Today is the anniversary of a couple of iconic events from the Wild West: One of the first, if not the first, actual middle-of-the-street quick-draw gunfighter duels, and the first train robbery by the Younger-James gang (not the first train robbery of the Old West, though — the Reno brothers beat Cole and Frank to the draw, as it were).
The duel was between Wild Bill Hickok and Davis Tutt on 21 July 1865 in Springfield, Missouri. The quarrel between the men was over (possibly) unpaid gambling debts and (perhaps) over the affections of one or more young ladies. The most proximate cause, however, seems to have been Tutt parading around town wearing Wild Bill’s gold watch (which Tutt had either stolen, or was holding as collateral for one of the aforesaid gambling debts).
They really did square off in the middle of the street, and at a range of 75 paces turned and fired. Tutt missed; Hickok shot Tutt through the heart. Given that Hickok was using a cap-and-ball black-powder revolver, and the range was in excess of fifty meters, that was pretty good shooting.
Wild Bill was arrested and charged with murder. The charge was eventually reduced to manslaughter. Bill pleaded self-defense. The judge didn’t buy that, as Bill hadn’t taken every reasonable opportunity to avoid the conflict But the jury found Bill innocent on the grounds that it was a fair fight.
The story grew in the telling, particularly because Wild Bill himself never let the truth stand in the way of a good yarn.
As for the Younger-James train robbery: On 21 July 1873 the gang took up a rail on the Rock Island Line (reportedly a mighty good road) tracks on a blind curve outside Adair, Iowa. The train derailed, killing the engineer. The gang, dressed as Ku Klux Klansmen, forced the expressman to open the safe, where they discovered that the payroll they’d been hoping to rob had been delayed and was on another train. The Younger-James gang then robbed the passengers and made their getaway. They made off with $3,000–just short of sixty grand in today’s money.
So ends our excursion into the Famous Crimes of Yesteryear.