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by Allen Taylor
My Uncle Bob was one of six brothers born in rocky tops of southwest Missouri. Farming was tough in the hardscrabble country and in the early 1900's Uncle Bob, my Dad and his other brothers drove their cattle and horses up to Joplin, loaded them on a train and emigrated to Washington State. My Dad, Bob, and brother Emmett settled in Eastern Washington and went to ranching while the other brothers traveled on to Coast and settled around Olympia, working in the timber.
Uncle Bob had a pretty good size spread not too far from us and he and Dad raised wheat together. All told, at one time they had 6 sections of land under cultivation. This was in the days before tractors and all the ranching was done with horses. It was hard work (as is any ranching) but they were hard workers.
My Dad was not much of a rifle shot but I never saw him miss with his old Winchester Model 97 12 gauge. Uncle Bob however was a rifleman. Very early he switched over to the high-power smokeless rifle of the day, the Winchester Model 94 .30-30. He liked it for long-range shooting much better than the old blackpowder calibers, and he was a dead shot with it.
A few years after they had settled, there was a bank robbery in a town 30 miles or so away. No one in our area knew anything about it of course, but the robbers were being chased in the direction of Uncle Bob's ranch. By the time they reached the ranch they had run their horses into the ground. At gunpoint they took Bob's best team of horses and his buggy. Uncle Bob was out in the field when it happened and when he saw his buggy and team take out in a cloud of dust he rode back to the ranch house to see what was going on. A couple of the hands excitedly told him what was going on and Uncle Bob yelled, "Get my rifle!" The cook ran out of the house with the Winchester and a box of shells. Grabbing the rifle but leaving the shells, Uncle Bob jumped his horse over the fence and raced after the buggy.
By the time he caught sight of them, the buggy was crossing a large coulee. The road went straight across it, directly away from him, and then turned to the left. Uncle Bob jumped off his horse and lined the rifle up on the buggy. As they made the turn and started across in front of him Bob held on the horses and fired. It was almost a quarter mile across the coulee. He saw how far behind the buggy the bullet strike was, and then led them a bit and fired again. He watched the bullet strike, led some more and fired again. By the 5th shot he was onto the buggy and either his 5th or 6th shot knocked one of the bandits out of the buggy. The driver stopped, helped his partner back into the buggy and then raced on down the road. And Uncle Bob was out of shells!!
Somewhere down the line word had gotten ahead that they were coming. A bunch of farmers lined up across the road with shotguns, pitchforks and whatever they had, determined to stop these bad guys. One old man in the middle of the group said, "They will never get past here!" When the buggy came up on them the wounded bandit stood up in the seat with a pistol in each hand, blood all over him from a head wound, and yelled, "Get the hell out of the way!" and all the men ran for cover. The bandits passed unmolested.
Uncle Bob eventually got his horses and buggy back. The horses had been wind-broke and were never good for anything again. I am sure he always regretted not taking that box of shells along with him.
A year or so after the bank robbers Uncle Bob got in a fight with a neighbor over water. This was irrigation country, and the neighbor was not sharing the water according to agreements previously made. They had words over it several times and finally Bob called him on it. There was an argument and the man swung a shovel at Uncle Bob, who ducked under it and beat the guy so severely that he spent time in the hospital.
One evening about a month later Uncle Bob stepped out on the porch after supper to have a cigar as was his habit. A shot rang out. Bob's daughter ran out to find him lying on the porch in a pool of blood. He was dead within minutes. It was easy to find the place where the bushwhacker had lain in wait, but there was not much evidence. However the family felt they knew who it was. My Dad and his brothers swore out charges against the neighbor man that Bob had the fight with.
In Court the charges were dismissed for lack of evidence. In front of the Judge and the Sheriff my Dad told this man, "There will never be a safe place on this earth for you." Within a short time the man was found hanging from a tree. There was an inquest and it was ruled that he committed suicide.
Those were hard times.
Webmaster's Notes: This story was related to me by my Dad and his brother (my Uncle Bill) some years ago when we were discussing the family history. It took place when my Dad was just a very young boy. My great-Uncle Bob was something of a legend in the family, partially due to his death but also due to his remarkable skill at long-range rifle work. I would have liked to have met him. - Jim Taylor -