On December 17, 1881, yet another shoot-out occurred in one of Kansas’ many cowtowns – this time in Caldwell, Kansas. The gunfight, which lasted long enough for a hardware store to pass out guns and ammunition to townspeople, left two men dead.
The whole affair began the night before when a group of cowboys, led by Jim Talbot, made a ruckus at a presentation of the play “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” in the Opera House.
Talbot, a Texas cowboy, and his friends who included Jim Martin, Bob Bigtree, Tom Love, Bob Munson, Dick Eddleman, and “Comanche Bill” Mankin, had been in Caldwell for about 30 days, gambling, drinking and hell-raising the entire time.
The day after the episode at the Opera House, the Caldwell Post berated the men for their actions during the play. The swaggering Talbot and his friends, who were still having a “party,” vowed to get even with the editor.
By this time, another man by the name of George Spears, a former police officer and operator of a local dance hall, had joined the group at Ren Moores’ Saloon. When Tom Love created a disturbance in the saloon, former City Marshal, Mike Meagher, went to the home of the current marshal, John Wilson, and asked him to go downtown to stop “a riot.”
The pair then returned to the saloon to arrest Tom Love but as they headed to the courthouse, they were overtaken by Talbot and his cowboy friends at the intersection of Main and Fifth Streets. However, Marshal Wilson took aim at the cowboys, threatening to shoot the first one who made a move. Talbot and his cowboy buddies retreated. Love was taken to court and almost immediately released.
Later in the day, City Marshal John Wilson and Deputy Bill Fossett arrested Jim Martin for carrying firearms and rowdy behavior. Martin was taken to the courthouse and fined. He then headed down the street to get the money to pay the fine, with Deputy Fossett escorting him. However, when they ran into Talbot, Love, Munson, and Eddleman, the cowboys relieved Fossett of his prisoner. When Marshal Wilson heard the commotion, he quickly headed their direction and demanded that the cowboys hand over their weapons.
Instead, Talbot fired two shots at Wilson and the cowboys ran. Wilson enlisted the help of Meagher once again and took off after the cowboys. A man named Ed Rathbun soon joined them. In an alley behind Pulaski’s store, they confronted four cowboys, including Talbot, exchanging several shots. Meagher was hit and died about 30 minutes later. Talbot and the rest of his “gang” fled.
In the meantime, Caldwell citizens had joined the fight and pursued them east of town. With bullets reigning on the fleeing men, George Spears was shot and killed. A running fight continued in a standoff for the next twelve miles until the gang split up and managed to escape south to Indian Territory. Though more posses were formed they were unable to find the cowboys.
A coroner’s jury returned a verdict that Mike Meagher was murdered by Jim Talbot, and that Bob Bigtree, Jim Martin, Tom Love, Dick Eddleman, Bob Munson, and Doug Hill, were accessories to the crime. Dead or alive rewards totaling $1100 were offered for the capture of the men.
Later, Tom Love was captured, but on January 24, 1882, was acquitted. Love went on to become a lawman, who would later help to track down outlaw Bill Cook, a.k.a., The Cherokee Kid. Eddleman was also captured but was never convicted. Five years later, in 1887, Doug Hill was brought back from Texas. He plead guilty to manslaughter in the fourth degree, and received a sentence of six months in the county jail.
Jim Talbot was finally arrested in California in 1895 and returned to Kansas. However, his first trial ended in a hung jury and the second in acquittal.
Talbot returned to California and the next summer was gunned down by an unknown assailant. Some believe the killer may have been Mike Meagher’s twin brother, John.