To citizens of the United States, the partly mythical Wild West needs no introduction; but to residents of other countries, a brief description might be helpful. In the latter half of the nineteenth century, the western part of the United States was a frontier area. Movies and comic books have surrounded the region with an aura partly based in fact. Famous outlaws on horseback were the scourge of the countryside, and equally famous sheriffs tried to stop them. Gunslingers had one or two guns in holsters hanging from a gun belt. Each of them took pride at the speed with which he could draw the gun from his holster and shoot an opposing gunslinger. If a gunslinger shot and killed many prestigious opponents in fair duels, his fame reached the stars.
In the opening paragraphs of The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky, Stephen Crane introduces Jack Potter, the town marshal of Yellow Sky, who can handle a gun with alacrity. However, he is not riding on horseback and outgunning the outlaws. Instead, he is coming home on a train with his newly married bride. The newlyweds are happy; but they feel embarrassed in the presence of their fellow passengers and train personnel. Their awkward conduct causes observers to gaze at them with derisive amusement.
Jack Potter obviously does not know how a married man ought to conduct himself. Moreover, he is a little worried. He wonders how the people of Yellow Sky will react when their marshal comes to town with a bride. He decides that when the train arrives at the Yellow Sky station, he and his bride will hurry home before anyone notices. Then he will send someone to spread the news. In the meantime, he and his bride will remain hidden until the populace get used to the new state of affairs.
One gunslinger does not make a good Wild West story. There have to be two of them. So Stephen Crane introduces a second in a very unusual manner.
A young man opens the door of a saloon and makes a startling announcement. Scratchy Wilson (the second gunslinger) is drunk and is wants to fight.
The announcement causes a flurry of activity. Two Mexicans leave the saloon, making their exit by the back door. The barkeeper locks up and bars the door and window. A drummer is the only person in the saloon who does not understand the gravity of the situation. He has recently come to town and is not acquainted with the customs of the Wild West. He asks a lot of foolish questions that exasperates the others. Finally, the barkeeper orders him to hide behind the bar so that he won’t be hit by a stray bullet.
When Scratchy Wilson arrives in town firing shots, he cannot find anyone who is willing to fight with him. Since he knows that the town marshal is not a coward, he goes to Jack Potter’s house. He fumes when his presence elicits no response.
Evidently this is not the first time that the two gunslingers have faced each other. The question that inevitably occurs to the perceptive reader’s mind is this. Why are both gunslingers still alive? The obvious answer is that Stephen Crane needs two living gunslingers. Otherwise, he cannot write his story.
As Scratchy Wilson stands before the house fuming, Jack Potter arrives with his bride. The drunken man whips his gun out of his holster and points it at Potter’s chest. Since he wants a fair fight, he does not fire.
A brief altercation follows. Wilson thinks that Potter has attempted to sneak up on him and demands that he fight fairly. Potter tells Wilson that he has no gun with him. He tells Wilson that he will have to do the shooting and issues the warning: “If you’re going to shoot me up, you better begin now. You’ll never get a chance like this again.”
When it finally occurs to Wilson that Potter really does not have a gun with him, he asks why. Potter calmly explains that he married a wife in San Antonio and is bringing her home.
Wilson was flabbergasted. Because of the marriage, Wilson no longer considers Jack Potter a worthy opponent in a gunfight; so he walks away.
The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky may be read online. It is presented by World English.