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  • Writer's pictureNotes From The Frontier

The Wild West Shootout

Updated: May 8, 2023

Myths of the Gunfight

It's one of the most iconic scenes in Westerns: two menacing gunslingers facing off in a dusty town square, legs apart, hands poised to draw, as the townspeople cower and violins quiver with ominous tension. Sorry to say such scenes were mostly the artifice of dime store novels and Hollywood Westerns. (Damn writers! :)

The truth is that such gun fights were rare, not premeditated, and didn't happen at a 75-foot distance. Most often they were instantaneous and up close and personal. And the low-slung gun-belt and holster tied to the thigh: largely a Hollywood invention! Most pistols were stuck in the front waistband or pocket. Not quite as sexy!

There WERE some famous gun fights but even those were highly romanticized later in books and movies. The Shootout at the OK Corral, for example, took all of 30 seconds and resulted in three deaths. (More about that in a later post.)

One of the most famous gun fights involved Wild Bill Hickok and David Tutt in Springfield, Missouri in 1865. Hickok had lost at gambling and gave up his prized gold watch for security. Hickok grumbled that if Tutt ever looked at the watch, he'd kill him. Soon they were out in the town square to settle their differences with guns. (Not sure, but drinking might have been involved...) Just to mock Hickok, Tutt pulled out his watch to check the time! They fired. Tutt missed. But Hickok's bullet reached its mark. Two days later, Hickok was tried for manslaughter, but was acquitted.

Here's some great advice from two guys who knew how to survive a gun fight:


"The most important lesson I learned was the winner of gunplay was the one who took his time. The second was that, if I hoped to live on the frontier, I would shun flashy trick-shooting as I would poison. I did not know a proficient gunfighter who had anything but contempt for the gunfanner who shot from the hip."


"If you want to hit a man in the chest, aim for his groin."

PHOTO: The famous Western, "High Noon" (1952), starring Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly, depicted the shootout at O.K. corral in 1881, Tombstone, Arizona.

"The Wild West Shootout" was originally posted May 24, 2019 on Facebook and

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© 2019 NOTES FROM THE FRONTIER          

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Deborah Hufford

Author, Notes from the Frontier

Deborah Hufford is an award-winning author and magazine editor with a passion for history. Her popular blog with 100,000+ readers has led to an upcoming novel! Growing up as an Iowa farmgirl, rodeo queen and voracious reader, her love of land, lore and literature fired her writing muse. With a Bachelor's in English and Master's in Journalism from the University of Iowa, she taught students of Iowa's Writer's Workshop, then at Northwestern University, Marquette and Mount Mary. Her extensive publishing career began at Better Homes & Gardens, includes credits in New York Times Magazine, New York Times, Connoisseur, many other titles, and serving as publisher of The Writer's Handbook


Deeply devoted to social justice, especially for veterans, women, and Native Americans, she has served on boards and donated her fundraising skills to Chief Joseph Foundation, Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW), Homeless Veterans Initiative, Humane Society, and other nonprofits.  


Deborah's soon-to-be released historical novel, BLOOD TO RUBIES weaves indigenous and pioneer history, strong women and clashing worlds into a sweeping saga praised by NYT bestselling authors as "crushing," "rhapsodic," "gritty," and "sensuous." Purchase BLOOD TO RUBIES online beginning June 9. Connect with Deborah on, Facebook, and Instagram.

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