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  • Writer's pictureWilliam F. Stratton

How Pottering Pete Went Into the Saloon Business

Updated: May 24, 2021

Wayside Tales, February 1903

“Jest one drink, Shorty.”

“Nein. You owes me more as tree tollars, alretty—you vas one dead peat. I vas not in der pizness for mine gomplexion.”

Pottering Pete, tall, gaunt, ragged, and unkempt, leaned against the bar of the Mountain Gem and contemplated Shorty, vigorously polishing the woodwork preparatory to catering to the morning trade.

“But, Shorty, my luck can’t last allers. Bound to come my way purty soon. I feel it in my bones.”

“You’ll feel somedings outside your bones if you get not oud right avay, alretty. You drive away my gustomers.”

“That’s all right, Shorty. Gimme a drink, and I’ll — hold on there, Shorty, hold on.”

Shorty held onto the collar of Pete's shirt and the rear of his nether garment until Pete found himself in the middle of the dusty road.

“Und don’t you nefer come pack," ejaculated the panting German, from the door, "or I preaka efry bone In your pody. You vas one fraud."

Accompanied by his tremendous and growing thirst, Pottering Pete slowly shambled down the one street of the rambling little mining town. Since his last unsuccessful prospecting trip, he had lived upon the generosity of its inhabitants. Lazy, shiftless, drunken, and discouraged, he had outstayed his welcome. Simultaneously he reached the end of the street and a determination to keep going. To achieve resolution was a novel sensation for Pete, and he rather liked it. Possibly he could impose for a week or two upon the citizens of the next town. There might even be a possibility of a grubstake and another prospecting tour with a pot of gold at the end of it.

When he had toiled up the pass to its summit, Pete turned and looked down upon the town nestling in the distance, amid the lofty peaks bathed in the golden glory of the rising sun. In Pete’s unromantic mind, admiration for the picture was drowned by resentment against the citizens who had refused to harbor him longer.

From somewhere among the willow pools of his memory arose a long-forgotten tale of a prophet of old, scorned and reviled, who had stood upon a mountain-top at early dawn and hurled a curse upon the slumbering denizens of the valley, a curse so vehement and effective as to result in the immediate and utter annihilation of the unconscious objects of the prophet’s wrath.

"Durned ef I don’t try it,” muttered Pete. “Durned ef I don’t cuss the whole danged town once, jest fer luck. Don’t cost nothin’ ’n’ ye can’t tell what’ll happen.”

Inspired by this commendable resolution, he clambered slowly up the steep side of the pass to the top of the spur. After a moment's rest, he drew his long, gaunt body to its full height, tilted back his unsheared head for a supreme effort, and thrust out his arms to add force to his malediction. Then his foot slipped upon a rounded rock, and a tangled mass of long, waving arms and legs and hair rolled down the opposite side of the sharp spur and landed upon a ledge of rock with a crash. Slowly and painfully glancing up along the course of his sudden descent, Pete scrambled to his feet, gasped, gave a great cry, and fell to clawing in the thin, loose soil like a wild beast.

For two hours, he dug and scraped and pounded with boulder and knife, and when he finally climbed back to the top of the spur and down into the pass, his face was set toward the town, and his pockets were bulging with rocks.

He passed through the town with such stride and manner that the citizens glanced after him in surprise, and Shorty, looking out of the open saloon door and addressing the early coterie at the bar, exclaimed derisively. "I know’d it vould coom. No mooch drink can nicht one-man stand. He vas plum grazy at last, alretty. Yah."

It did not occur to any of them at the time that Pete's nose was pointed straight toward the nearest government office.

But it did occur to them shortly after when the truth came out, and a couple of capitalists, with a force of men, arrived to begin the development of the richest mine in the region.

"And right in sight of town, too," lamented sundry citizens, “and us a prospectin' ’n a-proddin' around every place but that."

Shorty was handing out the drinks to a line of mourners when he became aware of the unexpected presence of Pottering Pete, a little better clothed than formerly, but still the same slouchy, listless, lazy-looking Pete.

“Shorty,” he drawled, “gimme a drink,” and he got it.

“Shorty,” he continued, lazily, “I’m a-goin' inter th’ saloon bizness. I kinder like yer place. What’s th’ price?”

“It vas not for sale, Mr. Patten,” said Shorty, obsequiously. “I haf a goot trade, alretty, und don’t sell me oud.”

“All right, Shorty. I starts opposition and see who breaks up fust. Gimme ’nother one, Shorty.”

Shorty was not pleased with the prospect of the threatened opposition.

“Der place vas wort a tousand tollars to me, Mr. Patten,” he remarked, as he replenished Pete’s glass.

Pete slowly swallowed the liquor, smacked his lips approvingly, and laboriously counted out ten beautiful one-hundred-dollar bills. “Th' whole outfit ain’t wuth th’ half of it, Shorty, but I’m stuck on it bekase of old and sweet memories. Gimme a receipt, Shorty.”

Then, as Shorty labored over the receipt, Pete scratched his left shin with the toe of his right boot and soliloquized.

“Short time sence Potterin’ Pete wuz th’ only critter in this here town as couldn’t git a drink at this bar. An’ now Mr. Patten’s th’ only critter in this here town as kin — fer he’s a-goin’ into th’ saloon bizness — fer a limited time only. Git out o’ here, Shorty.”

And Shorty got out — as did the bystanders. Some chose the front door, others utilized the back exit, and a few preferred the windows. For Pottering Pete had languidly produced a couple of wicked-looking guns and had started into the saloon business.

His first shot shattered the big mirror over the bar; the next decapitated a bust of Gambrinus, the third disarranged the internal anatomy of the superannuated nickel-in-the-slot machine. When last observed by the flying Shorty and his erstwhile customers, Pete had turned a fusillade upon the little pile of kegs and jugs at the end of the room, creating a horizontal geyser with each shot.

At a respectful distance, the amazed inhabitants gathered and watched liquors of various brands and colors gurgle out under the closed door and ooze through the cracks in the floor, forming miniature rivers and lakes in the dusty roadway. An occasional shot warned them that they might look but must not taste.

The prevailing opinion was that a man who would waste good liquor like that was undoubtedly crazy. It was felt that the affair was indeed a public calamity since it would require at least four days to get more whiskey into the town.

Late in the afternoon, a few of the hardiest, encouraged by resonant snoring, and the total absence of any other sound, ventured into the wrecked saloon.

As they lifted Pottering Pete from a pool of mingled whiskey, beer, and gin, they heard him mutter lazily. “Have one on me, Shorty. I’m in th’ bizness myself — fer a limited time only.”

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