Thursday, March 12, 2020

How Col. Pulaski Cowper Lost his bet on Uncle Tom's Shooting.

     Some years ago Col. Pulaski Cowper … was reading law in the town of Jackson, the county seat of Northampton county. In the vicinity of Jackson lived Uncle Tom Wheeler, who was as well known in Northampton as Col. Cowper is in the State. It is said that Uncle Tom was possessed of considerable means though somewhat miserly, at any rate, very few people saw him spending money.
     One characteristic of Uncle Tom was, when away from home, he was never seen without his gun. "Old Betsy," as he always called it, as well as his dog, always accompanied him. And though he never went anywhere without his gun, no one ever saw him with any game.
     It made but little difference in what direction Uncle Tom started from home to take a "little hunt," it was always nearer to go via Jackson; and some of his neighbors insinuated that the "wet groceries" had some attraction for him, as it was almost a daily occurrence for him to be seen in town' and while he was ever ready, if drinks were proposed, he was never known to "set 'em up."
     This reminiscence occurred during a court week in Jackson, and, on account of an important case to be tried, there were a large number of people in attendance, estimated by some at five thousand. Near the court house was the store of Mr. John Randolph … .
     Randolph's store had a very large piazza on which were seated some fifteen or twenty men, including Uncle Tom. He had set "Old Betsy" inside the store and near the door, and he was setting in the porch, about midway between the two front doors of the store.
     Col. Cowper …walked out of the court house over to Randolph's store, where he found the crowd in the porch teasing Uncle Tom about always carrying his gun and never having any game, and some intimated that they did not believe he could kill anything. Col. Cowper, seeing Mr. John Calvert, who was inside the store, take up the gun, and draw out the shot, leaving only the powder in, and set it back where Uncle Tom had left it and being confident he had a "sure thing" on the old man, joined in with the others in teasing him. 
     Col. Cowper proposed to bet treats for the crowd that Uncle Tom could not hit his hat, it placed on a large oak stump about fifteen feet off. (Col. Cowper had on a fine silk hat, for which he paid $5.00 the day before.) Uncle Tom said, "Well, Laski," (that's what he always called the Colonel) "I don't want to hurt your new hat, but as you insist upon it, and propose drinks for the crowd and as I feel a little dry, if you will let me take a rest, I'll see what Old Betsy can do."
[From FineArtAmerica Website: ]
     The Colonel said, "All right, you can take a rest, and sit down too, if you like."
     The Colonel sent five or six boys around town to tell everybody to come quick around to Randolph's store, there was going to be a "free treat." He and Uncle Tom then went to the oak stump to put the hat in position. It was some little time before Uncle Tom could place the hat exactly as he wanted it. While all this was going on, John Calvert took up the gun, which was near to the shot pouch, and filled her about half full of shot and set it back in place.
     Everything in readiness, Uncle Tom took up his gun, remarking, "Old Betsy, you have never failed me, now do your best." Seating himself in a chair he rested the gun on the railing, took aim, pulled the trigger, and — Uncle Tom was picked up at the other end of the piazza, and the gun went cavorting through the air, and landed on the other side of the street. The hat, not a piece of it as big as a ten cent piece, could be found in the whole town. "Snaked, by jings," exclaimed Col. Cowper. "A conspiracy, someone has played fool on me; but I'll set 'em up," and all were invited to a saloon nearby where he arranged with the proprietor for drinks for the crowd. The Colonel then went to the hotel to get his dinner. The line was formed, and the drinking commenced. They would go in at the front door, get a drink, and pass out at the rear.
     About sunset the Colonel went over to settle the bill, when, to his astonishment, the drinking was still going on; the line had resolved into a ring, and was repeating; and ever and anon there would go up a yell, "Rah for Cowper." He called a halt on the bartender, who, knowing the Colonel's ability to pay, was keeping the glasses filled. He asked for the amount of the bill. The proprietor told him, "It would take some little time to count it up, as he had chalked it down on the side of the house."
     The colonel asked how many barrels they had drank, and was told about two. He said he would pay for it at wholesale prices, and it was compromised for $117.50. 
     Disgusted with Jackson, he took the next train for Raleigh (Wake County).

[The Smithfield Herald (Smithfield, NC) 15 April 1897]

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