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Petzal: The Five Greatest Gunfights

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February 13, 2009

Petzal: The Five Greatest Gunfights

By David E. Petzal

Read the full version of this story (and see more photos) by clicking here.

Number 1: The OK Corral
What else? Everyone was sober. Everyone was facing each other. It may be the most famous 30 seconds in American history.

Number 2: Wild Bill Hickok-Dave Tutt
An authentic Western walkdown across the town square, and with a moral: If you win Wild Bill’s watch in a card game, give it back.

Number 3: Luke Short/ Longhair Jim Courtwright 
About as close to a typical gunfight as you’ll find.

Number 4: The Frisco Shootout
After 36 hours under a proverbial hail of lead, a lawman emerges unscathed.

Number 5: The Harry Tracy Pursuit 
If you were in the posse chasing this guy (pictured in the newspaper clipping above), you would have been smart to recall you had business elsewhere.

Comments (40)

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from .88Mag wrote 5 years 9 weeks ago

This is a great post! Thanks Dave.
These guys had nerve to the point of insanity.

Thanks again.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Charley wrote 5 years 9 weeks ago

I would love to see a good movie made about the Frisco Shootout.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from cwolf5 wrote 5 years 9 weeks ago

Gotta love the OK Corral

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Jim in Mo wrote 5 years 9 weeks ago

Dillinger, Bonnie&Clyd, Baby face Nelson, boy there were some skirmishes that didn't end well.
Wish I could think right now of the shootout in the two story home where the 'bad guys' got away, slightly hurt, was it B&C or Dillinger gang?

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Ralph the Rifleman wrote 5 years 9 weeks ago

YeeHaw

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from dwaynez wrote 5 years 9 weeks ago

Great Post, Good Read, Good Info

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Shaky wrote 5 years 9 weeks ago

In 1950 I went with my Dad to take a load of stave bolts to Marshal, Ark. He took particular pains to take me to the hotel in that fair city to show me the pockmarks and, still visible bullet holes, though they had been painted over.
I believe the miscreant that had holed up in the hotel was called Pretty Boy Floyd, a pretty bad hombre by local account, and was assailed by the local sheriff, and his posse. The reason Dad showed me all the damage to the building, he said, was to show how horrible the marksmanship of the average Joe was, some of that posse was so scared they even missed the hotel.
He said,"son if you ever let me hear of you shooting that bad I'll take your gun and you'll never get it back". Lesson learned. I never shot that badly. I was 10.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from edboock wrote 5 years 8 weeks ago

These are great gunfights. The Hollywood gunfight was pretty spectacular also.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from Del in KS wrote 5 years 8 weeks ago

Jim in Mo,

That was probably B&C. They had several shootouts and escapes before Frank Hammer settled their hash.
When I was a kid my mom told me about driving over to Lake Weir (Fla) to see the house where the Feds cornered the Ma Barker gang and shot it out. Mom was a young girl about 10 or 12 then. She said the house sat right on the lake and was full of bullet holes. Most of the gang was killed. There was a movie about that when I was young but can't remember the title.

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from duff wrote 5 years 8 weeks ago

Its amazing how time dramaticizes these stories as well. I know some of the service bloggers will have the experience of quantity versus quality in terms of shots fired that Shaky refers to..I know I do, and it makes you wonder what the experience was like at the Corral, or at events like the Valentine's Day roundup.
Kind of makes me think about a previous post Dave, where you featured J. Frick's strategies to win a gunfight. In some of these free for alls, I think the rule that there aren't any rules applies.
Thanks.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from TomChar wrote 5 years 8 weeks ago

Let me offer up the Battle of Matewan as another worthy contender.

This occurred during the coal mining wars of the 1920s.

Described by some as the deadliest gun fight in U.S. History, it lasted about a minute and left 10 people dead. It also involved a face off between two individuals (a mayor and a sheriff) against a much larger force.

Information on it is easy to find on the net. Tom

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from TomChar wrote 5 years 8 weeks ago

Oops! I don't think Matewan, WV qualifies as the Old West. It was a heck of a gun fight nonetheless.

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from Jim in Avon wrote 5 years 8 weeks ago

Great post, Dave. It brings back lots of memories, mainly TV-generated by that fun-loving semi-demi-historian, Walter Disney. In those days a frank and far-ranging exchange of gunfire didn't involve gallons of catsup and was considered a reasonable part of the program.

Shades of Robert Loggia, who re-created Elfego for Disney in a 10-part episode back in 1958-60 when I were but a youngish, impressionable teen-ager. The Disney version must have consumed most of Winchester-Western's ammo production that year in the adobe shootout episode, but it sure were impressive.

Just wish I could remember the Elfego theme song. Disney did GREAT character theme songs. This was the same time as Francis (Swamp Fox) Marion: "Swamp Fox, Swamp Fox, tail on his hat; nobody knows where the Swamp Fox at..."

But the best Disney hero song (outside of maybe Davy Crockett) was for Texas John Slaughter, for "Texas John Slaughter made 'em do what they oughter, 'cause if they didn't, they died."

Can't beat that with a stick of any caliber.

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from chadlove wrote 5 years 8 weeks ago

Hey Jim, funny you mention Slaughter. I'm actually a descendant - in some confusing geneologically complex way - of the real Texas John Slaughter. He's my great-great-great-great...something or other.
I've always suspected that he's where I get my steely nerve and my unerring marksmanship. My ability to consistently delude myself, however, must have come from someone else...

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from Gunrockets wrote 5 years 8 weeks ago

Interesting article....thanks

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from firedog11 wrote 5 years 8 weeks ago

It is interesting how some of these people react in situations of stress. Too many people who function well under stress react I believe from two different emotions one is the "I don't give a shit" feeling or the a sense of duty to their friends or comrades in arms. I know they don't figure in as the type of gunfights we are talking about here. But I would like to say that Audie Murphy, Alvin York and the Seal team from "Lone Survivor" would rank as being in great gunfights.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from jamesti wrote 5 years 8 weeks ago

wouldn't it be refreshing if hollywood made a movie with realistic gunfights. you know the ones where they are actually shooting at eachother within the same area code? six shooters were not designed to fire from the same distance as a .300 mag. anyway, good post. lots of things i didn't know or had just forgotten about.

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from Edward J. Palumbo wrote 5 years 8 weeks ago

When you think of it, percussion rifles and sidearms didn't permit the expenditure of lead that centerfire brass cartridge cases engendered. With percussion revolvers, if you didn't settle the issue by the time you emptied your weapon, you had better have a good exit strategy. With centerfire handguns and repeating rifles, you simply loaded and fired until your ammo supply was gone. We can thank the development of the centerfire cartridges for most of these colorful tales. Of course, we can thank selective fire autoloaders for the "spray and pray" technique. You certainly couldn't do that with a Sharps rifle! As weapons technology evolves, so does the nature of confrontation. Up until 1934, when the Thompson submachinegun was available over the counter, I'd guess it must have been difficult to police the brass in some neighborhoods of Chicago and Manhattan.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from ishawooa wrote 5 years 8 weeks ago

In reality there were numerous "gunfights" in the old west that most folks are not aware of probably due to lack of a movie being made yet. Gents like Bill Tilghman, Ben and Bill Thompson (the former allegedly caused Hickok to back down), Sam Bass, Wes Hardin, and maybe the biggest sociopath of all Jim Miller. Look them up for some interesting reading. Also the assault on Northfield, Minnesota by the James-Younger gang and the failed bank robberies by the Doolins and Daltons in Coffeyville, Kansas. "Captain" Bill Coe even attacked the Army's Fort Union in New Mexico and Fort Lyon in Colorado. Talk about nerve or maybe just plain stupid. Back then it sometimes was blurred as to who was on which side fo the law bue to constant change of allegiance.

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from Tim Platt wrote 5 years 8 weeks ago

You could have used this as a feature article in F&S Dave... the Harry Tracy/crazy as a shithouse rat analogy really made me think. Do crazy people perform better under crazy circumstances?

That Frisco lawman was self appointed and 19 years old? God bless America. I, like Duff was also reminded of your post about rules for a gunfight. Obviously bring all your friends and all their rifles didn't work against Elfego.

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from ishawooa wrote 5 years 8 weeks ago

A few more thoughts. Note the age of death regardless of the cause of the majority of these fellows was fairly young including John "Doc" Holiday and James Butler "Will Bill" Hickok. I always admired Will Bill because he prefered the 1851 Colts in a time when others utilized cartridge firing revolvers. I have often wondered if they happened to be all he had and possibly he simply could not afford to upgrade, either way they were adequate. No one seems to know their origin or how he obtained them but they were high grade and engraved. Also the real gun that won the west was not a Colt or Winchester or Sharps, in reality it was the average working man's single barrel 10 or 12 gauge shotgun. That piece is not nearly so glamorous so it was simply swept under the carpet over time.

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from jamesti wrote 5 years 8 weeks ago

gotta love the old coach guns!

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from Tiger Mckee wrote 5 years 8 weeks ago

For those interested in gunmen of the old west, and the firearms they used, I highly recommend "Famous Firearms Of The Old West," by Hal Herring, who is a writer for Field & Stream. As a firearms instructor, and life-long student of weapons use, I've found this to be one of the better books out there.

Also, a point to keep in mind. There is a huge difference between a shooting and a gunfight. For example when Hamer took down Bonnie and Clyde, it was a shooting, the threats never got off a shot in response to the ambush. A lot of the old gunmen learned quickly that their chances of winning improved greatly when they shot first, without giving their opponents a chance to fire back. It may not be very sporting, but then like Clint Smith of Thunder Ranch says, "Always cheat, always win."

Tiger McKee
Shootrite Firearms Academy

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from jamesti wrote 5 years 8 weeks ago

i have that book. very good!

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from focusfront wrote 5 years 8 weeks ago

These are probably the greatest gunfights because they are reasonably well documented. The Hickock/ McCandles gang gunfight, depending upon what you read, either had Hickock gunning down three unarmed men, or walking into a room with 5-11 armed men and killing most of them. The Sandbar Fight (1827) was the one where Jim Bowie brought a knife (a big one) to a duel that became a gang gunfight, and won. These fights greatly increased the reputations of Hickock and Bowie, so there must have been some truth to them. But again, we will never know.

However, if sheer weight of flying lead and hits count, I'd add the Northfield Raid to Dave's list for sure. That was the one where Jesse James/ Younger Brothers' gang tried to rob a Minnesota bank, murdered a teller in cold blood, and were then taught by the angry citizenry that the Second Amendment was tougher than any single sheriff or lawman. If this country ran right, every bank robbery and gunfight would be the Northfield Raid all over again!

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from Mark-1 wrote 5 years 8 weeks ago

--Ish: I have a brace of 1851 Colt Navy’s out of choice. I’ve found with practice these revolvers are very accurate and point naturally…better than most handguns models that followed. However, after shooting these things a person understands why folks carried two for their social shooting. BTW these Navy’s make good clubs if you need one.

--GeeWhiz Info: Although Hickok did favor ’51 Colt Navy’s, he used Colt Dragoons in the Tutt fight and then 1860 Army’s in the Coe Shootout. It appears when the chips were down Wild Bill wanted a pair of 44’s.

I think what made Hickok, Doc Holiday, Earps, Thompson, etc successful gunfighters was an known attitude that they would indeed shoot to kill a person with no inhibitions.

+3 Good Comment? | | Report
from Beekeeper wrote 5 years 8 weeks ago

Good material for an article some time Dave...

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from Tim Platt wrote 5 years 8 weeks ago

Wild Bill died aged 39; Morgan Earp died aged 30; Doc Holliday died aged 36; Billy the Kid died aged 21; Johnny Ringo died aged 32; Curly Bill died aged 36; Ike Clanton died aged 40; Billy Clanton died aged 19; Dave Tutt died aged 26... just had to check thanks ishawooa!

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from ishawooa wrote 5 years 8 weeks ago

Mark-1: The most natural pointing revolvers in my opinion are the 6 inch Model 19, Colt SAA 7 1/2 inch, and the 1851 Navy. Just pick up and point any of the three with closed eyes and you might agree.
Dr. Ralph: On the other hand Wyatt did make it to a ripe old age with they say not a single bullet mark on his body. Bill Tilghman also survived to near retirement before being capped should have quit while he was ahead, and Frank James went on to become a really old fart. Billy Bonney aka Henry McCarty aka several old names supposedly was shot by Pat Garrett who was later shot by some other guy at a young age. I guess they decided "Brushy Bill" Roberts was not Billy when he surfaced back in the fifties. Butch and Sundance supposedly never died. Clay Allison and Black Jack Ketchum are worth reading about. Cole Younger served out a long sentence in Minnesota and apparently returned to live as a peaceful old man in Missouri. Then there is Belle and Sam Starr who vary from the ordinary. I suppose my personal favorite is Tom Horn. Read up on his whole life to understand how complex a character he actually was (in charge of landing army livestock in Cuba in '98, interpreter for Crook chasing Geronimo, Pinkerton agent, then stock detective in Wyoming before swinging in front of maybe 10,000 people). His favorite sniper rifle was a M-94 in .30-30 in spite of McQueen's preference for the .45-70 in that movie version.

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from PbHead wrote 5 years 8 weeks ago

Years ago the late Col Charlie Askins attempted to duplicate the feats of famous old time gunfighters. He didn't have much luck IIRC.

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from WA Mtnhunter wrote 5 years 8 weeks ago

I guess you only have to make a great shot once to become the stuff of legend.

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from hal herring wrote 5 years 8 weeks ago

I know that the poster above is right when he says Tilghman should have quit when he was ahead. But I have always admired the man for holstering up, yet again, when the Oklahoma governor asked him to try and bring order to the oil boom-town of Cromwell. Tilghman was the last of the Three Guardsmen still on the job- he was around 70 years old ( reportedly suffering fromn advanced cancer), and he went into drug and liquor crazed Cromwell just like he'd gone into Dodge City back in the '80s. Polite, honest, ruthless, good natured - the same qualities that had made him a success in the buffalo camps, and won him the friendship of the Earps, Holliday, people on evey side of the law. He let the corrupt prohibition agent Wiley Lynn get the best of him, in Cromwell, with a hidden backup pistol - he'd already taken away Lynn's .32- He certainly died with his boots on.

Then of course, somebody- maybe friends of Tilghman's- burned the red light districts of Cromwell to the ground. Another lawman eventualy caught up to Wiley Lynn in a drugstore and they got in a fierce spur of the moment gunfight, killing each other.

Bat Masterson gave the eulogy at Tilghman's funeral: "He was thr greatest of us all." Teddy Roosevelt once sent Tilghman to Mexico to track down an embezzler who had fled there- Roosevelt once said that "Bill Tilghman would charge Hell with a bucket."

Great history, great American stories. Sometimes I wonder whether many of us really remember these stoires, that thye really happened. Or whether, for more recent generations, it all seems like a myth, just movie stuff. Because there seem to be a lot of peole nowadays who would prefer not to know, or teach, that our country has always been so wild, and that there were men and women who lived these wild times, and acted, like Tilghman did, with iron-clad decency.

+5 Good Comment? | | Report
from Christian Emter wrote 5 years 8 weeks ago

I love gun fights with Clint Eastwood in them.

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from Gunslinger wrote 5 years 8 weeks ago

In my opinion,those famous gunfightersnever pulled theirweapons unless they intended to kill. Dame goes today. I carry a CC weapon, I pray I never need it, but can rest assured, if I do shoot, its to kill. Many a good peson killed by a dead man, like a empty gun will kill you. Weapons to me serve several purposes, first, protection, 2nd; I enjoy hunting, 3rd i just love the feel of a great gun in my hand, lastly, with a handgun in your pocession, kinda evens the playing field of you and whom-ever the conflict is with or about.Shoot-um-straight and often.

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from ishawooa wrote 5 years 7 weeks ago

Take a look at this photo and you decide:
http://www.ferncanyonpress.com/tombston/wyatt/montana.shtml

Sorry somehow I can't seem to make the address punchable.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Bill Rogers wrote 44 weeks 6 days ago

Just a comment of what I know: as an older man myself, by grandmother lived to be 106. She live in Abilene the time Hickock was sheriff there and through her travels throughout Texas, Kansas, Missouri, Nabraska and other points west she knew of and even met 'wild bill, doc holiday and several others. This is her first hand assessment. First of all history will do what it always does - it will lie. Some of his exploits are obviously exaggerated; however her assessment of James Butler Hickock was, "he had to most imposing, powerful persona of any person I had ever seen". Due to this and several earlier 'shootouts' that he had killed and won, Hickock had a monumental reputation". As was obvious with Mike Tyson, virtually all of his earlier opponents had lost the fight even before it started. Grandma stated, "if I were hiring a sheriff to 'tame a town' it would be 'Wild Bill' hands down. She also added she had never even heard the turn 'gunfighter' until in came out in moves in the early twentieth century. These men were called 'shootest' by folks who actual knew what they were talking about and 'Pistoleros' by dime novels.
Grandma also added Hickock virtually never wore a gun holster in his whole life. He usually wore a tightened gold sash around his waist and stuck two silver plated, ivory handled army Colts inside the sash. Yes, he used the 'cross draw' technique - which most folks would tell you took much more time than the 'regular way'. It seemed to work for him however. Besides being a 'very good shot - not a great shot' - his real gift was being able to endemically, when facing more than one foe, be able to sense exactly where each one was and who to shoot first.

2nd she says would have to be John Wesley Harden just due to his meanness and having killed more than 40 'documented' folks. Wyatt Earp was 'thoughtful and steady - not overly fast or over good with a pistol; but he had the 'will' when most men don't and that serviced him well. His reputation came almost solely from the "Gunfight at the OK Corral". which lasted less than 30 seconds. It is believed, in revenge and wearing a US Marshal's badge he sent about 9 other men to their maker. Not Bad but mostly he was a quite, decent guy who died of old age well into the twentieth century.

Doc Holiday had a neat name; however, his exploits may have been the most exaggerated of all time. He was completely fearless coupled with a kind of 'death wish due to his terminal illness; therefore, he had no compunction about killing or being killed. They say due to his 'dental dexterity' his gift with a pistol was virtually unrivaled; being much faster than Earp. Wyatt really was a good friend of Holiday and Holiday cherished that friendship until his dying day. Due to his seeming invincibility, Holiday was very seldom outright challenged; therefore, his actual conservative killings were/ are believed to be about 8.

William Bonnie was a punk kid who killed folks mainly from ambush - shooting them in the back. He was mostly a seedy foul mouthed coward who's name does not belong anywhere near these other folks.

No evidence Bat Masterson ever killed anymore than 1 or 2 people. He was a decent man who served as Wyatt Earp's deputy for about 2 years and that was it.

Jessie James was a cold blooded, Red Legs, Lilly livered murderer - not the 'Robin-Hood of the West'.James was a member of Qantrell's Raiders for a while but left that slow witted band because, "they just didn't kill enough 'blue coats'. In fact it is highly believed that his brother Frank was much smarter and much better with a gun than who he called his 'crazy' little brother - this belief may be born out by the fact that Frank died of old age.

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from Bill Rogers wrote 44 weeks 6 days ago

Just a comment of what I know: as an older man myself, by grandmother lived to be 106. She live in Abilene the time Hickock was sheriff there and through her travels throughout Texas, Kansas, Missouri, Nabraska and other points west she knew of and even met 'wild bill, doc holiday and several others. This is her first hand assessment. First of all history will do what it always does - it will lie. Some of his exploits are obviously exaggerated; however her assessment of James Butler Hickock was, "he had to most imposing, powerful persona of any person I had ever seen". Due to this and several earlier 'shootouts' that he had killed and won, Hickock had a monumental reputation". As was obvious with Mike Tyson, virtually all of his earlier opponents had lost the fight even before it started. Grandma stated, "if I were hiring a sheriff to 'tame a town' it would be 'Wild Bill' hands down. She also added she had never even heard the turn 'gunfighter' until in came out in moves in the early twentieth century. These men were called 'shootest' by folks who actual knew what they were talking about and 'Pistoleros' by dime novels.
Grandma also added Hickock virtually never wore a gun holster in his whole life. He usually wore a tightened gold sash around his waist and stuck two silver plated, ivory handled army Colts inside the sash. Yes, he used the 'cross draw' technique - which most folks would tell you took much more time than the 'regular way'. It seemed to work for him however. Besides being a 'very good shot - not a great shot' - his real gift was being able to endemically, when facing more than one foe, be able to sense exactly where each one was and who to shoot first.

2nd she says would have to be John Wesley Harden just due to his meanness and having killed more than 40 'documented' folks. Wyatt Earp was 'thoughtful and steady - not overly fast or over good with a pistol; but he had the 'will' when most men don't and that serviced him well. His reputation came almost solely from the "Gunfight at the OK Corral". which lasted less than 30 seconds. It is believed, in revenge and wearing a US Marshal's badge he sent about 9 other men to their maker. Not Bad but mostly he was a quite, decent guy who died of old age well into the twentieth century.

Doc Holiday had a neat name; however, his exploits may have been the most exaggerated of all time. He was completely fearless coupled with a kind of 'death wish due to his terminal illness; therefore, he had no compunction about killing or being killed. They say due to his 'dental dexterity' his gift with a pistol was virtually unrivaled; being much faster than Earp. Wyatt really was a good friend of Holiday and Holiday cherished that friendship until his dying day. Due to his seeming invincibility, Holiday was very seldom outright challenged; therefore, his actual conservative killings were/ are believed to be about 8.

William Bonnie was a punk kid who killed folks mainly from ambush - shooting them in the back. He was mostly a seedy foul mouthed coward who's name does not belong anywhere near these other folks.

No evidence Bat Masterson ever killed anymore than 1 or 2 people. He was a decent man who served as Wyatt Earp's deputy for about 2 years and that was it.

Jessie James was a cold blooded, Red Legs, Lilly livered murderer - not the 'Robin-Hood of the West'.James was a member of Qantrell's Raiders for a while but left that slow witted band because, "they just didn't kill enough 'blue coats'. In fact it is highly believed that his brother Frank was much smarter and much better with a gun than who he called his 'crazy' little brother - this belief may be born out by the fact that Frank died of old age.

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from Hobob wrote 42 weeks 2 days ago

I too am voting for the 1997 North Hollywood shoot out. Or the Dalton robbery in Coffeyville Kansas.

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from wbswenberg wrote 39 weeks 5 hours ago

I'm a fan of cowboy action shooting. Now I have not shot in competition. But I had to hand load 12 ga all brass shot-shells and shoot them at clays my buddy threw for me. I would occasionally ask him if I broke a clay because the white smoke would obscure the clay. I only took a few second shoots because of this. Very much more smoke that the revolver or rifle. The brass shot-shells were a mess to clean. I followed the black powder with modern which help clean the gun. But still used hot water and soap followed with Hoppe's #9.

If you think your gun is clean try the new Hoppe's for lead bullets or copper as applicable. Check out Sweets for copper also. I still finish with #9 and not oil the barrel.

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from Edwin Obrecht wrote 38 weeks 14 hours ago

You forgot about the North Hollywood Bank robbery. Incredible gun fight. In modern times........

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from hal herring wrote 5 years 8 weeks ago

I know that the poster above is right when he says Tilghman should have quit when he was ahead. But I have always admired the man for holstering up, yet again, when the Oklahoma governor asked him to try and bring order to the oil boom-town of Cromwell. Tilghman was the last of the Three Guardsmen still on the job- he was around 70 years old ( reportedly suffering fromn advanced cancer), and he went into drug and liquor crazed Cromwell just like he'd gone into Dodge City back in the '80s. Polite, honest, ruthless, good natured - the same qualities that had made him a success in the buffalo camps, and won him the friendship of the Earps, Holliday, people on evey side of the law. He let the corrupt prohibition agent Wiley Lynn get the best of him, in Cromwell, with a hidden backup pistol - he'd already taken away Lynn's .32- He certainly died with his boots on.

Then of course, somebody- maybe friends of Tilghman's- burned the red light districts of Cromwell to the ground. Another lawman eventualy caught up to Wiley Lynn in a drugstore and they got in a fierce spur of the moment gunfight, killing each other.

Bat Masterson gave the eulogy at Tilghman's funeral: "He was thr greatest of us all." Teddy Roosevelt once sent Tilghman to Mexico to track down an embezzler who had fled there- Roosevelt once said that "Bill Tilghman would charge Hell with a bucket."

Great history, great American stories. Sometimes I wonder whether many of us really remember these stoires, that thye really happened. Or whether, for more recent generations, it all seems like a myth, just movie stuff. Because there seem to be a lot of peole nowadays who would prefer not to know, or teach, that our country has always been so wild, and that there were men and women who lived these wild times, and acted, like Tilghman did, with iron-clad decency.

+5 Good Comment? | | Report
from Mark-1 wrote 5 years 8 weeks ago

--Ish: I have a brace of 1851 Colt Navy’s out of choice. I’ve found with practice these revolvers are very accurate and point naturally…better than most handguns models that followed. However, after shooting these things a person understands why folks carried two for their social shooting. BTW these Navy’s make good clubs if you need one.

--GeeWhiz Info: Although Hickok did favor ’51 Colt Navy’s, he used Colt Dragoons in the Tutt fight and then 1860 Army’s in the Coe Shootout. It appears when the chips were down Wild Bill wanted a pair of 44’s.

I think what made Hickok, Doc Holiday, Earps, Thompson, etc successful gunfighters was an known attitude that they would indeed shoot to kill a person with no inhibitions.

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from Tim Platt wrote 5 years 8 weeks ago

Wild Bill died aged 39; Morgan Earp died aged 30; Doc Holliday died aged 36; Billy the Kid died aged 21; Johnny Ringo died aged 32; Curly Bill died aged 36; Ike Clanton died aged 40; Billy Clanton died aged 19; Dave Tutt died aged 26... just had to check thanks ishawooa!

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from Charley wrote 5 years 9 weeks ago

I would love to see a good movie made about the Frisco Shootout.

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from Shaky wrote 5 years 9 weeks ago

In 1950 I went with my Dad to take a load of stave bolts to Marshal, Ark. He took particular pains to take me to the hotel in that fair city to show me the pockmarks and, still visible bullet holes, though they had been painted over.
I believe the miscreant that had holed up in the hotel was called Pretty Boy Floyd, a pretty bad hombre by local account, and was assailed by the local sheriff, and his posse. The reason Dad showed me all the damage to the building, he said, was to show how horrible the marksmanship of the average Joe was, some of that posse was so scared they even missed the hotel.
He said,"son if you ever let me hear of you shooting that bad I'll take your gun and you'll never get it back". Lesson learned. I never shot that badly. I was 10.

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from edboock wrote 5 years 8 weeks ago

These are great gunfights. The Hollywood gunfight was pretty spectacular also.

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from Jim in Avon wrote 5 years 8 weeks ago

Great post, Dave. It brings back lots of memories, mainly TV-generated by that fun-loving semi-demi-historian, Walter Disney. In those days a frank and far-ranging exchange of gunfire didn't involve gallons of catsup and was considered a reasonable part of the program.

Shades of Robert Loggia, who re-created Elfego for Disney in a 10-part episode back in 1958-60 when I were but a youngish, impressionable teen-ager. The Disney version must have consumed most of Winchester-Western's ammo production that year in the adobe shootout episode, but it sure were impressive.

Just wish I could remember the Elfego theme song. Disney did GREAT character theme songs. This was the same time as Francis (Swamp Fox) Marion: "Swamp Fox, Swamp Fox, tail on his hat; nobody knows where the Swamp Fox at..."

But the best Disney hero song (outside of maybe Davy Crockett) was for Texas John Slaughter, for "Texas John Slaughter made 'em do what they oughter, 'cause if they didn't, they died."

Can't beat that with a stick of any caliber.

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from jamesti wrote 5 years 8 weeks ago

wouldn't it be refreshing if hollywood made a movie with realistic gunfights. you know the ones where they are actually shooting at eachother within the same area code? six shooters were not designed to fire from the same distance as a .300 mag. anyway, good post. lots of things i didn't know or had just forgotten about.

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from Edward J. Palumbo wrote 5 years 8 weeks ago

When you think of it, percussion rifles and sidearms didn't permit the expenditure of lead that centerfire brass cartridge cases engendered. With percussion revolvers, if you didn't settle the issue by the time you emptied your weapon, you had better have a good exit strategy. With centerfire handguns and repeating rifles, you simply loaded and fired until your ammo supply was gone. We can thank the development of the centerfire cartridges for most of these colorful tales. Of course, we can thank selective fire autoloaders for the "spray and pray" technique. You certainly couldn't do that with a Sharps rifle! As weapons technology evolves, so does the nature of confrontation. Up until 1934, when the Thompson submachinegun was available over the counter, I'd guess it must have been difficult to police the brass in some neighborhoods of Chicago and Manhattan.

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from Tiger Mckee wrote 5 years 8 weeks ago

For those interested in gunmen of the old west, and the firearms they used, I highly recommend "Famous Firearms Of The Old West," by Hal Herring, who is a writer for Field & Stream. As a firearms instructor, and life-long student of weapons use, I've found this to be one of the better books out there.

Also, a point to keep in mind. There is a huge difference between a shooting and a gunfight. For example when Hamer took down Bonnie and Clyde, it was a shooting, the threats never got off a shot in response to the ambush. A lot of the old gunmen learned quickly that their chances of winning improved greatly when they shot first, without giving their opponents a chance to fire back. It may not be very sporting, but then like Clint Smith of Thunder Ranch says, "Always cheat, always win."

Tiger McKee
Shootrite Firearms Academy

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from focusfront wrote 5 years 8 weeks ago

These are probably the greatest gunfights because they are reasonably well documented. The Hickock/ McCandles gang gunfight, depending upon what you read, either had Hickock gunning down three unarmed men, or walking into a room with 5-11 armed men and killing most of them. The Sandbar Fight (1827) was the one where Jim Bowie brought a knife (a big one) to a duel that became a gang gunfight, and won. These fights greatly increased the reputations of Hickock and Bowie, so there must have been some truth to them. But again, we will never know.

However, if sheer weight of flying lead and hits count, I'd add the Northfield Raid to Dave's list for sure. That was the one where Jesse James/ Younger Brothers' gang tried to rob a Minnesota bank, murdered a teller in cold blood, and were then taught by the angry citizenry that the Second Amendment was tougher than any single sheriff or lawman. If this country ran right, every bank robbery and gunfight would be the Northfield Raid all over again!

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from Gunslinger wrote 5 years 8 weeks ago

In my opinion,those famous gunfightersnever pulled theirweapons unless they intended to kill. Dame goes today. I carry a CC weapon, I pray I never need it, but can rest assured, if I do shoot, its to kill. Many a good peson killed by a dead man, like a empty gun will kill you. Weapons to me serve several purposes, first, protection, 2nd; I enjoy hunting, 3rd i just love the feel of a great gun in my hand, lastly, with a handgun in your pocession, kinda evens the playing field of you and whom-ever the conflict is with or about.Shoot-um-straight and often.

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from .88Mag wrote 5 years 9 weeks ago

This is a great post! Thanks Dave.
These guys had nerve to the point of insanity.

Thanks again.

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from cwolf5 wrote 5 years 9 weeks ago

Gotta love the OK Corral

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from Jim in Mo wrote 5 years 9 weeks ago

Dillinger, Bonnie&Clyd, Baby face Nelson, boy there were some skirmishes that didn't end well.
Wish I could think right now of the shootout in the two story home where the 'bad guys' got away, slightly hurt, was it B&C or Dillinger gang?

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from Ralph the Rifleman wrote 5 years 9 weeks ago

YeeHaw

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from dwaynez wrote 5 years 9 weeks ago

Great Post, Good Read, Good Info

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from Del in KS wrote 5 years 8 weeks ago

Jim in Mo,

That was probably B&C. They had several shootouts and escapes before Frank Hammer settled their hash.
When I was a kid my mom told me about driving over to Lake Weir (Fla) to see the house where the Feds cornered the Ma Barker gang and shot it out. Mom was a young girl about 10 or 12 then. She said the house sat right on the lake and was full of bullet holes. Most of the gang was killed. There was a movie about that when I was young but can't remember the title.

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from duff wrote 5 years 8 weeks ago

Its amazing how time dramaticizes these stories as well. I know some of the service bloggers will have the experience of quantity versus quality in terms of shots fired that Shaky refers to..I know I do, and it makes you wonder what the experience was like at the Corral, or at events like the Valentine's Day roundup.
Kind of makes me think about a previous post Dave, where you featured J. Frick's strategies to win a gunfight. In some of these free for alls, I think the rule that there aren't any rules applies.
Thanks.

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from TomChar wrote 5 years 8 weeks ago

Let me offer up the Battle of Matewan as another worthy contender.

This occurred during the coal mining wars of the 1920s.

Described by some as the deadliest gun fight in U.S. History, it lasted about a minute and left 10 people dead. It also involved a face off between two individuals (a mayor and a sheriff) against a much larger force.

Information on it is easy to find on the net. Tom

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from TomChar wrote 5 years 8 weeks ago

Oops! I don't think Matewan, WV qualifies as the Old West. It was a heck of a gun fight nonetheless.

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from chadlove wrote 5 years 8 weeks ago

Hey Jim, funny you mention Slaughter. I'm actually a descendant - in some confusing geneologically complex way - of the real Texas John Slaughter. He's my great-great-great-great...something or other.
I've always suspected that he's where I get my steely nerve and my unerring marksmanship. My ability to consistently delude myself, however, must have come from someone else...

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from Gunrockets wrote 5 years 8 weeks ago

Interesting article....thanks

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from firedog11 wrote 5 years 8 weeks ago

It is interesting how some of these people react in situations of stress. Too many people who function well under stress react I believe from two different emotions one is the "I don't give a shit" feeling or the a sense of duty to their friends or comrades in arms. I know they don't figure in as the type of gunfights we are talking about here. But I would like to say that Audie Murphy, Alvin York and the Seal team from "Lone Survivor" would rank as being in great gunfights.

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from ishawooa wrote 5 years 8 weeks ago

In reality there were numerous "gunfights" in the old west that most folks are not aware of probably due to lack of a movie being made yet. Gents like Bill Tilghman, Ben and Bill Thompson (the former allegedly caused Hickok to back down), Sam Bass, Wes Hardin, and maybe the biggest sociopath of all Jim Miller. Look them up for some interesting reading. Also the assault on Northfield, Minnesota by the James-Younger gang and the failed bank robberies by the Doolins and Daltons in Coffeyville, Kansas. "Captain" Bill Coe even attacked the Army's Fort Union in New Mexico and Fort Lyon in Colorado. Talk about nerve or maybe just plain stupid. Back then it sometimes was blurred as to who was on which side fo the law bue to constant change of allegiance.

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from Tim Platt wrote 5 years 8 weeks ago

You could have used this as a feature article in F&S Dave... the Harry Tracy/crazy as a shithouse rat analogy really made me think. Do crazy people perform better under crazy circumstances?

That Frisco lawman was self appointed and 19 years old? God bless America. I, like Duff was also reminded of your post about rules for a gunfight. Obviously bring all your friends and all their rifles didn't work against Elfego.

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from ishawooa wrote 5 years 8 weeks ago

A few more thoughts. Note the age of death regardless of the cause of the majority of these fellows was fairly young including John "Doc" Holiday and James Butler "Will Bill" Hickok. I always admired Will Bill because he prefered the 1851 Colts in a time when others utilized cartridge firing revolvers. I have often wondered if they happened to be all he had and possibly he simply could not afford to upgrade, either way they were adequate. No one seems to know their origin or how he obtained them but they were high grade and engraved. Also the real gun that won the west was not a Colt or Winchester or Sharps, in reality it was the average working man's single barrel 10 or 12 gauge shotgun. That piece is not nearly so glamorous so it was simply swept under the carpet over time.

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from jamesti wrote 5 years 8 weeks ago

gotta love the old coach guns!

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from Beekeeper wrote 5 years 8 weeks ago

Good material for an article some time Dave...

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from ishawooa wrote 5 years 8 weeks ago

Mark-1: The most natural pointing revolvers in my opinion are the 6 inch Model 19, Colt SAA 7 1/2 inch, and the 1851 Navy. Just pick up and point any of the three with closed eyes and you might agree.
Dr. Ralph: On the other hand Wyatt did make it to a ripe old age with they say not a single bullet mark on his body. Bill Tilghman also survived to near retirement before being capped should have quit while he was ahead, and Frank James went on to become a really old fart. Billy Bonney aka Henry McCarty aka several old names supposedly was shot by Pat Garrett who was later shot by some other guy at a young age. I guess they decided "Brushy Bill" Roberts was not Billy when he surfaced back in the fifties. Butch and Sundance supposedly never died. Clay Allison and Black Jack Ketchum are worth reading about. Cole Younger served out a long sentence in Minnesota and apparently returned to live as a peaceful old man in Missouri. Then there is Belle and Sam Starr who vary from the ordinary. I suppose my personal favorite is Tom Horn. Read up on his whole life to understand how complex a character he actually was (in charge of landing army livestock in Cuba in '98, interpreter for Crook chasing Geronimo, Pinkerton agent, then stock detective in Wyoming before swinging in front of maybe 10,000 people). His favorite sniper rifle was a M-94 in .30-30 in spite of McQueen's preference for the .45-70 in that movie version.

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from PbHead wrote 5 years 8 weeks ago

Years ago the late Col Charlie Askins attempted to duplicate the feats of famous old time gunfighters. He didn't have much luck IIRC.

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from WA Mtnhunter wrote 5 years 8 weeks ago

I guess you only have to make a great shot once to become the stuff of legend.

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from Christian Emter wrote 5 years 8 weeks ago

I love gun fights with Clint Eastwood in them.

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from ishawooa wrote 5 years 7 weeks ago

Take a look at this photo and you decide:
http://www.ferncanyonpress.com/tombston/wyatt/montana.shtml

Sorry somehow I can't seem to make the address punchable.

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from jamesti wrote 5 years 8 weeks ago

i have that book. very good!

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from Bill Rogers wrote 44 weeks 6 days ago

Just a comment of what I know: as an older man myself, by grandmother lived to be 106. She live in Abilene the time Hickock was sheriff there and through her travels throughout Texas, Kansas, Missouri, Nabraska and other points west she knew of and even met 'wild bill, doc holiday and several others. This is her first hand assessment. First of all history will do what it always does - it will lie. Some of his exploits are obviously exaggerated; however her assessment of James Butler Hickock was, "he had to most imposing, powerful persona of any person I had ever seen". Due to this and several earlier 'shootouts' that he had killed and won, Hickock had a monumental reputation". As was obvious with Mike Tyson, virtually all of his earlier opponents had lost the fight even before it started. Grandma stated, "if I were hiring a sheriff to 'tame a town' it would be 'Wild Bill' hands down. She also added she had never even heard the turn 'gunfighter' until in came out in moves in the early twentieth century. These men were called 'shootest' by folks who actual knew what they were talking about and 'Pistoleros' by dime novels.
Grandma also added Hickock virtually never wore a gun holster in his whole life. He usually wore a tightened gold sash around his waist and stuck two silver plated, ivory handled army Colts inside the sash. Yes, he used the 'cross draw' technique - which most folks would tell you took much more time than the 'regular way'. It seemed to work for him however. Besides being a 'very good shot - not a great shot' - his real gift was being able to endemically, when facing more than one foe, be able to sense exactly where each one was and who to shoot first.

2nd she says would have to be John Wesley Harden just due to his meanness and having killed more than 40 'documented' folks. Wyatt Earp was 'thoughtful and steady - not overly fast or over good with a pistol; but he had the 'will' when most men don't and that serviced him well. His reputation came almost solely from the "Gunfight at the OK Corral". which lasted less than 30 seconds. It is believed, in revenge and wearing a US Marshal's badge he sent about 9 other men to their maker. Not Bad but mostly he was a quite, decent guy who died of old age well into the twentieth century.

Doc Holiday had a neat name; however, his exploits may have been the most exaggerated of all time. He was completely fearless coupled with a kind of 'death wish due to his terminal illness; therefore, he had no compunction about killing or being killed. They say due to his 'dental dexterity' his gift with a pistol was virtually unrivaled; being much faster than Earp. Wyatt really was a good friend of Holiday and Holiday cherished that friendship until his dying day. Due to his seeming invincibility, Holiday was very seldom outright challenged; therefore, his actual conservative killings were/ are believed to be about 8.

William Bonnie was a punk kid who killed folks mainly from ambush - shooting them in the back. He was mostly a seedy foul mouthed coward who's name does not belong anywhere near these other folks.

No evidence Bat Masterson ever killed anymore than 1 or 2 people. He was a decent man who served as Wyatt Earp's deputy for about 2 years and that was it.

Jessie James was a cold blooded, Red Legs, Lilly livered murderer - not the 'Robin-Hood of the West'.James was a member of Qantrell's Raiders for a while but left that slow witted band because, "they just didn't kill enough 'blue coats'. In fact it is highly believed that his brother Frank was much smarter and much better with a gun than who he called his 'crazy' little brother - this belief may be born out by the fact that Frank died of old age.

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from Bill Rogers wrote 44 weeks 6 days ago

Just a comment of what I know: as an older man myself, by grandmother lived to be 106. She live in Abilene the time Hickock was sheriff there and through her travels throughout Texas, Kansas, Missouri, Nabraska and other points west she knew of and even met 'wild bill, doc holiday and several others. This is her first hand assessment. First of all history will do what it always does - it will lie. Some of his exploits are obviously exaggerated; however her assessment of James Butler Hickock was, "he had to most imposing, powerful persona of any person I had ever seen". Due to this and several earlier 'shootouts' that he had killed and won, Hickock had a monumental reputation". As was obvious with Mike Tyson, virtually all of his earlier opponents had lost the fight even before it started. Grandma stated, "if I were hiring a sheriff to 'tame a town' it would be 'Wild Bill' hands down. She also added she had never even heard the turn 'gunfighter' until in came out in moves in the early twentieth century. These men were called 'shootest' by folks who actual knew what they were talking about and 'Pistoleros' by dime novels.
Grandma also added Hickock virtually never wore a gun holster in his whole life. He usually wore a tightened gold sash around his waist and stuck two silver plated, ivory handled army Colts inside the sash. Yes, he used the 'cross draw' technique - which most folks would tell you took much more time than the 'regular way'. It seemed to work for him however. Besides being a 'very good shot - not a great shot' - his real gift was being able to endemically, when facing more than one foe, be able to sense exactly where each one was and who to shoot first.

2nd she says would have to be John Wesley Harden just due to his meanness and having killed more than 40 'documented' folks. Wyatt Earp was 'thoughtful and steady - not overly fast or over good with a pistol; but he had the 'will' when most men don't and that serviced him well. His reputation came almost solely from the "Gunfight at the OK Corral". which lasted less than 30 seconds. It is believed, in revenge and wearing a US Marshal's badge he sent about 9 other men to their maker. Not Bad but mostly he was a quite, decent guy who died of old age well into the twentieth century.

Doc Holiday had a neat name; however, his exploits may have been the most exaggerated of all time. He was completely fearless coupled with a kind of 'death wish due to his terminal illness; therefore, he had no compunction about killing or being killed. They say due to his 'dental dexterity' his gift with a pistol was virtually unrivaled; being much faster than Earp. Wyatt really was a good friend of Holiday and Holiday cherished that friendship until his dying day. Due to his seeming invincibility, Holiday was very seldom outright challenged; therefore, his actual conservative killings were/ are believed to be about 8.

William Bonnie was a punk kid who killed folks mainly from ambush - shooting them in the back. He was mostly a seedy foul mouthed coward who's name does not belong anywhere near these other folks.

No evidence Bat Masterson ever killed anymore than 1 or 2 people. He was a decent man who served as Wyatt Earp's deputy for about 2 years and that was it.

Jessie James was a cold blooded, Red Legs, Lilly livered murderer - not the 'Robin-Hood of the West'.James was a member of Qantrell's Raiders for a while but left that slow witted band because, "they just didn't kill enough 'blue coats'. In fact it is highly believed that his brother Frank was much smarter and much better with a gun than who he called his 'crazy' little brother - this belief may be born out by the fact that Frank died of old age.

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from Hobob wrote 42 weeks 2 days ago

I too am voting for the 1997 North Hollywood shoot out. Or the Dalton robbery in Coffeyville Kansas.

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from wbswenberg wrote 39 weeks 5 hours ago

I'm a fan of cowboy action shooting. Now I have not shot in competition. But I had to hand load 12 ga all brass shot-shells and shoot them at clays my buddy threw for me. I would occasionally ask him if I broke a clay because the white smoke would obscure the clay. I only took a few second shoots because of this. Very much more smoke that the revolver or rifle. The brass shot-shells were a mess to clean. I followed the black powder with modern which help clean the gun. But still used hot water and soap followed with Hoppe's #9.

If you think your gun is clean try the new Hoppe's for lead bullets or copper as applicable. Check out Sweets for copper also. I still finish with #9 and not oil the barrel.

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from Edwin Obrecht wrote 38 weeks 14 hours ago

You forgot about the North Hollywood Bank robbery. Incredible gun fight. In modern times........

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