Fort Worth’s White Elephant Saloon today is among the city’s top tourist attractions, but at about 8 p.m. on February 8, 1887, it was the scene of one of the most famous gunfights in Old West history. The White Elephant’s owner was gambler Luke Short, who counted among his friends Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson. Short had a reputation as a quick shot and a man not likely to back down from a fight. That did not stop former City Marshal T.I. “Longhair Jim” Courtright from trying to shake down Short for protection money. Angry that Short was refusing to pay, a drunken Courtright called Short into the street outside the White Elephant.
Illuminated only by flickering gas lights, Courtright stood in the street with a .45 caliber pistol holstered on each hip. Short, something of a dandy in his dress, stood on the sidewalk with his thumbs hooked into his vest while offering assurances that he was unarmed. Short opened his coat to show no weapons. Courtright knew Short carried a pocket gun and shouted, “Don’t you pull a gun on me!” Courtright swiftly yanked out one of his pistols. Short was faster. His first shot took off Courtright’s thumb. The former marshal shifted the pistol to his left hand. He was not fast enough. Short shot him several more times. Courtright lay dying as Policeman John J. Fulford arrived. “Ful, they’ve got me,” Courtright said, with a dying gasp worthy of a dime novel.
The Texas Senate – the same body that this week likely will debate allowing for the open carrying of pistols – by chance on the day after the White Elephant shooting took up a bill to enhance the penalty for the crime of carrying pistols in Texas. The prohibition on carrying six-shooters in the state was not, as some claim, a racist Jim Crow law to intimidate African-Americans. The law was meant to reduce crime and calm fears that Texas was a dangerous place, fears that were keeping people and business from moving to the state.