Reviewed by Luc Nettleton
By Robert K. DeArment
TCU Press, Fort Worth, Texas, 2004
The two things that most Western aficionados know about Jim Courtright are that he is now known by the colorful sobriquet “Longhair Jim” and that he came out on the short end in a shootout with the better-known Luke Short in Fort Worth, Texas, in 1887. Many of us have long wished to know more. Robert DeArment’s article on Longhair Jim (or “Long-haired Jim”) Courtright in the October 2003 Wild West Magazine’s “Gunfighters and Lawmen” department was most welcome. And now comes the full story, as told in 287 pages by a historian who needs no introduction to fans of outlaw-lawman Western history. Actually, earlier writings by the likes of Western novelist Eugene Cunningham and a Roman Catholic priest using the penname F. Stanley did develop the Courtright myth, but it wasn’t hard to figure out that the myth needed some “deconstructing.” No better man to do it than DeArment, who has written such books as Knights of the Green Cloth and Bat Masterson and who will have a feature article on Western gambling in the April 2005 Wild West.
Courtright, like more than a few of his contemporaries, sometimes operated his six-shooter with a badge on his chest, and sometimes without. Although he participated in coldblooded assassinations and impressed more than a few people with his gun-handling skills, he was only in one real gunfight–the classic face-off with Short outside the White Elephant Saloon.
Even if his glory days were few, Courtwright seemed to be a significant enough figure in Western history to rate his own serious biography. But he was nearly illiterate and did not leave a paper trail for a would-be biographer to follow. That made DeArment’s chore of writing the man’s true story a most difficult one. DeArment could not find out all the answers, but he has weeded out undocumented legends and gross exaggerations.