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Criminals

Jim Levy - Jewish Gunslinger

Gunslinger who travelled throughout the Old West and was involved in one of the most cinematic frontier shootouts ever

Born: 1842 - Ireland
Died: June 5, 1882 - Tucson, Arizona

Jim Levy was born in Ireland in 1842 and brought to the U.S. as a young boy. As a man he traveled extensively throughout the old west frontier, in places such as Cheyenne, Deadwood, Leadville, Tombstone and Tucson. He worked in mining, as a professional gambler, merchant and professional regulator but these were merely diversions as his real calling was as a "six-gun artist."

His first known shoot out was on May 30, 1871 in Pioche, Nevada where he had been working as a miner. Apparently, he had witnessed a shooting involving Michael Casey and another man, who was killed. Casey claimed self defense but Levy contradicted this account—he said that Casey shot first. Owing to this effrontery, Casey challenged Levy to a gunfight. Although Levy took a gunshot to his jaw (supposedly by Casey's friend), he was victorious and Casey was killed.

Some believe that Levy actually went after Casey because the victim of Casey's earlier aggression, lying on his death bed, offered a $5,000 reward for him to kill Casey. This, however, was never proven. Levy was tried and acquitted of murder charges—one of several murder convictions he would evade.

In 1873, he was believed to have killed Thomas Ryan, for which he was arrested but not convicted.

The incident that was to make him most famous took place in Cheyenne, Wyoming on March 9, 1877, in which he engaged in a shoot out with Charlie Harrison. There are varying accounts of the details that led up to the shootout and the shootout itself. The dispute began in The Shingle and Locke's Saloon where there was either a gambling argument or derogatory comments were made toward Levy about his ethnic background. According to newspaper accounts, it was unclear whether the slander was based on the fact that he was "a son of Erin (Ireland) or a son of Aaron (a Jew)." (quote unattributed)

The two men agreed to a duel and squared off in front of Frenchy's, a saloon on Eddy Street. Although Harrison was an accomplished marksman and duelist, in his effort to be the quickest draw he shot wildly and missed his mark. On the other hand, Levy "took his time. He looked through the sites on his pistol, which is a very essential thing to do when shooting at an adversary who is returning your fire." 1

Harrison was hit. Some say that Levy walked over to his opponent and shot him while he was on the ground, but this is disputed.

In its account of the incident, the Leader newspaper referred to Levy as a "pistoliferous gambler," Harrison died 13 days later. Levy was never convicted of any events relating to this incident.

Both Bat Masterson and Wyatt Earp believe this battle was a keen example of how "calm deliberation" will always have an edge over speed in situations such as these. 1

On June 5, 1882, Levy was drinking at the Fashion Saloon in Tucson, Arizona when he got into an argument with John Murphy, the faro dealer (a poker game which was known as the "King of All Old West Gambling Games"). They were to engage in a duel but Murphy after hearing about Levy's skills at gun fighting decided the best course of action was to ambush him rather than face him directly. Murphy and two of his friends ambushed him while Levy was leaving the Palace Hotel.

He was killed, while unarmed, at 40 years old.

Interesting Facts
  • In an issue of Esquire, novelist James Reasoner refers to the shootout with Harrison as "the most 'Hollywood' showdown" in the history of the old west.
  • Levy survived an estimated 16 shoot-outs.
Further Reading
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