The Shootist — a unique cowboy poem

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The Shootist — a unique cowboy poem

“The Shootist” is a unique cowboy poem written under my western stories pseudonym “Marshal T. Justice”.   I don’t know where the idea came from.  As usual, one minute I’m doing one thing – and the next an idea just hits me like a ton of bricks, and either I write it then, or it just disappears.  Luckily, I wrote this one down.   It is a fictional story and cowboy poem of the best shooter and marksman in the far west, and how he is bested by a previously unknown young gal who comes into town looking to challenge him.  Interestingly enough, about four months after writing it I found the story of Annie Oakley and her husband Frank Butler.  Butler was considered one of the top shooters in the entire nation.  He appeared in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, and often went around the country appearing in shooting matches and displays where he offered to pay anyone who could beat him one hundred dollars!  On Thanksgiving Day, 1875, he met his match when an unknown fifteen year old, Annie Oakley, challenged and beat him.  He began courting her soon after, and they were married on August 23, 1876, and lived together in what is described as a “love story” for over fifty years until Annie’s passing.  So,  maybe this cowboy poem, which started out as “pure fiction” isn’t as fictionalized as you might think. 

Anyway,  I’ve reproduced this cowboy poem in full, and then again with page borders, exactly how it appears in my new book: “The Old West & Times Gone By”.  I think the borders really enhance the look and feeling of the poem.   An archive photo of Annie Oakley and Frank Butler also appear below.   To top it off,  I’ve also linked one of my cowboy poetry YouTube videos — “Jesse and Wes”.  A very tender love and life story about a young couple out west who meet in the early 1950’s, and their life together.   Also — I highly recommend that you play the song “Walk the Dog” by Coyote Hearing while reading this cowboy poem.  I think it really enhances the mood.  Just click the photo link below.

Last,  but certainly not least  —  If you’d like a copy of the book — just go to Barnes and Noble and put in the title, or use my western cowboy poetry name “Marshal T. Justice” to find it — or you can even use the “Buy Now” button below for a direct purchase, and get an autographed copy.  All sales of the book from this website are autographed.   Hope you love this very unique cowboy poem!

The Shootist
copyright by Marshal T. Justice 2022

John Robert Smith was no ordinary man
he wasn’t born ordinary
didn’t look ordinary
and sure as hell – didn’t act it

Stood almost six foot seven inches tall
dark hair – cool blue eyes
thin, but muscular – with an easy laugh
his height, an anachronism in the late 1860’s
and if you were a horse – you prayed
(assuming, of course, if horses could pray)
that John Robert picked some other horse than you
to ride

“John Robert” – as his friends often called him
(and there were many)
was a shootist
said to be the best in the far west
or at least, for sure, there were none better

He could shoot out the eye of a sparrow with a Winchester
Take down a jack rabbit on the run with a Colt
and Damn, if he couldn’t take out two birds
with one shot from that old two barrel shot gun
he sometimes brought out

And when the town got together for our annual
Thanksgiving Holiday and Turkey Shoot
We had to give away a second prize – just to keep everyone else interested
Cause John Robert always took first place
Not sometimes, but always

Now, of course John’s reputation spread
and there were always challenges
but when John would shoot a silver dollar clear thru the center on a throw
That was enough for most of em

That was until that one fine spring day
when Sarah Jean Ketchem first showed up

Sarah was something like a tornado
blowing thru the town at a two hundred miles an hour

Nineteen years old
long flowing hair as red as the deepest sunset
A deep set of emerald green eyes
that could burst a young man’s heart just from a stare
and a set of hips that could get a man in trouble
just for the lookin’

And sure as hell, don’t stare too long
because she had the shiniest Colt revolver I ever saw
riding low on her right side
and it was there for business – serious business
and anyone with intelligence knew that at just a glance

Sarah wasted no time when she first rode in
Walked into the Sheriff’s Office and to the Sheriff’s face said:

“I’m Sarah Jean Ketchem.
“I’m nineteen years old
“I can rope a steer, brand cattle, and shoot faster and straighter
“than most men can ever hope to.
“I hear you have a shootist amongst you, and I will beat him, too!
“I want you to set up a meet, Sheriff!”

Well . . . that sure was an introduction!

That ol’ Sheriff almost fell off his chair
at Sarah’s words

But he’d been around a long time,
and could tell right off that this gal was serious
and quite frankly – that Colt that rode low on her side
it sure had one hell of a convincing look to it
Of that, there was no doubt!

So the Sheriff just said:
“Young lady, it would be my pleasure to do so.
“John Robert needs a good match
“And I’ve got a fine feeling, you just might be it!”

Well, the contest started out smooth enough
John nodded to Sarah Jean to shoot first
and a can was set up on a fence at 50 yards
which Sarah promptly put into the air with a single shot from the hip
straight and true
and then another, before that can hit the ground

Most of the town was there
and there was a whole lot of whistling and hooting after that shot
in fact, even John nodded his head, obviously impressed

But then, John Robert took his place and faster than the eye could follow
Took that one can off the rail with his first shot
then sent it flying again – just like Sarah Jean – but faster
all before it hit the ground

“Damn!” I said out loud.
I didn’t think anybody could do that!

But, there I was.
Saw it with my own eyes.
And, for sure, it was from the both of em!

Just mighty fine shooting.
And to tell the truth – maybe just a little bit scary.

Of course, Doc Evers was the judge
And what Doc says – in this town – goes.
And Doc said it was a tie
and despite the speed of John’s last shot
they still needed a tie breaker

A tie breaker?
How do you tie break that?

Well, old Doc pulled a new nickle from
out of his pocket
and showed it to both John and Sarah Jean
and then pointed to the sky

“I’m gonna throw it at the count of three
“You both get one shot
“John Robert, you go first.”

Well, Ol’ Doc threw that damn nickel so high
you could hardly see it
but before his arm was even down
you could hear the ping as John Robert’s shot hit it square

But then, another ping while it was still in the air

“Another ping?”
It was Sarah Jean!

That young gal had drawn and shot before her turn!

Doc picked up that mangled nickel
and held it up to the crowd – and everyone went wild!

Men were dancing in the street, yelling
one woman fainted
little kids were running around in circles
one of the horses got loose – and to this day, has yet to be found
and John Robert and Sarah Jean were both rolling on the ground
laughing til the tears came out!

Oh, what a scene that was!

And everyone – yes everyone
sauntered over to the town’s one saloon
and shared in a toast to John and Sarah Jean

Well, we tell that story often
but mostly at the town’s annual
Thanksgiving celebration

And yes, John and Sarah did get married
and for sure – to each other

Had a family – two boys and a gal
and yes – they’re all damn fine shooters, too
Just like their parents

In fact, they shoot so well
we had to add a third and fourth place prize
to the annual Turkey shoot.

Well, that’s the story of John Robert and Sarah Jean
They lived a long time – had a good life
Grew old enough to see their children
have children of their own

All in the old west
in a place called




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