Hot Springs Gunfight

Hot Springs Gunfight

The Hot Springs Gunfight, or Hot Springs Shootout (March 16, 1899), was a gunbattle between two separate law enforcement agencies that occurred in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Despite being little known, it resulted in more deaths than the famed Gunfight at the OK Corral.

Building tensions

The spa town of Hot Springs, Arkansas, had a long history of illegal gambling, which had developed into frequent violence by the late 19th century. From the 1870s, two factions fought one another for control over the gambling inside the city of Hot Spings, which by that time had a population of around 10,000. Those two families were the Flynns and the Dorans. Those two factions were involved in numerous gunbattles in downtown Hot Springs during the course of that.

Flynn-Doran feud

Frank Flynn was the leader of the Flynn faction, and by 1883 he had himself firmly in control of the gambling market in Hot Springs. Through bribes made to officers on the Hot Springs Police Department, he gave himself the security of not having to worry with local law enforcement. Deputies from the Sheriff's Office also worked for him on occasion, but Flynn gave priority to, and paid more money to, the police department. By 1883, Flynn owned seven gambling houses, and any who dared to enter the city and attempt to open up a rival gambling house were dealt with by the police. In 1884, however, former Confederate Army Major Alexander S. Doran arrived, opening gambling houses of his own. Doran had a reputation as being good with a gun, and attempts at intimidating him were ineffective.

Flynn challenged Doran to a duel not long after Doran's arrival. That ended with Flynn being shot once in the chest, but not fatally. There were numerous subsequent clashes between the two factions, with several murders both suffered and inflicted by both sides. Doran was killed in 1888 in downtown Hot Springs, having killed ten men since the struggle for control of Hot Springs began. Flynn remained in business, and continued to favor using the city police department to collect debts owed to him, or to force competition to leave town.

Local politics

[ Thomas C. Toler] was the Hot Springs Chief of Police during this period, having originally been hired in the early 1870s by the first Garland County sheriff, William Little. By the mid-1890s, he had a falling out with City Mayor W.W. Waters, leading Toler to support William L. Gordon in the 1897 mayoral election. The Hot Springs Police Department had acquired a reputation for enforcing the will of the gambling factions, often assisting gambling establishments with collecting unpaid debt, or forcing unwanted competition to leave the town.

However, although Gordon appointed Toler once again as police chief, Gordon ordered him to enforce new regulations that would restrict gambling activities. Toler disagreed, preferring a more liberal policy. He also had strong contacts inside the gambling community, alliances he did not want to shake.

The county sheriff at the time was Bob Williams, who supported of Mayor Gordon, whereas Toler had the total support of his police department. Williams' brother Coffee was his Chief Deputy. Coffee Williams frequented gambling establishments, and had a problem with alcohol consumption, but otherwise was considered competent in his duties. As tensions built between the two agencies over the proposed crackdown on gambling, there were several heated verbal disputes between officers. Although from the outside it would appear that the County Sheriff was siding with the Mayor to rid Hot Springs of gambling, in reality the clash was ultimately over whether the county sheriff's office or the city police department would control the illegal profits.

First violent confrontation

On the morning of March 16th, 1899, a meeting of Independent Party Members was held at the Hot Springs City Hall, to include Mayoral candidate C.W. Fry. There were also several police officers present. Toler was obviously now supporting Fry for the upcoming election. After the meeting concluded, someone, whose identity was never known, met with Sheriff Bob Williams, informing him of everything said during the meeting. Williams stormed from his office and went downtown, and happened to meet friend Dave Young, who worked occasionally as a deputy. The two men entered the Klondike Saloon, where they discussed the earlier meeting, at around 1:30pm.

At that same time, Hot Springs Police Sergeant [ Tom Goslee] was eating at the Corrinne Remington Cafe, after which he departed and went to the Tobe and York's barbershop at 614 Central Avenue to cut his hair. He had left his .44 caliber revolver in his desk at the police station, but had with him a two-shot derringer. Williams and Young left the Klondike Saloon, heading down to the corner of Spring Street, where they observed Goslee leaving the barbershop. Sheriff Williams called out to him from across the street, and Goslee crossed over to meet with them. Goslee held out his hand to greet Williams, who ignored it and instead gave him a piece of paper containing the names of all present during the meeting. Williams then stated in part, "I want to know what you mean by working against me." Goslee denied nothing, and responded calmly, then saw fit to defend Chief Toler.

Williams called Goslee a liar and a coward, and began to yell at him. When it appeared Williams was reaching for something under his coat, Goslee quickly drew his derringer, stating "I want no trouble with you, as you are the sheriff of the county, but I will defend myself if forced to." Young then stepped between both men, placing a hand on each mans shoulder, saying, "Boys, boys, this will not do". Young would later tell a friend he believed Goslee would have killed Williams had he not stepped in.

Sheriff Williams opened his coat, and showed Goslee that he was not armed, then continued to yell at him. Williams then saw his son, Johnny, who worked part-time as a deputy, walking out of the City Hall Saloon. Sheriff Williams walked to him to greet him. According to witnesses, Johnny passed his father a .44 caliber revolver, then took another from a friend for himself. Williams then opened fire on Goslee, who returned fire with his two-shot derringer, then retreated under fire from both Sheriff Williams and his son.

Goslee escaped unhurt down an alley to the Sumpter House, where he remained until Chief Toler and another officer arrived to escort him to city hall. Toler notified prosecutor David Cloud, who after taking statements from witnesses and the two men, issued a warrant for the arrest of Sheriff Williams. Fourteen shots had been fired during the exchange, but with no one hurt. Chief Toler suggested Goslee meet with Johnny Williams to try and patch things up with him before things got worse, and Toler himself would meet with Sheriff Williams. Toler then called a private meeting at his home, asking Goslee, C.W. Fry, Captain Lee Haley, Arlington Hotel owner Samual H. Stitt, and property owner George M. French. In that meeting they discussed how to best lessen tensions between the two police agencies.

Toler then contacted Sheriff Williams to arrange a meeting at 5:30pm, which Williams agreed to but said it had to be short as his daughter Florence was having her 21st birthday party. Sheriff Williams learned after his conversation with Chief Toler that his son Johnny was scheduled to meet with Sergeant Goslee. Williams then contacted his brother, Coffee, to accompany Johnny to that meeting.

econd shootout

Around 5:00pm that day, Captain Haley and Sgt. Goslee walked down Central Avenue, meeting Johnny Williams, Coffee Williams, and Deputy Ed Spear in front of the Oliver and Finney grocery store. They greeted one another cordially, even jokingly, with Johnny Williams commenting that he wanted everyone to be his friend. Chief Toler and Captain Haley went to Lemp's Beer Depot, where Haley's brother-in-law, Louis Hinkle, was bartender. It was here they were to meet Sheriff Williams. Coffee Williams and Ed Spear soon joined them in the bar. It was after this that things began to take a turn from bad, to worse.

Haley told Spear, "Ed, I understand you have told people that if I put my head out, you're going to shoot it off." Spear seemed stunned for a moment, then replied that anyone who said that was lying. Louis Hinkle, standing behind the bar, became enraged. "Don't you make me out to be a liar", he told Spear, then with one swift motion he grabbed Spear around the neck, pulled out a knife, and sliced Spear's throat. As Spear struggled to get himself free, and to stop the bleeding, Haley said to Hinkle, "For God's sake, stop!"

Hinkle, however, would not let go. Toler and Goslee moved quickly toward the struggle, but before they reached the men, Spear wrestled free, pulled his pistol, and shot Hinkle in the throat. As Hinkle staggered backward, wounded, Coffee Williams shot him in the chest one time. Goslee was then shot by Johnny Williams, who was outside the bar, shooting him twice, once in the right knee, and once in the groin. Goslee returned fire, shooting Johnny Williams in the head, but not killing him instantly. Coffee Williams then shot Goslee, killing him.

Chief Toler then began shooting at Coffee Williams, who ran into the street and took refuge behind a freight wagon. Captain Haley had fled when the first shots were fired, leaving Toler outgunned and alone. Ed Spear, still bleeding badly, began shooting at Toler, along with Coffee Williams, and Toler returned fire toward both, hitting Spear in the shoulder. Toler then moved to get a better position on Coffee Williams, and as they exchanged shots, Toler was hit twice, killing him, one bullet fired from Coffee Williams hitting him in the head, and one from Spear hitting him in the chest. Either shot would have been fatal. When Toler went down, the shooting stopped. Toler, Goslee, and Hinkle lay dead, and Johnny Williams lay dying. Bystander Alan Carter had been wounded by a stray bullet, Spear was hurt bad, and bleeding badly, but would survive.

However, the shooting was not over. Hot Springs Detective [ Jim Hart] responded to the shootout, having been informed by citizens. Sheriff Williams had arrived by that time, finding his son dying, and getting a full report of what had happened from his brother Coffee. Seeing Hart, Sheriff Williams walked over to him and said, "Here's another of those sons of bitches", then pointed his pistol and shot Hart point blank in the face. Deputy Will Watt, nephew to Sheriff Williams, then leaned over the sheriff and fired two more bullets into Hart's already dead body. Chief Toler's wife by this time had arrived. However, she did not cry, she simply glared at Sheriff Williams, who told her "Yes, we got Toler, and I wish we had you where he is now." Toler's wife then left, retrieving a gun from her house, and returned with the intent to shoot Sheriff Williams, who had by then left the scene. By 9:30pm, Johnny Williams had died, bringing the total to five killed and two wounded.


Constable Sam Tate and his deputy Jack Archer removed the bodies, taking them to Gross' Funeral Home. Mayor Gordon called an emergency meeting, and replaced Chief Toler with L.D. Beldin. Gordon and Beldin selected 150 men to carry out armed patrols of the city, and tourists began leaving in large numbers. Newspaper reporters from the Arkansas Democrat and the Arkansas Gazette converged on the town, and the following day an inquest was held, with Governor Daniel Webster Jones present. Sheriff Bob Williams, Ed Spear, Will Watt and Coffee Williams were charged with murder. All four were arrested, but made bail.

A series of trials followed, resulting in the finding Spear and Coffee Williams had acted in self defense. The trials of Bob Williams and Will Watt ended in a hung jury, on conflicting testimony from witnesses. Jim Hart's wife was blind, and later filed a $20,000 lawsuit against Bob Williams, but lost. The tensions between the Hot Springs Police Department and the Garland County Sheriffs Office were strong well into the early 20th century over the affair. Although Frank Flynn was forced out of town following the shootout by a "Citizens Commission" formed by Mayor Gordon, illegal gambling did not go away, and corruption within both law enforcement agencies remained.

External links

* [ Hot Springs Gunfight]
* [ Lawmen against Lawmen]
* [ Officer Down]
* [ Hot Springs, AR, History]
* [ Gunfighter Legends, Major A.S. Doran]
* [ Spa Town History]
* [ Flynn-Doran Factions]
* [,+Hot+Springs&hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=17 The Story of Hot Springs Gambling]
* [ Organized Crime connections to Hot Springs, Arkansas]

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