Shooting Jake Smith’s hat: A tale from Langford’s Discovery of Yellowstone Park – 1877

Jake Smith

Jacob Ward Smith (Yellowstone digital slide file)

By M. Mark Miller

One of the members of the famous Washburn Expedition that explored the upper Yellowstone in 1870, a jocular man named Jake Smith, was always ready to gamble. Unfortunately, he lost all his money in a card game the night before the trip started. But Jake came up with a way to replenish his stake. N.P. Langford tells the story in an excerpt from his book, The Discovery of Yellowstone Park.

Nathaniel P Langford

Nathaniel P. Langford (Yellowstone digital slide file - click to enlarge)

Descending the range to the east, we reached Trail Creek, a tributary of the Yellowstone about 3 o’clock in the afternoon, where we are now camped for the night. We are now fairly launched upon our expedition without the possibility of obtaining outside assistance in case we need it. Our safety will depend upon our vigilance. We are all well armed with long-range repeating rifles and needle guns, though there are but few of our party who are experts at off-hand shooting with a revolver.

In the course of our discussion, Jake Smith expressed his doubt whether any member of our party is sufficiently skilled in the use of the revolver to hit an Indian at even a close range. He offered to put the matter to a test by setting up his hat at a distance of twenty yards for the boys to shoot at with their revolvers, without a rest, at twenty-five cents a shot.

Several members of our party blazed away with indifferent success—with the result that Jake was adding to his exchequer without damage to his hat. I could not resist the inclination to quietly drop out of sight behind a clump of bushes. From my place of concealment I sent from my breech-loading Ballard repeating rifle four bullets in rapid succession, through the hat—badly riddling it.

Jake inquired, “Whose revolver is it that makes that loud report?” He did not discover the true state of the case, but removed the target with the ready acknowledgment that there were members of our party whose aim with a revolver was more accurate than he had thought.

Reprinted with permission from M. Mark Miller. A condensed version of Langford’s The Discovery of Yellowstone Park stories from early Yellowstone history is included in Miller’s,  Adventures in Yellowstone: Early Travelers Tell Their Tales.


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