“They came out of the gully on the jump.”
September 1, 1893
Three covered wagons full of federal marshals approach the outlaw village of Ingalls, Oklahoma Territory.Nobody in town pays much attention because, as Doc Pickering later put it, “there was hundreds of Boomers moving the same way.”
One of the wagons stops in Pickering’s Grove. Bitter Creek Newcomb spots them and mounts his horse at Wagner’s blacksmith shop where he had a horseshoe tightened. He heads up Ash Street to investigate. As he rides toward the town water well, he sees a man with a Winchester step from the doorway of Light’s blacksmith shop and ask a local kid, “Who is that rider?” Newcomb puts his hand on the butt of his saddle gun as he hears the boy reply, “Why, that’s Bitter Creek!”
Seeing the outlaw “fill his hands,” lawman Dick Speed jerks his Winchester to his shoulder and fires. Speed’s bullet “bursts the magazine” of Bitter Creek’s rifle and ricochets into the outlaw’s upper right leg and groin. The outlaw reels in the saddle and his return shot at the marshal misses. Newcomb wheels his horse and spurs him south as Speed steps clear of the doorway to try and finish him off.
On the upper floor of the O.K. Hotel, Arkansas Tom Jones snatches his Winchester and, taking in the scene at a glance, levers a load and fires from the north gable window, hitting Speed in the shoulder. The wounded officer stumbles toward cover near the wagon, but Arkansas fires again, hitting the marshal in the chest and dropping him in his tracks.
A young bystander on the street, Del Simmons, ducks into Vaughn’s saloon and hurtles through the building and out the back door, only to run into the gunsites of Arkansas Tom’s rifle. Perhaps thinking the boy was another lawman charging his position, the outlaw fires, nailing the innocent youth with a fatal shot.
Following Newcomb’s quick departure, the scattered posse members direct their aim at the Ransom Saloon where the esconced poker-playing outlaws return fire. A horse hitched in front of the saloon is shot down “intentionally” by the posse, and a chicken crossing the road is “knocked into the air” by stray lead.
Another innocent bystander runs into the street and is “shot through the liver by marshals thinking he was one of the outlaws trying to escape.”
Inside the saloon, Leamon Myers, a terrified local, takes refuge in the big ice box where liquor is stored. “[I]t sounded like a hail storm when the marshals turned loose on the place,” Myers said afterwards. “The sawdust in that ice box saved my life.”
Other townspeople flee their homes and take cover in a cornfield, hugging the ground between the rows.
A group of marshals led by Tom Hueston takes up positions behind the Ransom Saloon to block any outlaws retreating from the riddled building.
One of the lawmen shouts, “You are surrounded—surrender!”
Bill Doolin replies with an oath, “Go to hell!”
The marshals answer with another withering barrage of lead.
“There were 172 bullet holes in that building when it was over,” one local later claimed.
A man named Murray appears in the doorway of the saloon with a Winchester. Three of the marshals see him and fire as one. Two shots strike him in the ribs and one breaks his arm as he pitches into the street.
The outlaws clammer into a half-finished shed on the south side of the saloon where Ransom had a billiard table. Moments later, they bolt from the shed and dash to the livery stable to the south. The lawmen do not know the outlaws have deserted the saloon until they begin to take fire from the stable.
Unable to see the action from the windows in his hotel room, Arkansas Tom punches holes in the roof and using a chair, “or some other article of furniture,” gains enough height to shoot down on the exposed lawmen. His deadly fire hits Tom Hueston “in the left side and bowels.”
In the stable, Dalton and Tulsa Jack keep up a close, accurate fire from the doorway while Doolin and Dynamite Dick saddle the horses.
The lawmen return fire, with Hixon pumping shot after shot into the stable doorway. Jim Masterson (brother of Bat) fires from behind a tree “little more than half as thick as his body.” Outlaw lead thwacks its trunk, cutting off limbs and “tearing holes in the ground all about him.” Masterson “stands his ground until his ammunition [is] exhausted.”
As the lawmen try to gain better positions, the four outlaws break from the stable on horseback, with Dalton and Tulsa Jack coming out the front and Doolin and Dynamite Dick out the back, “riding hell-bent south and west toward a draw.”
Marshal Hixon takes a bead on one of the fast moving targets and shoots, hitting Dalton’s horse in the jaw. Horse and rider spin like a merry-go-round gone berserk. Another marshal fires and hits Dalton’s horse in the leg and both rider and horse go down. The lawmen keep firing and it looks like one of them has hit Dalton, but the outlaw reappears on the far side, then runs back to his horse, retrieving a pair of wire cutters in his saddlebags.
Shooting from his rooftop sniper nest, Arkansas Tom strikes again, hitting Officer Shadley who has his coat stuck in a barbed wire fence and has fallen to the ground. The bullet tears into his right hip and lodges in his right breast.
Dalton cuts the fence and the outlaws disappear into a 10-foot draw. “They came out of the gully on the jump,” Masterson later recounted. “Dalton was up behind Doolin . . . Well, we blazed away at ’em and Dalton tumbled off. [It was later learned Dynamite Dick was hit in the neck and fell off.] They stopped, lifted him in the saddle, and Doolin got up behind. I raised my sight to 500 yards, but I couldn’t get ’em.”
After a long standoff at the hotel, Arkansas Tom finally surrenders to a local preacher on the condition he not be lynched. Considering the mayhem he has caused, it’s a wonder the marshals honor his request, but they do.
Odds & Ends
At the stream south of town, Bitter Creek Newcomb met a family en route to Ingalls and paused to shout, “Tell my pals I can do them no good—I’m bad hurt and have only a farmer’s gun.” (Evidently he meant he could load his damaged rifle with only one cartridge at a time.)
• Arkansas Tom Jones could not believe his outlaw comrades had deserted him. When Doc Pickering went up to his hotel room to talk with Arkansas about surrendering, Pickering related that the outlaw “had his coat & vest off, also his boots, [he] had his Winchester in his hands & revolvers lying on the bed. I said Tom come down and Surrender. He says I can’t do it for I won’t get justice. He says I don’t want to hurt anyone but I won’t be taken alive. He says where is the boys (meaning the outlaws). I told him they had gone. He said he did not think they would leave him. It hurt him bad. I never seen a man wilt so in my life.”
• Three lawmen lost their lives in the gunfight. Dick Speed, 26, died almost instantly. Tom Hueston died the same afternoon. Lafe Shadley died two days later. After serving his time, Arkansas Tom went on the celebrity circuit and was eventually shot dead by police while baby sitting (but that’s another Classic Gunfight).
We recommend: Gunfight at Ingalls by Glenn Shirley. Ingalls today is not a town but a series of scattered homes, trailer houses and wrecked cars. Glenn knew this fight better than any other historian. You wouldn’t even know where the streets were if someone like Glenn didn’t show the way, and he did, taking this writer and other Old West enthusiasts on a walking tour in 1998. Shirley died last year and we miss him terribly.