Amy Athey McDonald, at Yale News, describes Wild Bill’s first gunfight, and shows us a revolver once owned by Hickok, now in Yale’s Peabody Museum collection.
Davis Tutt shouldnâ€™t have taken Wild Billâ€™s watch.
The former Confederate soldier and gambler was shot down by James Butler â€œWild Billâ€ Hickok 150 years ago in Springfield, Missouri, in what is today recognized as the first quick-draw gunfight of the American West.
Events leading up to the legendary shootout began the night before with a dispute over a gambling debt. Hickok and Tutt had known each other for years, but there had been a falling out and Wild Bill refused to play cards with Tutt. According to an account by a witness who called himself â€œCaptain Honesty,â€ Tutt retaliated that evening by giving money to every other man around the table playing against Hickok. A successful gambler, Wild Bill won nearly $200 that night, which angered his one-time associate even more.
Tutt called in a past debt of $45 on the spot from Hickok, who promptly paid up. Tutt then claimed another $35 debt owed from a previous game. Hickok disagreed with this second claim, saying he only owed Tutt $25. It was at this point that Tutt took Hickokâ€™s gold Waltham watch from the table and said he would keep it until the debt was paid. Hickok warned Tutt against such a foolish action. Trial testimony from a J.W. Orr noted that Tutt later raised his price to $45.
While the details of what happened the next day on July 21, 1865, are not entirely clear, historians agree that Tutt showed up in the town square in front of the courthouse around 6 p.m. with Hickokâ€™s watch. Wild Bill appeared at the other end of the square and warned Tutt not to come any further. The two began to cross the square toward one another, drawing their pistols. Exactly how far apart they were and what guns were used are not definitely known. Itâ€™s written that they were facing side-on, dueling fashion, almost 100 paces apart, with Hickok using his Colt Navy.
Tutt and Hickok fired one shot each. Tutt missed; Hickok didnâ€™t. Tutt staggered and fell, shot through the heart, and Hickok was soon arrested and charged with murder. The charge was later reduced to manslaughter, but the jury found that Hickok acted in self-defense and he was acquitted.
The shootout launched Wild Billâ€™s fame as a gunman.
French .44 Pinfire Revolver of unknown manufacture, presented by James Butler Hickok to Wild West Show manager William Green, Yale Peabody Museum.