The Gunfight at Apache Junction
By Claude Gosney
S.A. Live Ammo World Champion
The Challenge had been cast just a week before when all us good guys were having one of our Sunday shoot outs in the small and little known town of Phoenix, Az. We were challenged to a real gunfight by the California Kid himself, Thell Reed!
Everyone had heard of him but few had seen him. It had been years since he had shown his face! Even as clean and pretty as it was we didn’t like being called “blank poppers.”
So on that May morning the Chicago Kid woke the Irishman out of his Delerius Tremors and was anxious to go. I would rather have slept.
The first face we saw was big and mean Jim Martin, a fast man with a gun. Shot up Nogales, Mexico a few years back! Some of us had thought he was still in a Mexican jail. Then came ex Arizona Ranger, ole Gene Ballard. He said he wasn’t there to challenge but to watch the fun. HA! I knew better. Then a few of the bad guys, “California live ammo shooters”, showed up looking mean and ugly but not very fast with those low slung guns. Each man was eyeing each rig and sizing up each other. I was still trying to get over this damned hangover! Jim Martin, bless his sweet Irish soul, gave me five Alka Seltzers and ten Excedrins. I spent the next two hours drinking coffee and trying to come down off the ceiling, and those damned out houses were on the other end of the town!
About that time the “Arizona Kid” Bob James, and his running mate Gary Tryon strolled into town looking cool and mean with their long barreled guns. They is good guys and I sure was glad to see them. I decided to use my short barreled .45 Colt, mostly because I didn’t own a long barreled Colt.
Soon after that the wicked and Wild Bob Bussinger showed up. He had blood in his eye and with him was the quick and deadly Mexican Bandit Gil Guerra, Sr.. Two more good guys.
Then came Leonard Knight and a hush came over the crowd, he had won the Big Bear shoot out in Californy three years straight. He likes using one of those new fancy .45 caliber automatics, but this challenge was strictly single action. Nah! That will fix him, them new fancy guns can’t last, I’ll just stick to my old Colt. Hope like hell it don’t skip!
Next came Two Gun Ray Chapman. They say he’s out to get “the Kid” (Thell Reed) because the Kid had beaten him in the past and this fight would end up between him and the Kid!
Some of us had expected to see big name live ammo shooters like Eldon Carl, Jeff Cooper, and Jack Weaver but they like these new fancy automatics. I guess they are scared of our old fashioned Single Actions which have a way of going off in the holster if you don’t have control of the index appendage on your right hand. In other words stay the hell away from the trigger.
Then it happened. The real challenger rode in, fat and sassy as ever, The Californian (Bob Munden) himself. Some say there is none faster with a gun. Well, some of us old timers would debate that, however I wasn’t in no debating mood. I was looking for a shot of Irish wiskey and wishin’ I’d brought my bagpipes. A little Irish jig would fix em and then their heads would hurt like mine.
The Californian and Ray Chapman eyed each other with a mean glint as much as to say “This is my fight” and neither spoke nary a word. Some of us good guys weren’t sure of where the Californian stood. Was he with us or was he one of the bad guys? He came over to me and said “Mornin’ Drunk!”. I figured anybody that honest couldn’t be all bad so I let him come over with us good guys. Some more bad guys showed up and it was easy to see we were outnumbered. But we were all anxious to get the show on the road. We were waiting for “The Kid”.
When he finally showed he had a ring of supporters, there was the famous bronc buster Casey Tibbs, that Indian renegade Eddie Littlesky, and the famous gambler Yancy Derringer, without his derringer I might add.
The Kid was there to prove who was best with a Single Action. Some said he hadn’t lost a shoot out in 13 years and they were betting heavy on him, almost 18,000 dollars they said. That’s when they started setting up the rules and arguing about deflector plates and so on. I decided on taking a nap.
The first day was to be a qualifying round and the second day a man to man elimination among the top 16. All told there were about 40 of us guns!
The first good guy to shoot was the Arizona Kid (Bob James), he did a pretty fair job with that long barreled gun and fired the fastest shot so far 57/100! They were using a Chrondek dual racing timer and we were shooting 21 feet at a 12 inch metal disc. Gary Tryon was next and he did fairly well. They had a long call out before the clock was started like: Shooter on the left, Shooter on the right, Shooters on the line, Shooters ready, Standby. Gary said, “I don’t want to hear all that, what’s the last call you’re going to make.” Then the “Chicago Kid” had trouble slap cocking and hitting. I told him to take his time but he was used to slot shooting wax and wouldn’t listen. The Mexican Bandit (Gil Guerra, Sr.) decided not to shoot because they wouldn’t let him use a deflector plate. Then it was my turn and I did pretty good, only had two clean hits and one beat the fastest time with a 52/100. I did a lot of recovering. Thought I was over the hangover, it had pretty well settled in my stomach and still no Irish whiskey to be had. You could shoot till you hit, however if you emptied your gun or shot into the ground within five feet of yourself you were disqualified. Then came mean and wild Bob Bussinger, he shot four perfect shots and the fifth down the boot which disqualified him. Since this was a qualifying round he put up another 20 dollars and damned if he didn’t do the same thing again, goes to show you what that slap cocking will do to you. Good thumbers never ever die they just fade away. Thus ended the first day and at the end I was the only good guy that qualified and I was standing second place behind the Kid himself. The Californian, The Arizona Kid and all were shot down and there I stood on the loneliest spot in the West. I had to hold up our good name and fame and there were some doubtful looks in the eyes of my constituents. Some figured I’d be on another hangover. Little did they know they were playing my game!
We rose early the next morning and packed our bedrolls. I didn't eat much, figured on not loading my stomach, besides the Chicago Kid’s cooking leaves something to be desired. After I got there I was wishing I had brought my killer dog “Murphy” along, needed some help in eliminating some of the competition. I’m still trying to train him to bite gun hands, up till now he just licks them. That’s what happens when you hang around the Irish.
We had a long wait for the Kid again, seems he was up all night gambling and drinking with some of his cronies. Figured he didn't have much competition I guess.
When the fight started the first man I drew was Leonard Knight. You had to beat a man five out of nine times or in other words have five wins on him to win the round. Leonard had me down four to three when I grazed my target and stopped my clock before his. He was upset because my shot didn’t break the balloon. We were using balloons on the steel targets for spectator appeal. Then I beat him on the last round. But the fight went on and then they started using psychological warfare. Little did they know that you can’t beat a dumb Irishman that a way. Every time I got up to shoot I got a barrage of heckling, too bad they hadn’t been shooting fast draw as long as I had! I then shot down two more men and had beaten three men, but so had The Kid. They set up the shoot so the Kid and I wouldn't meet till the last round.
The next man I drew was the famous Two Gun Ray Chapman and he figured to make quick work of me. He knew I was plenty fast but had been recovering a lot so he figured on hitting in the high 60’s and low 70’s and walking off with me face down in the dirt. But the Californian told me of Ray’s plan. Then they stopped the gunfight and The Kid challenged my ammo, said it wasn't powerful enough. I suggested that he stand down by the target and let me take a shot at him, if it didn't kill him I would gladly change my ammo. He didn't seem to like my suggestion, a bigoted attitude on his part! However, being the good sport that he is he offered me his ammo so I figured what’s good enough for him should be good enough for “White Lightning”, my old Colt. Then Chapman and I were on the line. He didn't say much, maybe he gets upset in a gunfight with light chit chat about the weather and such. He won the first round on one shot in the 70’s and I guess he figured his plan was working as he won the next round. I then got a little angry like the Irish sometimes do and I hit the next two, then he won another and had me down three to two! I started taking my time, Fast , and started laying in easy 60’s and making him push. Then we were tied, four each and I beat him with a clean hit, I had won another round! They said his clock didn’t stop so we had to shoot it over. I didn't much care because I figured I could beat him, but a lot of people raised hell, including the Californian and the infamous Joe Colwell. Of course, all this psycho stuff started Ole Joe and I bet the Russians ain't got a thing to match it.
We were back on the line for the last shoot off and I figured to lay into an easy shot and win, well my bullet went an inch low and I fired the fastest recovery shot of my life. I could hear Chapman’s gun fire twice also and I knew mine was first. That recovery shot went true and broke the balloon and I beat him by an easy 10/100’s. You had to be beat by a minimum of 5/100’s or it was scored a tie. So I walked off leaving him lying there, sure was a shame, seemed like a nice enough fellow.
Next they decided to take a long break for a show, as me and The Kid was up next and they wanted me to cool off. Seems like these people never learn about us old time Irish gunfighters, once you’ve been through a potato famine you can go through anything! So after a two hour break they decided to shoot off all the other positions, so more waiting. The Kid won another round which put us even at four wins each. They shot up to the first three places and then came the big round. Big mean Jim Martin came up and pulled the Judge off my side and said “I’m judging this Irishman just to keep things even.” The Californian said he’d be honored to hand me my ammo and of course there was Old Joe Colwell, Gary Tryon, Bob James, The Chicago Kid, etc. Then The Kid came up and shook hands and said if we fire more than five rounds each we were goofing off and may the best man win. I won the first three rounds with nice clean one shot hits and The Kid was recovering something awful that third round. I looked over at him and he gave me the most unbelievable look I have ever seen, so I sympathetically said “What the Hell is going on over there, Reed?” Needless to say after that he couldn't find his holster with both hands.
On our fourth round I won again with a fast recovery and had him down four to zero! By this time the crowd was going wild, “What was Reed going to do?” was the question. The Californian (Bob Munden) was in seventh heaven. I figured what the hell, I’d try for the fastest shot and that new Colt. Reed had beaten my time earlier in the day. So the bell rang and my hand struck like lightning, and like lightening I missed, my bullet went an inch low and chipped wood next to his head. My recovery shot went an inch right but my third round found its mark and I saw my balloon break before his and I HAD WON! Five straight for the Worlds Live Ammo Single Action Championship! I had heard Reed fired three rounds also. My elapsed time for the three shots was 98/100, Reed’s was 100/100! The crowd went wild and so did I.
It wasn't long before I found the Irish Whiskey I had been looking for and I began to celebrate.
All funning aside, the live ammo shooters were a swell bunch of guys and it was a good shoot. Thell Reed is a great thumber and a good sport. I would be proud to shoot with any of them again. That is about the size of the Gunfight at Apache Junction, Arizona.