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Gunfight at the Long Branch Saloon

Updated on August 19, 2015

Dodge City 1876

Original Long Branch Saloon
Original Long Branch Saloon

In the spring of 1879, the Long Branch Saloon in Dodge City, Kansas was often the scene of violent gunplay. Such was the case of the ‘Richardson-Loving Gunfight’ involving buffalo hunter and freighter Levi Richardson and “Cockeyed Frank Loving, a professional gambler.

Richardson had lived on the frontier for several years and was liked by most. However, he was also known as somewhat of a daredevil, a trait which could quickly get a man into serious trouble in those days. He was described by those who knew him as a hard working, industrious man, although young and reckless. Apparently Richardson had no relatives in the vicinity. He was from Wisconsin and said to be about 28 years old.

Loving on the other hand was a man about which not much was known other then he was a gambler by profession and not prone to rowdiness. One person described him as “…more of the cool and desperate order when he has a killing on his hands.”

Levi and Frank had become friends and could be found frequently gambling together at the Long Branch. This changed, however, when Richardson became romantically interested in his friends’ wife, Mattie. The situation finally came to a head as the two argued in Front Street in March, 1879.

Levi struck Frank in the face. Frank being unarmed decided the most prudent course of action at the time would be to walk away. As he left Levi let loose a string of obscene threats at his turned back. It might be noted at this juncture, carrying concealed weapons inside city limits was against the law.

On April 5th, Levi decided it was time to settle their differences and went to the Long Branch Saloon searching for his nemesis. He was certain Frank would be there as it had come to be is favorite gaming place. But, he wasn’t so he decided to wait. By about 9:00 p.m., Levi had decided Frank wasn’t going to show and headed out the door. Coincidentally, at that time Frank appeared in the doorway.

Marshal Charlie Bassett
Marshal Charlie Bassett

When Frank sat down at a table, Levi joined him. The two had a brief, muffled discussion in which no one could hear what was said. According to patrons in the bar, Levi bellowed "You wouldn't fight anything, you damn -------," and the rest couldn't be understood. Frank retorted, "You try me and see!"

Richardson drew his pistol, with Loving immediately following suit. Guns barked and patrons scattered for cover. The Long Branch filled with the acrid smell of gunpowder. Marshal Charlie Bassett heard the shots from Beatty & Kelley's Saloon and came running.

Bassett found both men still standing. Richardson had fired five times and Lovings’ Remington No. 44 was empty. Deputy Sheriff Duffey relieved Levi of his gun, while Bassett disarmed the other combatant. Richardson started toward the billiard table and fell to the floor with a fatal gunshot to his chest, a shot through the side and another through the right arm. Frank received only a slight scratch on his hand. Bassett and his deputy escorted Frank to jail. Two days later, the coroner's inquest ruled the incident as self-defense and Frank was released. He had no inkling he and his wife were soon to part company.

One eye witness to the event was Adam Jackson, the Long Branch bartender. Jacksons’ deposition stated: “I was in the Long Branch Saloon about 8 or 9 o’clock Saturday evening. I know Levi Richardson. He was in the saloon just before the fuss, standing by the stove. He started to go out and went as far as the door when Loving came through the door” he described.

Continuing his statement Jackson said “Richardson turned and followed back into the house. Loving sat down on the hazard table. Richardson came and sat near him on the same table. Then Loving immediately got up, making some remark to Richardson.

Jackson apparently paused for effect and to catch his breath at this point. He continued with his deposition explaining: “Loving says to Richardson ‘If you have anything to say about me why don’t you come and say it to my face like a gentleman and not to my back you damn son of a bitch?’ Richardson then stood up and said ‘You wouldn’t fight anything, you damn…’ I couldn’t hear the rest. Loving said ‘You try me and see.’ Richardson pulled his pistol first and Loving also drew a pistol. Three or four shots were fired when Richardson fell by the billiard table. Richardson did not fire after he fell. He fell on his hands and knees. No shots were fired after Richardson fell. No persons were shooting except the two mentioned. Lovings’ pistol snapped twice and I think Richardson shot twice before Lovings’ pistol was discharged.”

Another witness reflected “Both, or either of these men, we believe, might have avoided this shooting if either had possessed a desire to do so. But both being willing to risk their lives, each with confidence in himself, they fought because they wanted to fight.”

Frank Loving later left Dodge City drifting through Las Vegas and New Mexico before settling in Trinidad, Colorado in 1882. There he was to die in another gun battle known as the Trinidad, Colorado Shootout on April 16, 1882.


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