Did Doc Scurlock fight a gun duel over a card game in Comanche, Texas

By David Maurice Garrett

Josiah Gordon “Doc” Scurlock was a Wild West gunfighter best known for riding with Billy the Kid as one of the Regulators. He was born January 11th, 1850, in Tallapoosa County, Alabama. In 1868 Doc moved to New Orleans to attend medical school but dropped out after the girl he was pining over gave her affections to a rival suitor. As a result, a despondent Doc left for Mexico to assist an outbreak of Yellow Fever. Doc returned to the United States in 1871 via Eagle Pass and shortly thereafter began working for Cattle King John Chisum. The next History records of him is on May 15th, 1875, when the Santa Fe Daily New Mexican carried the following article.

From the Arizona Citizen we copy:

We received information too late for last week’s issue, that a young man by the name of J. G. Scurlock, usually known as Doc Scurlock, a little previous to the 11th instant, stole three horses, two saddles and a gun from parties living in New Mexico, and made his way to Arizona. He is described as being 22 years of age, between five feet eight or ten inches high, light hair, light complexion, front teeth out, writes a very good hand, quick spoken, and usually makes a good impression on first acquaintance.

Actually, Doc was 25 years old. The time period from 1871 to 1875 has been an unknown of where exactly Doc was in Texas. What has been told is that Doc lost his front teeth in a gun duel over a card game somewhere in Texas. There was likely allegations of cheating when Doc and his opponent both drew their irons at the same time and both men’s aims were true. Doc’s foe fell dead and Doc took a slug through the mouth, knocking out his front teeth; the bullet exited the back of his neck, but Doc miraculously survived.

In June of 1937 Texas historian J. Evetts Haley conducted an interview with William “Bill” Weir (sometimes also spelled as Wier). During the interview Bill Weir made the pithy summation of the Lincoln County War by saying, “That insurance business was what started it all, and then they all wanted to kill somebody. Every sonofabitch over there wanted to kill somebody.”

Even among aficionados and historians of the Lincoln County War, few know who Bill Weir was, probably because he played virtually no part in the hostilities. After the murder of the Englishman John Tunstall, the Regulators, including Billy the Kid and Doc Scurlock, retaliated by hunting down the man whose name was at the top of the list of probable trigger-men – William “Buck” Morton. The Regulators’ enemies, Jimmy Dolan and John Riley, had a cow camp down on the Pecos in the Seven Rivers area and their foreman was Buck Morton. After the Regulators killed Buck Morton, Frank Baker, and William McCloskey at Agua Negra on March 9th, 1878, Bill Weir became the new foreman of the Dolan-Riley cow camp.

On April 29th, 1878, three other Regulators, Frank Coe, Ab Saunders, and Frank McNab were en route from Lincoln to Coe’s ranch when they were ambushed by the Seven Rivers Warriors. In the ensuing fight, Saunders was wounded, Coe was captured, and McNab was killed by Manuel “The Indian” Segovia, so named because of his mixed Native American and New Mexican heritage. Coe later escaped, but the Warriors returned to the Pecos with many of the horses that belonged to John Tunstall and the Regulators.

Doc Scurlock was then appointed the leader of the Regulators after Sheriff Copeland deputized him and Scurlock put together a large pose that now included many New Mexicans. They left Lincoln a couple of weeks later to seek revenge and retrieve their stolen animals.

On May 19th the huge force of Regulators – both Anglos and many New Mexicans – reached the Dolan-Murphy cow camp, they found most of the Seven Rivers gang gone, but they did encounter Bill Weir, The Indian (who was the camp cook), and a boy of about 15 years of age in the camp dugout.

Francisco Trujillo, who knew Segovia, relates in a 1937 interview by Edith Crawford as part of the Works Progress Administration that while Doc spoke with Weir, he spoke with Segovia and that Segovia begged Trujillo to not let the Regulators capture him. He also admitted to Trujillo that he had shot McNab, but he was just following the orders of Seven Rivers Warrior Bob Beckwith.

While they were talking, Doc and Weir were surprised to see each other. Weir told Haley that they had known each other in Comanche, Texas several years prior. This is the only recorded account of placing Doc in a specific location in Texas after he crossed from Mexico back into The United States before he went to work for John Chisum. Comanche, Texas is likely the location where Doc lost his front teeth in a duel that left the other man dead.

Charlie Bowdre then pulled Trujillo aside and the Regulators proceeded to take all the horses except for Weir’s and the young boy’s, by Weir’s request. Afterwards, Segovia was executed by the posse. Billy the Kid has been credited solely with this killing, but Florencio Chaves was also with the posse and J. Evetts Haley, in a 1927 interview, asked him if he shot too. Chaves said yes, he did.

Afterwards, Billy told Trujillo that he could have Segovia’s saddle as payment for an earlier encounter where Billy had stolen Trujillo’s saddle when effecting a jail break for Jessie Evans and several other horse thieves. Trujillo, however, was disgusted because of all of the blood on the saddle. Doc Scurlock then gave Trujillo his saddle and took the bloody saddle for himself.

Weir would’ve likely been killed by the Regulators on May 19th if not for having a prior history with Doc Scurlock in Comanche, Texas. The Mesilla Valley Independent had even erroneously reported on May 25th that Bill was killed.

After the Lincoln County War, Doc Scurlock moved back to Texas. He first worked at the post office in Tascosa before teaching school and working at the Ice, Light, & Water Company in Vernon. He then moved to Mabank and farmed and worked as a bookkeeper. Finally, Doc settled in Eastland, Texas where he died of heart failure on July 25th, 1929. Doc was 79 years old. He is buried in the Eastland City Cemetery in Eastland, Texas.

References:

Ball, Eve, Ma’am Jones of the Pecos, The University of Arizona Press (1969) [There’s just passing mention of Weir]

Cramer, T. Dudley, The Pecos Ranchers in the Lincoln County War, Branding Iron Press (1996)

Garrett, David & Pharris, Mica, Blood on the Saddle: The Life of Doc Scurlock, Kindle Direct Publishing (2020)

Haley, J. Evetts, Interview with Florencio Chaves, 15 August 1927, preserved in the Haley Memorial Library in Midland, Texas

Haley, J. Evetts, Interview with William Weir, 22 June 1937, preserved in the Haley Memorial Library in Midland, Texas

Nolan, Frederick, The Billy the Kid Reader, “The Mackyswins and the Marfes” by Francisco Trujillo and annotated by Nolan, University of Oklahoma Press (2007)

Nolan, Frederick, The Lincoln County War: A Documentary History Revised Edition, Sunstone Press (2009)

Utley, Robert M., “Billy the Kid and the Lincoln County War”. New Mexico Historical Review 61, 2 (1986)

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