- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 17, 2003

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. - About a mile north of the public square where “Wild Bill” Hickok killed a gambler who had insulted his honor sits a red brick building that could hold an interesting footnote to the legend of the man known for his skill with a pistol.

The building is home to the Greene County Archives. It is where historians hope to find a record showing that only six months before the deadly shooting, Hickok and his victim helped post bond for a mutual friend.

Davis “Dave” Tutt, who was slow to the draw that day, was no enemy of Hickok, said Joseph Rosa, who has written books on Hickok and is considered a leading authority. The men were friends, and the face-to-face shootout might not have happened at all, but the events of July 21, 1865, spun inexorably out of control.

Mr. Rosa recently traveled from his home in London, Mo., and spent four days at the archives, poring through boxes of musty, century-old documents. He was looking for a record of the bond posted for Larkin Russell, who was charged with stealing four geldings.

“If it does [turn up], that would be fantastic because you’ll have both Hickok’s and Tutt’s signature on the same piece of paper,” Mr. Rosa said. “That’s really what it’s all about.”

Mr. Rosa, 70, has spent about 50 years sorting through faded court papers, coroners’ reports, news clippings and other documents about Hickok, a farmer’s son from Troy Grove, Ill., who became a scout and spy for the Union Army and a deputy U.S. Marshal. Mr. Rosa also has talked to Hickok relatives.

His interest in Hickok grew from watching Western movies as a boy. He became drawn to the man born James Butler Hickok who, legend had it, tamed two lawless Kansas towns and dabbled in gambling before being fatally shot in 1876 while playing cards in Deadwood, S.D.

But the movies and available literature were at odds about Hickok and his reputation during the Civil War.

“I got into studying this, and things didn’t make sense,” Mr. Rosa said. “Every story, every film, I got a different version. I started wondering what was the truth.”

Many stories said he had killed hundreds of men. They were wrong.

“He earned the nickname ‘Wild Bill’ during the Civil War for his actions against Confederate bushwhackers and other rebels,” Mr. Rosa said.

In 1865, Hickok and Tutt got into a row after Tutt said Hickok owed him $35; Hickok maintained it was $25. When they failed to agree, Tutt took Hickok’s gold pocket watch as collateral. Some time later, Tutt went to the town square, wearing Hickok’s watch. Hickok became angry at the implication that he didn’t pay his gambling debts. The men walked menacingly toward each other, and Tutt stopped not far from where a motor vehicle office stands today. Hickok was about 75 yards away.

“It has been repeated by several people that Hickok said: ‘Dave, we’ve been friends for many years. You’ve helped me out many times, and you’re the last person I wish to fall out with,’” Mr. Rosa said.

Tutt reached for his gun, but not faster than Hickok. With one shot to the chest, Tutt was dead.

“I don’t think those two really wanted to fight,” Mr. Rosa said. “I think it was pride.”

Nonetheless, the shootout set the standard for the face-to-face Wild West gunfights.

By the time Harper’s magazine published a woodcut of a photograph of Hickok on its February 1867 cover, Hickok had gained a reputation in Missouri, Arkansas and Kansas. The cover ran in the United States and Europe, helping to increase his notoriety as “a mankiller.”

However, after Tutt, no one died at Hickok’s hands until August 1869 when, as sheriff of Ellis County, Kan., he killed two men at Hays City.

Robert Neumann, supervisor of Greene County Archives, joined Mr. Rosa in the search for the bond record. In 1992, Mr. Neumann came across an entry in an index of court records showing that Hickok, Tutt and two others, Thomas G. Martin and John H. Jenkins, had posted bond for Russell in January 1865.

Little is known of Jenkins, but Mr. Rosa believes Hickok, Tutt and Martin must have been on friendly terms to have come to Russell’s aid.

People still visit Springfield in search of Western folklore.

Of Tutt, this much is known: He was a Confederate Army deserter who, at his death, was owed money by the Quartermaster’s Department, suggesting that he had worked for the Union. He was buried in Maple Park Cemetery, not far from downtown Springfield. A plaque detailing the shootout remains on the square.

Hickok is buried on Mount Moriah, on the edge of Deadwood, S.D. His memorabilia are coveted by collectors.

“His signature is very much prized now,” Mr. Rosa said. “It’s probably the most prized of all Western gunfighters because there are so few of them.”

In 2001, Mr. Neumann found Hickok’s signature on an 1866 witness statement in which he recounts the shooting of a man by a Springfield policeman.

Although Mr. Rosa and Mr. Neumann have no records showing the bond amount, the indictment states that a judgment of $1,000 would be rendered if Russell failed to appear to answer the charges. The court learned later that Russell had been killed by a falling log in June 1866.

Mr. Rosa speculated that the bond document with signatures of Tutt and Hickok would be worth $50,000 to $100,000 on the open market. However, Mr. Neumann and Mr. Rosa agreed that if found, it would remain a possession of the Greene County Archives.

Mr. Neumann acknowledges that there is a chance the record was destroyed. The county opened the archives in 1987. Before that, records were stored in boxes at a garage. Some became wet and had to be destroyed.

Neither Mr. Rosa nor Mr. Neumann is giving up.

“We’ve already found papers that we didn’t expect to uncover,” Mr. Neumann said. “Who knows what else is in there.”

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide