On August 20, 1871, one of the largest gunfights to ever take place in the American West was fought in Newton, Kansas. Known as the Hyde Park Gunfight or the Newton Massacre, the shootout claimed more lives than many more famous gunfights such as Dalton Gang Gunfight at Coffeeville, Kansas or the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral in Tombstone, Arizona.
When the Santa Fe Railroad extended its line to Newton, Kansas in 1871, this new frontier town succeeded Abilene as the terminus of the Chisholm Trail. Like other Kansas cowtowns, Newton quickly filled up with saloons, gambling parlors, brothels, and inevitably — lawless and violent men.
McCluskie, an Irishman from Ohio and a rough man by anyone’s standards, had made his way to Kansas via his employment with the Santa Fe Railroad as a Night Policeman.
Shortly after his arrival, he befriended an 18-year-old man named James Riley, who was dying of tuberculosis. This is relevant because Riley would soon play a major role in the famous gunfight that was to come. Billy Bailey was a Texas cowboy who had probably wound up in Newton after one of the long cattle drives.
Both men had been hired by Newton authorities as Special Policemen to keep order in the city during the heated August elections. At that time, the fledgling city was trying to form a new county and who would lead these efforts was a major debate among the locals. Though working in tandem, McCluskie and Bailey had a personality conflict from the start. Constantly arguing, the two men were in the Red Front Saloon on August 11th and their dispute soon led to violence. Starting out as a fistfight, Bailey was knocked out of the saloon and into the dusty street. McCluskie followed, drew his pistol, and fired two shots at Bailey, hitting him in the chest. The wounded man died the next day.
McCluskie immediately fled town to avoid arrest, but returned just a few days later, after he heard that the shooting would most likely be deemed self defense. Though Bailey never produced a weapon, McCluskie claimed he feared for his life, because Bailey had been in three previous gunfights, in which he had killed two men.
In the meantime, several of Bailey’s cowboy friends from Texas heard about his death and vowed to take revenge against his killer. Late on the evening of August 19, 1871, McCluskie strode into Tuttle’s Dance Hall, located in an area of town called Hyde Park. Accompanied by a friend named Jim Martin, a Texas cowboy, the two sat down to play faro. Already in the saloon was McCluskie’s “shadow,” James Riley.
After midnight, three of Bailey’s Texas cowboy friends by the names of Billy Garrett, Henry Kearnes, and Jim Wilkerson, also entered the dance hall. All were armed and Billy Garrett had a history of at least two prior gunfights, where he had been successful in killing two men. The three mingled in the saloon, waiting and watching McCluskie gamble. Soon, another Texas cowboy named Hugh Anderson, the son of a wealthy Bell County, Texas cattle rancher also entered the dancehall, walking directly up to McCluskie and yelling, “You are a cowardly son-of-a-bitch! I will blow the top of your head off!”
Though Jim Martin jumped up and attempted to stop any violence, Anderson ignored him and shot McCluskie in the neck. McCluskie in the meantime, tried to return the shot, but his pistol misfired, and he fell to the floor. Anderson, now standing over him, pumped several more bullets into his back.
In the meantime, Texas cowboys, Kearns, Garrett, and Wilkerson also began firing, perhaps to keep the crowd back. James Riley, McCluskie’s friend, then pulled his two Colt revolvers and opened fire on the Texans. Though Riley had never been in a gunfight before and probably couldn’t see in the smoke-filled room, he unloaded his guns into melee, hitting seven men.
Hit were would-be peacemaker, Jim Martin, who took a shot in the neck before stumbling out of the saloon and dying across the dusty street on the steps of Krum’s dance hall. Texas cowboy, Billy Garrett, was shot in the shoulder and chest and died a few hours later. His friend Henry Kearnes also took a mortal wound, but hung on for a week before he died.
Others, who had no part in the squabble, also took some of Riley’s wild bullets including a Santa Fe Railroad brakeman named Patrick Lee who was shot in the stomach and died two days later. Another Santa Fe employee named Hickey was also shot in the calf, but the wound was not serious and he survived.
The other two Texas cowboys, Jim Wilkerson, and the first shooter, Hugh Anderson were also wounded. Wilkerson was shot in the nose and the leg but recovered from his wounds. Anderson took two shots in the leg and also recovered.
With seven men lying on the floor, young James Riley, who previous to this time had never been in trouble, simply walked out of the smoke-filled saloon and was never seen again.
Later that day, a warrant was issued for the arrest of Hugh Anderson. However, his father and friends smuggled him aboard a train to Kansas City. Later he made his way back to Texas and was never brought to trial for McCluskie’s murder.
However, the whole affair was not yet over. Now, Arthur McCluskie, Mike’s brother, wanted revenge against Hugh Anderson. For two years, Arthur and his friends kept a lookout for Anderson, who was safely hiding in Texas. But Anderson made the mistake of returning to Kansas in 1873, where Arthur tracked him down in Medicine Lodge. Working at Harding’s Trading Post as a bartender, Arthur sent a man in on July 4, 1873, to invite Anderson to a duel — giving him choice weapons — either guns or knives. Anderson chose pistols and soon emerged from the trading post.
After both men emptied their guns into each other, they then resorted to knives and in the end, both were dead.
Though the Hyde Park Gunfight received much publicity at the time, it has received little historical attention, despite producing a higher body count than many more famous gunfights, such as Gunfight at the O.K. Corral or the Hickok-Tutt Shootout. Perhaps this is because there were no “famous” people involved in the shoot-out.
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