The American West was full of men and women who settled with little more than a dream in their pocket. In the hardship and empty loneliness, the lines often became blurred between good and bad–where a person wasn’t all of one thing. Such was the case of “Long-haired” Jim Courtright.
His name was actually not Jim at all. He was born Timothy Isiah and he hated the name so much he once shot a man for saying it. They think the “Jim” came when someone misunderstood Tim. At least that’s the best anyone can figure.
In any event, he served and was wounded during the Civil War, fighting on the Union side. Following war’s end, he wound up as a paid gun for a ranch in New Mexico. He loved to wear his hair down onto his shoulders as was the style of scouts which he worked at for a time. In later years when he served as marshal he cut it short.
He always wore twin revolvers, their butts facing forward. He spent most of his life drifting from one thing to another. He even tried to settle down by marrying fourteen-year-old Sarah Weeks. He taught her to shoot and they joined a Wild West Show for a while, but his feet soon grew restless.
The married couple arrived in Fort Worth, Texas in 1876 where Jim was elected the marshal. His job–to crack down on the saloon and brothel area called Hell’s Half Acre. Within a short time, he cut the murder rate in half. All was well and good. Right?
The small jail was a crude log structure with no running water and no toilet. It only had one barred window for light and air. Most of the time it was packed solid with men and women he arrested for something or another–or what he made up.
To say he won a popularity contest would be wrong. A showman, he was too quick to draw his guns and shoot. He didn’t own Fort Worth but he sure thought he did. When orange flame shot from the end of his guns, folks fell dead in the streets.
While marshal, he saw another opportunity too lucrative to pass up. For a set amount of money, he offered to protect merchants and saloon and brothel owners. When they refused, the disgruntled person usually ended up dead. Either that or they quickly left town. With no one to stop him, he became too powerful. Court records show he was a bully and a brawler and his enemies stacked up.
Finally, he was defeated in the 3rd re-election and he went to New Mexico where he worked as a hired gun, guard, and deputy. However, he didn’t stay long and returned to Fort Worth to open up a detective agency, intending to pick up where he left off in the protection business.
New people had arrived during his absence. One of them was Luke Short who had drifted down from Dodge City. Among his long list of friends were Bat Masterson, Jim Masterson, and Wyatt Earp. Luke had opened up the White Elephant Saloon and gambling house and was raking in the dough. When Jim Courtright came around to collect protection money, Luke said no.
Words were passed and one thing led to another and they faced off in the middle of the street in 1887 in one of the most famous gunfights in old West history.
Luke Short put five bullets in Jim and killed him. At 41 years of age, with a wife and three children, he was buried in the Oaklawn Cemetery in Fort Worth.
Over the course of his life, in addition to being a scout, he worked as a jailer, sheriff, marshal, hired killer, detective, and racketeer.
It seemed he had every opportunity but just couldn’t stay on the right side of the law.
Any thoughts about his life? Jim had nothing to avenge, no wrongs to right, nothing to prove. Did those twin guns give him the bad attitude and make him think he was invincible? Or was he a misunderstood man who drew the short straw? I’ll leave it up to you to decide.