Eye-Witness to a Bank Robbery

…And the Resulting Gun Battle in a Small Town

By Jeff Salter

Hardly had we begun our stroll down the narrow streets of this time-forgotten town in the arid southwestern desert… when out of the small local bank burst four armed men – desperate enough to gun down anyone in their paths – frantically searching for their pre-arranged means of get-away. My brother and I were transfixed — I wouldn’t have moved if the robbers had aimed directly at me. And suddenly one of them did.

It took a moment for the locals to react. Someone yelled, “Bank robbery!” and then the shooting began. I was close enough that the piercing blasts assaulted my eardrums and I could smell the smoke from their guns. They were shooting everywhere and nowhere. But I was not hit… yet.

Even in dried-up small towns such as this, there was at least one law officer present… and he happened to be no more than thirty-five paces away from us. As he drew his weapon and raced towards the bank, another shooter – clearly a lookout with the robbers’ band – fired upon the lawman from the roof of a building across the street. The officer whirled, fired twice, and the shooter’s body rolled off the roof, dead before he dropped onto the street with a heavy thud.

If I’d had any sense, I should have ducked for cover. Can’t speak for my big brother, but if anything, I wanted to get even CLOSER. No time for any movement by us, however. In just a matter of seconds, three of the robbers took cover behind some shipping crates and soon received a fusillade of bullets from the officer and several armed bystanders who pitched in to help save their bank’s assets.

aaaaa-jeff-6thgrd

Though this is my sixth grade photo, it gives you an idea of how old I was during this robbery and gunfight we witnessed the previous year.

But I’ve gotten ahead of my story.

This was some 55 years ago and I still remember like it was yesterday. We had just hit town, one of those rural southwest places abandoned by the major thoroughfares and left to dwindle with its few remaining residents… and occasional wayward visitors (such as myself and family). With prosperity long behind them, the citizenry were content to keep their old storefronts — hardly a sign of any civic improvement since the 1880s or so.

Now, back to my story:

Things happened so fast, it was difficult to keep track. But I think one bystander was nicked – appeared to be merely a flesh wound – by a robber’s bullet. That further enraged the townspeople and all who were armed pumped round after round into the inadequate refuge of those wooden shipping crates. One of those three felons went down… obviously dead. Probably had 19 bullet holes when the locals finished with him. That left two at the crates and one of those was soon wounded as well. One robber remained and it was obvious he was completely out of ammo. Finally he waved a grubby handkerchief to signal his surrender. The shooting stopped.

But what, you ask, of the fourth robber, who had hunkered down just inside the bank’s doorway?

Well… with all the money from the robbery, he leapt from the elevated front “porch” and escaped on his horse.

Horse?

Yeah. Horses… sheriff… guys shooting Colt Peacemakers and Winchester carbines — uh, with BLANKS, of course. This was one of those Old Wild West reenactment shows… and for the first time in our lives (traveling with the family) we’d lucked into the exact right time to be somewhere.

The year was probably 1961. If so, I was in the spring semester of fifth grade. That was the era of television and movie westerns — every network had half a dozen westerns. Or as my dad labeled them, “horse operas.” I loved them. Imagine my delight to see one of those same vigorous scenes reenacted LIVE right in front of us… and us standing on the dusty narrow street of downtown Deadwood (or wherever).

We don’t recall which specific tourist attraction this was, but my brother believes it may have been Trail Dust Town near Tucson, AZ.

gunfight2

This is not the photo from Trail Dust Town, but it gives a good sense of the drama we viewed from our vantage point.

Our whole family of five was crammed into a 1958 Renault Dauphin – one of the worst automobiles ever imported into the U.S. – on our way across the arid southwest desert from Covington LA to the Glorieta campus in the NM foothills of the southern Rockies. Glorieta was one of two major denominational complexes of that era and they hosted meetings, training seminars, conventions, and whatever else religious leadership needed to attend. My dad was a minister at that point, the protestant chaplain of Southeast Mental Hospital in Mandeville. For several years, he attended a convention almost every spring… and my parents usually arranged things with our respective schools for us three kids to go with them. The travel itself was pretty horrible — giving entirely new meaning to the words “extreme thrift.” I could tell you about cold cereal in rundown motel rooms, cold Spam sandwiches in the vehicle while still on the road, and stops only when someone’s bladder was about to explode — but that’s a tale for another day. [And besides, I’ve mentioned a few of my family trips here previously].

Links (to some of my previous accounts of family trips):

National parks of every variety

https://fourfoxesonehound.wordpress.com/2016/08/18/parks-of-every-variety/

Our first family trip, which included Disneyland

https://fourfoxesonehound.wordpress.com/2012/08/23/drive-to-disneyland-and-turn-right/

Broke down in a sandstorm in the Mojave Desert

https://fourfoxesonehound.wordpress.com/2012/06/21/broke-down-and-left-in-the-desert/

As for this trip, to whichever recreated Old Wild West town this was… it was a heavenly respite from the hot, boring travel… and landing in the middle of a bank robbery and gunfight was the icing on the cake. I can’t swear to every single detail of the shootout, but I clearly remember the Sheriff whirling around and shooting the guy off the roof.

They probably had shows at the top of every hour during daylight… but as far as I was concerned, they’d staged the whole thing just for me — the diehard western fan.

As I watched those actors, dressed in their cowboy boots and western clothes, hopping on their spirited horses, and firing their Colt .45s… I remember thinking “That’s got to be the best job in the world!”

Question:

What about you? Ever seen a wild west reenactment?

[JLS # 323]

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About jeff7salter

Currently writing romantic comedy, screwball comedy, and romantic suspense. Twelve completed novels and five completed novellas. Working with three royalty publishers: Clean Reads, Dingbat Publishing, & TouchPoint Press/Romance. "Size Matters" -- Oct. 2016 "The Duchess of Earl" -- Jul. 2016 "Stuck on Cloud Eight" -- Nov. 2015, "Pleased to Meet Me" (novella) -- Oct. 2015, "One Simple Favor" (novella) -- May 2015, "The Ghostess & MISTER Muir" -- Oct. 2014, "Scratching the Seven-Month Itch" -- Sept. 2014, "Hid Wounded Reb" -- Aug. 2014, "Don't Bet On It" (novella) -- April 2014, "Curing the Uncommon Man-Cold -- Dec. 2013, "Echo Taps" (novella) -- June 2013, "Called To Arms Again" -- (a tribute to the greatest generation) -- May 2013, "Rescued By That New Guy in Town" -- Oct. 2012, "The Overnighter's Secrets" -- May 2012. Co-authored two non-fiction books about librarianship (with a royalty publisher), a chapter in another book, and an article in a specialty encyclopedia. Plus several library-related articles and reviews. Also published some 120 poems, about 150 bylined newspaper articles, and some 100 bylined photos. Worked about 30 years in librarianship. Formerly newspaper editor and photo-journalist. Decorated veteran of U.S. Air Force (including a remote ‘tour’ of duty in the Arctic … at Thule AB in N.W. Greenland). Married; father of two; grandfather of six.
This entry was posted in author's life, childhood, Family, Fantasy vs Reality, free week, memories, Random thoughts, Travel, Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to Eye-Witness to a Bank Robbery

  1. kathleenbee says:

    Wow, Jeff. What an experience.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jeff7salter says:

      thanks for visiting again, Kathleen. Yes, I was in hog heaven, as the saying goes.
      Even though I’m sure I realized those reenactors were being paid for their efforts, I would have been willing to do it for FREE.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Joselyn says:

    How fun! I knew there was going to be a twist at the end. I just couldn’t figure out what it would be. Sounds like a great trip (besides the bladder explosions.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • jeff7salter says:

      thanks. Yeah, I first considered just telling it “straight” — with the wild west reenactors revealed at the beginning. But while I was taking a shower, I got to thinking how different it might sound if I withheld that context til the end.
      Yes, as much as I enjoyed several of the parks, events, and attractions we experienced in those 7 or 8 family trips, I so hated the process of “travel” — under those austere circumstances — that when I had my own family, I never wanted to take them anywhere.

      Like

  3. jbrayweber says:

    Very cool, Jeff. What a great childhood memory.
    My family never traveled, so I haven’t seen much of the world (or the US). But I have gone to a Civil War reenactment about 13 years ago. It was fun and I remember wanting to take part in it someday.
    It’s too bad there aren’t more of these attractions. I fear so much of our history is becoming lost. The youth today don’t seem to be as interested. :-/

    Great post, Jeff. Love the storytelling aspect of your memory.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jeff7salter says:

      thanks, Jenn. Yeah, our family traveled a lot, but I so disliked the skinflint WAY that we traveled, that by the time I’d grown up, I hated the idea of piling into a car to go anywhere.
      Like you, I love history and I fear it is being under-emphasized in schools for the current generation.
      Have you ever been to a Rennaissance Fair? My sister used to take her family to one near Montgomery AL (years ago). They loved it.

      Like

      • jbrayweber says:

        Yeah, we have the Texas Renaissance Festival every year that’s just a couple hours away. We don’t go every year. That gets pricey. I worked there one year as a teen, too. It’s great fun!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Patricia Kiyono says:

    What a fun memory! I remember riding in the back seat for family trips. We took one long road trip from Michigan to Washington, DC. We stopped at Gettysburg on the way down, and at Niagara Falls on the way back. I loved seeing new things – but no shootouts! Great times.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jeff7salter says:

      Yeah, when you’re a kid, stuck in the back seat and made to sit there until “they” decide to stop — it’s a bit like being in prison… or maybe more like you’re just part of the luggage.
      Of course, today’s kids have DVDs playing their favorite movies, or Ipods playing their favorite songs, or other devices on which they can play Alien-Blaster (or whatever game).
      Back in the late 50s and early 60s, our entertainment was watching the landscape. [We could never read in the vehicles we had because they — and the roads — were so bumpy.]

      Like

  5. At first, I thought this was a prologue to a new book from you, Jeff! It would be a real change of pace to see one of us do a western!
    I loved the westerns circa 1969…Lancer, The Virginian, and others, but I especially liked The High Chaparral. I wanted to go to Old Tucson so much! When I was grown and got to Arizona, I could never get anyone to go there, even though we went all over..three times! We were passing by it the during the last trip and I really begged, but the people who were taking us around said we didn’t have time.I could see it from the highway…where were we stick in traffic for a couple of hours…which means we could have been there, seeing the bank, saloon and all the places I ever wanted to go.
    What a great memory, especially for a couple of boys!

    Liked by 1 person

    • jeff7salter says:

      very sorry you didn’t get to see this and other places you wanted to visit. I well know that feeling, as my Dad would zoom past MANY places we wanted to stop “because we don’t have time”.

      Like

  6. jbrayweber says:

    That’s a great photo of you, btw!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. That sounds like so much fun! I’ve never been to a reenactment but I do enjoy western.

    Liked by 1 person

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