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Gunfight at Tonkawa


     In the Old West history, rarely did gunfights occur with two men meeting face to face, in the middle of town to duel with pistols. In reality a shootout was a sobering, often on-sided, spectacle. Gunfights had no set pattern, nor is it safe to say about the quarrels that sparked the gun battle.

     In September of 1899, two men, J.D. Arnold and W.T. Jamison, held one of these rarely known gunfights. Face to face they met, to duel to the death, in Tonkawa, Oklahoma Territory.

     J.D. Arnold came to Tonkawa in May of 1899, with his wife and purchased the saloon business of Chance Kerley, along with a local hotel. He had resided in Perry for a time, and owned a valuable farm near White Rock, O.T. As to his former life little is known, but to the citizens of Tonkawa, he had always borne a fairly good reputation.

     W.T. Jamison was a true son of Kentucky. In his younger days in that state, he was implicated in a stabbing afair, still there was more in the man than one would think. Fairly well educated, a great reader, blessed with a wonderful manner and his society was anything but obnoxious.

     The quarrel started over settlement of debts. Arnold, operating a saloon and gambling house, had just sold out. Jamison, who was a gambler put the gambling tables in and it was alleged by him when Arnold sold out, that he had disposed of his property without his knowledge and consent. Arnold claimed that Jamison was indebted to him and they quarreled over the matter. Arnold proposed to fight it out, in a quiet way, by a cut of cards. Jamison refused and it was proposed by Arnold that they cut or shoot. "All right", said Jamison, "Get your tool".

     Arnold went to his home and got his gun and was soon walking down the middle of town with it in his hand. Jamison also procured his pistol and walked toward him. They met in the middle of the street, and when, within fifteen feet of each other, Arnold covered Jamison with his gun and told him to drop his weapon, which he had in his hand by his side. Jamison raised his pistol and fired, and there was but a second between reports of the two pistols. Both men shot to kill and both balls took effect. Jamison turned partly around and as he fell fired another shot at his antagonist, which went wide. Arnold fired two shots as he went down, one of them hitting Jamison in the abdomen and the other, going wide, crashed through a window in the Bassett Saloon and struck on the opposite wall.

     After Jamison had fallen on his face he raised partly up on his elbow and attemmpted to fire but sank back and expired. Arnold, when Jamison attempted to fire the last shot, stepped to one side and fired a shot into the prostrate body. Turning around, he walked to the Avenue Hotel and was met by City Marshal Stanley, to whom he handed his pistol saying, "My God, I'm done!" Stanley took him by the arm and going across the street, helped him into a dray and took him home, where he lived until the following morning at 8 o'clock.

     Because of the incident, the citizens of Tonkawa proposed that all gambling dens and gambling should be prohibited from the city. That started off a good amount of trouble that affected the citizens for many years to come.

     W.T. Jamison's body was laid to rest in the local cemetery by strangers, not a relative of the dead man was present. The body of J.D. Arnold was shipped to Elk City, Kansas to be buried by his brother.

     Many things contributed to the final showdown, when a shoot out settled the matter. There is little romance, only the harsh game of life and death.