Bat Masterson, as most westerners know, was the famed lawman in Dodge City, Kansas for many years. He kept that wild town under wraps for the terms he served there, and survived many gun battles with various rowdies who came through the town. He ended up in New York state and was a warm friend to President Teddy Roosevelt, who named him as a Deputy United States Marshall for the Southern District of New York. He spent some of his retirement writing for local newspapers and publishing a few books on his exploits and the people he knew when he was younger.
One of those characters was Luke Short. Not many people are familiar with this gunslinger. He’s not prominent in the “dime novels” of the day, but Bat Masterson knew him well and documented his exploits in his book Famous Gunfighters of the Western Frontier.
Luke was a small man – about five feet, six inches tall. He was of slight of build too – about one hundred and forty pounds. That’s small for a westerner in those days, but then again, dynamite is rather small too.
In his early days, after he left his father’s ranch in West Texas, he moved to North Dakota where he worked as a cowboy during the 1870s. Masterson claims that because Short worked closely with the Red Cloud Indian Agency in that State, he became known to other locals as a “white Indian.” Since many of the Native Americans in that country were at war (in one form or another) with the white men, Short became just as rowdy as his fellows.
He founded a “trading ranch” near the Nebraska northern border by the Sioux Indian Reservation — just across the line in South Dakota. His purpose was to trade with the Native Americans of the area. Short was no dummy, he knew that his fellowmen loved American whiskey, so he conceived the idea that a gallon of whiskey worth ninety cents was not a bad thing to trade with the Sioux braves for a buffalo robe worth ten dollars to white men. He brought in wagon loads of “Pine Top” – a cheap whiskey brand with a big kick.
Luke was doing a big business until the chiefs of the Sioux Nation became worried about their men and complained to the military commander at Omaha. Soon a company of United States cavalry were heading in the direction of Luke’s dugout at the ranch. The Captain informed Luke that he was under arrest.
“Is that all?” Luke chuckled. “Sit down, men, and have a bite to eat.”
“There is no time for eating,” said the officer, “we must reach Sidney by tomorrow morning to catch the Overland train for Omaha. So, get together what things you care to take along, as we will be on our way.”
“I have nothing that I care to take.” Luke replied. “Except what I have on and my horse.”
As the soldiers destroyed his stock of drink, the Captain asked about partners. Luke said he had none. But, unknown to them, he did have a friend in Sidney who had been providing him with “Pine Top”, and that cohort met the entourage at the depot platform. After exchanging a few signals in the Sioux language, both Luke and his friend escaped from the train as it headed for Omaha. Luke was soon back in Texas, and back in business.