by Ken Molestina | CBS 11
FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) – Along with the decades of stories fueled by boozing, gambling, and other vices came those tales of violence down in Fort Worth’s “Hells Half Acre.”
The era that saw some of the most lawlessness in the city’s history also witnessed some of the more famous gun battles still talked about to date.
Richard Selcer, author of “Hell’s Half Acre” and historian said, “Every bartender had a gun and a mallet behind the bar and if the mallet didn’t take care of an obstreperous customer the gun would.”
There were killings and stabbings and violence every night all night in the acre, Selcer said.
There are a handful of gun battle stories from the acre that live on.
Selcer says one example is the 1892 shootout between then Fort Worth Police Officer Lee Waller, and a man who Waller believed was also involved with his paramour.
The story goes, one night the two men crossed paths along 12th Street and Commerce in the downtown area.
Words were exchanged between the two and that led to gunfire.
Selcer said, “(They) approached each other and pulled their guns and opened fire just in the open streets at night.”
Waller was killed in that shootout.
Perhaps the most famous of stories would have taken place a few years before Waller’s murder, just a few blocks north of the acre on Main Street outside the old White Elephant Saloon.
Historians say on that day in 1887, former Fort Worth Marshal Jim Courtright was stewing with anger because a well-known gambler and gaming hall owner Luke Short wouldn’t pay him extortion money for what he called “protection.”
Selcer said, “You can’t have this pipsqueak gambler showing you up if you’re a noted gun fighter.”
The story goes that Courtright walked up to Short’s gambling hall and ordered he come out and face him.
Short did, words were exchanged and as the encounter escalated, Short pulled a gun from his coat pocket.
He drew faster than Courtright and unloaded his gun into the former Fort Worth Marshal killing him on the street.
“Short put about five bullets, emptied his pistol into Jim Courtright,” said Selcer. “Courtright got one pistol out. One of his shots took off his thumb. One shot hit the pistol and he went down.”
Short was arrested but never charged.
Lawmen of the time simply chalked it up as a pair of adversaries settling their differences.
Short died in 1893 in Kansas, but was brought back to be buried at the Oakwood Cemetery in Fort Worth.
The two foes now lay in the same cemetery about 100 yards away from one another.