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Newton's General Massacre

An Old West gunfight that occurred on August 19, 1871, in Newton, Kansas. It was well publicised at the time, but since has received little historical attention, despite its producing a higher body count than the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral and the Four Dead in Five Seconds Gunfight of 1881. Known as "Newton's General Massacre", the event established Newton's reputation as "the wickedest town in the West".

Unlike most other well-known gunfights of the Old West, it involved no notable or well known gunfighters, nor did it propel any of its participants into any degree of fame. Its legend has grown, however, because one of the participants simply walked away from the scene, never to be seen again.

The incident began with an argument between two local lawmen, Billy Bailey and Mike McCluskie. The two men began arguing on August 11, 1871, over local politics on election day in the "Red Front Saloon", located in downtown Newton. The argument developed into a fist fight, with Bailey being knocked outside the saloon and into the street. McCluskie followed, drawing his pistol. He fired two shots at Bailey, hitting him with the second shot in the chest. Bailey died the next day, on August 12, 1871. McCluskie fled town to avoid arrest, but was only away for a few days before returning, after receiving information that the shooting would most likely be deemed self defense, despite the fact that Bailey never produced a weapon. McCluskie had claimed he feared for his life, having known that in three previous gunfights, Bailey had killed two men.

Bailey, a native of Texas, had several cowboy friends who were in town. Upon hearing of his death, they vowed revenge against McCluskie. On August 19, 1871, McCluskie entered Newton and went to gamble at "Tuttles Dance Hall", located in an area of town called Hide Park. He was accompanied by a friend, Jim Martin. As McCluskie settled into gambling, three cowboys entered the saloon. They were Billy Garrett, Henry Kearnes, and Jim Wilkerson, all friends to Bailey. Billy Garrett had been in at least two prior gunfights, killing two men.

Hugh Anderson was a cowboy who helped drive a herd from Salado, Texas, to Newton, a raw Kansas railhead, in 1871. En route he helped three other men track murderer Juan Bideno to Bluff City, Kansas, but only Wes Hardin was involved in the shootout which resulted in the Mexican's death.

While Anderson was in Newton, a friend, Texas gambler William Bailey, was killed by a tough railroad foreman named Mike McCluskie. McCluskie left town, and Anderson led the Texans in vowing revenge if McCluskie ever returned. McCluskie was back within days, and Anderson, true to his word, shot him, igniting one of the bloodiest gun battles in the history of the West. A warrant was sworn for Anderson's arrest, but friends spirited the wounded Texan away - first to Kansas City, then home to Texas. Within a couple of years, however, he drifted back to Kansas. He was located in Medicine Lodge by Mike McCluskie's revenge-minded brother, and the two men killed each other in a gory duel.

The brother of Mike McCluskie of Newton fame, Arthur McCluskie's sole recognition as a Western gunman came from the bloody revenge he exacted from Mike's killer. Two years after his brother's death at the hands of Texan Hugh Anderson, McCluskie found Anderson in Medicine Lodge, at that time merely a handful of scruffy buildings. McCluskie called out Anderson, and the duel that followed resulted in the death of both men.

Mike McCluskie's background is hazy and is obscured partially by the fact that he sometimes referred to himself as Arthur Delaney. It is known that he was employed by the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad and that he eventually became foreman of a large crew. Known for his two-fisted ability to keep his men in line, he briefly moonlighted in Newton, Kansas, as a night policeman. His hot temper, however, embroiled him in two gunfights in Newton, and the second resulted in his death at the hands of Hugh Anderson. Two years later McCluskie's brother killed Anderson in a bloody fight in Medicine Lodge, Kansas.

Virtually nothing is known about Jim Riley aside from his lethal activities during the bloody gunfight known as Newton's General Massacre. But his participation in one of the West's most remarkable shooting scrapes places him in any broad listing of frontier killers.

At the age of eighteen Riley appeared in Newton, which, in 1871, was a tough Kansas railhead and booming cowtown. Riley was a frail consumptive who attached himself to big Mike McCluskie, a brawling railroad crew foreman. McCluskie killed a Texas gambler and ten days later was threatened by several cowboys from the Lone Star state. Riley alertly was on the scene when the Texans attacked McCluskie, and within a few moments he earned himself a small share of notoriety in western history.

Hugh Anderson, the son of a wealthy Bell County, Texas cattle rancher, also entered, and approached McCluskie, calling him a coward and threatening his life. Jim Martin jumped up and attempted to stop a fight from occurring.

Anderson shot McCluskie in the neck, knocking him to the floor. McCluskie attempted to shoot Anderson, but his pistol misfired. Anderson then stood over him and shot him several times in the back.

Kearns, Garrett, and Wilkerson also began firing, perhaps to keep the crowd back, and may have shot McCluskie in the leg. At that point a young man, believed to have been around 18 years of age at the time, named James Riley, opened fire on them.

Riley was dying from tuberculosis, and had been taken in by McCluskie shortly after arriving in Newton. Riley had never been involved in a gunfight before, but only Anderson still had a loaded pistol to return fire. Some accounts say Riley locked the saloon doors before shooting, but this seems unlikely. The room was filled with smoke from all the prior gunfire, and visibility was bad. Riley ended up hitting seven men.

Jim Martin, the would-be peacemaker, was shot in the neck and later died of his wound. Garrett, Kearns, and a bystander named Patrick Lee were also mortally wounded. Anderson, Wilkerson, and another bystander were wounded but survived.

With both guns empty and all his opponents down, Riley walked away and was never seen again. Legend has it he left the area and began a new life elsewhere. However, due to his ill physical state, it is more likely he died not long afterward under an assumed name. Either way, he disappeared.

A warrant was issued for Anderson for killing McCluskie. He left Kansas by train and settled in Texas to recover from his wounds. On July 4, 1873, McCluskie's brother, Arthur McCluskie, located Anderson. A brutal fight ensued with both men shooting each other several times, then going after each other with knives. Neither survived.

In an article the Emporia News of August 25, 1871, had this: On Sunday morning last [August 20] a row occurred at Newton which resulted in the murder of two men and the wounding of nine others, three of whom have since died from wounds received in the affray. This affair occurred in one of the sinks of iniquity near the town called a "dance house." A former resident of this town who was at Newton gives us the following particulars of the affair.

It seems that this murderous affair was the result of several less fatal shooting scrapes which have been happening at Newton for some weeks. It must be borne in mind that the state of society in that town is now at its worst. The town is largely inhabited by prostitutes, gamblers and whisky-sellers. Pistol shooting is the common amusement. All the frequenters of the saloons, gambling dens and houses of ill-fame are armed at all times, mostly with two pistols.

About two weeks ago a Captain French, from Texas, had George [or Arthur] Delany, alias Wm. [or Mike] McCluskie, a St. Louis hard case, arrested on a charge of garroting. He was tried before Esquire [C. S.] Bowman, and they failed to prove anything against him.

On the day of the election on railroad bonds, McCluskie and a man named Bailey, both of whom were on the special police, got into a difficulty about the matter of the arrest, and about a woman. Bailey's got drunk. The difficulty commenced at one of the dance houses, just out of the town, and after coming to the village, Bailey's was shot and killed by McCluskie. French and other Texans, among whom was one named Bill [or Hugh] Anderson, then swore they would put an end to McCluskie's life, and break up his crowd. Several small difficulties occurred between the parties and their friends. At 1 o'clock last Sabbath morning, when all but one of the dance houses were closed, and most of their frequenters had left, the murderers proceeded to carry out their desperate threats. One of these disreputable places remained open. McCluskie was one of the loiterers. It proved to be his last hour on earth. Could he have known this, he would doubtless have preferred to spend it elsewhere.

Several of the bloodthirsty Texans entered the place, accompanied by a few lookers-on, who had found out the intentions of the murderers. One or two innocent men were shot in the affray who were present only to see. Directly Anderson entered, and immediately the bloody work commenced. With murder in his eye, and his foul mouth filled with oaths and epithets, he stepped up to McCluskie and shot him. The ball entered McCluskie's neck. He sprang to his feet and shot Anderson, and then fell to the ground. The shooting then became general. McCluskie was shot in three places, and died in a couple of hours. John Martin, a herd boss, was shot through the jugular vein, and died. Bill Anderson, an owner of Texas cattle, was shot through the thigh; John Anderson, his brother, was shot through the right arm and lungs; [William] Garrett was shot through the lungs, and has since died; Patrick Lee, a railroad employee, was shot through the loins, and has since died. He was in no way a party to the difficulty. Hickey was shot in three places, and we believe has since died. [Jim] Wilkinson was shot through the jaw and nose. Bartlett was shot in the left shoulder.

On Sunday, two other white men and a negro were shot, but our informant did not learn their names. Neither of them were killed. A coroner's jury was called on Sunday morning, and after an investigation, which lasted from 8 o'clock a. m. to 12:30 p. m., they found Bill Anderson guilty of manslaughter, they having proved that he fired the first shot. They adjourned, and soon after received notice that if they did not leave at once their bodies would be found Monday morning "ornamenting neighboring telegraph poles." On Monday morning three of them came away on the early train, and the other three went to Wichita. Anderson came on the same train and went to Topeka to have his wounds attended to. Anderson and his men had such control over the crowd that the officers were afraid to arrest them.

The Texans were talking Sunday night of burning the town and running out the prostitutes and gamblers. Several of them left, and as we have heard of no such action on their part, we conclude they have abandoned the matter. This was one of the bloodiest affrays that ever occurred in our State, and we hope that measures will be taken to prevent its recurrence.

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