For Fort Worth gambler Luke Short, February was often a pivotal month.
For starters, he was born on February 19, 1854. It was on February 25, 1881, that he shot and killed fellow gambler Charlie Storms in Tombstone, Arizona. (Short pleaded self-defense and was acquitted.) On February 6, 1883, he bought an interest in the Long Branch saloon in Dodge City, Kansas. In February 1884 the White Elephant Saloon opened in Fort Worth, and Short would become a part-owner. But three years later, on February 7, 1887, he sold his share of the White Elephant to fellow gambler Jake Johnson. (Photo from Wikipedia.)
Yep, February was often a pivotal month for Luke Short. It would be an even more pivotal month for gambler, gunfighter, and former City Marshal Timothy Isaiah “Longhaired Jim” Courtright. On February 8, 1887, the day after Short sold his share of the White Elephant to Jake Johnson, the confrontation between Luke Short and Courtright, reenacted each year outside the Stockyards saloon of the same name, took place. (Photo from Tarrant County College NE.)
But the confrontation took place downtown. The original White Elephant was located at 308 Main Street. The Morris Building (built in 1906 but rebuilt in 1981) occupies the site of the original saloon.
About 1885, as an ad in the city directory shows, Courtright had opened the TIC (for “Timothy Isaiah Courtright”) detective agency, which some historians say was little more than a protection racket. On his staff was James Maddox, future police chief.
This Dallas Morning News photo of 1929 shows that a wall advertisement for Courtright’s TIC detective agency survived well into the twentieth century.
Courtright did not need a violent death to make him famous. He already was. About eight months before the confrontation, the manager of Fort Worth’s opera house was considering starring Courtright and Frank James, brother of Jesse, in a wild West road show.
After Courtright opened his detective agency, he had tried to persuade Short to hire him as “special officer” at the White Elephant. Short had refused. There was bad blood between Short and Courtright, and it would flow at eight o’clock that night in the pivotal month of February.
Agitated and probably liquored up, Courtright went to the White Elephant to confront Short. Also at the White Elephant that night was Short’s friend Bat Masterson. Short stepped outside with Courtright. With them was Jake Johnson, a mutual friend and the only witness. The three men walked north along the sidewalk. In front of a shooting gallery they stopped, talking as they stood three or four feet apart.
In 1884 Courtright had been given a gold watch by Johnson. For Courtright, the watch was about to stop ticking.
The Fort Worth Gazette quoted Johnson as recalling: “Luke had his thumbs in the armholes of his vest, then he dropped them in front of him when Courtright said, ‘You needn’t be getting out your gun.’ Luke said, ‘I haven’t got any gun here, Jim’ and raised up his vest to show him. Courtright then pulled his pistol. He drew it first, and then Short drew his and commenced to fire.”
Some historians think that Courtright’s gun jammed or that the hammer of his pistol snagged his watch chain (was that chain fastened to the watch given to Courtright by Johnson?). Otherwise, those historians ask, how could anyone have outdrawn the gunslinger known for his fast draw?
Regardless, Short’s first shot was at close range. Courtright fell into the entrance of the shooting gallery. Short fired four more times. Police officer J. J. Fulford quickly arrived at the scene. He bent over Courtright. Fulford recalled that Courtright’s last words were “Ful, they’ve got me.”
The “shootout” made headlines around the country, including page 1 of the New York Sun on February 10.
And page 1 of the Austin Weekly Statesman on February 10.
And in the Tombstone Epitaph on February 13. Short had killed Charlie Storms in Tombstone.
And, of course, in the Dodge City Times of February 17. Short had been a member of the Dodge City Peace Commission.
When Timothy Isaiah “Longhaired Jim” Courtright died he was forty-two years old. Young for a gambler, old for a gunfighter.
The Short boys, Luke and Henry, were going through a stormy patch of time in that February of 1887. In San Angelo just two weeks earlier, brother Henry had shot and killed a man.
Luke Short was not tried for the killing of Jim Courtright. As for Short, he died in 1893. At age thirty-nine. Of natural causes.