Published on Friday, July 6, 2012
Duel in Springfield
By Lowell "Zeke" Ziemann
Wild Bill met Dave Tutt in a deadly affair.
When the duel commenced, each man fired one shot.
Tutt's bullet missed. Hickok's did not.
Author's Note: The following work is "historical" fiction, but based upon an actual events that occurred in Springfield, Missouri.
On a hot July afternoon in 1865, James Butler Hickok rode his black mare around the four streets that framed the Springfield Town Square. He wanted to get a good look at the town of 2054 inhabitants, or so the sign read. He studied the people on the street and in the square. Shoppers, gamblers, and farmers moved about, while old men lounged on the park benches.
And young men too, some with vivid battle scars, still wearing parts of Union or Confederate uniforms, roamed the streets and looked for excitement. The Appomattox Treaty had been signed three months earlier, but bitterness and occasional violence lingered.
Springfield was growing up. Built around the Square stood a variety of shops, a few public buildings, including a new three story brick courthouse, a livery stable, the Lyon House Hotel, and a three or four boarding houses.
And, there were saloons, an abundance of saloons, with brightly dressed women sashaying just inside the swinging doors.
"My kind of town," said Wild Bill.
James Butler "Wild Bill" Hickok was fast becoming a celebrity in the West. He had dispatched three members of the infamous McClanas Gang and served the Union gallantly as a scout and spy. He was tall, handsome, and reputed to be the best pistol shot west of St. Louis. He enjoyed the growing notoriety.
As Wild Bill rode, people walking on the boardwalk poked an elbow at a companion and pointed at him. Hickok smiled and tipped his hat to all of the ladies who looked his way. He completed his tour of the Square, then reined in at Henry's Haberdashery, dismounted, and went inside.
"The War is over, and so are my army scouting days, fer now, I reckon," he said to the clerk who quickly approached him. "I'm of a mind to shed these buckskins and get some store bought duds fit for a man of dignity."
The clerk smiled. "Henry Goldman, owner operator, at your service. I have the finest in men's pants, coats, vests and frocks west of St. Louie." He quickly laid a tape measure on the back of the six foot plus Hickok. "Hmmm... I see you definitely need a large size."
Goldman was a short, thin man with large mutton chop sideburns that made up for the lack of hair on his head. In his high pitched voice, he anxiously described the latest in men's fashions as Wild Bill searched the shirts on the shelves and the coats on the racks. At last, Hickok picked out a long dark coat, grey pant, checkered vest with a cream colored shirt, and black bow tie. After stepping behind the screen and putting them on, he added a wide brim flat crowned hat. "These'll do. How much?"
Goldman stared at the two pistols Wild Bill had laid aside. "Why... why... God Almighty, I recognize you now. You're Mr. Hickok! For you it will be only thirty five dollars."
Wild Bill had no idea if the price was fair, but he was more than slightly impressed with his image as he made several turns in front of the full length mirror. "I'll pay the thirty-five, but throw in that red sash."
"Done," said Goldman with a satisfied smile.
Wild Bill wrapped the sash around his waist and tucked in his pistols, butts forward. He pocketed his gold Waltham watch and fastened the chain to the vest.
"You look like a real dandy of a gambling man," said Henry. "Fit for a game with the high rollers at the Lyon House Saloon. I play there myself once in awhile. But, most gamblers I know carry only a derringer in their vest or boot. With your pistols in that sash, you look like a hell fired, mighty dangerous man."
Hickok directed a penetrating look toward the shop owner. He spoke in a low tone of pure honesty and pointed warning. "I'm not a dangerous man... unless put upon."
Goldman's gaze met the steel blue-eyed stare of Wild Bill. "You know, Mr. Hickok, I can plainly see that you're a forthright man." Following an awkward second or two, he added, "I'm much obliged for your patronage."
Hickok rolled up his buckskins, left Henry's store and fastened the used clothes behind the saddle on his black mare. "Don't let anyone take these, Black Nel," he said as he patted his horse's neck and led her to the livery stable.
From Kelley and Kerr's K & K Saloon, clinking glasses, shrieks of high pitched laughter from painted ladies, and the gruff guffaws of drinking men, rolled into the street. In the late afternoon, shops were closing, and tired business men joined the gambling crowd to have one for the road.
The saloon's mahogany bar ran the length of the side wall, and the magnificent mirror behind it reflected dozens of liquor bottles. A pot bellied stove sat in the middle of the shiny hardwood floor. Tables and chairs were scattered about in no discernable pattern. One large Faro table stood against the back wall, and was surrounded by gamblers bucking the tiger.
A priggish, bespectacled young man holding a note pad and pen, stood at the end of the bar. His natty Eastern style of dress seemed slightly out of place. He talked with a dark eyed man who wore striped pants, a white shirt, and brocade vest that was partially covered by a a shoulder holster.
The dark eyed man tossed a coin to the bartender. "Barkeep, another beer for me and this gentleman."
Two steins of beer were drawn and sent sliding down the bar. "Here they are Mr. Tutt."
Dave Tutt downed a generous swig of beer and wiped his moustache with his shirt sleeve. He pushed back his black hat, lowered his head, and stared into the young man's spectacles.
The reporter took a sip of beer and scribbled down the name 'Dave Tutt'. "So, tell me Mr. Tutt, how did you come to know the famous Wild Bill?"
"Well Mister Reporter... what was your name again?"
"G. Ward Nichols, St. Louis Dispatch."
"Well, Mister Geeeee Ward Nichols, ah met Wild Bill when he was spyin' for Union troops. To tell the whole of it, ah don't care much for him. He's a Yank right down to the ground, and ah carry Southern sympathies. Why, his family even helped runaway slaves! We met a time or two in camps in Southern Arkansas and he offered me good cash money to help him locate Rebel troops. Ah was sorely tempted, but ah think he knew ah spied for the Rebs and might just double-cross him, so he let it go."
Nichols cocked an narrow eye toward Tutt, shook his head slightly, and looked down to his notepad. "I'd like to find out more about Hickok."
"Me and Wild Bill had some rough times when spying... battles, narrow escapes and the like. Ah can outshoot and out gamble him too," Tutt added without prompting.
"Is that Hickok's occupation now... gambling?" asked Nichols.
"Don't know what he does for a living. He does like poker though, ah know that."
The reporter looked up. "How did Hickok gain his fame?"
Tutt sighed and shrugged. "Hell, ah don't know... killed a couple of outlaws at Rock Creek Station in Nebrasky Territory ah guess. The way ah heared it, some of them outlaws weren't even armed."
Tutt guzzled another swig of beer. "Why ain't you gonna write 'bout me? Ah've done as much as the famous Wild Bill, and done it better to boot. Ah can match your famous Wild Bill at anything from shootin', to cards, and even courtin' women. And, ah'l' be remembered long after ol' Hickok is six feet under."
Tutt took another swallow of beer. We just may find out who can make the hay, 'cause ah heared he's comin' to town. Springfield, you know, is about the onliest town in Missouri where both Blue and Gray is welcome and can have a high old time."
Nichols was amused. "Speaking of women, I hear you both courted the same Arkansas girl, what was her name?"
Tutt's mouth curled into a tight lipped grin. "She's my girl now. A real beauty that Susannah Moore. Ah took her from Wild Bill."
Hickok walked by the Mansfield Opera House, noting the coming attractions on the handwritten billboard. People on the street smiled, admired his lean frame and his manly strides. He kept his long hair swept back in the style of the Plainsman Scout.
The din coming through the swinging doors caused him to stop in front of the K & K Saloon. Kelly and Kerr's establishment looked like the fanciest joint in town. It was certainly more refined than the Bit Houses he frequented in Arkansas. He swung the doors open, and walked inside to have a look.
Tutt looked up. "Well, speakin' of the devil hisself," he said, half-joking. "Hardly recognized ya in those fancy duds."
"If it ain't Dave Tutt. Howdy, you old Rebel. Who's your dude friend?" asked Hickok.
Tutt and Hickok shook hands. "This here is Mr. Geeeee Ward Nichols, the famous reporter from St. Louie. He's interviewin' me. Wants me to tell him all about my brave adventures durin' the war and such. Ah'l be more famous than you by a long shot."
"Telling yer brave adventures?" chortled Wild Bill as he shook the reporter's hand. "Mr. Nichols, that surely shan't take you more than a minute or two."
Nichols, suddenly more at ease, smiled. Tutt looked at Hickok, growled a few cusswords, and walked out of the saloon. He could not endure hearing any more Wild Bill Hickok tales.
"Mr. Hickok, may I ask you a few questions?" asked Nichols.
"How 'bout tomorrow? I just got into town and was headed toward the Lyon House to get me a room and some rest," said Wild Bill.
"One quick question and then I'll let you go. How many men do you think you have dispatched?"
"Can't rightly recall," said Wild Bill as he headed toward the door, "Not coutin' Injuns, I guess maybe twenty or thirty. I'll see you here tomorrow."
Hickok registered at the Lyon House, took careful notice of the attached saloon and poker parlor, and went to his room. He removed his new jacket and sash and laid his pistols on the table next to the bed. Then he settled back to read the Springfield News-Leader.
A soft rap on the door brought him to swift attention. He reached one of his pistols and slipped it under the newspaper on his lap. "Door's open, come on in."
"Hello James," said Susannah Moore.
She was even more beautiful then he remembered. A plain white cotton dress clung to the generous curves of her figure. Her long blond hair shone in the light coming through the window and the curled locks tumbled softly on her bare shoulders. She smiled, gently closed the door behind her, and leaned against it.
James Butler Hickok was puzzled, but he rose and came to her with a longing and tenderness that he presumed had been dismissed from his memory.
Susannah stepped away. "I heard you were coming to town, and just now saw you enter the hotel." Her face flushed. "I know you and I are through, but I needed to see you once more."
"Why?" said Wild Bill as he turned his back to her. "I thought I made it clear that you had to choose Tutt or me, and you chose him."
"If I made a mistake I'm stuck with it, but I didn't think you were sincere. I thought you were using my attentions to further your spying activities," Susannah said. "Dave treats me fine, always has, but he hates you. Terribly jealous of your fame and reputation. I mainly came to warn you."
"Warn me of Tutt? Hell, Susannah, he's no problem unless he decides to rile me for no reason."
Susannah smiled. "He can be a real hard man. And, you know he's certainly handy with a gun. He surely won't abide a Blue Belly if there's a fight."
Susannah turned toward the door. "I was afraid that warning you would be wasted breath. So, anyway... I said my piece."
She opened the door, and without looking back, whispered, "Goodbye, James."
Wild Bill plopped back on the bed. He pondered their romantic interludes and tried to clear his mind of those soft and seductive images. He couldn't.
At sunset, Hickok enjoyed a large slice of beef steak, boiled potatoes and green beans at the Lyon House restaurant. He limited himself to one whiskey as he planned to sit in on a poker game after the meal. Checking his wallet, he found only twenty-three dollars. The thirty-five he spent for his clothes and the five for livery stable expenses left him short. He had additional scouting pay coming in a couple of weeks, but for now he needed to get along on what he had. Perhaps he could cultivate the twenty-three dollars into a larger sum in the poker room.
The poker game began at eight o'clock with Henry Goldman and two other business men joining Wild Bill. As was his habit, Hickok laid his gold Waltham watch on top of his cash. The no-limit game started conservatively. By midnight he had built his stash to fifty-two dollars when Dave Tutt walked in and joined the game. Wild Bill eyed him with a long sideways glance. Tutt just sat down without so much as a "hello".
Wild Bill dealt the next hand. "Five Card Draw."
Tutt opened for ten dollars and two other players called. Stoned faced, Hickok looked at his hand, three jacks, an ace and four. He raised the bet ten dollars and only Tutt called. On the draw, Tutt took two cards and Bill, bluffing as though he held two pair, kept the ace kicker, and drew only one. He had studied Tutt's poker habits in past games and was quite certain that Tutt held three of a kind. But what three?
Tutt then bet ten dollars again. Wild Bill showed no emotion as he looked at his draw, an eight. He raised with his last twenty-two dollars. Tutt called and Wild Bill laid down his three jacks. Tutt gave out with a boisterous laugh and gleefully announced his three kings. Ignoring any smidgen of gambler's etiquette, he slowly played the three kings on the table, one at a time.
"You lose Bill," taunted Tutt. "Guess you're no match for a top Reb gambler like me."
Wild Bill looked at Tutt and smiled. "There will be another game, another time, Dave."
"You remember that you owe me another thirty-five that you borrowed back in Arkansas?" asked Dave.
"Nope, it's twenty-five, not thirty-five. I get paid next week, you'll get it then."
Without warning, Tutt quickly reached across the table and snatched Wild Bill's watch.
"I'll hold this 'til you pay."
The three other men hastily kicked their chairs back, scrambled to their feet, and backed away from the table.
Wild Bill's face paled, his jaw tightened and he leaned forward. His right hand slid toward one of his pistols. But when he saw that Tutt appeared to be unarmed, he lunged across the table and grabbed the front of Tutt's vest. "Dave, no one humiliates me. You'd best heed what I say. Do not, ever, let me see you wearing my watch in public! I'll be watchin' fer you."
Wild Bill leaned close to Tutt, spoke slowly, deliberately, and added, "Don't pack that watch on the Town Square unless dead men can walk!"
Tutt shook loose from Wild Bill's grasp, stood and pulled his vest straight. "You don't worry me none." He pocketed the watch, snickered, and walked out.
Henry Goldman left the corner of the room and sidled up to Wild Bill. "God Almighty, Mr. Hickok, what are you going to do?"
The index finger on Wild Bill's right hand tapped the butt of one of his pistols. "T'will be merry hell if he's seen wearin' my watch!"
Aggravation and burning anger disrupted Wild Bill's sleep. He rose and dressed well before dawn, checked his .36 Navy Colt pistols, and tucked them in the red sash. Picking up a cup of coffee, he walked to the east side of the Town Square, purposely placing the rising sun at his back. He sat on a park bench and sipped his coffee He wondered if Tutt had the grit to show wearing his watch.
Dave Tutt rose, looked out the window at the sunrise, and dressed. His gaze shifted to the calendar on the wall. July 21st, 1865.
Susannah sat up on the bed. "Awfully early for you to be up, ain't it?"
"Ah'm meeting Jake and Clem for breakfast... and... ah just could run into my old friend, the famous Mister Wild Bill Hickok," said Dave, a small grin sliding up one side of his face. He adjusted his shoulder holster and then loaded the chambers of his Colt.
Opening the top drawer to the dresser, he picked up the Waltham watch and chain and twirled it on his finger. "Nice watch, huh?"
Susannah glared at Dave. "Good Heavens! That's James's watch. Did you steal it?"
"Nope, took it off him to back a loan. He owes me thirty-five dollars."
Susannah rose from the bed and wrapped herself in a flimsy robe. "Ain't it twenty-five? James always pays his debts, you know that. You'll surely get his blood up if he sees you wearing his watch about town. James is a proud man, and, a dangerous one if riled."
"Ah ain't scared of him. He's all bluff and those stories about him are mostly bull. I doubt that it would ever come to gunplay. But if it does, then Mister Geeeee Ward Nichols will really have something to write about 'cause ah'l be forever known as the man who outdrawed the famous Wild Bill Hickok."
"Or you'll be dead," said Susannah.
An hour after sunrise, people began to fill the streets. Wild Bill, still sipping coffee that had now gone cold, watched and waited. No one greeted him, but he noticed curious looks that he received... looks that told him the word had spread. Apparently, the town folks who were milling around the Square knew about last night's poker game and the loss of his watch. Spurred by anger, fierce resolve gripped him as he thought about the humiliation put upon him by DaveTutt.
Wild Bill spotted Henry Goldman, who probably had spread the story, unlocking the door to his shop. Goldman paused and looked at Hickok. Wild Bill nodded, touched the brim of his new hat, and calmly sipped his coffee.
Wild Bill noticed G. Ward Nichols in front of the K & K Saloon. He carried his ever-present note pad. Nichols scanned the Square, scribbled something down, and paced back and forth like a caged jackal.
Townsfolk lingered on the boardwalk. Some, Hickok surmised, were merely curious, while others, sadistically hoped to see blood spilled. Without doubt, some of the town's sporting crowd would be wagering. He smiled and wondered who, in their right mind, would bet against him.
Three men appeared on the distant northwest corner of the Square. They were leaving a café that stood next to the livery stable. As they crossed the street and entered the Square, Wild Bill identified Tutt with two men he did not know. Friends of Tutt, he assumed. Tutt laughed and joked with the two friends, and spun the watch on the index finger of his left hand.
Wild Bill tensed. His eyes narrowed. He rose, took his stance and his deep voice boomed. "Dave Tutt! I warned you!"
Tutt came to a sudden stop. He squinted into the morning sun. Wild Bill stood stone still. Tutt hesitated, and then pulled his gun. Wild Bill drew in response.
One of Tutt's companions shouted. "He's too far Dave!" Ignoring the advice, Tutt raised his weapon and fired.
Wild Bill, his .36 Navy Colt in his right hand, steadied the gun on his left arm, aimed, and squeezed the trigger. Tutt's shot tore up a line of grass in front of Wild Bill's foot. The bullet from Wild Bill's Colt struck Tutt in the chest, sending a spurt of blood that stained his fancy vest. Tutt's head rolled back. He staggered, spun around, fell face down and lay motionless, the watch still twisted on the index finger of his left hand.
Tutt's two friends flashed a look at each other, and then gawked at Wild Bill. Awe and fear froze them when they realized their companion went down with one pistol shot from over seventy-five yards.
With both guns drawn, Wild Bill walked toward the two men. "Are ye satisfied gentlemen?" Hickok yelled. The two turned and promptly disappeared in the nearby livery stable.
With only a glimpse at the dead man, Wild Bill picked up his watch and eased through the crowd that gathered in the Square. Pen in hand, Nichols approached him gingerly, thought better of it and retreated.
Wild Bill walked directly to the Marshal's office and turned himself in.
Two days later an inquest was held. The verdict, "Not guilty, self defense."
Susannah Moore left Springfield shortly after the shooting and went back to Arkansas. She took up with a man who owned a saloon in Fort Smith. The establishment was frequented by Judge Isaac Parker's Marshals, who sought drinks and companionship when they returned from the dangerous work of serving warrants in Indian Territory.
Henry Goldman sold his Springfield store and moved to San Francisco to open another clothing store. He made a fortune there, selling fine clothes to society ladies as well as the new miner's pants that were made out of heavy canvas and held together with rivets. The "Levis" had been designed by one Jacob Levi.
G. Ward Nichols continued to follow Wild Bill's escapades and eventually made Wild Bill Hickok a household name by writing popular dime novels that greatly exaggerated Wild Bill's many adventures.
Dave Tutt did become well known in the annals of Old West history, but not as the hero he envisioned. Ironically, his name is perpetuated as the arrogant, jealous victim of a showdown only in biographies of the man he despised, Wild Bill Hickok.
Wild Bill Hickok went on to many adventures in the West. He marshaled in Hays and Abilene, Kansas, scouted for George Armstrong Custer's Seventh Cavalry, traveled with Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West Show, and, in 1876, married circus owner Agnes Lake. Eventually he journeyed to Dakota Territory to prospect, (most of his prospecting was done at the poker tables), and on August 2nd, 1876, was murdered by a trail bum named Jack McCall in Deadwood's Number Ten Saloon. He is buried there next to Calamity Jane.
Lowell "Zeke" Ziemann is a former teacher, coach, financial planner and compliance supervisor for an Arizona Wall Street Firm. He is now semi-retired. He is a member of both his high school and college athletic Halls of Fame. He and his wife Jean live in Scottsdale, Arizona with their two dogs Katie and Goldie. They have four grandchildren. A member of the Wild West History Association, his love of the Old West history is reflected in his short stories. He has had ten of them published online and is in the process of publishing an anthology of his stories.