Little Bits of History

Wild Bill Hickok

Posted in History by patriciahysell on July 21, 2011

Wild Bill Hickok illustration from Harper's

July 21, 1865: Springfield, Missouri is the site of what is considered the first western shootout. Wild Bill Hickok faced Davis Tutt in the town square. Both men were dedicated gamblers and at one time they had been friends. This latter fact was despite Tutt’s having been a Confederate Army veteran and Hickok having been a scout for the Union side. Tutt was from Arkansas and after the Civil War, headed west. Some say the two men fell out over a woman, some claim Hickok had misused Tutt’s sister and possibly even fathered a child with her. By July 20, 1865 the two men were sworn enemies.

Hickok refused to play in any card games that included Tutt. For his part, Tutt supplied other card-players with advice and money against Hickok in the hopes of bankrupting his enemy. While playing poker at the Lyon House Hotel, Hickok was playing against several locals while Tutt offered hints and tips. This was futile as Hickok won about $200 (about $4,800 today) of what was essentially Tutt’s money. Immediately, Tutt claimed Hickok owed $40 for a previous horse trade. Hickok paid. Then Tutt claimed another $35 gambling debt. Hickok said it was only $25. Tutt disagreed and picked up Hickok’s prized gold pocket watch.

Hickok warned his old friend not to wear the watch. Tutt smirked a reply, stating he had every intention of wearing the watch. At that point, Hickok threatened to kill him if he walked across the town square wearing the watch. The next day, in order to prove he wasn’t afraid of Hickok, Tutt appeared on the town square with the watch on. Hickok arrived at the square, armed and dangerous. Tutt was considered to be the better marksman of the two. Both men faced each other side on, the standard duel position and about 75 yards apart. Tutt reached for his gun, Hickok drew and aimed using his other arm to steady the shot. Both fired about the same time. Tutt missed. Hickok hit Tutt in the left chest.

Hickok was arrested for murder two days later. The charge was reduced to manslaughter and the trial began on August 3 and lasted for three days. In that time, 22 witnesses testified. Hickok claimed self defense. The most disputed fact in the case was who shot first. The self defense strategy was technically not allowed since Hickok had come armed for a fight when he approached the town square. The jury decided it was a justified shooting. The gunfight was written up in Harper’s in 1867 and the legend came to us as an iconic occurrence.

“I think you are wrong, Dave. It’s only twenty-five dollars. I have a memorandum in my pocket. – Bill Hickok [July 20]

“Fine, I’ll just keep your watch ’til you pay me that thirty-five dollars! I intend on wearing it first thing in the morning! “- Davis Tutt [July 20]

“If you do, I’ll shoot you. I’m warning you here and now not to come across that town square with it on.” – Bill Hickok [July 20]

“Dave, here I am. Don’t you come across here with that watch.” – Bill Hickok [July 21]

Also on this day:
Brrrrrrr – In 1983, the coldest recorded temperature is captured at Vostok Station.
Destruction – In 356 BC, the Temple of Artemis was destroyed.