After The Saloon Incident
“[Teddy] Roosevelt stabled his horse in a shed behind the ‘hotel,’ and started to enter.
Two shots rang out from the bar-room.
He hesitated. He had made it a point to avoid centers of disturbance such as this, but the night was chilly and there was no place else to go. He entered, with misgivings.
Inside the room were several men, beside the bartender, all, with one exception, ‘wearing the kind of smile,’ as Roosevelt said, in telling of the occasion, ‘worn by men who are making-believe to like what they don’t like.’ The exception was a shabby-looking individual in a broad-brimmed hat who was walking up and down the floor talking and swearing. He had a cocked gun in each hand. A clock on the wall had two holes in its face, which accounted for the shots Roosevelt had heard.
It occurred to Roosevelt that the man was not a ‘bad man’ of the really dangerous, man-killer type; but a would-be ‘bad man,’ a bully who for the moment was having things all his own way.
‘Four-eyes!’ he shouted as he spied the newcomer.
There was a nervous laugh from the other men who were evidently sheepherders. Roosevelt joined in the laugh.
‘Four-eyes is going to treat!’ shouted the man with the guns.
There was another laugh. Under cover of it Roosevelt walked quickly to a chair behind the stove and sat down, hoping to escape further notice.
But the bully was not inclined to lose what looked like an opportunity to make capital as a ‘bad man’ at the expense of a harmless ‘dude’ in a fringed buckskin suit. He followed Roosevelt across the room.
‘Four-eyes is going to treat,’ he repeated.
Roosevelt passed the comment off as a joke. But the bully leaned over Roosevelt, swinging his guns, and ordered him, in language suited to the surroundings, ‘to set up the drinks for the crowd.’
For a moment Roosevelt sat silent, letting the filthy storm rage round him. It occurred to him in a flash that he was face to face with a crisis vastly more significant to his future than the mere question whether or not he should let a drunken bully have his way. If he backed down, he said to himself, he would, when the news of it spread abroad, have more explaining to do than he would care to undertake. It was altogether a case of ‘Make good now, or quit!’
The bully roared, ‘Set up the drinks!’
It struck Roosevelt that the man was foolish to stand so near, with his heels together. ‘Well, if I’ve got to, I’ve got to,’ he said and rose to his feet, looking past his tormentor.
As he rose he struck quick and hard with his right just to one side of the point of the jaw, hitting with his left as he straightened out, and then again with his right.
The bully fired both guns, but the bullets went wide as he fell like a tree, striking the corner of the bar with his head. It occurred to Roosevelt that it was not a case in which one could afford to take chances, and he watched, ready to drop with his knees on the man’s ribs at the first indication of activity. But the bully was senseless. The sheepherders, now loud in their denunciations, hustled the would-be desperado into a shed.
Roosevelt had his dinner in a corner of the dining-room away from the windows, and he went to bed without a light. But the man in the shed made no move to recover his shattered prestige. When he came to, he went to the station, departing on a freight, and was seen no more.
The news of Roosevelt’s encounter in the ‘rum-hole’ in Mingusville spread as only news can spread in a country of few happenings and much conversation. It was the kind of story that the Bad Lands liked to hear, and the spectacles and the fringed buckskin suit gave it an added attraction. ‘Four-eyes’ became, overnight, ‘Old Four Eyes,’ which was another matter.
‘Roosevelt was regarded by the cowboys as a good deal of a joke until after the saloon incident,’ said Frank Greene, a local official of the Northern Pacific, many years later. ‘After that it was different.’” [Teddy] Roosevelt in the Bad Lands by Hermann Hagedorn, 2008.