. Both then said they didn't want to fight and they all went for a drink together. Tutt later left, went to the livery stable and then returned to the square.

At a few minutes before 6 p.m., Hickok was seen calmly approaching the square from the south, his Colt Navy in hand. His armed presence caused the crowd to immediately scatter to the safety of nearby buildings, leaving Tutt alone in the northwestern corner of the square. At a distance of about 75 yards (70 meters), Hickok stopped, facing Tutt, and called out, "Dave, here I am." He cocked his pistol, holstered it on his hip, and gave a final warning, "Don't you come across here with that watch." Tutt did not reply, but stood with his hand on his pistol.

Davis Tutt was acknowledged as the better marksman, but both showed courage by all accounts. Both men faced each other sideways in the dueling position and hesitated briefly. Then Tutt reached for his pistol. Hickok drew his gun and steadied it on his opposite forearm. The two men fired a single shot each at essentially the same time, according to the reports. Tutt missed, but Hickok's bullet struck Tutt in the left side between the fifth and seventh ribs. Tutt called out, "Boys, I'm killed," ran onto the porch of the local courthouse and back to the street, where he collapsed and died

The next day, a warrant was issued for Hickok's arrest and two days later he was arrested. Bail was initially denied, as is common in murder cases. Hickok eventually posted a bail of $2,000 (2010:$30,800) on the same day, after the magistrate reduced the charge from murder to manslaughter based on the circumstances. Hickok was arrested under the name of William Haycocke (the name Hickok had been using in Springfield) for the manslaughter of David Tutt. During the trial, the names were amended to J. B. Hickok and Davis Tutt/Little Dave, "little" being the equivalent in that period for the present day "Junior" to indicate having the same name as the father.

Hickok's manslaughter trial began on August 3, 1865 and lasted three days. Twenty-two witnesses from the square testified at the trial. Hickok's lawyer was the prestigious Colonel John S. Phelps, former wartime governor of Arkansas. The prosecution was led by Major Robert W. Fyan, and the judge was Sempronius Boyd. The trial transcripts have been lost, but newspaper reports of the trial indicate that Hickok claimed self-defense. The most disputed fact at the trial was who fired first. Only four witnesses actually watched the fight. Two claimed both men fired, but they could not tell who drew first. One said he was standing behind Hickok so he only saw Hickok draw, as his view of Tutt was blocked. Another said Tutt did not fire, but admitted noticing Tutt's gun had a discharged chamber. The other witnesses all stated that while they did not see the shooting, they heard only one shot.

Despite Hickok's claim of self-defense being technically illegitimate under the state law pertaining to mutual combat (since he had come to the square armed and in expectation of a fight), the jury decided that he was still justified in shooting Tutt; the unwritten sensibilities of the time dictated that, as Tutt was both the initiator of the fight and the first to display overt aggression, and two witness reports indicated that Tutt was the first to reach for his pistol, Hickok was absolved of guilt for shooting him down. It was also noted that Hickok was seen as particularly honorable for giving Tutt several chances to avoid the conflict instead of simply shooting him the moment he felt he was being shown disrespect. Judge Sempronius Boyd gave the jury two apparently contradictory instructions. He first instructed the jury that a conviction was its only option under the law. He then instructed them that they could apply the unwritten law of the "fair fight" and acquit, an action known as jury nullification which allows a jury to make a finding contrary to the law. The trial ended with an acquittal on August 6, 1865, after the jury deliberated for only "an hour or two" before reaching a verdict of not guilty, a verdict that was not popular at the time. The verdict was both expected and well in keeping with the "trail law" of the day; as stated by a modern historian, "Nothing better described the times than the fact that dangling a watch held as security for a poker debt was widely regarded as a justifiable provocation for resorting to firearms."

Due to its notoriety, the gunfight has since received much research attention, with many writing that Hickok killed Tutt for no reason whatsoever, short of humiliation. Many have argued that while Hickok felt humiliated by Tutt wearing the watch, Tutt could also claim the same humiliation if he failed to wear the watch, essentially bowing to Hickok's warning. Several weeks after the gunfight, on September 13, 1865, Colonel George Ward Nichols, a writer for Harper's, sought out Hickok and began the interviews that would eventually turn the then-unknown gunfighter into one of the great legends of the Old West. Davis Tutt's body was buried in the Springfield City Cemetery and in March 1883 it was disinterred by Lewis Tutt, a former slave of the Tutt family, and reburied in Maple Park Cemetery.

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