Who doesn’t love a good western flick, right? Gunfights, dust, and leather all mixed together into two hours of pure action and excitement. But while Hollywood may have exaggerated the details a bit, the inspiration had to come from somewhere.
Below, we take a look back in time at some of the most famous shootouts in the history of the American West that actually happened!
1. First Shootout of the West: Bill Hickok vs. Davis Tutt
Touted as the nation’s very first one-on-one shootout, our list kicks off with a showdown between Wild Bill Hickok and Davis Tutt. The dispute started over a $25 25-dollar gambling debt that Wild Bill owed to Tutt. Wild Bill gave Tutt his prized pocket watch as collateral until he forked over the cash. His only stipulation was that Tutt never wore it in public to avoid any embarrassment.
In July of 1865, Davis Tutt decided to break that agreement and paraded through town wearing Bill’s watch like a trophy. As spectators gathered in Springfield, Missouri,’s town square, the pair squared off roughly 75 yards apart. In what must have been quite a tense moment, both men fired a single shot. Tutts’ bullet missed Wild Bill completely, but Bill’s bullet struck Davis Tutt directly in the chest, sending him curling to the ground – dead.
2. Shootout at the OK Corral
Next on our list, we take a peek into Tombstone, Arizona, 1881. The Earp brothers and Doc Holliday settle into town, leaving the now-tamed Dodge City, Kansas. During this time, Tombstone was home to cattle herders, thieves, and murderers known as the Clanton gang. Naturally, the two groups did not see eye to eye.
After several unpleasant encounters, tensions reached their limits on October 26th at the OK Corral. While it’s not sure who fired the first shots, a chaotic 30 seconds of pistol fire and shotgun blasts rattled through the streets. When the gunsmoke cleared, the McLaury brothers were dead, along with Billy Clanton. Besides a new hole in his coat tail, Wyatt Earp walked away unscathed. Meanwhile, Holliday, Morgan Earp, and Virgil Earp were all wounded but alivelived.
3. Billy the Kid and the Jailbreak Shootout
The next legendary shootout is what some might call “The Great Escape” of the wWest. William Bonney, as known as aka Billy The Kid, was transported to Lincoln for execution after being found guilty of the murder of William Boyd. Sheriff Pat Garrett ensured he was under constant watch and shackled hand and foot when he rode out of town for his required tax collection duties.
The Kid’s captors were deputies Bob Olinger and James Bell. It was dinner time in April,on April of 1881, at the Lincoln County courthouse where Billy was held, and Olinger was across the street having dinner. Billy the Kid used his charm to convince Bell to escort him to the outhouse behind the building when suddenly, shots rang out!
Nobody knows exactly how Billy got his hands on a weapon. But Bell came crashing out of the building with a mortal wound through his back. Olinger, who had been particularly cruel to Billy during his imprisonment, rushed across the street with pistols drawn to recapture his escaping prisoner. Billy yelled, “‘Look up, old boy, and see what you get,” before unloading both barrels of a shotgun into Bob Olinger’s chest and head, killing him instantly.
Billy rode out of town armed to the teeth, buying him another few months of freedom before his inevitable demise.
4. The Famous Dead Man’s Hand
Living your life as a lawman, gambler, and gunfighter is a hard and dangerous one, to say the least. In this shootout, Wild Bill Hickok learns this lesson the hard way.
On August 2nd, 1876, Wild Bill played poker at Nuttal & Mann’s Saloon in Deadwood, South Dakota. McCall stepped inside the saloon, raised his six-shooter, and shot him point blank in the back of his head, killing him instantly to avenge his brother’s death. The final poker hand of legendary Wild Bill was aces and eights, now infamously known as the “Dead Man’s Hand.”
5. Four Dead in Five Seconds: El Paso Shootout
Our final shootout occurs in one of El Paso’s raunchiest and filthiest saloons. An absurd yet deadly encounter occurred in 1881 over the bodies of two Mexicans found dead on John Hale’s ranch during a cattle theft investigation.
Constable Gus Krempkau caught up to John Hale in the crusty saloon, and it wasn’t long before the lead was flying. Hale, visibly intoxicated, grabbed a pistol from his friend and ex-City Marshall George Campbells belt and fired a shot into Krempkau’s stomach.
Marshall Dallas Stoudenmire then drew his weapon on Hale firing two shots. One hit and killed an innocent Mexican bystander, and the other directly hit Hale, mortally wounding him. Just as George Campbell raced for the door, Krempkau fired a shot killing him as he crashed outside, finally ending the confrontation.
At the end of the day, the true tales of the west aren’t as romanticized as the movies and storybooks build them up to be. But the truth is that the American west was a ruthless place where any day could be your last!