We’ve all heard the story of the famous gunfight at the OK Corral and others like it from the pages of the Old West, but have you ever heard the story about the Great Kansas City shootout. It took place back in December 1908, down on the riverfront in the City Market district.
James Sharp and Louis Pratt, along with their wives and children, were traveling evangelists and had just stepped off their houseboat headed for the Workingmen’s Mission at 309 Main St., where they were going to hold services that day. The strange-looking group stopped on a street corner there in the City Market, singing hymns and attempting to collect a little money from passers-by.
Juvenile court officer George Holt, who was nearby, noticed that the group contained a number of school-age children ranging in ages from 4 to 14. He sauntered up to one of the ladies in the group, Melissa Sharp, and asked her why the children were not in school.
Mrs. Sharp fired back, “What business of yours is it?” then went on to explain that she and her husband, along with another couple and their children, were traveling evangelists who lived in their houseboat. She then led the children off, cursing the officer as she headed off up Main Street toward the mission.
Officer Holt followed the group to the mission, where he encountered Mr. Sharp, who introduced himself as Adam God, the father of Jesus Christ. He proceeded to curse and threaten Officer Holt, saying he would kill him and any other police officers who got in his way. Sharp’s partner, Louis Pratt, joined the fray, and the evangelists all drew their pistols.
James Sharp struck the officer in the head with his pistol, and the children all pounced on Holt while he was down and started scratching, hitting and biting him. Holt, with his head bleeding, quickly retreated to the nearby police station. The group of evangelists gave pursuit with their children in tow, who were also carrying firearms. The evangelists gathered across the street from the police station at Fourth and Main and began singing hymns.
The police sent officer Albert Dalbow out to speak with the group. As Dalbow was talking with Sharp, another police lieutenant stepped in behind him, pointing a gun over Dalbow’s shoulder and ordered all evangelists to drop their weapons. Instead of dropping his gun, Pratt fired, striking Dalbow several times and wounding the lieutenant. Dalbow was dead as more officers began to emerge from the police station.
All mayhem broke out as bullets flew, saloon windows were shattered, a horse was shot down, and a retired farmer on his wagon, A.J. Selsor, bit the dust. James Sharp whipped out his knife and slashed another police officer. Officer Michael Mullane shot Pratt in the leg, only to be run down and shot himself by Melissa Sharp and one of Pratt’s daughters.
Pratt was down but not out; he shot detective Patrick Clark twice from the ground. Another officer took Pratt out permanently from a window of the police station. Sharp was also hit by bullets, so Melissa Sharp grabbed the children in retreat down Delaware toward the riverfront. She was tackled and caught by officers at Third Street. She and one of the children were arrested, while 13-year-old Lulu and 11-year-old Mary escaped to the houseboat, where Mary Pratt was waiting.
Police demanded their surrender, but the girls slipped over the other side and set forth on a skiff across the icy river, but of course, they were eventually rounded up.
James Sharp was convicted of second-degree murder, but Melissa Sharp was declared insane, and released.
The shootout left five dead and several wounded, easily surpassing the Gunfight at the OK Corral.
Reference: “Forgotten Tales of Kansas City,” by Paul Kirkman.
To reach Ted W. Stillwell send an e-mail to Ted@blueandgrey.com or call him at 816-896-3592.