Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Choc Hamilton Weighs In On Tap Duncan Gunfight

November 7, 2012

   Came into work early to shoe horn in some pertinent information on the Tap Duncan vs. William Hayes gunfight. On Monday at the funeral for Choc Hamilton (1914-2012), his granddaughter Brenda Stockbridge got up and said, "Choc Hamilton was my Pa, and he loved to tell stories. Early on, Florine pushed me to write them down as he talked. I was reluctant because it was much easier to just sit and listen. But now I am so glad I did. There are so many stories, and I picked out a few I want to share:

Choc Hamilton ID photo, 1940s

"When Pa was young, and in the Gili (he always pronounced Gila as He-Lee) Valley, he was on his horse, talking to a pretty girl in her backyard. While talking he picked up a length of clothesline, fashioned it into a loop and swung it at her mother's cat as it walked past. He did not intend to actually rope the cat, but rope it he did, and the cat started screaming as if it had been shot. Pa then had to figure out how to get the rope off that squawling, spitting cat before the mother came out of the house. Eighty years later, he still laughed about it."

Choc Hamilton, Life of a Cowboy

(photo collage at the Sutton Funeral Home in Kingman)

After the service and before we went to the cemetery for the graveside services, Brenda told me there was one entry she did not read but that I might be interested in. She gave her notes to Kathy and I drove home without looking at them. Last night, I sat down at the kitchen table and saw this:

"Choc worked and rode with Tap Duncan. Once while they were camped in Grapevine Canyon he said Tap Duncan told him about what happened in Idaho. Tap was in a bar up there and three guys jumped him. Tap had an old 45 with an ejector. The three invited Tap outside. Tap knew he had a full round in his gun. Tap went outside into the moonlit night and heard a hammer snap. He immediately shot the toughest one and was in turn shot in the middle. Tap had always had a horror of being shot in the gut, but the bullet ricocheted off his buckle. He killed the other two men and ran back into the bar, prying his spent shells out of his gun. The bartender told everyone, "Tap's gun is loaded and he'll shoot you." Tap was trapped in the bar with everyone outside. He escaped out the back by wading through a canal and hiding under a tarp in the back of a wagon driven by a friend. Tap had shot the first guy through the heart. The wife of one of the men he had killed told everyone she was raising her son to kill Tap Duncan. So Tap said, 'I'm going to give you people Idaho, but you better stay out of Arizona.' And down to Arizona he went."

Needless to say, this blew my hair back and I sent an email to our editor and production manager at 11 last night and told them to hold those two pages before uploading them to the printer in Kansas City.

This morning at 8:30, Robert Ray and Meghan Saar both huddled around Mr. Ray's computer as we called up the layout and, I was able to change the copy to reflect this new information. Some of it doesn't match the inquest testimony. From the official document (which was sent to me by Mary Hall-Bailey, who is kin to Hayes) it only mentions one assailant, William Hayes, and there is no mention of the other two. Tap always maintained he walked into the saloon and there were three bad men sitting there. They asked him if it was true what they had heard (basically, Tap claimed they had bushwhacked a friend of Tap's and he remarked that he wished those guys would try him on for size). Tap owned it and the three suggested they go outside to settle their differences. When they went through the door, Tap heard a click behind him and realized they were going to murder him and that started the fight. The new part is what happened after the shooting. Duncan was out of ammunition (the inquest says he fired six times) and there are at least two more opponents who had just witnessed Tap killing their comrade and they no doubt had blood in their eye. Tap stumbles back inside the bar ejecting shells and trying to reload. The bartender tells everyone Duncan's gun is loaded (was he on Tap's side and trying to intimidate anyone from the other side?) and then how he barely escaped the wrath of the other side, no doubt trying to gather other allies to finish off Duncan.

Of course, I had a very limited space to get this information in (basically a cutline) so that was a challenge, but I think we got it done.

Thanks to Brenda for taking the time to write down Choc's memory and testimony about it. It's believed Choc is the last person who knew Tap Duncan.

Went home for lunch and finished a study I call "Cloud Bank Over The Superstitions". Last Thursday when Tom Augherton and I were returning from "Mad Dog" Nelson's funeral we came around the south side of the Superstitions Mountains and as the sun set I got this glorious side view of the formidable and legendary range.

And, finally, here's a final little election poem Dick Waters used to recite the day after:

The election is over,

The results are known.

The will of the people

Is clearly shown.

Let's make up our differences

And forget our pasts.

I'll hug your elephant . . .

And you kiss my ass.

—Dick Waters