|Timothy Isaiah "Jim" Courtright|
Sangamon County, Illinois, USA
|Died||February 8, 1887 (aged 39)
Fort Worth, Texas
Cause of death
|Occupation||Lawman, businessman, outlaw, gunfighter|
He was born in Sangamon County, Illinois, which includes the capital city of Springfield, in the spring of 1848, the son of Daniel Courtright. Not much is known about his early life except that he had four older sisters and one younger brother. He was also said to have practiced shooting frequently. He enlisted in the Union Army during the American Civil War, but he had to lie about his age in order to join. He served under General John A. Logan, for whom he once took a bullet and therefore earned Logan's admiration. He was rootless, and traveled around often until he finally settled in Fort Worth in north Texas. While in Fort Worth, Courtright was at various times a jailer, city marshal, deputy sheriff, deputy U.S. Marshal, hired killer, private detective, and racketeer. During his travels, Courtright had developed a reputation as being fast with a gun.
In 1876, he became the first elected marshal of Fort Worth and had to keep peace in the notorious Hells Half Acre section, the town's wild red-light district. At that time, Fort Worth was a very dangerous place, with altercations between unruly drunks and lawmen being commonplace. On August 25, 1877, Deputy Marshal Columbus Fitzgerald was shot and killed while attempting to break up a street fight. Marshal Courtright shot and killed the suspect in that shooting that same night. On August 2, 1879, Deputy Marshal George White was gunned down by the family of a man arrested for horse theft, and his assailants were sentenced to prison, although the conviction was later overturned on allegations that White was not a sworn law officer. On October 2, 1884, Deputy Marshal W.T. Wise was killed in Oxford, Mississippi, while he attempted to arrest suspects who had committed a murder in Fort Worth. One suspect in Deputy Marshal Wise's murder was executed by hanging, and the other two received prison sentences.
That was the Fort Worth that Courtright inherited and which he was tasked with controlling. Although the Hells Half Acre district was known for being the most dangerous area of the city, Courtright seemed to have been in his element, as few crossed him, and most who did were killed by him. During his time there, it is believed that he killed at least five men during altercations and shootouts, including Deputy Marshal Fitzgerald's killer.
He became known for his long hair, and his reputation of using his badge as a matter of convenience. He was believed, during this time, to have taken part in several assassinations as a part of a protection service he was running. Basically, in the city's most dangerous area, he would offer his protection to business owners, for a price. Most would pay that price, as business owners understood that to decline his services meant that you would make him an enemy. Few who declined survived, and those who did eventually caved in to making payment.
Courtright vs Short
Luke Short was a gunfighter, gambler and bar owner who had drifted down to Fort Worth from Dodge City, Kansas. While in Dodge City, Short had dabbled in gambling, and became friends with several other noted Old West figures, such as Bat Masterson, Jim Masterson and Wyatt Earp, who had also become friends with Courtright. In Fort Worth, he managed the White Elephant, a saloon/gambling house.
Some claim that Marshal Courtright was running a protection racket at the time, and needed to make an example of Short, who also had a sizable reputation as a gunfighter mostly due to an 1881 gunfight with a gunslinger named Charlie Storms, at the Oriental Saloon in Tombstone, Arizona. Most historians tend to support the claims that Courtright had previously offered his protection to the White Elephant, and that Short informed him that he did not need his protection. Whatever the case, the two men did not get along.
On February 8, 1887, at about 8:00 p.m., Courtright called Luke Short out of the White Elephant. When Short walked outside, both men walked up the street one block, until they were in front of bar and brothel owner Ella Blackwell's Shooting Gallery. According to reports, few words had been spoken, and the two men moved apart facing one another. Words were passed, and evidently Courtright, who had been drinking considerably, had made some indication about Short having a gun. Short assured Courtright he was not armed, although he was, of course.
Short moved slowly toward Courtright, saying that he could have a look himself, at which point he pulled open his vest. Probably mostly for the sake of bystanders and justification, Courtright said loudly "Don't you pull a gun on me."
With that statement, Courtright drew his pistol, but according to reports it hung for just a second on his watch-chain, and in that second Short produced his pistol and fired one shot, which took off Courtright's thumb on his shooting hand. As Courtright attempted to shift his pistol to his other hand, Short fired four more shots in quick succession. Courtright fell backward and died shortly thereafter.
Aftermath and legacy
Short was placed on trial for the shooting, but it was ruled justified self defense, and that was the end of it. The gunfight became the story of a famous showdown because of the notoriety of both men as gunmen. Unfortunately for Courtright, that fame was posthumous.
Despite Courtright's reputation for strong-arming local businesses with his protection service, he did reduce Fort Worth's murder rate by more than half the previous level during his time there as the marshal. He built a small force that included himself and two deputies which eventually grew into today's Fort Worth police force.
In 1955, the half-hour syndicated television series Stories of the Century, starring Jim Davis as railroad detective Matt Clark, aired the Jim Courtright story, with Robert Knapp in the title role and Wally Cassell as Luke Short.
In 1958, Karl Swenson was cast in an historically inaccurate portrayal of Courtright on the ABC/Warner Brothers western series, Colt .45, starring Wayde Preston. In the episode entitled "Long Odds", Swenson plays a grandfather visiting his 10-year-old grandson Billy, played by child actor Paul Engle. Billy has told his friends of his grandfather's prowess with a gun, but the elderly Courtright now shuns a confrontation with the gunfighter Cherry Lane, played by Robert J. Wilke, amid accusations of cowardice. The real Courtright was dead at thirty-nine and likely had no grandchildren. In the Colt .45 episode, Swenson was fifty when he portrayed Courtright.
- historynet.com about Jim Courtright
- fortworthpd.com: FWPD History
- tchj.com Bad Blood
- "Stories of the Century: "Jim Courtright"". tv.com. Retrieved August 30, 2012.
- ""Long Odds", Colt .45, April 11, 1958". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved December 30, 2012.
- "Colt .45". ctva.biz. Retrieved December 30, 2012.
- Timothy Isaiah Courtright from the Handbook of Texas Online
- Fort Worth Police Department History Page