Present-day version of Joe’s dad’s .410

Robert Young and the Empty .410

I recently wrote this:

Joe Greene was on the jump seat of my Cushman motor scooter that Florida summer afternoon when I drove down the street dividing Jacksonville Beach from Neptune Beach, where we lived. At fifteen we’d become pals. His dad had taken us fishing in their outboard boat, we spent time at each other’s homes with baseball cards, black-and-white TV shows and other diversions, and my second-hand scooter gave us range to explore all the beach towns. Two-gallon tank, fifty plus miles per gallon at twenty-seven cents per for Amoco unleaded; 1957 was a different world than this. No intimation of lurking violence.

Until this particular day.

The story told of our being terrorized by two long-haired boys older than us in a rusty Ford. (A 1951 as I recall now.) How finally, cornered at my friend’s house, no growups around, the hooligans closing in on Joe, I yelled at them from his porch. When they looked up I displayed Joe’s dad’s .410 single-shot, making a show of closing the breech and cocking the hammer.

An unloaded .410. They didn’t know that of course. They skedaddled.

The rest of the story was my thanks to Robert Young, the TV and movie star, for a line delivered in a Western about a stagecoach trapped and besieged by Apaches. The line leapt to mind when I couldn’t find shells for the .410 in Joe’s dad’s gun rack. All these years later here’s how I remembered it: “The Western-staple drunken doctor had finished his last bottle while besieged. Young had commented his nearly empty Colt was useless as the empty whiskey bottle. No, the sawbones said — an empty gun still carries some authority….”

I remembered the film as a remake of the famous Stagecoach, but could find no such movie in Young’s extensive “filmography.” Wikipedia said he was no longer making movies in the fifties, his Bringing Up Father TV days. My oldest pal, former publisher, and subject-matter expert on Hollywood agreed. I was stuck doubting my memory so I wrote about it here. Another friend I’ve known twenty fewer years than my old pal answered promptly.

Bill,

This link takes you to a video that looks like it’s going to be Father Knows Best, but it becomes a link to the movie.

Robert

Your memory is not totally faulty . . .The Robert Young movie you are recalling is not Stagecoach. It is Stage to Yuma. You can thank Google for this tidbit….

I clicked the YouTube link. My lady-love and I watched the show. A stagecoach ambushed by hostiles, driver and shotgun guard killed, horses cut loose, passengers trapped. The drunk in the stage was no sawbones as I had recalled, but a retired major. It was the major who pronounced the enduring wisdom repeated by Young at the end: an empty whiskey bottle is just…empty. An empty gun still has some authority.

I passed along the info to my pal Shirrel, the close student of Hollywood His reply:

“No wonder we couldn’t find this Robert Young movie. It wasn’t a movie, it was a 30-minute TV show, an oddball entry in the “Father Knows Best” series on December 7, 1955, at the end of the second season. Your memory was good, but who would have picked it for an episode of “Father Knows Best?”

My memory wasn’t that good. The number of mistakes bothers me. Not a Stagecoach remake, a 3o-minute TV show entitled Last Stage to Yuma. Not a dipsomaniac doctor, a retired major. But a couple years after it aired, under pressure of fear, I remembered the important part:

An empty gun still has some authority.

Shirrel’s latter day review:

“Good story. But not historically accurate. The story is about a trip to Yuma, Arizona during 1860. However, it wasn’t until 1861 that the Confederate Territory of Arizona came into existence. It wasn’t until 1863 that the boundaries were formed which would later form the basis of the state, which was admitted to the Union in 1912 as the 48th State. Furthermore, Yuma wasn’t named until 1873. Prior to that time, Yuma was known as Arizona City.”

I didn’t even know there was a Confederate Territory of Arizona, or that Yuma was renamed the same year Colt’s introduced the 1873 Peacemaker Young carried in the show. Not only was the setting as anachronistic as those brick chimneys Shakespeare put in Rome, so were the firearms. For me, watching the show these decades later, I saw a lot of firearms goofs. The coach driver was unarmed — in hostile territory! The shotgun guard had no pistol for backup and evidently only had two rounds in his scattergun. When Young gave the shotgun to a Mexican youth, one of the passengers, to help hold off the Apaches, he only got off two shots.

The way the plot progressed, it wasn’t clear how many rounds were fired by the two Colts in the coach before one shooter tried to escape and was arrowed, his pistol and cartridge belt beyond reach. With just the boy and the schoolmarm surviving, Young’s character covers their retreat with his last round. The last Apache, out of arrows, comes at him with his scalp knife. Young cocks his empty Colt. The Apache decides its bad medicine to bring a knife to a gunfight, and skedaddles. Whereupon Young repeats the dead major’s wisdom about an empty gun’s authority.

Two years later, remembering and acting on that movie wisdom sent a genuine juvenile delinquent with a switchblade skedaddling like the movie Apache. Scalp knife, switchblade: bad idea to bring a knife to a gunfight.

The bluff worked. Not sure I would have had the nerve without Robert Young’s example. Maybe I should be thanking the script-writer.

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Bill Burkett

Bill Burkett

Professional writer, Pacific Northwest. 20 Books: “Sleeping Planet” 1964 to “Venus Mons Iliad” 2018–19. Most on Amazon for sale. Il faut d’abord durer.