white wolf - part 2

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Chapter 3

It was early Sunday morning when he saw Missoula. They'd just come across the Hell-gate river valley. Cresting a rise John saw the small town was located in the middle of five main river valleys; the Hell-gate in the east, the Missoula to the west, the Bitterroot to the south and two smaller valleys to the north.  Joining a rather muddy rutted track they made their way past a sign, proclaiming this to be the township of Missoula in Missoula County, John guessed most people were still asleep. Missoula was a timber and cattle town mainly, recent gold discoveries brought in crowds of prospectors. They passed the Hell Gate Trading Post, an impressive looking log building but it was closed at this early hour. The town was obviously beginning to prosper. Right next to another large building called Missoula Mills, John found a stable with basic accommodation for a day or two. If he didn't mind sleeping in the loft above the horses then he could have his 'dog' stay there too. This suited John nicely as he could keep an eye on Jewel at night and it was affordable. His was anxious to eke out his money so he was more than happy with this arrangement. That first night he lay on the hay covered rafters and listened to rain drumming on the barn roof. He was glad to be under shelter for the first time in nearly two weeks, it felt like luxury to have a roof over his head even if the occasional drip found its way onto his face.

He was also very pleased to hear a shooting competition was to be held the following day, with a $50 winning prize. The next morning he found the local sheriff's office and entered the shooting competition which was set to begin just before lunch. The entry fee of $2 meant his savings were rapidly decreasing. John walked out to the shooting range on the edge of the town, carrying his rifle in its saddle scabbard. He didn't need directions, he simply followed the large crowd. There was definitely a carnival type atmosphere in town, with many people wearing their finest clothing. Women carried fancy parasols and wore their Sunday church bonnets. With such a rich prize on offer John thought there would be plenty of entrants but he was still rather surprised to see at least forty men queued up at the official's tent, listening to a rather pompous man read out the rules. In the gathering of men, he could pick out the wild hillbilly types, the old timers with their long barrelled Sharps rifles, soldiers from the local fort, ranch hands, fur trappers and the buffalo hunters. There were even a few city slickers dressed in their tailored suits and fancy hats.

Each marksman would have 3 shots in the first round, over a 100 yard distance. Anyone who hit all 3 targets would go straight through to the next round. The targets were white clay plates about the size of a saucer, held on the end of a pole. When it was John's turn to shoot, he blocked out the noise coming from the gthrong behind him and just focussed on the targets. To his relief, he hit all three and so went through to the second round.  Only a dozen or so others were left to continue in the competition.

For this second round, the targets were moved out to around 150 yards. The strengthening breeze whipped across the range, it would be a difficult task to hit all three plates. This time John was one of the first shooters and again he hit all three targets. Just three other marksmen joined him into the next round. One of the men was an old time buffalo hunter; he wore spectacles and chewed tobacco. John noticed his routine involved spitting out a stream of dark tobacco juice, touching the sight then aiming and firing. Each time he hit a plate; his friends all cheered and slapped each other across the back. One of the other shooters was a fancy pants gentleman from Seattle with a neatly trimmed goatie beard. The other marksman still left in the running was a scout for the army. The organisers now moved the targets out to 200 yards, then the pompous official who was also the town mayor wished everyone the best of luck. John was to shoot last in this round so he sat back and studied his opponents. It was interesting to see the different ways each man went about preparing. Seattle fancy pants took a long time between shots playing up to the crowd, however he only hit one distant target from his three attempts. The Buffalo hunter was clearly relaxed and even talkative right up to the time he was called up. Using the old single shot Sharps rifle he managed to hit the first two targets, much to the delight of his raucous friends. Before attempting the last shot he finished his drink taking a long gulp from the whisky bottle then calmly went through his routine and missed. The young scout preferred to lay on the ground and aim for this round (everyone else had been standing, resting their rifles on a wooden support frame). He was not much older than John and he took plenty of time between shots and also scored two hits. His final shot hit the post holding the plate but missed the target. Finally John was called up to shoot and he felt confident about his chances. All three target plates were set up on their distant poles. This time John fired three shots in rapid successful, levering 'yellowboy' at blinding speed and after a moment of stunned silence, the crowd soon realised he'd hit all three targets. Then they began yelling and cheering. Hats flew into the air and he was congratulated by all and sundry. Everyone present that day knew for sure they had witnessed something very special. John was just pleased to have won the money!

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