Missouri and Ozarks History

Information and comments about historical people and events of Missouri, the Ozarks region, and surrounding area.

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Location: Missouri

I'm a freelance writer specializing in the history of the Ozarks and surrounding region. I've written sixteen nonfiction books, two historical novels, and numerous articles. My latest books are Wicked Women of Missouri, Yanked Into Eternity: Lynchings and Hangings in Missouri, and Show-Me Atrocities: Infamous Incidents in Missouri History.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Wild Bill Hickok & Dave Tutt

My book entitled Ozarks Gunfights and Other Notorious Incidents has been released (or at least it's available for order from online bookstores); so for the next several posts, I thought I'd touch briefly on some of the subjects covered in the book. A few of them I have already mentioned in previous posts, but most of them I have not previously mentioned.
Chapter One of the book is an account of Wild Bill Hickok's shootout with Davis Tutt on the Springfield square shortly after the close of the Civil War. I won't try to recount the event here, but I'll mention two or three things that struck me as remarkable as I was doing my research, because they were things I was not already aware of. The first thing is that the circumstances surrounding the event and the guilt or innocence of either party were not black and white. In the popular myth, of course, Wild Bill is the good guy, but in reality, he had something of a notorious reputation himself, at least around Springfield. Many Southern-leaning citizens felt that the jury, composed almost exclusively of Northern sympathizers, brought in its not guilty verdict more because of the fact that Hickok had been a Union soldier and Tutt had served in the Confederate army than because of the circumstances of the duel.
We usually hear that the Hickok-Tutt gunfight grew out of dispute over a card game, but I was a little surprised to learn that Tutt, according to at least one report, was not actually involved in the game. Tension between the two men (partly over a romantic rivalry) had supposedly already reached such a point that Hickok refused to play cards with Tutt, and the dispute that led directly to the gunfight involved a prior debt that Hickok owed Tutt, not a debt arising out of the game that occurred on the fateful day.
Finally, my research has led me to believe that the gunfight occurred later on the same day that the poker game took place, not the next day as many accounts suggest. It should be remembered that back in those days card games were often played during daylight hours, mainly because of the unavailabilty of electric lights. Since the gunfight took place around 6 p.m., it seems logical to conclude, and the evidence seems to suggest, that the card game had taken place earlier the same day, not the previous day.

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Anonymous Daniel R. Baker said...

Did you come to any conclusion about what sort of gun Hockok used? From what I've read, most people say it was a .36 Navy Colt, based on a photograph showing him wearing one or more Navy Colts near the time of the shooting. But, I've seen some people insist that he switched to a bigger caliber Colt .44 (the 1860 Army model, I think) after issuing Tutt the challenge about the watch. That makes no sense to me (why would Hickok carry the Navy Colt in the first place if he didn't trust it in a shooting situation?), but a number of people swear by it. Just wondering what your findings were.

December 4, 2009 at 1:44 PM  
Blogger Larry Wood said...

No, this wasn't an issue I investigated thoroughly. In the chapter about this incident in my book, I think I referred to Hickok's weapon as a .44, but in double checking my notes, I find that I'm not sure exactly where I came up with that information.

December 5, 2009 at 6:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I had always assumed that Wild Bill used one of his .36 Colt Navy Revolvers to shoot Dave Tutt. That being said, If the reported distance of the gunfight was around 75 Yards, then Wild Bill was indeed an exceptional shot.

The problem I see is that the .36 Colt Navy has some rather anemic ballistics and the chances of Wild Bill inflicting a fatal wound at 75 Yards would be much less with a .36 Navy compared to a much more powerful .44 Colt Army.

I just wish there was a way that somehow the caliber of the revolver used by Will Bill could be documented.

August 4, 2013 at 7:50 PM  
Blogger Larry Wood said...

In glancing back at the statements of the people who testified at the coroner's jury the day after the shootout, I cannot find any reference to the caliber of Hickok's weapon. They just called it a pistol. Same goes for the brief newspaper account that came out in the Springfield newspaper a few days later. For the record, though, I doubt the distance was 75 yards as is commonly accepted. I think it might have been closer to 50 yards, which is the distance George Ward Nichols cited in his exaggerated account of this episode written for Harper's New Monthly Magazine a few months after the incident. I do know, with some confidence, that the position of the metal plaque in the street on the square that supposedly marks the spot where Hickok stood is wrong. He was west of South Street, not even with or east of it as the marker indicates. He was far enough west of South that witnesses on South Street could not see him but could see Tutt. So the two men were facing each other almost from north to south, not from northwest to southeast.

August 8, 2013 at 2:24 PM  
Anonymous P. Phillips Bramblebush@ymail.com said...

Davis Tutt was my great, great Uncle. His sister Rachel was my great, great grandma. The story has been told many times by family members throughout the family. They say supposedly the fight was more over a girl, than the card game or watch.What kind of gun did David Tutt use? Whatever came of that gun?

August 14, 2013 at 11:39 AM  

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