Here was a gunslinger who learned to shoot out behind the barn on his father’s west Texas ranch, and there never was a truer shot to be found anywhere. For Luke Short had that instinct to make a bullet go exactly where he pointed a gun. His small stature as a man may have developed the complex to be a big man with a gun. And Luke was all of that.
He was born in Texas about 1854, worked on his pa’s ranch as a cowboy until he was big enough to take a notion to go on alone. He started out as a trader with the Sioux Indians up around Nebraska country, found gambling an easier and more exciting way to earn money, and so Luke became a gunfighting gambler destined to make his mark in our western history books.
Faro dealing suited Luke around the mining camps of Colorado. This made it necessary to sharpen up on his gunslinging because many times it became urgent to shot his way out of a card game in which some of the players were violent fellows. Luke always came out of the tight spots with his opponents lying dead under the table.He journeyed by horseback down into Tombstone, Arizona, since Wyatt Earp had sent for him to work as a dealer in his new Oriental Saloon venture. Bat Masterson was also there to join him. The two of them could give any kind of a tough individual a bad time if they were looking for real trouble. Little Luke Short had his first gunfight in Tombstone with dangerous Charlie Storms. It happened right out in the street so the whole town could see Charlie go for his gun only to wither where he stood and die as he fell.
Luke was a dandy dresser and wore a neat little mustache. Often he’d dress up in silk hat and long-tail coat and play up to the ladies. It was surprising how 140 pounds of dapper gentleman could make a lovely lady’s heart flutter. He was as lucky with love as he was with gambling.
He went on to Dodge City in the ’80s and bought an interest in the Long Branch Saloon. The story is often told that he hired a pretty girl to play the piano, but an ordinance was passed forbidding girls playing pianos in saloons. Luke then took recourse to hire a band and an ordinance put the damper on that, too. There was no question that a rival was pulling political strings to run him out of a very lucrative business. Luke, therefore, picked up a shotgun and went after his competitor and the following morning was ordered at gunpoint out of town.
Bat Masterson happened to be in Denver at that time and Wyatt Earp in Silverton, Colorado, following his famed gunfight at the OK Corral. Luke wired for both of them to come as soon as possible. Wyatt brought four top gunslingers with him, made a deputy deputize them so they could wear their guns in town, then went to the mayor of Dodge and literally dictated his terms regarding Luke remaining in business with his pretty female piano player. The Long Branch did a lively business again.
Luke was offered a fine price for his interest in the business and sold out.
He went on to Texas and bought out the White Elephant gambling hall. Now Jim Courtright owned a detective agency and offered certain protection to gambling houses in town. He had once been the town marshal, had a reputation as being a top gunfighter, and strode about with an important air. Luke would not be coerced, and told Courtright went for his gun, got his hammer-thumb shot off the three fatal bullets besides, which left him, dead in the street.
Some say that Luke Short died in a gunfight later. This is not the case. Shortly after he sold the White Elephant he took desperately sick and died in bed in 1893 in Kansas City at the age 39.