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Lawmen's Heated Gun Battle in Hot Springs

Originally published by Wild West magazine. Published Online: June 12, 2006 
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When it comes to naming the wildest towns in the Wild West, the mining town of Tombstone, Arizona Territory, looms near the top on most anyone's list. Tombstone, when it was booming in the early 1880s, featured gambling, shootings, political factions that divided the law enforcement community and, of course, the gunfight near the O.K. Corral, in which three Earp brothers and Doc Holliday killed three uncooperative cowboys. On the other hand, the resort town of Hot Springs, Arkansas, which got its name from the geothermal springs in the area, probably would not even make such a 'wildest' list. Yet one could find a hot time in that old town, too. Hot Springs had gambling galore, its share of shootings, law enforcers who definitely did not see eye to eye and two shocking gunfights on the same day–the first resulting in no casualties, but the second leaving five men dead.

The Arkansas shootout that had a higher body count than the famous 1881 Tombstone fight occurred on March 16, 1899, and pitted lawmen against lawmen–the Garland County Sheriff's Office vs. the Hot Springs Police Department. News of the Shootout on Central Avenue made the papers from New York City to California (though it became old news fast) and left the city fathers distressed. After the gunfight, lines of visitors rushed to take the next train out of town. Hot Springs depended on the tourist trade for its economic health, and a battle between local badge-wearers in the middle of Central Avenue was not exactly good for business.

Hot Springs, some 52 miles southwest of Little Rock, was a site well known to American Indians. The little village that sprang up around the springs in the late 1820s was known as Thermopolis, but its first real resort season was the summer of 1832. That year, U.S. President Andrew Jackson signed a special act of Congress to protect what became known as Hot Springs. Stage service from Little Rock began three years later, and in 1851 Hot Springs was incorporated as a town. The place became virtually deserted during the Civil War but experienced a postwar population boom as more and more visitors ventured there to bathe in–and also drink–the legendary waters. By the mid-1870s, the federal government had begun administration of the Hot Springs Reservation (which would be renamed Hot Springs National Park in 1921).

On January 15, 1874, an undetermined amount of money was taken when a stagecoach was robbed five miles east of Hot Springs on the road to Malvern, Ark. The robbery has been pinned on the famous James-Younger Gang, though some historians say otherwise. About eight months later, another stage robbery occurred about 10 miles east of Hot Springs, with the thieves taking some $1,000.

The same year, successful businessman Joseph 'Diamond Jo' Reynolds decided to take a stage from the train station at Malvern to Hot Springs, where the soothing waters would help his rheumatism. That particular stage was not held up, but the terribly bumpy ride is said to have inspired Diamond Jo to build a 22-mile connecting narrow-gauge railroad between Malvern and Hot Springs. With this more comfortable transportation, Hot Springs became one of the favorite destinations not only of one-time New Yorker Reynolds but also of many other wealthy people from across the nation. Some of these visitors wanted more than just hot thermal baths. The local people were swift to comply, and watering holes sprang up to the point where one visitor wrote home, 'I believe there is a saloon in every other store.' Also springing up were brothels and gaming establishments. By the late 1870s, gambling, which probably existed in Hot Springs as early as 1849, had become a local growth industry that rivaled the healing waters. The question of who would control the gambling became an issue that influenced every election for many years.

In February 1884, a gunfight occurred on Central Avenue between two gambling factions, known as the Flynns and the Dorans. Frank 'Boss Gambler' Flynn's control of most of the gambling houses on Central Avenue had been challenged by Major S.A. Doran, a Confederate veteran who refused to submit to Flynn's bullying. Each man had hired gunmen to protect his interests. Flynn's plans to ambush Major Doran didn't work out, but Doran's gunmen soon went to work, opening fire on Flynn and his two brothers as they rode in a horse-drawn cab along Bath House Row. In the ambush and ensuing gun battle, three men were killed and three others, including Frank Flynn, were wounded. Within a few hours, a vigilante group called the Committee of Thirteen had formed, and these vigilantes herded many gamblers at bayonet point to the trains for hasty departures.

Gambling in the spa city had taken a hit, but before long it revived and came on stronger than ever. The 'Liberals' knew that gambling was good for business, so they strived to make Hot Springs a wide-open town again. 'Conservatives,' who thought that refreshing waters were enough to soothe a man's soul, fought to suppress gambling and keep Hot Springs healthier and safer for citizens and visitors alike. The position of mayor was hotly contested every two years. The elected mayor got to pick his chief of police, who held a lot of power there in the 1880s and '90s. Gambling and prostitution either thrived or dried up depending on the politics of the mayor and police chief.

In the election for mayor in 1897, Independent candidate William L. Gordon defeated Liberal incumbent W.W. Waters. Thomas C. Toler, who had been the chief of police at the time of the Flynn-Doran gambling battle, helped Gordon get elected, so Gordon appointed him to the chief's job again. Toler was actually a Liberal with connections in the gambling community. Unlike Mayor Gordon, Toler liked Hot Springs better when it was an open town. The two men soon argued about policies, and Gordon tried to dismiss the popular Toler. The city council members sided with the chief, so Gordon backed off.

With another election coming up in April 1899, Toler suddenly threw his support to Independent candidate C.W. Fry. Fry announced that if elected he would reappoint Tom Toler as chief of police. Trouble began to brew in a town that now had some paved streets, as well as electric trolleys, or streetcars, moving hundreds of visitors every day. The Democratic mayoral candidate, young businessman George Belding, had the support of perhaps the most powerful man in Garland County, Sheriff Robert L. Williams. Belding assured Williams that if elected mayor he would make Chief Deputy Sheriff Coffee Williams, the sheriff's brother, chief of police. Such a development would mean control of the entire county for the Williams brothers. Until the 1899 election caused them to bump heads, Toler and Bob Williams had been warm friends.

Toler, 45, was an experienced lawman, having been hired as a deputy in the early 1870s by the first sheriff of Garland County, William Little, and then appointed chief of police in 1883. During the Flynn-Doran fight the following February, he had disarmed the combatants and herded some of them off to jail. Afterward, one of the gunmen brought in by Major Doran, Edward Howell, hung around town threatening to kill Chief Toler on sight. Toler headed over to Howell's favorite drinking establishment, the Opera House Saloon, and shot the gunman dead. It was ruled self-defense.

Another time, Toler got the best of a Hot Springs encounter with O.K. Corral participant Wyatt Earp, at least according to the March 17, 1899, edition of the Arkansas Democrat: 'A dozen or more years ago, [Toler] made Wyatt Earp, a notorious western killer, walk out of Hot Springs.' Earp, the newspaper reported, was having a run of bad luck and getting mad about it. Chief Toler arrived and took Earp aside, telling him that Hot Springs welcomed visitors but didn't want troublemakers. Earp didn't press the issue, but the following night Toler was again summoned because Wyatt was drinking, losing and acting surly once more. At that point, Toler informed Earp he was 'posted' out of town, and Wyatt departed Hot Springs without further incident.

Toler, who lived with a woman referred to as Mrs. Toler in official records, was the kind of police chief the citizens of Hot Springs wanted. He and his 10-man department collected enough fines to pay the salaries of the force, but they enforced the law without any undue hardship on the tourist trade.

Toler's second-in-command, Captain Lee Haley, was a painter by trade, but he had ventured into law enforcement and come to like it. Haley, 33, had married a local girl, and they had two children. Sergeant Thomas F. Goslee, a printer by trade, was considered a top-notch officer, fearless and totally loyal to Toler. Haley, Goslee and Toler would all be involved in the March 16 fight with members of the sheriff's office, as would detective James E. Hart. Known by many Hot Springs residents as 'Uncle Jim,' the English-born Hart was in his 40s but looked considerably older. Appointed chief of police by Mayor D. Kimbell in 1887, Hart had proved too straight-laced for everyone and had accepted a demotion to remain with the department. He had a wife who was blind and three children.

The Hot Springs Police Department was supportive of its chief but no more so than the Garland County Sheriff's Office was supportive of its sheriff, Bob Williams. Born in Kentucky on January 22, 1851, Bob had moved with his family to Texas during the Civil War. After the war, the Williams family tried farming in Arkansas' Polk County. Bob married Martha Allen there in 1872, and the couple moved to Hot Springs in 1878. Once he had found financial success as the owner of a mercantile store, his parents joined him in Hot Springs, as did his older sister, Matilda Watt, and her family and his younger brother, J.C. Williams, who everyone called 'Coffee.' Bob Williams entered the sheriff's race in 1886 and won as a Democrat. He was re-elected in 1888 and 1890 and then was voted in as mayor in 1893. He chose not to seek a second term. When he decided he wanted to be sheriff again in 1898, he ran successfully as an Independent.

Bob Williams was an outgoing individual, polite to women and friendly to most men, except those who disagreed with him too much. His brother Coffee had greater flaws. He drank too much and spent too much time hanging around the gambling clubs. Several of his business ventures had not worked out, and Bob had had to bail him out a few times. But Bob had appointed his brother chief deputy sheriff, and Coffee had handled his duties well. Bob Williams also appointed two nephews, Sam and Will Watt, as deputies. Sam showed good judgment and composure on the job, but Will was a bit unstable and more impetuous. The sheriff's 22-year-old son, Johnny O. Williams, was managing the mercantile store in March 1899, but he had ridden on several posses headed by his father, and he loved to go out and practice target shooting with Uncle Coffee. Bob Williams' friend Dave Young was a part-time deputy sheriff who occasionally worked in a liquor store. Last but not least of the deputies was Ed Spear, a tall, prematurely balding man who had been in his share of trouble but was now a loyal and supportive deputy, very much in Sheriff Bob Williams' inner circle.

On the morning of March 16, 1899, a caucus of Independent Party leaders met in the City Hall office of Police Chief Toler. Mayoral candidate C.W. Fry was present, along with a dozen or more other people, including several police officers. What was said at the meeting is not known, but it stands to reason that the officers were told that if Fry was elected, then Toler would be reappointed police chief and all the policemen would be able to keep their jobs. As soon as the meeting concluded, an unidentified man phoned Bob Williams at the courthouse, telling him all about it. The angry sheriff then stormed downtown. When he arrived on Central Avenue at about 1:30 p.m., he spotted his pal Dave Young. Over lunch at the Klondike Saloon, Williams complained to Young about the disturbing meeting at City Hall. At about that time, Sergeant Tom Goslee of the Hot Springs Police Department was having a piece of pie at Corrinne Remington's cafe. Afterward, he went to Tobe and York's barbershop at 614 Central for a quick haircut. Goslee had left his .44-caliber service revolver in his desk, but he carried a two-shot derringer.

Williams and Young finished their meal and walked north on Central to the corner of Spring Street, where they stopped to talk some more in front of Joseph Mazzi's saloon. Seeing Goslee come out of the barber shop across the street, the sheriff called out to him. Goslee waited for a trolley car to pass, then crossed over to the two unsmiling men. Instead of shaking Goslee's hand, Williams gave the sergeant a piece of paper. 'These are the people who held a caucus in the chief of police's office this morning against Belding,' the sheriff said. Goslee could see his own name on the list. 'And I want to know what you mean by working against me,' Williams demanded. Goslee calmly replied, 'I am not unfriendly to Belding and have taken no active part in the caucus you have referred to.' But then he saw fit to defend Police Chief Toler and even accuse Williams of being Toler's enemy. The sheriff called Goslee 'a liar and a coward' and began a long tirade. When Williams seemed to move his hand toward his coat, Goslee responded by drawing his derringer. 'I want no trouble from you, as you are the sheriff of the county,' the sergeant said, 'but I will defend myself if forced to.'

Dave Young stepped between the two men, gently placing a hand on each man's shoulder. 'Boys, boys, this will not do,' he said. Later, he would tell an acquaintance, 'I believe that Goslee would have killed Bob Williams had I not stepped between the two.' As it was, the sheriff opened his coat and said, 'As you can see, I am not armed,' but he continued fuming at Goslee. Then the sheriff saw his son Johnny come out of the City Hall Saloon, at the intersection of Central and Prospect, and broke away to greet him. According to witnesses, Johnny Williams handed his father a short-barrel .44 revolver and then called to a friend, who passed him another revolver.

Someone shouted 'Look out!' and gunfire quickly followed. Witnesses were divided over who fired the first shot, but Goslee would have been a fool to start a street gunfight armed with only a two-shot derringer. In any case, the sergeant had soon emptied both barrels and was retreating under fire. One bullet barely missed his head and embedded in the doorframe of Justice W.A. Kirk's office. Other bullets ricocheted against the brick wall of F.J. Mobb's drugstore. Bob and Johnny Williams kept shooting until their guns were empty, but they couldn't get their man. Goslee slipped down an alley and stumbled into the lobby of the Sumpter House, not wounded but badly shaken. Goslee remained in the little hotel until Chief Toler and another officer arrived to escort him to City Hall.

Toler notified David Cloud, Garland County prosecuting attorney, who quickly took statements from Sergeant Goslee and Sheriff Williams. Each blamed the other. Cloud believed Goslee and issued a warrant for Bob Williams' arrest. The sheriff made bail, but the charge against him did nothing to improve his mood. Even though 14 shots had been fired, nobody had been hurt in the gunfight. Credit poor marksmanship or dumb luck. But the trouble wasn't over, not by a long shot. Less than three hours later, their marksmanship would improve or their luck would run out–two of them would be dead and the third indicted for murder.

The city fathers were not happy that a gunfight had taken place on Hot Springs' main street, and Toler called Goslee into his office and said that the volatile situation had to be defused before further trouble occurred. He suggested that the sergeant meet with Johnny Williams, shake his hand and maybe have a drink, while he himself would try to patch things up with Sheriff Bob Williams. Toler then called for a meeting in his home, not wanting to risk another leak from the 'City Hall spy.' In attendance were C.W. Fry, Sergeant Goslee, Captain Haley, Arlington Hotel owner Samuel H. Stitt, and large-property owner George M. French. The chief went over the events of the day, and they discussed their plans on how to lessen the tension between the two law enforcement departments.

When Toler called Bob Williams at his office and asked to meet for drinks at 5:30 p.m., William reluctantly agreed but said it had to be a short meeting because his daughter Florence was celebrating her 21st birthday that night. Williams then contacted his brother, Chief Deputy Sheriff Coffee Williams, at the Arkansaw Club, an elaborate gambling and sporting palace, and told him to get back to the sheriff's office. After that, the sheriff heard from his son Johnny, who said that Goslee had called him to set up a friendly meeting. Bob Williams was suspicious. When Coffee arrived, the sheriff told him to accompany Johnny to the meeting. Coffee went to his desk and took out a revolver, which he stuck in the back of his waistband. Next, the chief deputy sheriff put on a brown suit coat, long enough to hide the gun. Coffee then walked with nephew Johnny on the east side of Central Avenue, heading north. They were soon joined by Deputy Ed Spear, and the three men stopped to talk. Back at the courthouse, Bob Williams briefed nephews Sam and Will Watt on what was going on and strapped on an old Colt revolver. They then headed outside toward Central Avenue. Before long, Dave Young joined them.

After the small meeting at Toler's house ended, the chief of police, Captain Haley and Sergeant Goslee walked south on Central Avenue. Shortly after passing Oliver and Finney's grocery store at 607 Central, they spotted Coffee Williams, Johnny Williams and Ed Spear walking north on the same side of the street. As the two groups neared each other, Johnny Williams stepped up and extended his hand to Goslee. The sergeant shook hands and said, 'Johnny, I am an officer and can't be shooting around on the streets.' Young Williams smiled and said, 'All right, Tom, I want everybody for my friend.'

Seeing how well things were going, Chief Toler and Captain Haley moved down the sidewalk to Lemp's Beer Depot, where Haley's brother-in-law, Louis Hinkle, was a bartender. Lemp's folding doors were open wide so that customers could stand at the bar and still enjoy the fresh air. Haley leaned against one end of the bar to talk to Hinkle. Chief Deputy Sheriff Coffee Williams and Deputy Spear had also drifted up the sidewalk and were now only a few feet away from Haley.

Seeing Spear standing there, Haley addressed him, 'Ed, I understand you have told people that if I put my head out, you'll shoot it off.' The accusation appeared to stun Spear for a moment. Then the deputy said, 'Haley, anybody who said I told that is a goddamn liar.' Hinkle took offense at Spear's denial. 'Don't you make me out a liar,' he snarled. Hinkle then put one of his powerful arms around Spear's neck and tilted his head upward. In his other arm, the brawny bartender held an Anheuser-Busch knife with a 6-inch blade. It was no bluff. In one motion, Hinkle slashed Spear's throat.

With his throat bleeding profusely, Spear struggled to free himself. Hinkle wasn't ready to let go. 'Stop, for God's sake,' Haley pleaded. Chief Toler and Sergeant Goslee both started toward the struggling men, intending to break them apart. Before they got there, Spear twisted partially free, just enough so that he could yank out his .45-caliber revolver and pull the trigger. The bullet hit Hinkle in the throat and exited below his ear. The bartender released Spear and staggered backward. Coffee Williams took the opportunity to pull out his revolver and shoot Hinkle in the chest.

Meanwhile there was more shooting going on. While running on the sidewalk toward the fray, Goslee went down. Johnny Williams had shot him twice, one bullet striking the sergeant just below the right knee and the other hitting him in the right groin, severing the femoral artery. The sergeant struggled up onto his left elbow and fired back at Johnny Williams, who was some 35 or 40 feet away. The shot struck the sheriff's son in the head. Young Williams crumpled to the sidewalk near the entrance to the Klondike Saloon. He was mortally wounded, but Goslee wouldn't make it either. A shot from Coffee Williams finished off the sergeant.

Tom Toler quickly got into the act, firing at Coffee Williams, who backed into the street and took refuge behind a parked express wagon. Coffee fired back at the chief of police from behind the wagon, but Toler's attention was soon diverted by a shot fired at him by the game Ed Spear, who was not letting his throat wound knock him out of the fight. Toler sent a couple of bullets Spear's way, one of which grazed Spear's right shoulder. With Spear and Coffee Williams shooting at him from both sides and the merchants' doors all locked behind him, Toler felt trapped. He ran north on the sidewalk, trying to get a clear shot at Coffee, but the deputy chief moved from the back of the express wagon to the front and began firing his two six-shooters over the seat. Two bullets struck Toler at virtually the same time–the one that got him in the back of the head probably delivered by Coffee Williams, the one that got him in the chest probably unleashed by Spear. Either shot would have been fatal.

But what of Captain Haley, whose comment to Spear seemingly opened the door for all the violence that followed? Witnesses later reported that when the first shot was fired by Spear, Haley had stood stunned for a few seconds and then had turned and run across Central Avenue, eventually finding refuge in Tobe and York's barbershop. 'A shot was fired and blood flew in my face and eyes and I retreated into the street blinded,' Haley later testified. Strangely, neither Spear nor Coffee Williams had appeared concerned that the police captain was behind them on the west side of the street. Indeed, Haley never returned to the conflict. He had fled, much as Ike Clanton had done during the October 1881 Tombstone fight.

After Toler went down, the shooting stopped. Hinkle and Goslee were already dead, Johnny Williams was dying on the sidewalk, and Haley was in hiding. Spear managed to stumble into the Klondike Saloon. 'Boys, I am badly wounded,' he gasped. 'For God's sake send for a doctor to help me.'

He then collapsed on the saloon floor, but, amazingly enough, it would not be his last gasp or last collapse. Coffee Williams stepped out from behind the express wagon and found himself standing alone in the street. He rushed over to his nephew, Johnny Williams, and called out for a doctor. But Coffee wasn't sure it was really safe on the street. Still clutching his two six-shooters, he backed through the doorway of the Klondike.

Citizens were slow in opening their doors and coming out to check on the damage. Only a few brave souls had done so by the time Sheriff Bob Williams arrived on the scene with deputies Sam and Will Watt and part-time deputy Dave Young. The sheriff first saw the bodies of Hinkle, Goslee and Toler, but his first cry of anguish didn't come until he recognized that the fourth fallen man was his son, Johnny. Turning to his brother, the sheriff said: 'My God, Coffee, did you do this? Is Johnny dead?' Coffee was ready with an answer: 'Yes, Johnny is dead, and I killed the son-of-a-bitch who killed him.' At that point, the sheriff probably figured that the police had tried to ambush his men, not knowing that it was a spur-of-the-moment knifing by bartender Hinkle that had led to all the rest. Will Joyce, a friend of the sheriff's, later testified that he saw Bob Williams cursing and stalking up and down with a revolver in each hand. Joyce helped carry Johnny into the Klondike Saloon while the young man's father continued to rage. Resident C.H. Weaver, who had considered running for mayor, tried to calm the sheriff, but Bob Williams stuck both revolvers in Weaver's face and cursed him. Weaver walked away, badly shaken but unharmed.

Detective Jim Hart would not be so lucky. He had been over at the Diamond Jo Railroad Depot trying to keep riffraff and con men out of town when someone rode up to him and announced that there was 'big trouble over on Central Avenue.' Hart hurried to the shocking scene, where he didn't even bother taking his revolver out, according to the later testimony of four people, including Mrs. Toler. That didn't mean anything to Bob Williams. The sheriff walked up to Hart, grabbed the lapel of his coat with his left hand and said, 'Here is another of those sons-of-bitches!' Cocking the revolver in his right hand, Williams fired point-blank into Hart's face. The hapless detective fell, his face blackened from the muzzle blast and his scalp blown off. That did not stop Deputy Will Watt from reaching over the shoulder of his uncle-sheriff and firing two more bullets into Hart. People who had come out of stores and homes fled back inside again. But not Mrs. Toler, who stood with her hands on her hips, staring directly at Bob Williams. She later said that the sheriff told her, 'Yes, we got Toler, and I wish we had you where we've got him.' After he said it, she went home without a word-not to weep but to get a loaded gun that her late husband kept in a bureau drawer. She wrapped the gun in her shawl and went back to Central Avenue, intent on 'killing Bob Williams,' but by then the sheriff was gone.

Johnny Williams had not yet died, so Bob Williams had ordered some men to take his son home. The little birthday party for the sheriff's daughter, Florence, was off. Instead the Williamses made Johnny as comfortable as possible and stayed with him until he died at 9:30 that night. Back on Central Avenue, the other fallen men lay unattended. Members of the sheriff's office were still acting as if the conflict would resume. Dave Young, who had been unarmed and had not taken part in the street fight, borrowed a doublebarreled shotgun from one of the saloons. Coffee Williams, who had emptied two revolvers in the fight, tried to get more ammunition from Babcock's hardware store. 'They would not give me any,' he said later. Nephew Will Watt then found him some cartridges. These preparations were not necessary, however. The Hot Springs Police Department had been defeated, and the carnage was over. Amazingly, though five men had been shot down in the Shootout on Central Avenue, the only bystander wounded was a young man named Alan Carter, who took a stray bullet while watching the action.

Storeowners called City Hall to complain about the dead bodies on the sidewalk. Finally, Constable Sam Tate and his deputy, Jack Archer, brought the bodies of Hinkle, Goslee, Toler and Hart by freight wagon to the Gross Funeral Home. Tate stood in the rear of the wagon, with arms crossed and displaying two drawn revolvers.

Mayor W.L. Gordon called an emergency meeting at City Hall and appointed L.D. Beldin to replace the fallen Tom Toler as chief of police. Next, Gordon and Beldin selected 150 men to carry out armed patrols to prevent any unlawful acts. They could not, however, stop visitors from departing town in droves. 'The tragedy at Hot Springs resulting in the killing of five men and the probable fatal wounding of a sixth is one of the most deplorable affairs of this kind that has ever occurred in the state of Arkansas,' the Arkansas Gazette stated. The Arkansas Democrat compared the street fight to those that had occurred earlier on the Western frontier: 'That was a terrible affair at Hot Springs. Five men killed and another wounded in a street duel is a record seldom attained by the wild, reckless elements in new western towns. It is needless to say the whole state was shocked by the news of the tragedy.'

Hearings were held at City Hall the next day. Governor Dan Jones attended at the request of a number of businessmen. Coroner E.A. Shippey presided over the inquest. The jury quickly concluded that Sam Watt and Dave Young had not taken an active part in the gunplay. R.L. ('Bob') Williams, Coffee Williams, Will Watt and the wounded Ed Spear were charged with 'unjustifiable homicide' and were remanded to the county jail. All made bail.

A series of courtroom trials began, but all came to naught. Spear claimed that he acted in self-defense after Hinkle attacked him with a knife. Coffee Williams claimed that he had shot Hinkle to help a fellow deputy in need, and that he had fired at Goslee and Toler only because they were shooting at him. The trials of Sheriff Williams and Will Watt ended in hung juries. Although several witnesses testified that Williams and Watt had shot down detective Hart, several other people came forth to say that Hart had first drawn his gun on Williams. Neither the sheriff nor his brother nor his nephew nor Ed Spear would have to serve a single day in prison. Hart's blind widow later filed a civil suit for $20,000 against Sheriff Williams, but Will Watt testified that he had killed Hart to save his uncle's life, and the jury found for the defendant. Understandably, Hot Springs would take some time to recover from its Tombstonelike gunfight. For one thing, the relations between the Garland County Sheriff's Office and the Hot Springs Police Department remained strained well into the 20th century.

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3 Responses to “Lawmen's Heated Gun Battle in Hot Springs”


  1. 1
    Pancho Farias says:

    In 1886 a gunbattle in Laredo makes all others pale in comparison. It was 2 political parties backers against each other in the town square. It was 150 with many on horseback including the Sheriff on one side and around 120 on the other including a cannon. The US cavalry under Col. Bernard rode in to stop the carnage !

  2. 2
    Arthur Coulter says:

    Why has no one ever written a book about this event? I had never even heard about it before today.

  3. 3
    Beth Massa says:

    In Hot Springs right now. Sitting in front of the bath houses, across the street is a building with the name Ed Spears. Wonder if it is the aame man.



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