By: Ashley Kath-Bilsky
Okay dear friends, this is a long post about one of my favorite Old West legends who, it just so happens, is a supporting player in my sensuous time travel romance, WHISPER IN THE WIND. Some of you may remember that I wrote about this fella a couple years ago when I was doing research for this book. But there are some who know nothing about him. So, without further adieu, read on to learn all about LUKE SHORT. And IF you read the post all the way to the end, including the book excerpt, you might just win a signed copy of this best-selling book. Yay! :)
With striking cobalt eyes, handsome good looks, meticulous grooming and an obvious sense of Victorian fashion, one can well imagine the impression Luke Short made wherever he went. It would not be a stretch of the imagination to think he'd just arrived from England, or was even an aristocrat with an impressive title.
Well, this Arkansas born, Texas reared young man did earn a couple titles in his young life, namely: “King of the Gamblers” and “The Undertaker’s Best Friend.”
But these labels don’t really tell us who Luke Short really was, or why such important men like Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson valued his friendship so much.
Born in 1854, Luke Short was one of ten children born to Josiah W. Short. His parents moved to Texas when he was two years old and settled on a ranch near Fort Worth. His youth, like much of his life, has been shrouded in mystery. In fact, many rumors still exist today. One such rumor is that he killed a Kiowa Indian and wounded another when he was just 8 years old. Whether or not this is true, we know Luke was fearless with a gun and had an adventurous spirit that led him to many new places and a variety of jobs.
In 1870, a 16-year old Luke drove cattle to the Kansas railheads. Admittedly, it’s hard to envision the dashing figure [pictured above] choking on dust and enduring all sorts of brutal weather, let alone driving herds of smelly cattle north to Kansas. It seems more feasible he took the job as a means to get out of Texas and—at trail’s end—used cattle drive earnings to seek his fortune at the gaming tables. What we do know is he spent the next six years as a gambler.
In 1876, Luke Short was living in Nebraska and working as a whiskey peddler. Perhaps his finances had bottomed out after a string of bad luck at the tables. Whatever the reason, Luke had been trading (or selling) whiskey to the Sioux--a federal offense at the time. But rather than be arrested, Luke ended up working with the US Calvary as a Scout under General Crook in the Black Hills. His bravery and skill with firearms was soon put to the test. Alone, carrying dispatches from a distant outpost, Luke was attacked by ten Sioux warriors who raced after him armed with rifles. Riding like a cyclone across the prairie, he killed five Sioux by shooting over his shoulder. Seeing half their war party killed by the lone rider, the remaining five Sioux pulled back.
Luke remained with General Crook until the capture of Sitting Bull. Eventually, Luke ended up in Dodge City where he spent time with Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson [Pictured left], both of whom were deputies there.
Like most gamblers, Luke followed the big money and since Tombstone had saloons and gambling galore, he moved there. Smart, handsome, and always impeccably dressed, he soon achieved a level of notoriety and success as a high stakes gambler. He followed the circuit from town to town, and it seemed wherever he went Luke’s reputation with cards and guns preceded his arrival.
In January 1881, Wyatt Earp became manager of the Oriental Saloon, entitling him to receive one-quarter interest in its faro concession. [Pictured below is Wyatt Earp dealing at one of the Oriental's faro table. To his right, Doc Holliday watches.] Needing men he could trust, Earp wired his good friends Bat Masterson and Luke Short, and asked them to help him with the faro games in Tombstone. Living in Leadville, Colorado at the time, Luke accepted Earp's offer and traveled back to Tombstone.
Reputation is one thing; fact is another. While working at the Oriental in February 1881, Luke was forced to prove his reputation with a gun had not been exaggerated. A known gunfighter and professional gambler named Charlie Storms started arguing with Luke inside the Oriental. Bat Masterson tried to diffuse the situation, and Storms left the saloon. Later, when Luke left with some friends, Storms was waiting. The gunfighter grabbed Luke by the arm, yanked him off the boardwalk into the street then went for his gun.
Despite the fact Storms .45 cleared his holster, Luke’s speed and skill took center stage. Luke fired first and killed Storms with a bullet to the chest. Both men were standing so close to one another that Storms shirt caught fire from the muzzle flash on Luke’s gun.
Among the witnesses were Bat Masterson, Wyatt Earp, and Virgil Earp. Before being arrested pending an investigation, the ‘dressed to the nines’ Luke turned to Masterson (who had tried to be friendly toward the angry Storms earlier) and said, “You sure pick some of the damnedest friends, Bat.” [Pictured left: Bat Masterson]
The ruling was self-defense and no charges were filed against Luke. However, in April 1881, just two months after the Storms shooting, Luke Short decided to return to Leadville, Colorado. At the same time, Masterson returned to Dodge City to help his brother, Jim. Consequently, both men were not in Tombstone on 26 October 1881 at the famous gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Then again, as we know, Wyatt Earp had his brothers in town, as well as another friend named Doc Holliday.
It has often been said that a man can best be judged by the friends he keeps. Men in this era did not trust easily. They were brave yet cautious; that’s how they stayed alive. One has to remember they lived in a time when arguments were settled more often with bullets than words. Friendships were forged with bonds of trust and loyalty. The expression, “I’ve got your back”, might very well have originated in the American West. Most certainly, I think it describes the relationship between Luke Short, Bat Masterson, and Wyatt Earp. They looked out for each other, almost like brothers.
A perfect example of this happened in 1883 during The Dodge City War. Often called the “Wickedest City in America”, a corrupt association known as the Dodge City Gang had a stronghold on politics and law enforcement. Not only did they also control the liquor business, the mayor, Alonzo B. Webster, owned two saloons. To say this gang was out of control is an understatement, and they also had a long-standing animosity toward Bat Masterson and his brother, Jim (the city’s former marshal), whom Webster had fired shortly after taking office.
So, how exactly did the Dodge City War start? Lest you think Miss Kitty of television’s Gunsmoke owned the Long Branch Saloon, think again.
In 1883, Luke Short and a friend named W.H. Harris became 50-50 partners of the Long Branch Saloon. Webster and his gang didn’t like this; after all, Luke Short was very good friends with the Masterson brothers. Determined to get rid of Luke, the Mayor ordered several of the prostitutes working at the Long Branch Saloon arrested. When Luke protested, he was threatened by a policeman named Louis Hartman. Gunfire was exchanged and although no one was injured, Luke was told to "get out of Dodge" right after being labeled an "undesirable".
Let’s say the edict didn’t sit well with Luke. He contacted Earp and Masterson, both of whom not only conveyed their full support but felt a show of force was necessary in order that justice for Luke might prevail. They immediately recruited men to join their ‘Dodge City Peace Commission’.
[Pictured Left: (Seated L-R) Charles E. Bassett, Wyatt Earp, Frank McLain, Neil Brown (Standing L-R) W.H. Harris, Luke Short, Bat Masterson, and W.F. Petillon.]
In addition to Luke Short, Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson, the Commission included Luke’s Long Branch partner, W. H. Harris, famous gunman Charlie Bassett, and some very skilled gunfighters. Understandably intimidated, Mayor Webster and his cronies backed down. Luke was allowed to peacefully return to the Long Branch and Webster promised no further action would be taken. Luke remained in Dodge City for a few more months then went home to Texas.
Settling in Fort Worth, Luke Short was impressed by a prestigious saloon called The White Elephant. Operated by Bill Ward, The White Elephant already had a reputation as a “gentlemen only” establishment and catered to only the best clientele. The biggest saloon in Texas at that time, patrons could enjoy fine dining, drinking, billiards, and even purchase a “Billy Ward Choice Cheroot” for five cents—made exclusively by the saloon’s cigar factory on the first floor. To get an idea of the size, the combined restaurant and bar area (also on the first floor) measured 4,458 square feet.
Luke’s investment in The White Elephant made him owner of the saloon’s gambling concession. As such, he had full rein of the entire second floor. A plush, private faro room was created for so-called Big Games that regularly attracted famous gamblers like Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, and Charlie Coe. Under Luke’s leadership, The White Elephant became known as the place to go for honest games, first-rate players, excellent food and drink, and an elegant, refined atmosphere.
Rosewood and mahogany fixtures were installed. Thick carpets and heavy curtains were imported. An elegant two-bedroom apartment was custom built for Luke and his wife, Hettie, and included a private entrance. A dumbwaiter even allowed them to order from the restaurant downstairs and dine in the privacy of their residence.
Luke’s flair for style was also responsible for The White Elephant’s famous bar on the first floor. It was enormous—taking up the length of an entire wall. Also custom-made, it had a front counter where customers stood, a liquor case for merchandise, and an elegant mirrored back-bar that stretched the length of the bar’s counter. Hand carved out of rich, dark mahogany, it was also decorated with onyx and crystal lighting fixtures.
But just like Dodge, corrupt politicians and lawmen can be found everywhere, including Fort Worth. Although once a respected former Marshal of Fort Worth, Timothy 'Longhaired Jim' Courtright, had a new occupation that many found corrupt. He ran a protection racket for owners of saloons and gambling establishments in Fort Worth. And he wanted the popular White Elephant Saloon to be his newest, biggest client. But if there was one thing Luke Smart knew how to do, it was protect the White Elephant himself. He rejected the offer, a fact that aggravated and annoyed the former Marshal. What would happen if other clients thought they could do the same for their business?
Things came to a head on 08 February 1887. Luke Short was at the White Elephant with visiting friend, Bat Masterson. While having his shoes blackened, an employee informed Luke that Courtright wanted to speak with him outside the saloon. “Tell him to come inside,” Luke said. After being told Luke's reply, Courtright yelled from the doorway for Luke Short to come out.
A few moments later, Luke calmly walked out into the cold February night air. He listened as Courtright, who’d obviously been drinking, voiced his anger that Luke had refused his service of protection. Courtright also told Luke that as a former lawman everyone would believe him if he killed Luke and claimed it was self defense. After all, everyone knew Luke always had a gun on him.
Was Courtright bluffing? Or, did he intend to kill Luke in cold blood? Not sure of his intent, a deceptively calm Luke Short said he was unarmed and that if Courtright wanted to check for himself, he could. Luke took a step toward Courtright while opening his vest.
“Don’t you pull your gun on me!” Courtright shouted as he drew his pistol. Although faster on the draw, Short didn’t shoot to kill. Instead, he shot off Courtright’s right thumb, making it impossible for the man to fire his revolver. Clearly, had Luke Short wanted to kill Courtright he was skilled enough to do so with one bullet. Unfortunately, Courtright wasn’t bluffing. He did wanted Luke dead. He tried to switch his single-action revolver to his left hand. Before he could do so, Luke shot and killed him. [Pictured right: Timothy 'Longhaired Jim' Courtright]
Luke was taken into custody. Bat Masterson—concerned for his friend’s safety—convinced the sheriff to allow him to remain with Luke in the jailhouse, armed and ready if anyone thought to take justice into their own hands. Masterson’s argument must have been very convincing since the sheriff also allowed Luke to be armed in his cell. Once again, the ruling for Luke Short was self-defense.
Over the next five years, Luke Short invested in other saloons and continued his life as a professional gambler. His friendship with Earp and Masterson remained constant. In August 1893, Luke traveled with his wife, Hettie Beatrice Buck Short [pictured right], to Geuda Springs in Kansas. Luke had Dropsy (now known as Congestive Heart Disease) and the waters in Geuda Springs were said to have health-restoring minerals. Sadly, he died in his sleep on 08 September 1893. He was only 39 years old. His body was returned to Fort Worth, and he is buried in Oakwood Cemetery. Ironically, so is Courtright.
One can only wonder what else we might have learned about Luke Short had he lived longer. What other adventures might he have had with Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson?
We do know the lives of Luke's surviving friends ended at opposite ends of the country. Bat Masterson died in 1921 while living in New York City. A columnist for the New York Morning Telegraph, he suffered a fatal heart attack at his desk. Masterson was 67 years old. Wyatt Earp, the eldest of the three friends, outlived them both. Earp died at his Los Angeles home in 1929; he was 80 years old. [Pictured left, one of the last photographs of Wyatt Earp taken a year before his death]
I've said that historical research for me is always fascinating and fun. And I love it when I can find someone from history who lived in the right place and at the right time of my books. Luke Short, Wyatt Earp, and Bat Masterson were all together in Fort Worth in August 1885. So, what fun to give them supporting roles in WHISPER IN THE WIND, a best-selling, sensuous time travel romance set in 1885 Texas.
Here is an excerpt from WHISPER IN THE WIND, featuring an amusing scene with Luke and his friends. The gamblers are having breakfast in the same restaurant as the 21st century time-traveling heroine, MOLLY MAGEE, and the hero, JORDAN BLAKE, a Pinkerton detective. This is the first encounter Molly has with Earp, Masterson, and Short. She just realized that morning she has traveled back in time to 1885 Fort Worth, and is faking amnesia to avoid persistent questions from Jordan Blake. We also get a hint of backstory. The Pinkerton knows the famous gamblers very well, especially Wyatt Earp. NOTE: The scene opens in Jordan Blake's point of view, and Molly is wearing a historical costume she'd made for a Pioneer Days celebration in present day Fort Worth, complete with a Scarlett O'Hara hoop skirt. As her fate would have it, the dress is 20 years out of date in 1885. Enjoy!
Setting her fork down on the edge of her plate, Molly leaned forward and pinned him with a direct, somewhat perplexed gaze. "You're not eating, Mr. Blake."
"I'm not hungry."
"Oh, I see."
"You know," he said with a grin. "I can't help but think we've met before."
"I doubt it." Raising a cup of coffee to her lips, she studied him over the steaming rim.
"Never can be too sure," he said with a shrug. "I've a good memory for people. Have you ever been to New Orleans?"
She cautiously sipped her coffee, not once but twice. Just when it seemed she would not answer, she did. "No."
He folded his arms across his chest. When she looked over her shoulder and studied the table behind him, another thought came to mind. "What about Tombstone?"
Leaning forward, she whispered. "Maybe we met in a previous life?"
"Mr. Blake, I can honestly say I have never been to Tombstone."
He crooked a brow. "Ah, but you also said you don't remember much of anything."
"Trust me," she said with a coy smile. "If I'd met you some other place, some other time, I would definitely remember."
His gaze dropped to her lips, remembering how they tasted and how passionately she'd responded to his ardent kisses. "Well, I expect it's safe to say that after this morning, we won't forget each other anytime soon."
A telling blush stained her cheeks and she quickly looked down at her plate When she looked up again, she started to speak but her eyes narrowed at something behind him. "I'd sure like to slap those grins off their faces," she whispered heatedly.
"The three walruses in fancy suits sitting at the table behind you. They keep staring at me."
Jordan grinned. "There's no law that says a man can't look at a woman, Miss Magee. But don't fret. This is a respectable establishment. You're quite safe."
"Maybe so, but it's very rude." She picked at the grits on her plate with a fork, her gaze once more drawn over his shoulder. "They're grinning like a pack of wolves."
Jordan frowned as another thought came to mind. He'd seen the men seated at that table. What if they knew her? Were they staring because she hadn't acknowledged them? "Do you recognize them?"
"Then just pay them no never mind."
Molly intended to do just that, but the men had become increasingly annoying. Even worse, they knew they flustered her and found it altogether too amusing. Well, if her tall, brave Pinkerton wasn't going to do something about it, she would. She came to her feet and walked over to their table, gratified to see the three men taken aback by her bold behavior. They all but fell over themselves to stand up.
"Pardon me, but didn't you mothers ever tell you it's impolite to stare?" With a sardonic smile, she added. "Or, are you deliberately trying to offend me?"
They looked surprised by her remarks, but far from repentant. The one in the middle had enormous bloodshot blue eyes and twirled a bowler hat about on his index finger. With a slow grin, he said, "Well, now, I do recall my dear mother tellin' me not to stare once or twice, but I'm afraid it left no impression upon my character. And offendin' you was not what I had in mind. In fact, I was just about to--"
"Leave," interrupted Jordan, placing the flat of his hand upon the small of her back.
"Mornin' Jordan," said one of the men. About six feet tall with a large, bushy mustache and slender physique, the man extended his hand and Jordan shook it. At that point, her hunky breakfast companion looked to the other two men with an unspoken nod of greeting.
Doesn't that beat all? They know each other. Maybe they're detectives, too. If so, they were certainly more successful at it. Their dark suits looked expensive and tailored to perfection. And what's with all the supersized mustaches?
"You haven't introduced us to the lady, Jordan." An amused glint sparkled in the taller man's eyes. "We're mighty curious. I can't rightly remember seein' a woman like her since I was knee-high to a grasshopper."
Jordan cleared his throat. "Miss Magee, allow me to introduce Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, and Luke Short."
Molly inhaled sharply. Earp and Masterson were two of the most famous men from the Old West. Seeing them standing before her was surreal. But having grown up immersed in the history of Fort Worth and its legendary characters, she could not help but be more fascinated with Luke Short.
This is the man I've heard so much about since childhood? King of the Gamblers? The Undertaker's Best Friend?
"Are you really Luke Short?" she asked.
Obviously pleased she'd recognized him, especially in the presence of more renowned friends, Short grinned. "I am indeed, Miss Magee."
"You're Luke Short?" she continued. "The Luke Short who's part owner of the White Elephant Saloon?"
As Short placed a silver dollar on the table, she had a brief glimpse of a shrewd, calculating mind behind gentlemanly good looks. Cocking his head slightly, he grinned. "You part gypsy, Miss Magee?"
Oh, dear God, does that mean he isn't co-owner of the saloon--at least not yet? Frantic, she again tried to remember important dates in Fort Worth's history. I could have sworn he took over the White Elephant in 1884.
"Miss Magee?" he prompted, looking her up and down with almost x-ray vision. "What's your interest in the White Elephant? Are you looking for work there?"
She gasped. "Do I look like a saloon girl, Mr. Short?"
Short had the grace to look embarrassed, but spoiled it all by cutting his eyes to Bat Masterson with a telling look. Masterson chuckled, still twirling his hat by its brim. For some idiotic reason, she felt like crying.
This was too much. Not only had she traveled back in time to 1885, but she'd behaved like a wanton earlier that morning with Jordan Blake--and now these men made her feel as if she looked like some kind of cheap floozy. She turned to her handsome protector. Did he think the same about her? As if he saw her pain, Jordan narrowed his eyes on Luke Short.
Thank God! He'll set the arrogant little gambler straight.
No sooner had Molly told herself this than she caught the amused gleam in Wyatt Earp's eyes, belatedly realizing he'd been studying her the entire time. Well, as a former faro dealer, professional gambler, and lawman, no doubt he'd long ago perfected the art of reading people's faces.
"Luke meant no disrespect, Miss Magee," Earp said in a quiet voice.
"Sure enough," contributed Masterson. "Why, anyone can see you're a fair and lovely picture of womanhood. We were just sayin' you remind us of the kind of woman a man don't see any more. Seems only natural we'd be curious about you, 'specially since you're here with this fella. I can't recall the last time I saw Blake with a lady companion."
Molly narrowed her eyes on Masterson. "I'm not with Mr Blake nor am I--as you so delicately put it--his lady companion. I only met him last night, and that was purely by accident. But for your information, if it wasn't for Mr. Blake, I would have been wandering around alone in the dark."
Realizing she hadn't helped their perception of her with that outlandish remark, she quickly tried to set things right. "That is to say, Mr. Blake was kind enough to rent a room for me last night. And this morning, he's taking me to the jail."
Masterson struggled against a laugh and fixed his attention on the brim of his black bowler hat, while Earp's mustache twitched suspiciously. Short just stared at her, a fact she found not the least bit comforting. His Johnny Depp-type intensity was disturbing and a little frightening.
She returned her attention to the still amused Earp and Masterson. "If you must know, I had an accident. I didn't know what day it was or where I was, and Mr. Blake took care of me--just like any good Christian."
Earp raised an eyebrow. "A good Christian eh?"
"You hear that Luke?" Masterson elbowed Short in the side. "Blake here is a good Christian."
Short did grin at that point "I suspect Blake had other things on his mind last night, things that didn't involve Christian duty. Leastways I would have."
Molly folded her arms beneath her breasts and tried to look at Short with a haughtiness she did not feel. "Perhaps some people know a lady when they see one."
"Now, now," said Earp with a low chuckle. "There's no need for anyone to get riled up. I've known Jordan Blake a long time, Miss Magee. As a rule, he keeps his distance from people, 'specially women. Seein' you here with him is mighty curious--that's all."
Somewhat appeased, Molly nodded. "Well, just so you know Mr. Blake went out of his way to help me. He even showed me all the bad parts of town this morning so I wouldn't go there by mistake."
When Earp, Masterson and Short all started to laugh, Molly wanted to slap at least one of them. Remembering who they were, she reconsidered. "For heaven's sake, would y'all be quiet," she said in a near whisper. "Judge not lest ye be judged, gentlemen."
"That's enough preaching, Miss Magee," Jordan said. "I'm sure these men are anxious to get back to their game."
Jordan clenched his jaw. Much as he wanted to spank Miss Magee's lovely bottom, he guided her back to their table. Was she trying to make a scandal of herself and possibly draw him into a gunfight to protect her honor? He had no doubt Wyatt knew something had happened between him and Molly that didn't involve Christian charity. And he'd bet a month's wages, Masterson and Short felt the same way.
Pulling out the chair for Molly, he leaned down and whispered. "Don't ever do that again."
Exasperated, Jordan stared at her for a moment before taking his seat.
Now then, if you have read all of this post about Luke Short and the Excerpt, and would like to read WHISPER IN THE WIND in its entirety, here is your chance. I will be giving away a signed print copy to a lucky winner. All you have to do is leave a comment. I will announce the winner at 11 PM on July 1st. And thank you for stopping by today at Sweethearts of the West. ~ AKB
WHISPER IN THE WIND is available in print and on Kindle at Amazon.com. It is also available on Nook, Kobo, and iBook formats. For more information about Ashley Kath-Bilsky and her writing, visit her website at: www.ashleykathbilsky.com