In 1876 he arrived in Sidney, Nebraska where he obtained employment as a whiskey peddler. During this time he sold whiskey illegally to Sioux Indians from a trading post far north of Sidney. This was a federal offense. Short later admitted to killing a half dozen inebriated Sioux natives on various occasions during this venture. Despite this record, Short was hired as a scout for the US Cavalry, and worked for them from 1878-1879.
Notoriety as a gunfighter
He then wandered through Dodge City, Kansas, where he became associated with Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson, among others. Short later moved to Tombstone, Arizona, at that time a bustling boomtown, to try his hand at gambling again. He developed a habit of "dressing to the nines", which gave him the reputation of being a dandy. By this time, Short had already developed a reputation as being fast with a gun, and as being a man of few words, although there are no real accounts prior to this of any gunfights involving him. It is thought that this reputation, as with many Old West gunmen, was a reputation based more on hearsay than actual fact.
He was still living in Tombstone in 1881 when he was involved in a famous gunfight with a gunfighter named Charlie Storms, in the Oriental Saloon. Short was the faster, firing two shots before his enemy could use his pistol. The fight was at such close quarters that Short's muzzle flash set Storms shirt on fire. Although friends with Wyatt Earp, he was not present during the famous Gunfight at the OK Corral, and is thought to have been out of town altogether.
In 1883 Short settled in Dodge City, Kansas, where he purchased a half interest in the now famous Long Branch Saloon. This put him at odds with the mayor of Dodge and his allies, who made attempts to run him out of town as an "undesirable". In what became known as the Dodge City War, Luke's friends rallied a formidable force of gunfighters to support him, including Bat Masterson, Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, and Charlie Bassett. Faced with the threat of force, Short's opponents allowed him to return without a shot being fired. Later that year he sold his interest and moved to Fort Worth, Texas.
Short versus Courtright gunfight
In Fort Worth, Short was involved in another of the most famous historical gunfights. Short had developed an invested interest in the White Elephant Saloon. "Longhair" Jim Courtright, who was then Marshal of Fort Worth, reportedly had a protection racket, in which he offered his "protection" to saloon and gambling house owners. Short turned him down, telling him he could protect his own place. This irritated Courtright, and many now believe that Courtright felt it was necessary for his other protection interests to make an example of Short as to what could happen if his services were declined.
On a cold February 8th night, in 1887, Courtright called Short out of the White Elephant saloon. Courtright reportedly had been drinking, some words were passed, and the two men walked down the street about one block. There, facing one another, Courtright said something in reference to Short's gun, apparently to give the impression that the inevitable gunfight was in the line of duty. Short stated he was not armed, although he was. Short then indicated that Courtright could check for himself, and walking toward Courtright, he opened his vest. When he did so, Courtright said loudly "Don't you pull a gun on me.", and quickly drew his pistol.
However, Courtright's pistol hung on his watch-chain for a brief second, at which time Short pulled his pistol and fired one shot. The bullet tore off Courtright's right thumb, rendering him incapable of firing his single-action revolver. As he tried to switch the pistol to his left hand, Short fired at least four more times, killing him.
The gunfight became a well known event due to the notoriety of both men. Courtright was given a grand funeral with hundreds in attendance, as despite his corruption, he had lowered Fort Worth's murder rate by more than half during his time as town marshal. No blame was held toward Short, however, and although he was brought to trial for the shooting, it was ruled justified self defense.
Short continued his life as a gambler, investing in other saloon interests, and traveling to several other cattle towns over the next five years. Luke Short died peacefully in bed in Geuda Springs, Kansas on September 8, 1893. The cause of his death was listed as dropsy, the 19th century term for congestive heart failure with severe body edema.