Many western gunfighters have had many movies, books and articles written about them. Some, like Billy the Kid, have the reputation of killing far more men than they actually did. The legend of some are based on the fame of one gunfight, like Wyatt Earp and the O. K. Corral. While there were many skilled men with guns in the old west, there are others just as deadly, who are relatively unknown.
Captain Jonathan R. Davis, James McDonald, and Dr. Bolivar Sparks were on a trail near Placerville in California gold rush country on December 19, 1854. They were on their way to a mine when a group of fourteen outlaws intercepted them. The outlaws shot and killed McDonald immediately. Dr. Sparks was able to get off two shots before being hit twice.
Captain Davis drew and fired at the attackers with his pistols. By the time his pistols were empty, he had killed seven outlaws. He used his Bowie knife to defend himself from the others as they attacked.
The outlaws were armed with knives, and one had a short sword. Davis killed three of these with his knife. He disarmed one and in the process cut part of the leader's nose and finger off, then Davis killed a fourth outlaw with his knife. In the end, he had killed eight outright, and wounded the rest. Three would die from their wounds later. Three were lucky enough to escape with their lives. It is an old west record for one man killing so many in one fight.
Captain Davis had two flesh wounds, bullet holes in his clothing and six in his hat. He tore pieces from his clothing and bandaged Dr. Sparks' wounds.
A group of three men saw the battle from an adjoining hilltop. They came up the trail, and Davis took McDonald's pistol to defend himself from the new group.
They went through the bandit's pockets and found stolen coins, gold, gold dust and watches. They gave the money and valuables they found to Dr. Sparks. Davis carried Sparks down the trail to his residence, and he died December 26,1854.
This gunfighters story is hard to believe, and at the time, few did, even though there were witnesses. Davis offered to take anyone up and show them the graves if they didn't believe him. The witnesses swore to the facts and signed depositions describing the fight. Major newspapers across the country printed the story. John Boesseneker tells the story in his book, Gold Dust and Gunsmoke. Boesseneker credits William B. Secrest for finding the story in the original newspapers.
The O. K. Corral Gunfight
Old west gunfights are a fickle thing. For perspective, nine took part at the O.K. Corral. Four were the lawmen faction and five were cowboys. Three cowboys were killed. Wyatt Earp was known from his days as a Kansas lawman, but mostly for using his pistol as a club. He hadn't killed anyone until the O. K. Corral.