Luke Short: “The Undertaker’s Friend”


Luke Short, gambler and American Gunfighter. He gained his unusual nickname because he always aimed for the chest and never for the head making the undertakers job easier

Luke Short was born in Mississippi in 1854 and raised in Texas. He had modest farmer parents and worked on the family farm until he left home in his early teens. Rumors say he left because of a violent confrontation with another teenage boy whom he either badly injured or killed.

Luke’s Honest Working Years

In approximately 1867 at around thirteen years of age Luke began working as a cowhand. He worked as a trail-buster for longhorn cattle drivers making the trek from Texas to Kansas to supply the rail towns with the beef they needed. This was hard, dusty, modestly paid, but honest labor.

By the time Short’s teenage years were gone he had tired of the saddle tramp lifestyle and would never work as a cowpoke again. In 1874 he became enchanted with the idea of getting rich by being a buffalo hunter and plied the trade of hunter through 1878 when the majority of the native bison herds were almost drove into extinction by greed and over-hunting.

During these years Short also served as a scout with General Crook during the Sioux and Cheyenne uprisings of 1876-1878 and learned to hone his shooting and riding skills as well as gain a perspective about how to make money by trading with the Indians.

Luke Becomes an Illegal Indian Trader

After leaving his job as army scout and deciding buffalo hunting had run it course, Luke would come into conflict with the U.S. Government. Short’s hunting years acquainted him with native Americans whom he would become a fast trading partner with.

Luke discovered native American’s affinity to whiskey and discovered that cheaply bought “rot gut” whiskey could easily be traded for valuable buffalo robes and other more expensive items. The legality of the issue didn’t bother Short and he established a prosperous trading post located close to Camp Robinson in northwestern Nebraska where he could easily trade with the Indians.

Luke’s first confessed kills came in confrontations he had with drunken Indian’s during his career as a whiskey peddler. He admitted to being responsible for nearly a half dozen or more Indian deaths in shootouts with braves who were either trying to steal from him or take his life.

Trouble making, rampaging, young, Indian bucks eventually brought unwanted attention to his whiskey trading business and army agents reported the situation to Washington. Luke was arrested and being transported to Omaha for trial when he escaped to freedom.

The Dodge City War

Luke Short never worked again except as a gambler and saloon keeper and his tainted past would later come back to haunt him in the future when trying his hand at being a business owner. He purchased part ownership in a saloon, but his bad reputation caused friction when he became involved in a political embroilment called “The Dodge City War.”

In 1883 reformers wanted to clean up Dodge City and considered Short an undesirable. Short was good friends with Bat Masterson and Wyatt Earp and relied upon them for support in case things in Dodge deteriorated and became a real war with lead flying and bodies dropping in the street.

Fortunately nobody was killed in the Dodge City War, although a few shots were exchanged by Short and city policeman Louis Hart. Wyatt Earp worked diligently to negotiate peace and the war ended without bloodshed. In disgust, Short sold his interests in the “Long Branch” Saloon and moved to Texas.

American Gunfighter

Luke Short was known for many things but was involved in two high profile and confirmed deadly public gunfights. Most “Wild West” figures were famous for exaggerating their exploits but in Tombstone, Arizona in 1881 infamous pistol fighter Charlie Storms attacked Luke Short outside the Oriental Saloon after an argument broken up by Bat Masterson. But Storms could not placated and ended up with a hole in his chest and due to the close quarters of the fight a shirt blazing from the muzzle fire of Short’s handgun!

In 1887 Short would once again be involved in a deadly altercation in Fort Worth, Texas with Jim “Longhair” Courtright, who was a former marshal turned “protection racket thug.” Short was part owner of the “White Elephant” saloon and Courtright was trying to intimidate Luke into paying him part of the profits for protection.

“Longhair” Courtright called Short out because he wanted to make an example of him lest other merchants refuse to pay protection money to him. When Jim drew his revolver it got tangled up on his watch-chain and Luke Short drilled his chest without hesitation or mercy, ending Courtright’s protection racket forever.

Luke Short’s End

Luke Short continued his career as a gambler and moved from place to place and continued to invest in various saloon enterprises. He was never again involved in another deadly shootout, probably because of the fearful reputation these encounters had earned him.

Due to his tarnished reputation he never became a wealthy business man but made a comfortable living for the rest of his life. Luke Short died in Kansas in 1893 of natural causes due to an unhealthy lifestyle at the age of thirty-nine years old.