Wyatt Earp, Doc Holiday, Wild Bill Hickok, John Wesley Hardin, men whose names are synonymous with speed and skill at using a six gun, yet this story is about a man known as the slowest, but deadliest gun in the west.
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Named after the 5th President, James Madison DeSpain was born in 1845 in Tutwiler Mississippi to share croppers. At an early age he displayed an uncanny ability with a gun, and soon was keeping not only his family in meat, but making money by selling it to neighbors, which was good for him because it got him out of the farm chores. Jim also knew at an early age farming wasn't for him.
When Jefferson Davis called for 75,000 men to defend the Confederacy, Jim was 15 and volunteered. Because of his age and size he was designated a drummer boy, but Jim wanted none of that and appealed to General Jubal Early who assigned him to the infantry, where his ability with the rifle earned him the job of Company Sniper. His spotter, Dusty Stroud would tell how Jim would take forever to pull the trigger, but he when he did, he'd never miss.
Stroud loved telling the story of how Jim had made, what was then an an impossible shot and killed Union General John Reynolds at 400 yards away. Stroud told the story of how Jim had taken aim at the mounted General then 'Took forever" to squeeze off a shot, despite Stroud's urging him to hurry. Stroud told the men how he had laid beside Jim urging him to hurry with cracks like 'Jim if you don't shoot soon the war will be over", but despite his urging, Jim took his time, and finally 'Blew that Yank clean out of the saddle".
Jim returned after the war, but needing more of a life than he could find in Mississippi, he headed West to find his fortune and settled in a town named Octagon, so named because of how it was laid out, and found work as a Bar Tender, and supplemented his income by playing poker, a game he'd learned in the army.
Every town has its bully and trouble maker, and a man named Dan Green was Octagons. A giant of a man, stronger than an ox, and he always wore two guns with a Bowie knife attached to the belt and was always ready to fight, especially when he was drinking, and he wasn't particular how his target wanted it, fists, pistols or knives. Jim and Dan for the most part got along well and Jim was able to head off Green's trouble making many times until the night he did the unthinkable and cut Green off.
'You've had enough" Jim said. 'Go home and sleep it off".
'You little sawed off son-of-a-bitch! Fill my glass or fill your hand"!
'I'm not heeled" Jim answered calmly.
Pulling the gun he carried on his left out of its holster Green laid it on the bar and said 'Now you are, use it"! He stepped back, pulled his other pistol cocking the hammer as he did brought it up and fired, missing in his haste and hitting the wall behind Jim, well over his head. He cocked the pistol again as Jim picked up his and cocked it, and he fired again, this one going past Jim and breaking bottles on the shelf behind him. He cocked and fired again, splintering the bar in front of Jim and was cocking the pistol again when Jim, pistol aimed in his outstretched arm fired, hitting him right between the eyes, causing him to lurch back, then fall to ground with a loud thud. His body convulsed a few times, and then he was still and all was quiet.
One of the patrons slowly walked over, looked down at him and announced, 'He's gone! Deader than a door nail".
Right then Sheriff Dan McCray, followed by his young Deputy Johnny Brown came running in. Both had their guns drawn, but the older experienced Sheriff looked around, realized it was over and holstered his gun as he said 'Someone tell me what happened" and was immediately mobbed by the patrons all talking fast and wanting to tell of the most amazing gun fight they had ever seen. The sheriff finally broke through the crowd and came over to the bar to talk to Jim.
'From all that I learned two things. One it was self defense, and two you have more nerve than any man in this town".
'One shot, one kill its the only way" said Jim. 'Want a drink"?
'Sure" said McCray and Jim poured them both a stiff one. 'One thing I got to know" said the Sheriff. 'Green fired 3 shots you fired only one. You're kind of slow aren't you"?
'its not how many shots you get off, its how accurate you are. Green was fast, but he's dead. Give me accuracy over speed anytime" said Jim.
'You've got a point there" McCray conceded.
Fearing retribution from Green's family and friends the owner of the bar decided to sell the place to Jim and move on. Jim changed the name of the place to the Lady Gee, and soon had a reputation for serving the thickest steaks and running fair poker games. His love personal life also took a turn for the better when he and Lucy James fell in love. She and her brother Lynn helped Jim run the place and soon Jim was doing a booming business, a fact not lost on his two competitors, Reno Smith and Tiny Beamer.
Smith owned the Bar Ace. Smith was what would be called today a psychopath. This is proven by the fact that during the war, the man power starved South had discharged him he was a savage, enjoying killing way to much. Though he had an army of thugs who worked for him, he had no problem doing his own dirty work to, as he put it, 'Just to stay in practice". Beamer and Smith had not cared about the previous owner, as he had barely broke even but Jim was siphoning off their business, and he they had had dinner to discuss the 'DeSpain problem" and Beamer had laughed loudly at Smith's joke about 'Killing the competition".
Jim, Lucy and Lynn were walking down the side walk next morning when from behind he heard Smith yell 'DESPAIN! I WANT TO TALK TO YOU"!
Jim turned around and calmly said 'OK. Come on down to the Lady Gee, let's have a drink and talk".
'NO! We talk RIGHT HERE! I am Sick of you cheating the hard working men in this town with your crooked games and watered down whiskey".
'Now Reno you know that's not true".
'You're a liar, and you now have a choice. Get your ass out of town or get down in the street and face me". Jim knew he had no choice now. Claiming he watered down his whiskey and ran crooked games was bad enough, but calling him a liar in front of the town was something he could not let Smith get away with. He stepped off the sidewalk and into the street, while Lucy, her heart pounding said to her brother 'HELP HIM"! But she and Lynn both knew there was nothing he could do, Jim was on his own.
Jim pulled his coat back displaying his pearl handled pistol, and Smith did the same, then Smith, faster than lighting pulled his forty-five and began firing. Four shots whistled past Jim and then, Jim, standing with his arm outstretched aiming, fired once and Smith dropped his gun, threw his hands up and fell back hitting the ground and laying still. Once again Sheriff McCray and Deputy came up, and McCray looked at Jim, and said 'I saw. Justified, but damn it I don't know how you can stand there aiming while he's shooting at you".
'I told you, its not how many shots you get off, its how many are accurate" said Jim, taking Lucy in his arms.
Tiny Beamer had watched from the window of his office and now was angry. Smith and him had not been friends, but they had a healthy respect for one another as neither had wanted a war, now Smith was gone and it was all up to him to stop DeSpain.
He called one of his men, Rob Moran, a young would be gunny looking for a reputation into his office. He wrote a note and put $500.00 in an envelope along with the note and said to Moran: 'John Wesley Hardin is over in Hayes City. Take this to him, and wait for his answer".
'Why do you want him"?
'Because I want rid of DeSpain that's why, and I know he can do it".
'So can I, why not let me"?
' You saw what DeSpain did with Smith, you really think you can take him"?
'Hell I KNOW I can, DeSpain got lucky that's all. Besides, Wild Bill Hickok is Marshal over in Hayes, you don't want him in your business. Let me have DeSpain".
Beamer looked the tall, young Texan up and down. Wearing his two guns low, he looked like a gun fighter, and he figured what the hell. 'OK. There's five-hundred dollars in the envelope, its yours, and you get five-hundred more when the job's done".
Moran opened the envelope, counted the money and said 'Get the other five ready. I'll be back in an hour". He walked out and headed for the Lady Gee.
It was a slow night. The piano player was thinking about asking to be let go for the evening and Lucy and Jim were at a table talking about going to bed early when Moran walked in. Jim knew this was trouble, and told Lucy to go up and he'd be up in a minute. Lucy left and Jim watched as Moran ordered a drink, and then spit it out.
'DAMN! THIS STUFF TATSTES LIKE COW PISS! YOU WATERED IT DOWN DIDN'T YOU"? He was looking at Lynn, though he knew Jim was the owner, hoping Jim would speak up, which he did.
'Hold on there Cowboy. You've been on the trail to long and have forgotten what good whiskey tastes like" said Jim calmly. Moran looked at Jim, and a smirk appeared on his face.
'Who the hell are you"?
'Name's DeSpain, I'm the owner".
'Oh so YOU'RE the one who told him water down the whiskey huh"?
'Mr. that whiskey is not watered down and you know it" replied Jim, still very calm.
'So you're calling me a liar"?
'Yes I am".
'Mr. do you know who I am"?
'No, and I don't really care, now get out".
'I'm Bob Moran. I'm the one who gunned down Bill Sims last week, he called me a liar to".
'Sims, Sims....Oh yes I heard about that. I was told he was dead drunk and some young punk gunned him down. You're that young punk huh"?
Now Moran was angry. 'It was a fair fight! He drew first"!
'Oh I believe that OK. Being drunk gave you that edge you needed huh punk".
Now Moran was really angry. The smirk has disappeared and the look of anger had taken over.
'Mr. you've called me a liar and a punk, stand up"!
'I said STAND UP! I'm going to kill you"!
'Watch it punk, I'm not drunk like Sims was".
'STAND UP DESPAIN"!
'OK, You'll get to hell as fast sitting down as you will standing" and with that Moran pulled both pistols and fired simultaneously, both hitting the wall behind Jim. He fired again this time hitting the center of the table where Jim was sitting. His face turned to panic when he saw Jim aiming and raised both pistols and hastily tried to aim, but before he could fire again Jim did, hitting him right between the eyes. He dropped his pistols and fell back, as if pulled from behind and hit the floor. Upon hearing the shooting Lucy had stood at the top of the stairs and watched, then ran to Jim, clearly shaken.
'Jim this place is cursed, sell it let's leave here".
'Its over, relax Sweet heart".
'Over? It will NEVER be over as long as Beamer is..." She stopped, realizing what she was saying may entice Jim to go after him.
Lynn brought a bottle and two glasses to the table and poured himself and Jim a drink, but before either could down it, Lucy grabbed both and drank one after the other. 'Hey Baby, take it easy with that stuff" said Jim.
'Take it easy? How can I? At this rate I'll be a widow before I'm married! Jim, if something happened to you, what would I do then"?
'Don't worry. I've made my will out, you get the bar and the money" said Jim smiling.
'I didn't mean that and YOU know it" Lucy said, slapping his arm playfully.
As usual, to late, Sheriff McCray and his young Deputy came in, guns drawn, and realizing quickly what had happened.
'OK, McCray said to his Deputy. Talk to witnesses and get some men to carry him out", he then walked over to talk to Jim.
'Have a drink"? Asked Jim.
'Sure, and while we drink tell me what happened".
'It was self defense" said Lucy defensively.
'Oh I have no doubt about that Mam, but how about letting Jim tell me OK".
'Go ahead Jim, tell him, Lynn and I saw the whole thing"!
Jim smiled and said 'You were upstairs how could you see anything"?
Lucy, now very defensive said 'I was not! I was standing right by Lynn tell him Lynn".
Lynn looked at the Sheriff and Jim and Jim said 'Baby, let me handle this OK"? At this time the young Deputy came up and handed the Sheriff the opened envelope with the note and money and said: 'Sheriff you're not going to believe this but"....
The Sheriff interrupted him: 'I know, Moran fired several times and missed DeSpain here fired once right"?
'Exactly! Damn I knew Moran, he was fast! I saw him shooting bottles last week. Nobody could have drawn faster"!
'I'm sure. How about you going with them boys taking him to Docs and tell Doc I'll be over shortly".
'Sure Sheriff, anything you say" and away he went.
As Jim poured another round of drinks he asked the Sheriff, 'Are you going to tell him or do I"?
'Tell him what"?
'Its not how fast you are, but accurate".
'Yeah, I know I do have to talk to him. Should have done it a long time ago" said the Sheriff as he read the note in the envelope. 'Well looks like this gives me what I need to either try Beamer or run him out of town. Proves he was willing to pay for someone to kill you, which do you want me to do"?
'Give him twenty-four hours to get out. Tell him if he's still here then I'm coming for him" said Jim.
History tells us that Jim and Lucy remained in Octagon, had seven Children and ran a thriving business. So why haven't you ever heard of Jim DeSpain?
Countless books, movies and TV shows have been westerns, all containing a 'Fastest Gun in the West" character...who would think anything called the slowest gun in the west would sell?