Shootout at the Bella Union
At 4 p.m. on July 5, 1865, a high-society wedding took place in the brightly decorated ballroom of Los Angeles’ fashionable Bella Union Hotel. It was the social event of the season, with music, merrymaking and too much liquor. During the reception, an argument broke out between Undersheriff Andrew King and Carlisle. The rancher apparently accused King of falsifying evidence in the murder trial of one of the cowboys on the Chino Ranch. In the scuffle, Carlisle slashed Andrew King across the hand and stomach with a bowie knife. Carlisle also threatened to kill on sight any and all of the King brothers.
The next day, July 6, shortly before noon, with the wounded Andrew King under the care of a Dr. Griffin, Frank King said to his brother Houston, “Let’s go see if the #@!$%#@!’s man enough to do what he says.” In a matter of minutes, the two revenge-minded King brothers were marching down Main Street toward the Bella Union Hotel. When they entered the lobby, they saw Carlisle in the barroom. The Kings approached with drawn guns.
Frank called out, “I don’t care for your mouth, Carlisle, and I especially don’t care for you.” Soon the shooting started. Who shot first is not certain. Frank emptied his Colt .44. Carlisle set his drink on the bar and in a blurring motion drew his revolver and fired. The shot hit Houston King, puncturing his lung. Houston dropped to one knee. Unable to raise his right arm, he still managed to tilt his revolver upward and fire with amazing accuracy. He put four shots into Carlisle’s belly. The room rocked with the roar of gunfire, and the air quickly filled with blue smoke. Carlisle, despite his wound, struggled to get to his feet, intending to continue the fight.
Frank King stepped forward and struck Carlisle on the head with his empty revolver with such force that the weapon broke. Carlisle, considered by many to be a man of iron, staggered to the wall, raised his revolver with both hands and fired. It was his last shot, but it struck Houston King in the chest. At this point a friend of Carlisle’s ran into the cardroom from a rear door, and as Frank attempted to lift Houston to his feet, the man shot Frank through the heart, killing him instantly. From the floor where he had fallen, Houston managed to get off a wild shot at the intruder. That was the end. The sensational gun battle was over, and the shooters were either down or dead… except for the intruder who killed Frank.
Witnesses from the lobby moved in cautiously. An examination of Frank King confirmed that he was dead. Bystander J.H. Lander had been wounded in the thigh, and Felix Skaggs, a bartender, had caught a slug in his wrist. One of the many flying bullets had struck and killed a horse hitched to a stagecoach across the street. The bullet-riddled body of Robert Carlisle was carried into the cardroom and placed on a billiard table. Covered with blood and writhing in pain, he requested a drink of whiskey. His many stomach wounds made recovery hopeless, and at about 3 p.m. he died. Houston King was carried to the office of Dr. Griffin, where a delicate operation saved his life.
The bodies of Frank King and Robert Carlisle were prepared for burial at the Corder-Lynwood Funeral Parlor. Due to the large number of mourners expected, Carlisle’s funeral was conducted in the Bella Union ballroom. Frank King’s funeral was held at his residence with only the family and a few political friends present.
Houston King was charged with murdering Robert Carlisle, and as soon as he was able, he was brought to trial. It was a long and hard-fought trial, but in the end, Houston was acquitted. That decision did not please everyone. The reckless daring of both parties certainly caused great concern in the community. To ensure that such a traumatic, deadly shootout would not happen again, citizens looked to the law for action. The story of the tragedy reached the floor of the Chamber of the Common Council, and in late July 1865, an order was issued that stated: “This order prohibits everyone except officers and travelers from carrying a pistol, dirk, sling shot, or sword.” Public concern, however, proved to be short-lived and scant attention was ever paid to the law.
To be sure, the King–Carlisle battle was not forgotten by the King family, especially by Houston King. He learned that the friend of Carlisle’s who killed Frank had returned to Texas. Shortly after his acquittal, King was heard to say: “It is our family code to repay in kind anyone who harms a member of the King family. I intend to honor that code.” It would take eight years for Houston to fulfill that vow.
Houston had long wanted to relocate his family, and he had Texas in mind. So, in 1873, they loaded up a covered wagon and headed east. One of Houston’s great-uncles had a ranch in Ellis County, just a few miles southeast of Fort Worth. That was their destination. But first Houston had a pledge to keep. In every town and village, at every ranch and roundup, Houston inquired about the man with connections to Robert Carlisle in California.
One day he got the lead he had known would come sooner or later. After setting up camp and making sure his family would be all right for a few hours, he headed across the open range. Shortly after sunset, with a full Texas moon rising over the distant mountains, he came upon a man cooking over a camp fire. “Good evening, mister,” Houston said. “I’m looking for a man. A friend of Bob Carlisle who had the Chino Ranch in California. Could it be you’re that man?” “Could be,” the man answered. “Who are you?” “I’m one of the King family,” Houston said, and he drew his weapon.
A few days later, a cowboy riding cross-country found the body lying next to the cold ashes of a campfire. As was the custom of those times, the cowboy buried the body, then rode on. The score was settled, and the family code was intact. Houston rejoined his family and the next morning headed toward his great-uncle’s ranch.
This article and pictures were found via the internet.