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Shoot Out at the Old Mercantile

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A tale of the West (as only Boots can tell it)

The old man that built and ran the Mercantile had come over the Great Divide to the western slope with the remnants of the mountain men, settled here, and married an Indian girl who later bore him a daughter. His name was Birdseed. Ollie Birdseed. He was a big, burly man with a handlebar mustache and sideburns down to his chin. He was a kind and gentle man in his ways, always there if someone needed help and saw to it that no family went without food in hard times. He would sometimes leave sacks of groceries on the back porches late at night for those who were in need but were too proud to ask. A hind quarter of elk or deer would mysteriously be found hanging there as well.

One morning Ollie was behind his counter sorting out receipts when he noticed three horsemen coming into town from down toward the river road. They stopped in front of the Mercantile. One man dismounted, tied his horse to the hitch rail outside, and within two strides he was up on the porch and walking in the door. He stopped and looked around. He was a tall, lanky man with hollow cheeks and a beard that was several days old. He wore a felt hat that was pulled down around his ears and was obviously too large for him and it made it hard to see his face. The hat, like his bib overalls, had seen better days. They both had needed patching for quite some time. The man strolled over near the counter, still looking around as though he was looking for someone. He suddenly wrestled an old Navy Colt from the front pocket of his overalls and pointed it at Birdseed. 

“Give me two sacks of tobaccy and all your money,” he demanded. 

“Son, if you need some tobacco I can let you have a sack. You don’t have to haul out that hog leg.” 

“Shut up and put your money in this here sack, ‘fore I blow your head off,” the stranger ordered. He tossed a sugar sack across the counter that fell to the floor at Ollie’s feet. 

“Those are pretty strong words to be using on someone you don’t know,” Birdseed said, as he reached down to the floor to retrieve the sack. The gunman reached up with his left hand and pulled the hammer back on the old Colt. 

“Now fill that sack,” he barked. 

As Birdseed rose up from getting the sugar sack off the floor he pulled a double barrel coach gun from under the counter and fired both barrels, knocking the would-be bandit back several steps. During the excitement Birdseed vaguely remembered he had loaded the brass cartridges with number eight bird shot, which at close range would open up a pattern the size of a water bucket. He had loaded it for coons who had been breaking into his chicken house. The Colt that the robber was holding went off when he was hit, but the bullet struck the rafters, sending splinters everywhere. 

The noise from the blasts spooked the horses of the two men waiting outside. Lunging backwards and whirling in their tracks, the horses left the two men hanging on for dear life. They bolted back down the street from the direction they had come. The gunman’s horse had fallen back, breaking the bridle rein that he had been tied with and he soon passed the two riders and horses headed out of town.

Back in the Mercantile the smoke from the three black powder charges filled the room so thick you couldn’t see anything. As the smoke began to rise, Birdseed could first see only the man’s worn out boot soles that were turned out. As his legs became visible he could see that there was a large, dark spot appearing at the waist and covering his midsection. From it the blood came pouring out onto the floor. One side of his overalls, along with a large section of his body had been blown away, leaving part of his rib cage and intestines exposed. His back bone had been severed and the upper half of his torso was attached only by one side of his overalls, a piece of his shirt and some skin. As the smoke continued to rise it exposed the blood spreading across the floor. The man’s face became visible enough to see that his eyes were wide open as though staring at the ceiling. His mouth gaped open as well, exposing what few teeth he had left that were rotten with tobacco stains. His hat was twisted on his head and the old Colt had been flung across the room and was resting against a pickle barrel. Everything slowly began to return to normal except for the ringing in Birdseed’s ears.

Several townspeople had heard the shots and came running over to the Mercantile just as Birdseed appeared through the smoke-filled doorway. They were all clamoring for details as to what had taken place. After loudly trying to explain it several times over his ringing ears, Ollie finally took two men and went back inside. 

Ed, the elder of the two, was the town handyman and had done a lot of work for Birdseed. He asked Ed to go around back and get the wheelbarrow they used to haul coal in and a corn scoop so they could scoop up blood and pieces and parts of the would-be robber along with the two sections of the body. 

Fred, the other man, lived with his mother and survived off her pension check. His job was to help Birdseed roll the body over and go through the pockets looking for some kind of identifying information. None could be found, but there was a ten dollar gold piece found in his watch pocket. 

  “You and Ed can split this money if you wheel him up to the graveyard and plant him just on the north side outside the fence. Put a rock on top of the grave so we can find it should someone ever inquire about him. Stop by the preacher’s house in case he might want to say a few words in this feller’s behalf. I’ll get them two Wilson boys out there to get some soap and water and clean this mess up while I go over to the depot and send a telegraph off to the sheriff explaining what happened.”

The sheriff’s reply was to write it down on paper and have it witnessed and notarized and then send it in to his office to be recorded at the courthouse. If anyone should ask about him, it’s recorded and will be on file. The sheriff said he would send out word about the other two, and Birdseed should sell the robber’s horse and his saddle and give the money to the needy.

Ollie sold the saddle and gave the money to the local church. The horse he gave to the Ledbetters, who lived out of town and were expecting their third child. They had lost their horse to old age the year before and couldn’t afford a new one. 

A month or more had gone by when a letter came from the sheriff’s office addressed to Ollie Birdseed in care of the Chipmunk Falls post office.

Dear Sir, 

The two men you described in your attempted robbery were caught in another attempted robbery just out of Thompson Falls, Montana for stealing chickens from an old lady. Unfortunately, for them, the lady had two mean bulldogs that caught them as they ran away with the chickens. One man was badly tore up because the woman couldn’t call off the dogs and the other man was bitten several times by the dogs and had to stay up in a peach tree all night until a deputy came and got them in a wagon the next day. Apparently, the first man bled out overnight and was dead by morning. The man in the tree, we call him Peaches, is all bandaged up and in jail. He said the man you killed was his brother and was glad you gave him a decent burial. He was wondering if you found a ten dollar gold piece his brother was carrying. He thinks it might help bail him out.

Yours truly,

Sheriff Boots

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Author info

Boots Reynolds Boots Reynolds The "internationally-renowned cowboy artist" Boots Reynolds has moved his comedic interpretation of life into the writing field with his regular column in the River Journal - From the Mouth of the River.

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From the Mouth of the River, Old West, Mercantile, shoot out

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