The first western showdown between Wild Bill Hickoc and Davis Tutt took place at the market square of Springfield, Missouri today in 1865. Now WE know em

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Davis “Dave” Tutt was born during 1836 in Yellville, Arkansas.

Between 1844 and 1850, his father along with many other family members, were killed during the Tutt-Everett War preceding the American Civil War.

The Tutt family had moved to Arkansas from Tennessee, and were influential in forming Searcy County.

Davis Tutt’s father, Hansford “Hamp” Tutt, was bitterly opposed to dividing Marion and Searcy counties.

The feud began during a political debate in Yellville, Arkansas, which degenerated into an all out brawl. On October 9, 1848, the first gunfight took place. It happened in downtown Yellville and left John Everett dead.

On July 4, 1849, Marion County Sheriff Jesse Mooney, who had a gained a tough reputation by killing or capturing several local outlaws, organized a posse to stop the feud. The same day, the biggest gunfight of the feud took place. The Everetts had gathered in Yellville in a building across the street from the saloon where the Tutt faction was known to be meeting.

Sheriff Mooney interceded and attempted to prevent violence. However, both sides ignored him and a gunfight broke out, with Sheriff Mooney and his posse caught in middle. The gunfight continued for hours. When their ammunition was finally exhausted, the Tutt and Everett men rushed into the street and and continued the fight hand to hand with knives and clubs.

When it was over, Jack King, Bart Everett, Davis Tutt, Ben Tutt, and Lunsford Tutt all lay dead. John “Uncle Jacky” Hurst had been shot in the leg while jumping in front of Sheriff Mooney when Tutt supporter S.W. Ferrall fired at him.

“Hamp” Tutt went into hiding. Then Jesse Everett found and killed Davis’s father about a year later in September of 1850. Davis Tutt’s fathers death effectively ended the feud.

 

Then in 1862, “Dave” Tutt enlisted in the Confederate Company A, 27th Arkansas Infantry Regiment.

He fought throughout the war in the area, then after the war decided to head west, stopping first in Springfield, Missouri.

It was there that Dave Tutt met Wild Bill Hickok. Despite serving on opposite sides during the war, they became friends and often gambled together.

The eventual falling out between Hickok and Tutt reportedly first occurred over women.

There were some reports that Hickok had fathered an illegitimate child with Tutt’s sister Lottie; while Tutt had been observed paying a great deal of attention to Wild Bill’s gal, Susanna Moore.

When Hickok started to refuse to play in any card game that included Tutt, Dave retaliated by openly supporting other local card-players with advice and money in a dedicated attempt to bankrupt Hickok.

Dave Tutt even loaned Hickok money on occasion. Historians have debated the amount, but Hickok himself stated he owed Tutt $25.

The fall out between Tutt and Hickok was due to Hickok’s failure to repay the money he owed, worsened by Tutt embarrassingly taking Hickok’s watch as collateral.

Hickok allowed Tutt to take it, but warned him to never wear it in public. To do so would be humiliating to Hickok. Unfortunately, not doing so would suggest that Tutt was afraid of Hickok.

A gunfight was almost the inevitable result.

 

The card game

The simmering conflict eventually came to a head during a game of poker at the Lyon House Hotel (now called the “Old Southern Hotel”).

Hickok was playing against several other local gamblers while Tutt stood nearby, loaning money as needed and “encouraging [them], coaching [them] on how to beat Hickok.”

The game was being played for high stakes, and Hickok had done well, winning about $200 of what was essentially Tutt’s money.

Irritated by his losses and unwilling to admit defeat, Tutt reminded Hickok of a $40 debt from a past horse trade.

Hickok shrugged and paid the sum, but Tutt was unappeased.

He then claimed that Hickok owed him an additional $35 from a past poker game. “I think you are wrong, Dave,” said Hickok. “It’s only twenty-five dollars. I have a memorandum in my pocket.”

Tutt had a large following at the Lyon House and, encouraged by these armed associates, he decided to take the opportunity to humiliate his enemy.

In the midst of their argument over the $10 difference in the debt (and while Hickok was still playing poker), Tutt grabbed one of Hickok’s most prized possessions off the table, his Waltham Repeater gold pocket watch, and announced that he would keep the watch as collateral until Hickok paid the full $35.

Hickok was shocked and livid, but being outnumbered and outgunned, he was unwilling to resort to violence at the time. Stone-faced with anger, he quietly demanded that Tutt put the watch back on the table.

Tutt reportedly replied only with an “ugly grin” and left the premises with the watch.

Aside from publicly humiliating Hickok and taking his property, Tutt’s demand for collateral on a debt from a fellow professional card player implied he thought Hickok was an insolvent gambler trying to avoid his debts. To ignore such an insult from Tutt would have ruined Hickok’s career as a gambler in Springfield, which was reportedly his only source of income.

Adding further insult to injury, groups of Tutt’s friends reportedly continued to mock Hickok after the initial confrontation, baiting him with talk of the pocket watch to see if he could be goaded into drawing in anger so he could be shot down by the whole group.

After several days of this, Hickok’s patience was at the breaking point. When a group of Tutt’s supporters at the Lyon House mocked Hickok and announcing they’d heard Tutt was planning to wear the watch “in the middle of the town square” the next day, Hickok reportedly replied, “He shouldn’t come across that square unless dead men can walk.”

Having apparently made up his mind, Hickok returned to his room to clean, oil and reload his pistols in anticipation of a confrontation with Dave Tutt the next morning.

Failed negotiations

Although Tutt had humiliated his rival, Hickok’s ultimatum essentially forced his hand. To go back on his very public boast would make everyone think he was afraid of Hickok, and so long as he intended to stay in Springfield, he could not afford to show cowardice. The next day, he arrived at the town square around 10 a.m. with Hickok’s watch openly hanging from his waist pocket. The word quickly spread that Tutt was making good on his pledge to humiliate Hickok, reaching Hickok’s own ears within an hour.

According to the testimony of Eli Armstrong (and supported by two other witnesses, John Orr and Oliver Scott), Hickok met Tutt at the square and discussed the terms of the watch’s return. Tutt now demanded $45. Armstrong tried to convince Tutt to accept the original $35 and negotiate for the rest later, but Hickok was still adamant that he only owed $25.

Tutt then held the watch in front of Hickok and stated he would accept no less than $45.

Both then said they didn’t want to fight and they went for a drink together. Tutt soon left, however, returning once again to the square, still wearing the watch.

The shootout

At a few minutes before 6 p.m., Hickok was seen calmly approaching the square from the south, his Colt Navy in hand.

His armed presence caused the crowd to immediately scatter to the safety of nearby buildings, leaving Dave Tutt alone in the northwestern corner of the square.

Painting by Andy Thomas

Painting by Andy Thomas

At a distance of about 75 yards, Hickok stopped, facing Tutt, and called out, “Dave, here I am.”

He cocked his pistol, holstered it on his hip, and gave a final warning, “Don’t you come across here with that watch.”

Tutt did not reply, but stood with his hand on his pistol.

Davis Tutt was acknowledged as the better marksman, but both showed courage by all accounts.

Both men faced each other sideways in the dueling position and hesitated briefly.

Then Tutt reached for his pistol.

Hickok drew his gun and steadied it on his opposite forearm.

The two men fired a single shot each at essentially the same time, according to the reports.

Tutt missed, but Hickok’s bullet struck Dave in the left side between the fifth and seventh ribs.

Tutt called out, “Boys, I’m killed,” ran onto the porch of the local courthouse and back to the street, where he collapsed and died.

 

Trial and aftermath

The next day, a warrant was issued for Hickok’s arrest and two days later he was arrested. Bail was initially denied, as is common in murder cases. Hickok eventually posted a bail of $2,000 on the same day, after the magistrate reduced the charge from murder to manslaughter based on the circumstances. Hickok was arrested under the name of William Haycocke (the name he had been using in Springfield) for the manslaughter of Davis Tutt.

During the trial, the names were amended to J. B. Hickok and Davis Tutt/Little Dave, “little” being an equivalent to the present day “Junior” to indicate having the same name as his father.

Hickok’s manslaughter trial began on August 3, 1865 and lasted three days.

Twenty-two witnesses from the square testified at the trial.

Hickok’s lawyer was the Colonel John S. Phelps, former Union military governor of Arkansas.

The prosecution was led by Major Robert W. Fyan; the judge was Sempronius Boyd.

The trial transcripts have been lost, but newspaper reports indicate that Hickok claimed self-defense. The most disputed fact at the trial was who fired first.

Only four witnesses actually watched the fight.

Two claimed both men fired, but they could not tell who drew first.

One said he was standing behind Hickok so he only saw Hickok draw, as his view of Tutt was blocked. Another said Tutt did not fire, but admitted noticing Tutt’s gun had a discharged chamber.

The other witnesses all stated that while they did not see the shooting, they heard only one shot.

Despite Hickok’s claim of self-defense being technically invalid under the state law pertaining to “mutual combat” (since he had come to the square armed and expecting to fight), the jury decided that he was justified in shooting Tutt.

As Tutt was the initiator of the fight (by taking Hickok’s watch) and the first to display overt aggression, and since two witness indicated that Tutt was the first to reach for his pistol, the unwritten law dictated that Hickok was justified and subsequently they absolved him of guilt.

In fact, Hickok was seen as being honorable for giving Tutt several chances to avoid the conflict instead of shooting him the moment he felt he was shown disrespect.

A prominent Springfield attorney gave a speech to the crowd from the balcony of the court house, denouncing the verdict as “against the evidence and all decency” and there was even talk of lynching Hickok.

The verdict was expected and well in keeping with the “trail law” of the day; as stated by a modern historian, “Nothing better described the times than the fact that dangling a watch held as security for a poker debt was widely regarded as a justifiable provocation for resorting to firearms.”

While Hickok felt humiliated by Tutt wearing the watch, Tutt could also claim the same humiliation if he failed to wear the watch, essentially bowing to Hickok’s warning.

Due to its notoriety, the gunfight has since received much research and attention.

Several weeks after the gunfight, on September 13, 1865, Colonel George Ward Nichols, a writer for Harper’s, sought out Hickok and began the interviews that would eventually turn the then-unknown gunfighter into one of the great legends of the Old West.

Davis Tutt’s body was initially buried in the Springfield City Cemetery, however in March 1883, his half-brother Lewis Tutt, a former slave and son of Tutt’s father and his female slave, had his body disinterred and reburied in Maple Park Cemetery.

 

History has forgotten Dave Tutt, but the gunfight of July 21, 1865 on the town square in Springfield made Hickok famous.

It is one of the few recorded instances in the Old West of a one-on-one pistol quick-draw duel in a public place, in the manner later made iconic by countless Western films.

The Nicols story of the shootout was detailed in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine in 1867, using the name “Wild Bill” that turned Hickok into a household name and folk hero.

Now WE know em

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One response to “The first western showdown between Wild Bill Hickoc and Davis Tutt took place at the market square of Springfield, Missouri today in 1865. Now WE know em

  1. Pingback: Historian’s Almanac for August 2, 2013 | Paul R. Waibel Official Home Page·

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