Fort Worth Marshal: Jim Courtright

The American West was full of men and women who settled with little more than a dream in their pocket. In the hardship and empty loneliness, the lines often became blurred between good and bad–where a person wasn’t all of one thing. Such was the case of “Long-haired” Jim Courtright.

His name was actually not Jim at all. He was born Timothy Isiah and he hated the name so much he once shot a man for saying it. They think the “Jim” came when someone misunderstood Tim. At least that’s the best anyone can figure.

In any event, he served and was wounded during the Civil War, fighting on the Union side. Following war’s end, he wound up as a paid gun for a ranch in New Mexico. He loved to wear his hair down onto his shoulders as was the style of scouts which he worked at for a time. In later years when he served as marshal he cut it short.

He always wore twin revolvers, their butts facing forward. He spent most of his life drifting from one thing to another. He even tried to settle down by marrying fourteen-year-old Sarah Weeks. He taught her to shoot and they joined a Wild West Show for a while, but his feet soon grew restless.

The married couple arrived in Fort Worth, Texas in 1876 where Jim was elected the marshal. His job–to crack down on the saloon and brothel area called Hell’s Half Acre. Within a short time, he cut the murder rate in half. All was well and good. Right?

The small jail was a crude log structure with no running water and no toilet. It only had one barred window for light and air. Most of the time it was packed solid with men and women he arrested for something or another–or what he made up.

To say he won a popularity contest would be wrong. A showman, he was too quick to draw his guns and shoot. He didn’t own Fort Worth but he sure thought he did. When orange flame shot from the end of his guns, folks fell dead in the streets.

While marshal, he saw another opportunity too lucrative to pass up. For a set amount of money, he offered to protect merchants and saloon and brothel owners. When they refused, the disgruntled person usually ended up dead. Either that or they quickly left town. With no one to stop him, he became too powerful. Court records show he was a bully and a brawler and his enemies stacked up.

Finally, he was defeated in the 3rd re-election and he went to New Mexico where he worked as a hired gun, guard, and deputy. However, he didn’t stay long and returned to Fort Worth to open up a detective agency, intending to pick up where he left off in the protection business.

New people had arrived during his absence. One of them was Luke Short who had drifted down from Dodge City. Among his long list of friends were Bat Masterson, Jim Masterson, and Wyatt Earp. Luke had opened up the White Elephant Saloon and gambling house and was raking in the dough. When Jim Courtright came around to collect protection money, Luke said no.

Words were passed and one thing led to another and they faced off in the middle of the street in 1887 in one of the most famous gunfights in old West history.

Luke Short

Luke Short put five bullets in Jim and killed him. At 41 years of age, with a wife and three children, he was buried in the Oaklawn Cemetery in Fort Worth.

Over the course of his life, in addition to being a scout, he worked as a jailer, sheriff, marshal, hired killer, detective, and racketeer.

It seemed he had every opportunity but just couldn’t stay on the right side of the law.

Any thoughts about his life? Jim had nothing to avenge, no wrongs to right, nothing to prove. Did those twin guns give him the bad attitude and make him think he was invincible? Or was he a misunderstood man who drew the short straw? I’ll leave it up to you to decide.

I’m giving away a $10 Amazon gift card again to someone who comments.


Fort Worth Marshal: Jim Courtright — 26 Comments

  1. Hello my sweet friend! WOW! What a life he led! In my opinion he was a bully and a swindler. Just out to squeeze money from saloons and brothels for his “protection”. And then when they refuse or don’t pay they wind up dead or mysteriously disappear then to me that just screams that he is a bully and is looking for a quick buck for nothing. He was no more then a criminal. I think the guns got the best of him and swelled his head. That’s too bad, seems he could have done a lot of good with the skills he had if he would have just kept his head on straight. I think he started out with good intentions, they just got messed up along the way somewhere.

    His wife tho… her name sounds familiar for some reason, was she famous as well????

    • Hi Dale……I’m glad you liked my post. He might’ve been nice at the first but he let power go to his head. Happens to a lot of people. They can’t handle being in charge. I think his wife achieved some recognition but she wasn’t famous.

      Much love and hugs!

  2. Good Morning Linda- great great article. You are a whiz at teaching us history. I just read an article from work about Luke Short and he being part owner in The Long Branch in Dodge and now to know he also opened up the infamous White Ekeohant saloon. My parents loved that place and would honlisten to Don Edwards play there. I’ve been to it when I was older a couple of times.
    Well now to Jim, I think he did let his guns give him a courage and maybe even an ego that got the best of him. After being defeated in the election and going back to N.M., then returning back to Ft. Worth where he figured he would pick up where he left and have a warm reception. I think he was struck by how fast he was replaced by Luke Short “as the new respected or new man in town”, along with some big fancy names behind him as friends ( Bat, Wyatt, etc.), then to be just told flat NO by Short must of stung after being the marshal years before & respected before his defeat.
    Great history lesson. You have a great day Linda, love and hugs sister friend.

    • Hi Tonya……I’m glad you enjoyed the history lesson. I love bringing you things. How strange but nice that you were reading an article about Luke Short. I think he was a much better man. You can tell that by his list of friends. I think you’re right about the circumstances leading up to the gunfight. Jim let jealousy get hold of him. He was going to show Luke Short who was best and had to eat lead the hard way. How neat that you’ve been in the White Elephant saloon! I’d sure love to go to the Fort Worth stockyards.

      Much love and hugs!

  3. I think he got too comfortable in his position. When people were intimidated by him he took to another level. He thought he was invincible, after a time, no one or anything could get to him. He put himself on a pedestal, but didn’t take into consideration that what goes up must come down.

    • Hi Allison……You are absolutely correct. That huge ego can sure get a lot of people in trouble. They ride high fr a while but they can’t stay up there.

      Love and hugs!

    • Hi Becky……It’s great to have you. Thanks for coming. I’m so glad you enjoyed my post.

  4. Great blog! Your teaching me history as always. Gun butts facing forward? That’s a show off move and a man with a huge ego if I’ve ever heard of one. Hard to with all that history making under his belt that he wasn’t even an old man when he died. He had to have had a huge ego to ever think he could go back to Ft. Worth and pick up where he left off. His guns were definitely his downfall but then again many a man carried and didn’t quite have that big of an ego.

    • Hi Stephanie……Yep, another history lesson. I have a million. Yeah, Jim Courtright was quite a piece of work. He liked to lord over others. But when he came up against Luke Short he didn’t have what it took. And what about him marrying a 14 year old? Good heavens!!

      Love and hugs!

  5. Sounds like Mr Jim Courtright let some gun skills and power go to his head and got cocky in a bad way. Wonder what it was like living with him as his wife and children if he was as much as a bully to others?

    While I was kinda cheering for Luke to put the man in his place, I was sad for the wife and kids left behind, especially if he was different with them and love was there – he was after all, their father and husband. Or maybe it was even a blessing for them to be released from his stronghold and hopefully they found someone better to take care of them.

    • Hi Michelle…..I thought about his wife and children too. Anyone who marries a 14 year old is a pervert. I have no way of knowing, but once a bully always a bully. I think he was the same with his wife and kids. They were probably glad to be free of him.

      Much love and hugs!

  6. wow, how interesting this was. Sounds like a bully, and big time jerk to me. He figured since he had authority he could do anything. Ha he got what he deserved. A well know saying in this day and age is Karma will get you in the end and all the crappy things he did caught up to him and he got gunned down.

  7. The very next time you come for a visit, I need to take you to Fort Worth to the White Elephant and the others in the Stockyards. Talk about history! I’d say this man had a very large ego and his two guns fed it. 🙂 Great post, sister!

    • Hi Jan…..Yes, I want to go to the Stockyards and the White Elephant. That area was actually in Hell’s Half Acre. Men with egos sure have no business carrying guns.

      Love you, sister!

  8. Thank you fort
    The blog and history lesson. I love to learn history. I think he was a bully, that let his guns speak for him. And he met an even bigger bully, that did the same, the guns spoke.

    • Hi Veda……There were so many men back then who took their power from the gun. But let them be without it, and they slunk into a corner. I think Jim was like that–cocky, arrogant, full of himself. I feel sorry for the family he left.

      Much love and hugs!

  9. Courtright name for a man full of contradictions in regards to the law. Its hard to judge someone who lived in such hard times. Loved the article and history. Thanks!

    • Hi Teresa…..I hope you’re doing all right and slowly getting back to normal. Thank you for coming by to read about Jim Courtright. Yes, he was a man of contradictions. He really had a desire to clean up the town but then he let greed and power take hold. Glad you enjoyed reading about him.

      Love and hugs!

  10. Power corrupts. Greed is only a second that is a visible show of power. How it is used puts one on the side of good or bad. Jim chose bad. Bullies have the mindset to push until stopped.
    Thank you for another great piece of history. This one is close to where I live today.

    • Hi Jerri……Power does corrupt. We’ve seen it over and over in Hitler, Saddam Hussein, Osama Bin Laden, and so many, many others. Bullies are only stopped when someone makes them. I’m so glad you enjoy the history I bring.

      Love and hugs!