History Of Kansas Gambling Part 3: Gunslinger Luke Short

Luke Short's role in Kansas gambling history

We’re back with another installation of Dodge City, Kansas gambling history. And there’s no better place to start than the Long Branch Saloon. Last we left off in part two, ownership of the saloon had been transferred over to Luke Short, who will be our main character for this story.

In short, Luke Short was a gunslinger. But, if you wanted a long explanation of Mr. Short, you’d have to mention his army service, gambling, boxing, promoting, and saloon owning as well.

He truly was a man that did it all. And he’s one of the most integral parts of the history of gambling in Kansas.

Short before he bought The Saloon

Luke Short was born in Polk County, Arkansas, back in 1854. Short was one of nine children and spent most of his early life working as a cowboy across the country.

He started to build a reputation as a gunslinger, having multiple run-ins with infamous lawmen like Bat Masterson and Wyatt Earp before coming to Dodge City. Most of his shootouts, however, revolved around one thing: gambling.

Short’s antics got so out of hand that law enforcement put him on a train to Omaha to get rid of him. But Short escaped the car and fled to Denver, Colorado instead. This is where his gambling really took off.

Luke Short the gambler

Short managed to bounce around Colorado, gambling his way through the state. All the while increasing his notoriety from gambling house to gambling house. He was even jailed for five days in 1879 for swindling another gambler by the name of Texan John Jones.

In 1881, Short was involved in one of the most infamous gunfights in wild west history. After his time in Colorado, Short moved to Tombstone, Arizona, which is where he became friendlier with Wyatt Earp, William H. Harris, and Bat Masterson. This is where he continued to grow his gambling legend, dealing Faro games at the local gambling saloon.

As the story is told, a man by the name of Charlie Storms, who was a much lesser-known gunslinger than those seated at the table around him, came to play Faro one night. Storms, who had a bit of a heavy hand, had too much to drink that night at the Faro table. That’s when he started jawing at Short.

One thing led to another, and before you knew it Storms was laid dead on the ground. Short was a man not to be tested, and Storms surely learned that lesson that day.

Bat Masterson, who was present at the time of the shooting, had this to say about it in an article describing the altercation, written in 1907:

“Storms did not know Short and, like the bad man in Leadville, had sized him up as an insignificant-looking fellow, whom he could slap in the face without expecting a return. Both were about to pull their pistols when I jumped between them and grabbed Storms, at the same time requesting Luke not to shoot, a request I knew he would respect if it was possible without endangering his own life too much.

I had no trouble in getting Storms out of the house, as he knew me to be his friend. When Storms and I reached the street, I advised him to go to his room and take a sleep, for I then learned for the first time that he had been up all night, and had been quarreling with other persons…

I was just explaining to Luke that Storms was a very decent sort of man when, lo and behold! There he stood before us, without saying a word, at the same time pulling his pistol. Luke stuck the muzzle of his pistol against Storm’s heart and pulled the trigger. The bullet tore the heart asunder and, as he was falling, Luke shot him again. Storms was dead when he hit the ground.”

Short was later found to be justified in his actions by the court of law, and no further legal action was taken. However, it wasn’t long after this altercation that Short left Tombstone. He then headed towards Dodge, which is when the real fun kicks off.

Luke Short, owner of the Long Branch Saloon

Short arrived in Dodge in 1881. It wasn’t until 1883, however, that Chalk Beeson sold his interest in the Long Branch Saloon to Short. The Long Branch Saloon was the Las Vegas Strip of Dodge City, and at the time was a goldmine just waiting to be cashed in.

Unfortunately for Short, at the time of his purchase of the Saloon, the mayor of Dodge owned a gambling house of his own.

The Mayor and the Dodge City Council set out to run Short out of town – and run him out of town they did. As the story goes, just two months after Short purchased the Long Branch Saloon, he was forced out of Dodge.

A fight to keep gambling in Dodge City, Kansas

When Short was run out of Dodge, he immediately set his sights on getting his revenge. He rallied up a ragtag group of the most infamous gunslingers and gamblers in western lore and made a beeline back for Kansas. In his posse were:

  • William Petillon
  • Charlie Bassett
  • Wyatt Earp
  • Bat Masterson
  • Michael Francis McLean

In an attempt to stop the potential bloodshed that could occur upon their arrival, the Mayor of Dodge forced the closure of all gambling halls in the city. While a good idea, in theory, there was only one problem with it – gambling is what kept Dodge City afloat. After all, it was the only thing that drove in patrons.

So, that ruling was quickly overturned, and Luke Short and his crew got what they wanted after all – without having to put up really any fight.

The Long Branch Saloon remained open for some time, but just like with every story regarding a ragtag group, the men who ran it quickly dispersed. Short moved to San Antonio and pursued adventures elsewhere.

Earp and Masterson remained in Dodge, however, so you know there’s going to be more to this story.

Photo by Antonio Gravante/Shutterstock