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Gunfight at Cotton Mott Line Camp
Photo: from 1908 Charles Russell painting "Smoke of a .45"
by David Bloys
The names Jim Barbey and Jim Harkey might have faded into obscurity if not for an altercation over Harkey singing "Yankee Doodle" at the Cottonwood Mott Line Camp in February 1878. Line camps are used as sites where cowboys could resupply before riding the line between ranges and driving herds towards ranch headquarters. Cottonwood Mott was an isolated camp in Motley, County, Texas with a log cabin shared by cowboys from the Jinglebob and Hall Ranch.
At the camp, Barbee took exception to Harkey singing "Yankee Doodle". No one seems to know why but this so enraged Barbee that he drew his gun and shot the singing cowboy. Although mortally wounded, Harkey returned fire and killed Barbee before succumbing to his own wounds. The gunfight was witnessed by two men hauling supplies to the camp. The freighters notified authorities and used an ax to bury Harkey and Barbee side by side in a common grave only 16 inches deep in the hard rocky soil.
Eight years later a second Harkey was killed in a shootout at Cottonwood Mott when Postmaster Frank M. Drace became enraged at Mose Harkey and drew on him. The two men exchanged fire and Harkey died the next day.
Author's Note: I first wrote about Jim Barbee and Jim Harkey and their famous gunfight at Cotton Mott over a decade ago. Last night I learned the rest of the story in a book written by Harkey's brother, Dee Harkey. MEAN AS HELL gives a complete, detailed account of events leading up to the gunfight; a shot-by-shot account of the fight, and how he (Dee) traveled 350 miles to recover his brother's body when he was 12-years-old. I've added to Books about Motley County People and Places.