The Shootout at Bandy’s Saloon

“Shootout at Bandy’s Saloon” is another story that begins in the Indian Territory, but this one makes it way to the Supreme Court in Washington and back to the Court of Appeals in New Orleans. The known outcome suggests that innocent individuals can receive justice.

John Stevenson shot and killed Joe Gaines, an acting Deputy Marshal, on August 22, 1893 in Bandy’s Saloon, in the town of Paul’s Valley, in Pickens County, in the Chickasaw Nation, in the Indian Territory. Stevenson was tried in the Eastern District of Texas, convicted, and sentenced to be hanged. The case was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court which overturned the conviction. Stevenson was convicted a second time and the conviction was again overturned, this time by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans. It is not known what eventually happened as no record of the retrial has not be found. Perhaps there was none.

Here is the story. B.D. Davidson, a lawyer and a commissioner of the United States for one of the territorial courts, bound over a George Mitchell. Mitchell asked John Stevenson to help him post bail. Commissioner Davidson told Stevenson that he had not offered enough property, and that he would have to post his farm too if he wanted Mitchell to be granted bail. Stevenson was angered. After supper and about 9 o’clock Stevenson returned and commenced cursing. According to Davidson, Stevenson accused Davidson of “everything he could put his tongue to.” Stevenson left, still curing, and went south. As he went away, he could be heard cursing and swearing.

The “victim” Joe Gaines, appeared and asked what all “this racket or fuss was about.” Davidson told him, and Gaines said, “I will go and arrest him and stop him.” Gaines said he “would arrest him and hold him until morning.” Gaines talked with Stevenson, but did not arrest him. A witness testified that Stevenson when confronted by Gaines, and while holding a knife said, “Don’t draw that pistol, if you do I will cut you.” Stevenson turned loose of Gaines. When he did, Stevenson drew on Gaines and ordered him to drop his knife. The witness said, “John, for God’s sake throw your knife down or he will kill you. Stevenson dropped his knife . . .”

Gaines took him away, but some ten or fifteen minutes, later Stevenson and his wife were seen walking down the street. Stevenson asked a passerby for his gun. When refused, Stevenson said, “I will go home and get my Winchester and come back, and I will make the son of a bitch hide out.”

Later that evening, Stevenson was in Bandy’s Saloon with his gun. He invited everyone to come up and drink. Gaines, according to one witness, “approached the cider joint [Bandy’s Saloon]. He was coming very rapidly. As he ran up to the light he had his six shooter in both hands in shooting position. He ran right up to the door without saying a word, pushed the six shooter in, and fired. He fired instantly. He did not halt a moment. He did not say a word.” The ball from Gaines’ pistol imbedded in the counter, missing Stevenson five or six inches. Stevenson fired, killing Gaines. Apparently, Stevenson’s shot hit Gaines in the arm. The shot passed through Gaines’ arm, struck him in the chest, and killed him. Witnesses in Bandy’s Saloon testified that Stevenson fired only one shoot.

Davidson testified that before the shooting, he had been at a hotel with Gaines, and that they had heard shots before Gaines left for Bandy’s Saloon. Davidson testified that after hearing the shots, Gaines walked over to a sewing machine where he picked up his pistol. Gaines said that he would go and “get him and fasten him, and keep him in charge and not release him any more.”

The obvious question was whether Gaines had the right to fire upon Stevenson and whether Stevenson had the right to shoot Gaines in self-defense. The judge in the original trial, had denied Stevenson the right to enter evidence regarding the above account because he judged it to be irrelevant. Neither would he allow Stevenson to present a case of second degree murder. The Supreme Court disagreed and overturned the verdict.[i] In the retrial, the judge denied Stevenson the right to plead self-defense, and that conviction too was overturned.[ii] The court wondered why Gaines had not collected a sufficient posse, and made the arrest by an immediate show of overwhelming force. As noted, the eventual outcome of any retrial is unknown. Apparently the owner of the Saloon was one of the witnesses who testified in favor of Stevenson. Bandy’s identity is unknown. It is known that a Frazier Howard Bandy was born in Paul’s Valley in 1891. It is somewhat likely that Frazier’s father was the proprietor of Bandy’s Saloon.

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[i]Stevenson v. United States, 162 U.S. 313, 16 S. Ct. 839, 1896 U.S. LEXIS 2205, L. Ed. 980 (USSC, 1896).

[ii]Stevenson v. United States, 86 F. 106, 1898 U.S. App. LEXIS 2254 (CA-5, 1898).