My Dad Shot a Hole in the Ceiling of the Shoshoni Bar & Grill

My dad was Eastern Shoshone, and lived most of his life on a reservation.  He was a little guy, not much above 5’8″ and about 170 lbs at his prime. He and my mother lived for a time in one of those small towns that are little more than a few businesses that exist to serve the outlying area. The town’s bar and grill drew a wide clientele of rowdy characters on an average weekend night. One weekend my parents decided to go join in on the fun.

My mom said she first got a little nervous about this excursion when she saw my dad jam a handgun down the back of his pants underneath his jacket. After discovering that he was adamant about taking the pistol and that he was correct in his estimation of its relative invisibility under his clothes, she let it go rather than argue with him.

As luck would have it, the bar was extra-crowded that summer night and filled with even more disreputable people than usual, some of them strangers to everyone present. When the strangers got into a brawl among themselves, nobody paid the slightest attention. Brawls at the bar and grill weren’t unusual and Wyoming people of that era had a very strong sense of “mind your own business”.  But then a couple of the strangers decided to hold one down while a fourth kicked the downed one in the testicles.

Dad decided to intervene. Little middle aged Shoshone dude wades into the gaggle of drunk white cowboys and says in his quiet, polite voice, “That’s enough.” Drunk white dudes tell him where to shove it.  One of them makes as if to take a swing at my dad. Then, according to my mom, my dad whipped the gun out of his pants so fast she thought she’d been transported into a gunslinger movie. He fired a shot straight into the tin ceiling, and repeated his “that’s enough” in the sudden silence of the room.

“I don’t care what he did. You don’t kick a man when he’s down.”

At that point, the bartender started trying to talk my dad down, asking him to put the gun away and to please not kill anyone in his bar. The strangers fled, and the man on the floor tried to thank my dad. My dad said something to the effect that no thanks were needed because he hadn’t intervened for him. He’d done it because what was going on wasn’t right. That was my dad, all about the principle of the thing.

English: 1861 Colt Navy Revolver, Second Gener...

English: 1861 Colt Navy Revolver, Second Generation (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I relate this story not to point out what an awesome and strange dude my dad was, but to talk about guns and our right to carry them. My dad broke up a pretty nasty situation and enforced some community standards with the application of a 100% illegal handgun.

This tactic worked because my dad exploited his unique position of being the only person present with a gun and one of the least likely people to be packing. My dad had a lot of guns, which he used regularly for hunting and defending his sheep from predators.

His handgun was an old Colt revolver left over from the Civil War that was more of a family heirloom than functional weapon.

His carrying it to the bar and threatening a pack of wound up Caucasian strangers with it was a risky endeavor at best. He didn’t go to jail over it for a variety of  reasons that I won’t bore you with today. This was more than 50 years ago and most, if not all of the parties involved have passed on, so I think we’re well past any issues of statues of limitations in any case.

A lot of people want to pack their handguns to Starbuck’s (eta: or shoot each other at the car wash) because they have some bizarre fantasy that they’re my dad. My dad, if he were alive, would tell you that they’re full of b.s. Starbucks is not the Shoshoni Bar and Grill. The wild, wild west is not a good role model for today. It wasn’t even a good role model for itself back in its own day. Our issues with gun violence are not going to improve until people grow out of the notion of US identity being more closely married to Shootout at the OK Corral instead of Nation born from the Age of Enlightenment.

The whole situation could have gone very badly for a bunch of people, including innocent bystanders, if the drunk strangers had been packing as well. My dad took a calculated risk for his Don Quixote-esque notion of honor, proper behavior, and “not in my town, gawd-dammit!”.

Don’t tell me that I’m a lily-liver liberal who doesn’t like guns just because I don’t want you to play cowboy with yours in the mall when some thug tries to rob the Orange Julius stand. We have LEO to handle that stuff. You’re more likely to get yourself killed in a case of mistaken identity and me along with you in the role of “innocent, pissed off bystander”. My dad was awesome. You’re not.  Leave the gun at home.

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