The Bottle, the Badge, and the Caduceus: Jim Courtright Would Live to Die Another Day

Jim Courtright had not been on the payroll of the city police department long when he attempted to make his first arrest.
It did not go well.

In fact, according to biographer Robert DeArment in Jim Courtright of Fort Worth: His Life and Legend, Courtright had been on the job just two days on the night of December 16, 1875.

On that night two teenage boys, Richard Alexander (“Bingham”) Feild and Billy Nance, were carousing downtown. “Maddened and crazed by liquor,” the Fort Worth Democrat wrote.

feild from mackYoung Feild was the nineteen-year-old son of Julian B. Feild (photo), one of the founders of Fort Worth.

courtright nance 70 censusYoung Billy Nance probably was the sixteen-year-old son of “Squire” Gideon Nance, who was an attorney, district clerk, county clerk, and justice of the peace. William Nance was listed in the 1870 census as being eleven years old.

nance terrell 2Photo from Early Days of Fort Worth.

courtright-waco-11-25-74-2Like most boys of that time and place, young Feild was no stranger to guns. A year earlier the Fort Worth Democrat reported that Bingham Feild had accidentally shot John Ogleby in the head with a shotgun. Ogleby was treated by physicians William Paxton Burts and Julian Theodore Feild (Bingham’s older brother). No charges were filed against young Feild. Clip is from the Waco Weekly Statesman.

In fact, Richard Alexander “Bingham” Feild was a bit of a hellraiser. And so it was that on the night of December 16, 1875 young Feild and Billy Nance walked into the Club Room Saloon on Main Street between 1st and 2nd streets and ordered drinks. The Club Room was one of five saloons in that block of Main. Because the two boys were already well under the influence, the barkeeper refused to serve them. Angered, the two boys pulled pistols and threatened the barkeeper. Then the two boys stepped outside into the street and fired a few shots into the air.

Newly appointed Deputy City Marshal Courtright heard the gunshots and responded. He confronted the two boys in an alley off Main Street and told the boys to put away their pistols. The boys refused. One boy warned Courtright to keep his distance. But Courtright advanced, his pistol drawn. Nance surrendered his pistol. But as Courtright tried to disarm Feild, the boy vowed he “would die first,” the Weekly Fort Worth Standard reported. Feild’s pistol discharged. Courtright was shot in the stomach.

According to this brief report in the Denison Daily News “Elgin Field” and Billy Nance were quarreling in a grocery when confronted by Courtright.

courtright shot 12-23-76 dfwsAnd this clip from the Weekly Fort Worth Standard of December 23 indicates the two boys had been drinking benzine, not alcohol.

courtright gal12-18-75

A mob of men responded to the sound of gunfire and overpowered the two boys. Feild and Nance were taken to jail. Courtright was seriously wounded, not expected to live—a one-in-twenty chance, the newspaper said. A justice of the peace asked Courtright for a “dying statement.” Courtright said that he had no intention of dying but that if he did die, the two boys should not be prosecuted. Courtright said that the shooting was accidental, that the two boys were his “friends.” Clip is from the Galveston Daily News of December 18.

burts from mack Courtright was treated by the same two doctors who had treated Bingham Feild’s earlier shooting victim: Drs. Burts and Feild. The two doctors had an office one block down Main Street from the scene of the Courtright shooting. William Paxton Burts (photo) had been elected Fort Worth’s first mayor in 1873.

Dr. Julian Theodore Feild had an especially vested interest in saving the life of his younger brother’s shooting victim. If Dr. Feild lost his patient, he might also lose his brother—to a murder charge.

courtright better 1-13-76As this clip  from the January 13, 1876 Standard indicates, Courtright recovered and would live to die another day—eleven years later outside the White Elephant Saloon. Charges against young Feild and Nance were dropped, although some Texas newspapers complained that the boys, as sons of prominent citizens, were given special treatment. Richard Alexander Feild reformed. In fact, by 1880 hellraiser Feild would be . . .

courtright bingham 1880 censusDoctor Feild. Richard Alexander Feild would attend Bellevue Hospital Medical College in New York City and spend most of his medical career in Enid, Oklahoma:

Richard Alexander Feild, who early on traded the Colt for the caduceus, died in 1934.

Richard’s son, named “Julian” after Richard’s father, also was a physician:

ra feild's son1937
From the Oklahoma and Indian Territory, Indian and Pioneer Historical Collection.

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2 Responses to The Bottle, the Badge, and the Caduceus: Jim Courtright Would Live to Die Another Day

  1. Keith Robinson says:

    Love Fort Worth history. Excellent story.

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