Pale Horse Revelations #23: Hyde Park Gunfight (Newton Massacre)
Hello readers and welcome back to Pale Horse Revelations. This week’s entry will continue the recently established trend of focusing on a significant person, place, or event in Old West history. While I make no promises, don't be surprised if some of these places, people, or events find their way into future Pale Rider adventures.
This week's edition will focus on one of the bloodiest gunfights to occur in the Old West. It occurred on August 20, 1871, in Newton Kansas and despite being virtually unheard of today, claimed more lives than far more famous gunfights such as the gunfight at the O.K. Corral in Tombstone. In 1871 the town of Newton, Kansas replaced Abilene as the terminus of the Chisholm trail. Like Abilene before it, Newton was soon full of saloons, gambling halls, and brothels. It wouldn't be long until Newton's reputation for violence and lawlessness rivaled that of Abilene.
It is not surprising, then, that one of the bloodiest gunfights should occur there. While the gunfight occurred on August 20th it was precipitated by an altercation between two local lawmen, Billy Bailey and Mike McCluskie, on August 11th. Though both were hired by the city as special policemen, they never quite saw eye to eye. On the 11th the two men began arguing while in the Red Front Saloon. The argument quickly escalated into a fist fight and Bailey was knocked outside. McCluskie followed and shot Bailey twice in the chest. Bailey died the next day.
Despite the fact that Bailey had never drawn his gun the killing was ruled self-defense and McCluskie was never charged. This didn't sit well with Bailey's friends. On August 20th three of these friends, Billy Garrett, Henry Kearnes, and Jim Wilkerson, entered Tuttle's Dance Hall in a part of town known as Hyde Park shortly after midnight. There they found McCluskie along with his two friends, Jim Martin and James Riley. Garrett, Kearnes, and Wilkerson watched and waited for the right moment to avenge Bailey's death.
That moment came with the arrival of Hugh Anderson, another of Bailey's friends. Upon entering, Anderson walked straight up to McCluskie and shot him in the neck. McCluskie attempted to return fire, but his pistol misfired as he fell to the floor. Anderson stood over McCluskie and fired two more rounds into the prone man. Garrett, Kearnes, and Wilkerson simultaneously opened fire and the room filled with gun smoke.
McCluskie's friend James Riley, despite having never been in a gunfight and poor visibility, drew his twin pistols and opened fire, emptying both pistols. All told, seven people were hit by his unaimed rounds, including McCluskie's other friend Jim Martin. Martin was hit in the neck and managed to stumble out into the street before dying. Billy Garrett was hit in the shoulder and died a few hours later. Kearnes was also mortally wounded but took a week to die.
Despite being hit in the nose and leg, Wilkerson survived his wounds. Anderson, who started the fight, took two rounds in the leg but also survived. Several innocent bystanders were hit by Riley's undisciplined shooting. Among them were Santa Fe Railroad employees Patrick Lee and a man known only as Hickey. Lee was shot in the stomach and died two days later. Hickey was hit in the calf but survived.
In the aftermath, Riley simply walked out of the dance hall and was never seen again. A warrant was issued for Hugh Anderson for the murder of McCluskie, but he escaped town aboard a train bound for Kansas City. He eventually made his way back to Texas. Anderson was never brought to trial for McCluskie's murder.
This brings us to the end of another edition of Pale Horse Revelations. I hope you found it to be both interesting and entertaining. As usual, I have tried to provide some interesting historical information while trying not to bog the casual reader down with too much detail. I encourage anyone interested in learning more to dig in and do a little research of their own.
As a reminder, I would love to hear your suggestions for topics to focus on in future editions of Pale Horse Revelations. If there's a particular location, person, or event that you would like to know more about, please let me know. Just fill out the Contact form found near the bottom of my home page (www.bmiltonhyde.com) and indicate your desired topic in the message box at the bottom of the form. I look forward to hearing from you all.
Please be sure to check back next week for the next installment of Pale Horse Revelations and thank you for your continued interest and support.