Ozarks Life: Wild Bill Hickok vs. Davis Tutt

Their duel is believed to be the first Old West quick-draw challenge.
Published: Jul. 8, 2022 at 7:57 AM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - Almost everyone’s story ends in a cemetery. So many headstones. So many stories.

In an old part of Maple Park Cemetery, a red, recently-dedicated headstone stands out. Its story is etched on its back with playing cards, a pocket watch, and a pistol.

“It’s a long story with a short ending,” History Museum on the Square executive director, John Sellars said.

Over the years, actors have reenacted what happened in Springfield in July of 1865.

On one side you have an American Folk Hero of the Old West, Wild Bill Hickok. He called Springfield home in the mid-1800s following the Civil War.

On the other side, a local resident, Davis Tutt. Originally from Yellville, Arkansas, Tutt’s family moved to Springfield after a family feud of epic proportions.

“They played a lot of cards,” Sellars said. “They chased a lot of women and kind of got into mischief of all sorts... but they had a falling out.”

Aside from Tutt being with Hickok’s girlfriend and Wild Bill returning the favor by dating Tutt’s sister, a gambling debt needed to be settled. Some dime-store novels say Wild Bill owed Tutt, $25.

“Tutt took Hickok’s pocket watch, which is a prized possession,” Sellars said, “and said he was holding it for collateral for this gambling debt.”

There was one stipulation, that Tutt should never be seen in public wearing that watch. Well, that agreement didn’t even last 24 hours. The next day, July 21, 1865, the first American gunfight of the Wild West happened on the Springfield Square.

Today, there are markers where Wild Bill stood near South Street as it enters the roundabout. And where Tutt stood, in front of what would later become the Heers Building.

Seventy-five yards apart, three-quarters of a football field, two shots echoed on square.

“They both pulled their guns and fired,” Sellars said. “Tutt missed but Hickok made a through-and-through shot.”

Tutt was dead and Wild Bill Hickok was charged with manslaughter.

“The trial is like a who’s who,” Sellars said. “The judge in the trial was Sempronius Boyd who was one of the founders in Springfield. A tremendous politician and later became our U.S. Minister and Consul General to Siam. And then the defense attorney was John S. Phelps. Phelps Grove Park is named for him. He later became the governor of the state of Missouri.”

Hickok was let go after it was settled, he shot in self-defense. A year later, Wild Bill would have an unsuccessful run for Springfield City Marshal. He packed up and left Missouri for good. Eleven years later, he would be shot while playing poker in Deadwood, South Dakota.

As for Tutt, his story didn’t end with the shooting. His half-brother, Lewis Tutt, whose mother was one of his father’s slaves, exhumed his body so it could be interred at Springfield’s newest cemetery.

“He was the first African American to have a burial plot in Maple Park Cemetery,” Sellars said. “And so he had Davis Tutt’s body removed from the Old City Cemetery, and moved to Maple Park.”

Today, these half-brothers lay side-by-side with their story still told.

Tutt’s grave was unmarked at Maple Park Cemetery until that headstone was donated in 1991.

As for Lewis, he was a successful grocer and owned real estate in Springfield in the late 1800s. Newspaper clippings also show how he served on the city council.

His obituary said he was one of the most substantial African American men in the U.S. at the time of his death.

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