Luke Short – A Dandy Gunfighter

He asked me to accompany him to his room, which I did, and after seeing him safely in his apartments, where I supposed he could go to bed, I returned to where Short was. I was just explaining to Luke that Storms was a very decent sort of man when, lo and behold! there he stood before us. Without saying a word, he took hold of Luke’s arm and pulled him off the sidewalk, where he had been standing, at the same time pulling his pistol, a Colt’s cut-off, 45 caliber, single action; but like the Leadvillian, he was too slow, although he succeeded in getting his pistol out. Luke stuck the muzzle of his own pistol against Storms’ heart and pulled the trigger. The bullet tore the heart asunder, and as he was falling, Luke shot him again. Storms was dead when he hit the ground. Luke was given a preliminary hearing before a magistrate and exonerated.

The Story of Two Rival Shows

In the spring of 1883 Luke formed a partnership with Harris and Beeson of Dodge City, and operated the Long Branch Saloon, the biggest and best paying gambling house in Dodge at the time. The mayor of Dodge, whose name was Webster, was also running a gambling house and saloon next door to that operated by Short. At this time Dodge City was the shipping point for the Texas cattle driven every summer from the great cattle ranges of western Texas to the northern markets.

A fortune was to be made every season by the gambling house that could control this trade and, as Short was from Texas and had once been a cowboy himself, he held the whip-hand over the mayor, so far, at any rate, as the patronage of the cattlemen was concerned.

This, the mayor did not relish and, as he was a stubborn and strong-minded man himself, who would brook no opposition if he could help it, he set to work to put Luke out of the business. He had an ordinance passed by the City Council, prohibiting music in all the gambling houses and saloons in the city. Short employed a band in his place of business and Webster did likewise; but the latter was the mayor and therefore in control of the situation, so he thought. The city marshal was instructed by the mayor to notify Short that the music in his place must be discontinued. “That suits me,” Luke is reported to have told the marshal. “I don’t need music in my house in order to do business and, besides, maintaining a band is quite an item of expense.”

The following night the only house in the city in which there was music was that operated by the mayor. Luke then smelt a mouse.

“We’ll see about this,” remarked Luke to his partners, Beeson and Harris.

The next night he re-engaged the band and instructed it to go ahead grinding out the old familiar melodies, so dear to the heart of the Texas cowboy. Luke remained about the place for several hours to see what move, if any, was to be made by the mayor. As he saw nothing to cause alarm, he concluded to go away for a while and pay a visit to a sick friend. He had not left the place more than ten minutes before all the members of the band, among them one woman, the pianist, were arrested and locked up in the city calaboose.

Forced to Leave the Town

Dodge City, Kansas about 1875

Dodge City, Kansas about 1875

Luke was notified, and came hurriedly down to the saloon. He learned the facts of the arrest and went out to hunt up the officer who was in charge of the squad in order that he might furnish bail for the musicians and have them released. But, he could not find him or any other person who was considered competent to accept a bail bond. All the time Luke was trying to get his employees out of the calaboose, the music in the mayor’s place was in full swing. This, as can well be imagined, did not tend to help matters in the least.

About the time Luke had made up his mind that nothing could be done that night towards the release of the prisoners, he saw the officer whom he had been looking for standing some little distance away. Luke started towards him.

The officer, who was standing on the sidewalk, which was a foot or so above the street, saw Luke coming, and instantly pulled his pistol and fired point blank at him. The shot missed and Luke returned the fire; but just as he pulled the trigger the officer started to run, and in leaving the sidewalk for the dark street, he fell. Luke, thinking he had hit him, went then to his place of business, secured a shot gun and stood off the town until morning. He accomplished this by refusing to submit to arrest that night.

The next morning he was prevailed upon to lay aside his weapons, go over to the police court, plead guilty to creating a disturbance, pay a fine and have the whole thing ended. That was what had been promised him if he would take off his arms and surrender to the officers. He accordingly gave up his pistols and started for the police court with the officers. But, instead of them taking him to the police court as they promised, they took him to the city jail and kept him locked up until the noon trains arrived. The passenger trains going East and West passed each other at Dodge, and Luke was marched to the depot by an escort armed with shotguns and told to choose which train he would take. There was nothing left for him to do. They had him, and were only waiting an excuse to riddle him with buckshot if he offered the least resistance.

He took the East-bound train and landed in Kansas City.

Lining Up for a Big Fight

Long Branch Saloon, Dodge City, Kansas

Long Branch Saloon, Dodge City, Kansas

I was in Denver at the time, and he wired me to come to Kansas City at once, which I did. We talked the matter over when we met, and concluded to go up to Topeka and place the matter before the Governor. The next day we did so. The Governor denounced the conduct of the Dodge City authorities, but said that he could do nothing, as the local authorities at Dodge had informed him that they were amply able to preserve the peace and did not desire state interference. We stated to the Governor that we believed we were able to rehabilitate ourselves in Dodge, but did not care to run afoul state authorities, in case we concluded to do so. The Governor told us to go ahead and re-establish ourselves, if we could; that he would keep off, and wished us luck. Immediately I started for Silverton, Colorado, where Wyatt Earp was located at the time, and enlisted him in our cause. Luke went to Caldwell, Kansas, where he had a couple of staunch friends, who were willing to take the bit in their mouths and go to the front and fight his battles whenever called upon.

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