Wild Bill Hickok–Davis Tutt shootout

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 was considered to be one of the few recorded shootings in the history of the Wild West that consisted 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. [http://www.straightdope.com/columns/040625.html, The Straight Dope: "Did Western gunfighters really face off one-on-one?" ] The first such story of the shootout was detailed in an article in "Harper's" in 1867, instantly making Wild Bill 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, other than that he came west following the Civil War, originally 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.

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 cards in any 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 card game

The simmering conflict eventually came to a head during a game of poker at 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."cite book |last=O'Connor |first=Richard |title=Wild Bill Hickok |date=1959 |pages=85]

The game was being played for high-stakes, and Hickok did well, winning about $200 (a very substantial sum in 1865) of what was essentially Tutt's money. Irritated by his losses and unwilling to admit defeat, Tutt suddenly reminded Hickok of a $40 debt he owed him from a previous horse trade. Hickok shrugged and paid the sum, but Tutt was unappeased. He then claimed that Hickok owed him an additional $35 debt 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." cite book |last=Connelley |first=William E. |title=Wild Bill and His Era: The Life and Adventures of James Butler Hickok |date=1933 |pages=84-5]

Tutt, sensing a valuable chance, grabbed one of Hickok's most prized possessions off the table, his Waltham Repeater gold pocket watch, and crowed "Fine, I'll just keep your watch 'til you pay me that thirty-five dollars! " Hickok was shocked and livid, but all the other players were Tutt's allies, and the room was crowded; his hands were tied. Humiliated and stone-faced with anger, he quietly warned Tutt not to wear the watch in public. Tutt sneered back, "I intend on wearing it first thing in the morning!"

This was the breaking point for Hickok's patience. "If you do, I'll shoot you," Bill replied bluntly and calmly. "I'm warning you here and now not to come across that town square with it on." Hickok then immediately pocketed the rest of his winnings and left without further incident or conversation. The stage was set for the next day's events.

The gunfight

Though Tutt had initially won a humiliating victory over 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 AM 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.

At approximately 12 Noon, Hickok was seen calmly approaching the square from the north, 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 center of the square. At a distance of about 75 yards, 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."

Despite the gunfight launching Hickok to fame as a gunfighter, Davis Tutt showed courage by all accounts. Both men hesitated briefly. Then Tutt reached for his pistol. The two men quick-drew and fired a single shot each, both shooting at essentially the same time, the reports combining as one. Tutt missed. But Hickok's .36-caliber bullet struck Tutt in the heart, killing him in moments.

Trial and aftermath

The next day, a warrant was issued for Hickok's arrest. He was arrested two days later, during which time bail was initially denied, as was common in murder cases of the time. Hickok eventually posted a bail of $2,000 on the same day after the magistrate reduced the charge from murder to manslaughter based on the circumstances.

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, as expected, claimed self-defense.

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 Tutt, as both the initiator of the fight and undeniably the first man to "palm leather", was the first to display overt aggression, thus absolving Hickok 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 disrespected (which was fairly standard procedure for honor-driven murders in the Old West). cite book |last=Rosa |first=Joseph G. |title=Wild Bill Hickok: The Man and His Myth |date=1996 |pages=121] The trial ended with an acquittal on August 6, 1865, the jury deliberating for only "an hour or two" before reaching a verdict of not guilty. 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 subsequently moved to the Maple Park Cemetery, where his grave is marked with a gravestone showing a carved pocket watch, playing cards and pistols.

See also


*Mexican standoff

*Wild Bill Hickok

*Wild West

*Western movies


* [http://tarlton.law.utexas.edu/lpop/etext/ucla/lubet48.htm Slap Leather, Section 1550, Hickok-Tutt Shootout]

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