July 21, 2018
James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickok and Davis Tutt made odd friends. Hickok had been a scout for the Union Army. Tutt was a Confederate Army veteran.
Maybe it should be no surprise the friendship soured and ended in the first recorded one-on-one quick draw shootout in the United States.
And it happened on Park Central Square in Springfield, Missouri, on July 21, 1865.
Some say the relationship fell out over women. There’s no question, however, that Hickok and Tutt had an argument over gambling debt. Tutt grabbed Hickock’s prized Waltham repeater gold pocket watch. He planned to keep it as collateral until Hickok could pay off the debt.
Their feud simmered to a boiling point. Tutt’s friends told Hickock that Davis was planning on wearing the watch in the middle of the town square the next day.
“He shouldn’t come across that square unless dead men can walk,” Hickock replied.
Sure enough, Tutt showed up at the town square around 10 a.m. Hickock’s watch was dangling from his waist pocket. “Wild Bill” showed up and the two discussed their debt, but they failed to reach an agreement.
Tutt returned to the square later that day, showing off the watch again. Hickok returned, too, around 6 p.m. A big crowd had already gathered in anticipation of the conflict.
Hickok walked north on South Street and entered the square. Tutt was standing 75 yards away, near the old Greene County courthouse. That building was located where Heer’s Luxury Living stands today.
“Dave, here I am,” Hickock said.
He cocked his pistol and holstered it on his hip.
“When (Tutt) began to move toward Hickok, he said ‘Don’t come any closer, Dave,’” historian and author Bill O’Neal told the Wild West History Association. “Tutt assumed a duelist’s stance, which was not out of character to anyone back then.”
Hickok drew his pistol and steadied it with his left hand. Tutt shot and missed. Hickok fired a split-second later and hit his target.
The bullet entered Tutt’s body between the fifth and seventh ribs.
“That ball went all the way through his torso,” O’Neal said. “He said, ‘Boys, I’m killed,’ and he stumbled backward a few steps and fell right in front of those (courthouse) arches.”
It was quite a shot considering Hickock used a cap and ball 36 caliber Navy Colt.
“He was lucky to hit the square let alone the other person,” John Sellars, executive director of the Springfield History Museum on the Square, told the WWHA. “I don’t know if you have ever shot a cap and ball 36 caliber Navy Colt. I have. I was lucky to hit anywhere near what I was pointing at. (Hickok) hit him and it went through and through.
“Tutt’s body was taken from here to a physician’s office above a stable, over on Patton Alley. From there he was buried in potter’s field, the old city cemetery, which was over on South Street.”
There was a coroner’s inquest, Hickok was arrested and stood trial. He claimed self-defense and the jury decided Hickock was justified in the shooting. Tutt had taken his watch, embarrassed him and reached for his pistol first.
Tutt’s half-brother, Lewis, became a wealthy businessman in Springfield. He later had Davis’ body exhumed and interred at Maple Park Cemetery.
Hickock had lived in Springfield on and off for two years before the shootout. The town was under martial law and he worked as a detective for the provost marshal’s office. After his acquittal, he decided to stick around for a while.
“He actually ran for city marshal that fall and lost because a lot of people thought he was too hot-headed. He got 22 votes,” Sellars said. “Hickok left here and went into Kansas, and then from there on into the Dakotas and to his fate. He never never came back here after he lost that election in the fall of 1865.”
Walk around Park Central Square and you’ll find two markers on the street. One marks the spot where Hickock fired his gun, the other where Tutt fell. A plaque on the southwest corner of the square has details of their duel.
Today The Coffee Ethic bustles with guests mere steps away from where Hickok fired. Loft apartments fill the side of the square where Tutt died. Downtown Springfield doesn’t quite resemble the Wild West anymore, but it will never lose its place in the history books.