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The Notorious Luke Short

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Often times the smaller the man, the harder the punch--this adage was true in the case of diminutive Luke Short, whose brief span of years played out in the Wild West. His adventures began as a teenage cowboy who followed the trail from Texas to the Kansas railheads. He then served as a scout for the U.S. Army during the Indian wars and, finally, he perfected his skills as a gambler in locations that included Leadville, Tombstone, Dodge City, and Fort Worth. In 1883, in what became known as the "Dodge City War," he banded together with Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, and others to protect his ownership interests in the Long Branch Saloon--an event commemorated by the famous "Dodge City Peace Commission" photograph. The irony is that Luke Short is best remembered for being the winning gunfighter in two of the most celebrated showdowns in Old West history: the shootout with Charlie Storms in Tombstone, Arizona, and the showdown against Jim Courtright in Fort Worth, Texas. He would have hated that. During his lifetime, Luke Short became one of the best known sporting men in the United States, and one of the wealthiest. He had been a partner in the Long Branch Saloon in Dodge City, as well as the White Elephant in Fort Worth. He became friends with other wealthy sporting men, such as William H. Harris, Jake Johnson, and Bat Masterson, who helped broaden his gaming interests to include thoroughbred horse racing and boxing. Before he died he would become a familiar figure in Chicago, Memphis, New Orleans, and Saratoga Springs, where he raced his string of horses. He traveled with other wealthy sporting men in private railroad cars to attend heavyweight championship fights. Luke Short was always a little man dealing in big games. He married the beautiful Hattie Buck, who could turns heads at all the top resorts they visited as man and wife. Jack DeMattos and Chuck Parsons have researched deeply into all records to produce the first serious biography of Luke Short, revealing in full the epitome of a sporting man of the Wild West.

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Chapter 1: The Cowboy by Birth

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Chapter 1

The Cowboy by Birth

“[Abilene] was a paradise of variety shows and gambling establishments.

Every thing was wide open and every thing went.”

—Dallas Morning News, September 9, 1893.

The well-dressed man relaxed as the boot black polished his shoes at the White Elephant, the most elegant saloon-gambling house in Fort

Worth. He always made it a point when at work to dress immaculately, to set the tone for others to follow. This night, February 8, 1887, was no exception. Luke Short was known by nearly everyone in that section of the Lone Star State as a polished but dangerous gambler who seemed to always be in control of his emotions and environment.

Now a friend approached and asked, “Luke, anything between you and Jim Courtright?” Short, never loquacious, simply thought a moment and answered, “Nothing.” The matter was forgotten.

With shoes polished Short approached the bar to converse with a couple of friends. Then someone called out to him, a note of concern in his voice,

 

Chapter 2: Tall Tales and Short Facts

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Chapter 2

Tall Tales and Short Facts

“[Luke Short] could ride a broncho and throw a lariat; he could shoot both fast and straight, and was not afraid.”

W. B. “Bat” Masterson in Human Life, April 1907.

Luke Short told researcher George H. Morrison that he went “to the

Black Hills in 1876” but remained there only a short time. The “state of society” in the Hills was anything but good, at least as perceived by

Short who certainly was capable of making such judgment calls. Horse thieves and reckless characters abounded. In 1877 he left the Black Hills to go to Ogallala, Nebraska, which was then considered one of the largest shipping points in the west. The “state of society” there was also in a

“rude state.” Luke described it as being “infested with a reckless class of society.”1 There would be those who claimed that Luke Short himself was part of that “reckless class of society” in Nebraska. Perhaps he was; if so he was comfortable in that element of society.

The stories that were told vary widely and were written years after the period that Luke was in Nebraska. The one thing that these tales have in common is that they usually involve either a train or a railroad station.

 

Chapter 3: The Gambler by Choice

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Chapter 3

The Gambler by Choice

“Today the monotony was broken by the shooting of Chas. Storms by Luke Short on [the] corner of [the] Oriental.”

George Whitwell Parsons’ Diary, February 25, 1881.

Short’s 1886 interview with George H. Morrison provides us with the details of his next move after he left scouting for the army. To quote from this six-page document, “In the fall of 1878 he returned to Ogallala,

Nebraska and in 1879 went to Leadville” he began, pointing out that

Leadville was so crowded at this time that Short paid $25.00 a week just for a place to sleep. “There was more money in circulation at that time than the subject of these remarks ever saw before in all his travels. There was a good deal of betting & shooting [.] [T]here were courts of law in operation yet there were men hung for jumping lots [,] for attempting to rob somebody and for such minor offenses.”1 There were no examples given of what were considered “minor offenses.” Morrison’s handwritten notes describe the atmosphere in Leadville that would have attracted a risktaker like Luke Short:

 

Chapter 4: Get Out of Dodge

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Chapter 4

Get Out of Dodge

“Luke Short and L. C. Hartman met upon the street and paid their respective compliments to each other by exchanging shots.”

—Ford County Globe, May 1, 1883.

The first time that Luke Short’s name appeared in a Dodge City newspaper was during the summer of 1882. It was one of those “humorous” items, which an 1882 audience in Dodge would have found hilarious.

Cringe-inducing today, it reflects the racial prejudice then prevalent in

Dodge City, as well as the rest of 1882 America. It told of two Chinese gentlemen who had been “added to the population of Dodge City” directly from Trinidad, Colorado, and “brought with them letters of introduction from Bat Masterson to Luke Short. They engage in the washee business.

There are four gentlemen from the Celestial Kingdom now residents of

Dodge. All were pursuing the wash business. Mr. Fred Wenie provided the new arrivals with quarters. Fred is chief mogul among the Chinese.

He speaks their language fluently. But he can’t go their diet of rats, mice and rice.”1

 

Chapter 5: A Plain Statement and Shots from Short

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The Notorious Luke Short

City was in the hands of a mob, and that the persons and property of peaceable citizens were in constant jeopardy from destruction. In reality the Dodge City citizens continued to pursue “the even tenor of their way” and perhaps the town was more peaceable than it had been for years. The violence being done to persons and property was “all being done in Kansas City and Topeka through the press” while Dodge City itself was “quiet orderly and peaceable.”1

“A Plain Statement” stressed that what was happening was necessary about every two years, in other words, “a clearing out of an element composed of bold, daring men of illegal profession who, from toleration by the respectable portion of the community, are allowed to gain a prestige found difficult to unseat.”2 But what of the group that was ordered out of town? That element was one which “has to be banished, or else the respectable people have to be bulldozed and browbeat by a class of men without any vested interest or visible means of support, who should be allowed to remain in a decent community by toleration, but who, instead, after gaining prestige, they undertake to dictate the government of the better class.”

 

Chapter 6: The Dodge City Peace Commission

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The Notorious Luke Short

On the same date that Luke arrived in Caldwell, a train carrying Bat

Masterson stopped at Dodge, before going on to Colorado. Nicholas B.

Klaine of the Dodge City Times noted his presence at the stopover, merely saying that Masterson passed through on “the cannon ball train.” Some citizens of Dodge went to the train but they could not gain access to the sleeping car, which contained “the redoubtable Bat.” The unexpected statement was that “No one in Dodge wants to offer Bat any harm as long as Bat offers no harm himself.” Why would there be a concern? Bat was a good friend of Luke Short, and, according to Klaine, the country “has been anticipating some fearful things judging from the promulgation of the proposed movement of a notorious gang.” The people of Dodge had anticipated such a denouement; few people, Klaine noted, “believed the statements in the Kansas City papers about the proposed action of the gang.”2

Things remained quiet until May 31, when Wyatt Earp returned to

 

Chapter 7: The White Elephant in Panther City

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He will remain until after the arrival of St. John and Campbell, as he is anxious to meet these learned gentlemen.”3 John P. St. John, an exgovernor of Kansas, and A. B. Campbell were ardent prohibitionists, and the last kind of people that Luke would be “anxious to meet.” That summer both Luke and his attorney, Nelson “Net” Adams, sued the city of Dodge in the District Court at Larned, Kansas. Nicholas B. Klaine, ever ready to be critical of Short, reported that Luke had sued Dodge

City having determined the damages were in the amount of $15,000.

Mayor Hoover was served with notice of the suit while in Larned but there was no immediate response. Klaine then reminded his readers who Short was, the “conspicuous figure” in the spring of 1883 “Dodge

City trouble,” although certainly no one really needed to be reminded.

Attorney Adams had sued the city some weeks previously for $5,000 damage, Klaine pointed out, reminding his readers that Adams “was also in that ugly little matter” as a lawyer. Just how Short was damaged

 

Chapter 8: Sporting Men of Fort Worth

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fight. Sam McConnell was the “first available timber” and the pair went at it in front of the Horsehead Saloon. Both had received bruises before friends separated them. Later that evening Hensley “ran up against” Tom

Stephens at the corner of Second and Main. Another fight ensued but this time the police interfered and arrested both parties.1

Luke Short of course would rarely be accused of fighting with his fists, but he did appear in court alongside several who did. On the fifteenth of

September in Tarrant County Court, Charles Dixon, Dixie Lyons, Sam

McConnell, G.H. Day, and Short were together, charged with the offense of exhibiting a faro bank. All pled guilty and paid a fine of $25.00 for what amounted to a license fee to gamble.2

Luke made another appearance at the Tarrant County District Court on November 3 and entered a guilty plea for assault. Others on the court docket, including Cheese Hensley, elected for a trial by jury. The Dallas newspaper, which seemingly took great interest in the happenings in the neighboring Tarrant County courts, reported that the jury found

 

Chapter 9: Dead Man in a Shooting Gallery

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was shot twice, the bullets entering the back and coming out the front, either one of which would have been fatal. After he was shot he ran approximately fifty yards before he collapsed and died.

The press was eager to report the sensational news, so eager that initial reports were printed even before the coroner’s jury had concluded its findings. It appeared that Schuyler was passing by Henry Short’s shop, when a “few words were exchanged, and then the shooting commenced.”

Most witnesses claimed there were three shots fired, a few claimed four. No one claimed the victim had a pistol, and evidently Schuyler was running when hit. Early the following morning a deputy sheriff found a .38 caliber Smith & Wesson pistol on the ground in the direction in which Schuyler was running. One cartridge had been fired and one cartridge had snapped, or misfired. The friends of Schuyler claimed it was not his pistol and no pistol was found on the body. Then John and Josiah

 

Illustration Gallery

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Chapter 10: Mrs. Luke Short

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Chapter 10

Mrs. Luke Short

“Luke Short came there, to the hotel where I was staying, with his wife, the beautiful and accomplished daughter of an Emporia banker, whom he married under romantic circumstances.”

—A.G. Arkwright in the New York Sun, July 25, 1897.

She was indeed a beautiful woman. It was also true that her family resided in Emporia, Kansas, although her father was not a banker. From

March 15, 1887, until his death on September 8, 1893, she was Luke

Short’s wife. Her full name was Harriet Beatrice Buck but she was always called “Hattie.” Her father was Oscar Buck, who was born in Illinois on January 16, 1836. Her mother, Cynthia Allen, was born in Texas on

March 26, 1839. They married in Coles County, Illinois, on July 23, 1857.1

Cynthia and Oscar had eight children, the first five of whom were born in Coles County: Mary Alice on July 7, 1858; Harvey Joseph on March

27, 1860; Eva K. on September 20, 1862; Harriet Beatrice on October 5,

1863; and Nora E. on September 29, 1866.

 

Chapter 11: The War on the Gambling Fraternity

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The Notorious Luke Short

sporting man only, never giving back to the city. He may have thought of

Fort Worth as his home, but he would never become an accepted member of the community in the way that Jake Johnson was. Luke and Hattie rented an expensive suite in the Mansion Hotel, while Jake Johnson was busy building a house that was an actual mansion.

In early June the citizens of Panther City could watch Jake Johnson’s handsome residence on the south side, costing $15,000, take recognizable shape. There were other dwellings equally fine on the drawing boards, but none would equal the mansion that was Jake Johnson’s.1 What may have been a little-known fact was that Jake owned the land that those other dwellings would be constructed on. He was also powerful enough to publicly ridicule a state-wide prohibition vote that was coming up.

The betting on the results of the prohibition election in August was quite heavy. Jake Johnson, being a sporting man of considerable wealth, staked about $10,000 on the state giving a majority of 50,000 against the prohibition amendment.2

 

Chapter 12: The State of Texas v. Luke Short

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The Notorious Luke Short

that had been making the rounds in Fort Worth since September 1887.1

Two main points were considered in Luke’s appeal. First, an individual at this time and place could legally carry a pistol if that individual “was at his usual place of business.” Second, that individual could legally carry a pistol if the individual had reasonable grounds for fearing an unlawful attack upon his person, and that danger was imminent.

According to state witness S. P. Maddox, one of the arresting policemen, on the night of December 12, 1887, he had arrested Short in the White

Elephant for carrying a pistol. He testified he had observed Short withdraw a pistol from his hip pocket and discharge it into the floor of the saloon.

Maddox claimed he “had to overpower” Short in making the arrest. At the time Short claimed he had a commission and had the authority to carry the pistol. At the time there was a large crowd in the saloon and

Short was “crazy drunk.” The state closed.

 

Chapter 13: The Sport of Kings and a Palace Royal

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The Notorious Luke Short

had further bragging rights when it was reported that he owned three brothers of Proctor Knott. At the time they were training in Tennessee.3

There is a story, possibly apocryphal, of a Manhattan encounter Luke

Short had with a noted trouble maker named Fred May. It circulated while

Short was still alive and also appeared in many of his obituaries. May was allegedly “a jewel of a man” when he met up with Luke Short, before his “dissipation had wrecked his constitution as well as his fortune.” May had “nerves of steel and knew naught of fear.” The incident in question happened in one of the up-town restaurants and the conversation was

“rather free.” Short made some remark about an actress who was then

“the idol of New York.” May took exception and stated that the man who would say that was a coward and no gentleman. Short “calmly looked

May over from head to foot and then let his eyes travel back from foot to head.” This obviously unnerved May and he demanded of Short what was the matter with him. “I was merely thinking where I would hit you” responded Short, and without moving a muscle, Short continued:

 

Chapter 14: The Main Event

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Chapter 14

The Main Event

Luke Short, “the noted sporting man of Fort Worth . . . will go anywhere in the world for Bat.”

—Chicago Daily Tribune, July 3, 1889.

Luke Short would spend part of each year, from 1889 until 1893 in

Chicago. He usually went there during the summer months to get relief from the Texas heat as well as to attend thoroughbred horse races. Hattie always went with him on these extended visits that often lasted weeks and sometimes months. Hattie and Luke stayed at the Leland Hotel on

Michigan Avenue. She undoubtedly loved everything about Chicago, from fine restaurants to theaters, and of course, the shopping. Most of all she would have appreciated not being judged negatively, as she was in Fort Worth, because of whom she was married to. In Chicago, if Hattie was judged at all it would have been for her beauty. She had the ability to turn heads in a metropolis with no shortage of beautiful women. By 1889, Luke had attained celebrity status and was well known even in the “Second City.”1

 

Chapter 15: Luke Short—Prize Fight Promoter

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Chapter 15

Luke Short—Prize

Fight Promoter

Luke Short has gone to San Angelo “to attend the funeral of his brother Will, who was killed by a herd of stampeding cattle on the Tankersly ranch.”

—Dallas Morning News, April 4, 1890.

By October 1889 Luke Short was back in Texas attending the annual fair at Dallas. The fair drew huge crowds, including gamblers and confidence men. Luke would have been drawn there by the horse races, which were a major part of the fair. On October 21 the leading Dallas newspaper reported that “Luke Short of the panther city is in this city.”1 Luke was also seeking investors in Dallas to help bankroll his scheme of bringing a heavyweight championship fight to Fort Worth, or a nearby location. One possibility was a proposed fight between the champion, John L. Sullivan, and Peter Jackson, who was managed by Parson Davies of Chicago. A location for the match (which neither fighter had agreed to) prompted bidding from several sporting men, including Short. By now Chicago was well aware of who Luke Short was. The Daily Inter Ocean reported that

 

Chapter 16: Last Gunfight

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The Notorious Luke Short

also considered it miraculous that no one was killed since the shooting was at such close quarters.

Louis de Mouche, a saloon owner who happened to be in the crowd when the shooting erupted, was an eye witness who had the nerve to remain and see the deadly exchange. He explained what he saw and heard. Gambler de Mouche heard a big noise out on the street and ran out to see what [was] the matter. Everybody was running down stairs from the gambling place. I asked what was the matter, and they told me that Luke

Short was up there and there was going to be some shooting.

Everybody was down stairs at that time and I ran in. At the head of the stairs I met Luke Short with his revolver in his hand. I put my arm around him and tried to pull him out.

De Mouche said, “Come on away, Luke, or you will get hurt.” Luke said nothing, just stood still. At that moment de Mouche saw a door about six feet away pulled open “and a hand thrust out with a revolver in it.”

I pulled Luke around quick and the revolver went off. But Luke was as quick as the stranger, for he fired about the same time. That bullet entered the wrist of the stranger. That’s all the shooting that was done.

 

Chapter 17: Chicago

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Chapter 17

Chicago

Luke Short “always declared against unfair sport, and has refused to allow men who would cheat to associate with him.”

—Chicago Daily Inter Ocean, September 7, 1891

On February 1, 1891, the grand jury of Tarrant County returned numerous indictments but two were of special interest: one against Like

Short and one against Charles Wright, both charged with assault with intent to murder. Both men made bonds without trouble in the sum of

$1,000.1 The trial date would be changed more than once and a final decision would not be arrived at until March 1, 1892. In the meantime

Luke was starting to feel well enough to pursue his prizefight ambitions.

By mid-February Billie Simms and Sam Berliner, of San Antonio, offered a purse of $15,000 for a finished fight with kid gloves between

Bob Fitzsimmons and Jim Hall of Australia. The fight was to “come off” during the San Antonio fair either the last week of October or the first week of November, with Marquis of Queensbury rules to govern. To show their good faith each would deposit $2,000 with Dick Rocha of St.

 

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