Jim Courtright


Jim Courtright was the kind of man willing to oblige anybody with big trouble provided he was a reputable gunslinger. He knew exactly how to measure a man by the general appearance and particularly the manner in which he wore his gun. Longhaired Jim was like greased lightning with a single or twin Colts and he head learned to shoot accurately out back of the barn in Iowa where he spent his boyhood. It wasn’t until he entered the Civil War that he got to see the country and also learned the fine points of bloodletting. As an army scout, under General Logan of Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico, he had plenty of time to grow long hair and provoke barroom fights and thus satisfy that strange hunger of the killer.

Jim was one of the few gunfighters who was both dark-headed and dark eyed, as the majority had washed out blue eyes, and the pallid complexion of nightlife.

Jim had a gunfight in Fort Worth with half the town getting the opportunity to see him unlimber and kill, so it is little wonder he was offered an appointment as marshal, which he accepted. He went to work by cutting down a few smart alecks to let the town know that Jim Courtright meant business. He played up to the political element and eventually ran a shakedown business in which he found himself out of a job and without friends.

He went on to a mining town in Lake Valley, New Mexico, and managed an appointment there that was considered a suicide job the way the lawmen had been bumped off. Jim didn’t fool around. He rubbed hard at the top men and got them heated to a point of drawing on him and then methodically cut them down in street fights. One man he literally cut to pieces by breaking his hands first and then his legs until he knelt and pleaded for his life. No quarter was given and it was good advertising for Jim. He tore the head off of the second gunslinger. Jim liked the job. However, the mines petered out and the town folded up.

Jim had reached a plateau in gunfighting fame where the expression ran: “Look out. Here comes Jim Courtright.” His walk took on a swagger and his manner was casual – like a cat.

Jim couldn’t get a job. He was forced to take one from General Logan as a foreman of his ranch in the American Valley in New Mexico. There was no question as to Courtright being a fine horseman let alone a good gunman. It was his job to flush out the rustlers on the ranch and kill them without quarter. But when Jim got to shooting he never knew exactly when to let up he not only did in the Mexican rustlers but honest homesteaders fell under his vicious gun. He gave no quarter whatever. This riled the towns-people and so much pressure was brought to bear on the General that he had to let Jim go and advised him to leave in a hurry.

He no more than reached Fort Worth again than he was arrested by the U.S. Marshal. Jim escaped and managed to go on to South America, but he returned in a few months and stood trial and was acquitted.

He had to take on a job as a bouncer in saloons and gambling casinos, killing several men on the self-defense alibi. He finally decided to open a detective agency, which he called the Commercial Detective Agency. This was, in reality, a front for the clandestine business of shaking down gambling men who had to pay rather than risk being either frisked or shot down.

Finally, Luke Short showed up in Fort Worth, a gunfighter of considerable reputation, and established himself in what he named the White Elephant Saloon. Jim was on his heels to give his so-called protection that Luke might run his business in peace. But the Dodge gunfighter told him to go to hell that he could do all the gunslinging necessary to keep himself clear of leeches.

On February 1887, the famous street fight between Courtright and Luke Short took place. Luke got in the first shot which tore off Courtright’s hammer thumb, while Jim made a border shift without effect, being too late, and Luke blasted him three times as he staggered and sank to his knees in the street, then fell over on his face. He died in his thirty-ninth year, but it took a great gunfighter to bring him down.