It is known as the Newton Massacre, and the details of what happened in 1871 are sketchy — though there were several newspaper correspondents covering the cattle drives coming into Newton during the period.
The day is one that captures the imaginations of authors, some as famous as Louis L'Amour. It has also captured the imagination of independent filmmaker Nicholas Barton. His new movie, “Hyde Park,” is finished and awaiting entry into film festivals and a possible wider release next year.
“We have it entered in all the major festivals,” Barton said. “... Some of them reserve the rights to be to be world premieres. If we don't get in, we will move to a broader theatrical release.”
Barton has been an independent movie maker for about 10 years, a native Kansan, he grew up in Great Bend and graduated from Kansas State University. It was during a screening of his fictitious western “Wichita” in Newton in 2013 that the seeds of this new movie was planted — a movie goer told him to check out the stories of the Newton massacre and Hyde Park.
“I went home and looked it up and did some research,” Barton said. “It piqued my interest, and the more I looked into it, I realized there is a really, really cool story here. So many westerns and stories that we know about have the same, basic, three or four characters with Jesse James, Wyatt Earp and Billy the Kid. I'm more into telling stories that have not gotten their shine yet.”
Barton read everything he could find — newspaper reports and historical reports from the gunfight. He also took a look at what was going on politically in the Newton area at the time. He found conflicting stories of the gunfight.
According to the Harvey County Historical Society, numerous articles have been written in journals and magazines retelling the story. The facts remain the same. Five men died and three were wounded in Perry Tuttle’s Saloon in the early morning hours of 20 August 1871. One was shot by Hugh Anderson and four by a shooter known as Riley. Following the shoot out, Anderson is transported to Kansas City to recover from his wounds and the second shooter, Riley, disappears.
That alone could make a heck of a western movie, but Barton went deeper. He wanted to tell a bigger story, and his research allowed for him to do that.
“I did a lot of digging and digging to find out as much as I could about it,” Barton said. “The more I started putting the story together, I started seeing modern familiarities. It was right at the cusp of the election season where everything was getting out of hand and heated. The more I dove into what was happening in Newton, it was the same thing that had been that catalyst and stirred the tension. At the crux of what happened in Newton was a really heated political debate about land grants that led to people to choosing hard stances.”
The movie became more than a gunfight movie, looking at political corruption.
“The larger story we wanted to tell was about the town,” Barton said. “We do our best to frame both sides of this. Both were inherently right and inherently wrong about their positions.”
According to the Harvey County Historical Society, the town popped up almost overnight. Downtown was filled with fake wooden storefronts that led into tents. Law enforcement in Newton was uncertain. The new town had to rely on township authorities from Sedgwick or special policemen hired by the saloon owners.
Into this environment of lawlessness came Texas cowboys, many of whom sided with the Confederacy during the Civil War, and northern veteran businessmen looking for a new start. The two groups mixed together on the streets and in the saloons with sometimes tragic results.
And then came Aug. 20, 1871.
Fueled by a political fight Aug. 11, Mike McCluskie was elected as one of two lawmen in town — Billy Bailey was the other. Both men were hired by Newton authorities as Special Policemen to keep order in the city during an August election. At that time, Newton was trying to form a new county and who would lead these efforts was a major debate among the locals.
The two lawmen were constantly arguing. On Aug. 11 in the Red Front Saloon their dispute soon led to violence. Starting out as a fistfight, Bailey was knocked out of the saloon and into the dusty street. McCluskie followed, drew his pistol, and fired two shots at Bailey, hitting him in the chest. McCluskie fled town, though he returned a few days later.
Several of Bailey's friends from Texas heard about his death, and vowed to get revenge. Late on the evening of Aug. 19, 1871, McCluskie walked into Tuttle's Dance Hall, located in an area of town called Hyde Park. Accompanied by a friend named Jim Martin, a Texas cowboy, the two sat down to gamble. Already in the hall as McCluskie's alleged friend and shadow, James Riley.
After midnight, three of Bailey's Texas cowboy friends by the names of Billy Garrett, Henry Kearnes, and Jim Wilkerson, also found their way into the dance hall. All were armed. Before long, Anderson marched into the bar, walked up to McCluskie and began yelling at him before shooting McCluskie in the neck. McCluskie tried to return the shot, but his pistol misfired, and he fell to the floor. Anderson, now standing over him, pumped several bullets into his back.
Texas cowboys Kearns, Garrett, and Wilkerson also began firing. Riley then pulled two Colt revolvers and opened fire on the Texans. Though Riley had never been in a gunfight before, and probably couldn't see in the smoke-filled room, he unloaded his guns into melee, hitting seven men. Some accounts say he closed the door behind him to keep men inside.
With seven men lying on the floor Riley simply walked out of the smoke filled saloon and was never seen again.
“They counted up to 100 different bullet holes in the walls of that saloon after the night of that gunfight,” Barton said. “It took them so long to figure out what the hell happened, that once they did, they started a moritorium on guns in the city. Wichita became a no-gun town as a direct result of Hyde Park. They had to have a rough sheriff to enforce that. … It was Wyatt Earp. Without Newton, there would be no Wyatt Earp.”
Barton wrote a 90-minute screenplay, trying to remain as close to the history that he found. Barton did take some “dramatic liberties” as he tracks two gunfights — both involving Huey Anderson Jr. There was a large gunfight in Newton. Anderson left the state after that gunfight. He returned to the state a couple years later, found in Medicine Lodge where he was killed.
Barton told The Kansan that about 80 percent of the movie is set in, and around, Newton. However, the film was made in New Mexico.
“I would have loved to shoot in Kansas,” Barton said. “Kansas is one of (few) states in the country that does not offer tax incentive program for feature films. It is a huge miss. I am a hometown guy and I would like nothing more that to bring projects back to Kansas. There a beautiful landscapes and things there you can't find in other parts of the country.”
Barton told The Kansan production of Hyde Park started in March of this year, and he was amazed by the cast he was able to assemble for small budget, independent movie. One of the top names is C. Thomas Howell, who starred in E.T., The Outsiders, Red Dawn and The Amazing Spider Man during his more than 30 years in film.
“For the budget of the film we made, our cast is truly unbelievable,” Barton said. “It says something for the story we are telling. Most actors at the level we got won't touch a movie with the budget we had.”
Also on cast are Quinn Lord, known for ”The Man in the High Castle;” Viva Bianca, known for “Sparticus;” Richard Riehle, from film and televlsion titles including “The Iceman Cometh;” and Douglas Bennett from “Sons of Anarchy.”