Timothy Isaiah (Longhair Jim) Courtright, two-gun marshal of Fort Worth, was born in Sangamon County, Illinois, in the spring of 1845, the son of Daniel Courtright. He married Sarah Elizabeth Weeks in 1870 and had at least three children. At seventeen he served in the Civil War as a member of the Seventh Iowa Infantry under Gen. John Logan, who later took him to New Mexico to work as a hired gun on the Logan ranch. During his Civil War service Courtright won high praise for bravery at Fort Donelson and Vicksburg and acquired the nickname Jim, a mistake for Tim. After the war he served as an army scout and acquired the name Longhair, after the style in which scouts often wore their hair. Courtright always wore two six-shooters, butts forward, and drew from the right hip with the right hand. According to most students of the matter, he and Robert Clay Allison were faster on the draw than Wild Bill Hickok, Wyatt Earp, and Bartholomew (Bat) Masterson. Mrs. Courtright was also an excellent shot, and the couple traveled with a Wild West show as companions of Hickok.
In 1873, near Fort Worth, the Courtrights tried farming. After the farm failed, they moved to town, where Courtright worked as city jailer and in 1876 was elected city marshal by three votes. Since its incorporation as a city in 1873, Fort Worth had attracted the negative elements of a frontier town. Gambling, drinking, prostitution, and crime became rampant, but much of this vice brought income to the city, and Courtright soon learned that his job was not to clean up but simply to keep peace. While he was marshal, any attempts he made to enforce laws or make reforms met with the disapproval of the merchants. They told him to stop the flow of blood, but not that of liquor. In 1879 Courtright ran for a fourth term and was defeated by S. M. Farmer, after which the ex-marshal hung out around town, opened a detective agency that failed, spent time gambling and drinking, and then was invited to New Mexico.
His stay there was brief. After being accused of involvement in two murders, he escaped territorial authorities and returned to Fort Worth, where he opened the T. I. Courtright Commercial Detective Agency. When Texas Rangers and a New Mexico official arrived in the city to arrest him, an estimated 2,000 armed citizens challenged them. Although initially taken into custody, Courtright later escaped with the aid of friends. Eventually he returned to New Mexico, where he was acquitted due to insufficient evidence. In Fort Worth he was hired temporarily as deputy marshall during the Great Southwest Strike of 1886. Against the wishes of striking railroaders, he attempted to move the trains and, when two killings occurred, was blamed for siding with the railroads.
Courtright's career was brought to an end on February 8, 1887. Luke Short, a former friend of his, shot and killed him in one of the most famous gunfights in western history-and, contrary to the movie legends, one of the few face-to-face shootouts. The reason for the killing was never determined, though Short and Courtright were rivals for control of gambling interests in Fort Worth.
The question of Courtright's popularity in Fort Worth is moot. Though citizens protested his arrest by New Mexico legal authorities and turned out in droves for his funeral, they soundly defeated him in his attempt at reelection for a fourth term as marshall. Court records show that he was a bully and a brawler, and he was never endorsed by the Fort Worth Democrat, the city's leading newspaper. Nevertheless, his funeral procession was six blocks long, the largest the city had seen. Courtright is buried at Oakwood Cemetery in Fort Worth.
Oliver Knight, Fort Worth, Outpost on the Trinity (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1953). F. Stanley [Stanley F. L. Crocchiola], Jim Courtright (Denver: World, 1957). Mack H. Williams, comp., The News-Tribune in Old Fort Worth (Fort Worth: News-Tribune, 1975).
Law, Law Enforcement, and Outlaws
Late Nineteenth-Century Texas
Dallas/Fort Worth Region
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
Carol E. Williams,
“Courtright, Timothy Isaiah,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed September 21, 2021,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
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