Against what really happened when the saloon owner pulled the trigger. Jack L. Smith slammed his whiskey glass down on the bar. He straightened his shoulders and stared coldly in the eyes at the larger man, K. Lester. “I damm well betcha’ partner, I kin do it. And I’ll take bets from any of you red-neck cowpokes in this saloon, too!” He flashed his eyes around his saloon “Jacks,” in the mining town of Winthrop in Washington Territory.
In the early 1900’s Winthrop had gained the reputation as one of the most disorderly and violent mining towns in Okanogan County. Around 1895 it was called “The Camp,” a hell-raising town from the beginning.
JL Smith was known in Winthrop as a bragging crack shot, but no one in town believed he could hit a .38 caliber cartridge placed in the old pine tree 100 paces away. Since gambling was rampant, soon cowpokes, miners and prospectors from the Slate Creek area were slapping down their money & nuggets. They were betting against him, and a one-shot-only hit.
Confidently grabbing his .22 six-shooter from behind the bar and strolling confidently out of the saloon, a large crowd began gathering outside the saloon and across the dirt-rutted Main Street in front of Guy Waring’s Methow Trading Company.
Everybody in Winthrop in the early 1900’s knew JL Smith. He was a handsome man with dark hair, black Stetson hat with snake band, and a waxed handlebar mustache. He always got a second glance from the girls. Although he was a small man, not more than 5’ 8”, he had poise, tremendous self-confidence, and would try anything given the chance. Jack had come to the mining boomtown of Winthrop around 1895 at the age of 25 from the prospecting camp of Ruby. He had made his fortune investing in the “First Thought Mine” on Ruby Hill and decided to open his own saloon in Winthrop.
JL and his curious sidekicks hiked down Main Street to the big old pine tree at the edge of town. K. Lester, who had first made the bet, embedded the .38 caliber cartridge in the bark of the old pine tree. JL Smith took his position 100 paces down the street from the tree in front of his saloon. The disorderly crowd took their positions behind him, anxious to see how close this cocky braggart would get to his mark. The people began nervously mumbling loudly to each other. With confidence JL raised his six-shooter and then lowered it again.
“Now if I dang well don’t hit the cartridge, I’ve lost a mighty big sum of money and gold. But, don’t you folks fret any. I won’t miss.”
Laughter could be heard throughout the crowd. It probably wouldn’t hurt JL to lose a “mighty big sum of money.” He was known to be quite wealthy. His investments included partnerships in the “Fourth of July” and the “First Thought Mines,” which produced millions of dollars in gold and silver on Ruby Hill.
JL raised his gun again and fired. The bullet made a loud whistling sound through the air. Suddenly, an echoing explosion came from the direction of the tree. Puffs of gun smoke swirled up from the tree. Suddenly, and without any notice, JL Smith fell to the dirt, rolling in pain. The crowd was stunned, staring in disbelief. They could not believe what they had just witnessed.
His shot had hit the .38 caliber cartridge so perfectly that the shell in the tree had gone off, firing the .38 bullet back at JL Smith, and taking off two of his fingers. JL Smith won his bet and proved to everyone that he could hit a cartridge in the bark of a tree at 100 paces. However, he never tried the stunt again. He carried the mark of his wound for the rest of his life. From that day on, his saloon was known as “Three Fingered Jack’s Saloon.”
Information for this article was compiled and written by Jerry Smith © 2007 Boom Towns & Relic Hunters.