A Rifleman Went to War

by Herbert W. McBride

“From these men I learned many things, the most important of which was the point which they all insisted was absolutely vital: the ability to control one’s own nerves and passions—in other words, never to get excited.”

H.W. McBride

H.W. McBride was an American who joined the Canadian Army in 1914 because he “wanted to find out what a ‘regular war’ was like.” He wrote two books about his experiences, The Emma Gees and A Rifleman Went to War. Both books are available on Amazon and other internet sites.

The above quote comes from Chapter 1 – How Come? [He volunteered for The Great War] of A Rifleman Went to War.

This is the section of that chapter elaborating about the quote.

“At the age of fifteen I enlisted in and for several years remained a member of the Third Regiment. During that time, my father rose to the rank of Colonel commanding, and I became a sergeant. Then I went to work in Chicago and immediately affiliated with the First Illinois Infantry—Company I—Captain Chenoweth commanding. During the summer of 1893, having been informed by a wise medico that I had T. B. [tuberculosis], I put in my time ranging around in Colorado and New Mexico, part of the time as a cowpuncher and the rest working for a coal-mining company. (That is, I was supposed to be working for them, but, as a matter of fact, I was using them simply as a meal ticket, as I spent every minute of my idle time in scouting around looking for something to shoot at.) I met and got acquainted with a lot of the real old timers: men famous during the hectic days of Abilene, Dodge and Hays City and, of course, those who had been mixed up in the various ructions incident to the clearing up of the famous Maxwell Land Grant, upon part of which this mine was located.

Trinidad, near the mine (Sopris), was one of the hot spots in the old days and many a bad man had met his ‘come-uppance’ there and along the Picketwire or, as the original Spanish name has it, the Purgutoire River. From these men and from my practical shooting with them in various matches, I learned just about how good they and their erstwhile friends—and enemies—could really shoot, both with the pistol and the rifle. Bat Masterson, Jim Lee, Schwin Box and Nat Chapin, just to name the best of them, were all good shots, but the best of them never could hold a candle to the amazing performances of a lot of hitherto unknown ‘experts’ who are continually bobbing up in the moving pictures and the sensational stories published in supposedly reputable magazines in the year of grace, 1930.

I should have included Brown—Three-finger Brown—in the above list. He was as good as the best of them although he had to do all his shooting left-handed: due to the fact that he had allowed his curiosity to over-ride his good sense in the matter of investigating the doings of a band of ‘Penitentes’ one might and, as a result, lost the thumb and first finger of his right hand.

All these men had grown up in the West and had lived through the various ‘wars’ and ructions which flared up every now and then, all the way from Texas to the Black Hills. They all bore the scars of combat but the very fact that they had survived was, to my notion, the best evidence that they were good. Those were the days of the survival of the fittest, especially in the case of men who, like all those mentioned, had occupied positions as legal guardians of the peace, all along the border.

From these men I learned many things, the most important of which was the point which they all insisted was absolutely vital: the ability to control one’s own nerves and passions—in other words, never to get excited.

I had the opportunity to see a couple of them in action during some disturbances which came up during the Fourth of July celebration and never will forget that, while armed, they never even made a motion toward a gun: they simply walked up to the belligerent and half drunken ‘bad men’ and disarmed them and then walked them off to the calabozo to cool off. Yes, I learned a lot from those men. That they could shoot, both quickly and accurately, is unquestioned, but the thing that had enabled them to live to a ripe middle age was not so much due to that accomplishment as to the fact that they were abundantly supplied with that commodity commonly called ‘guts.’ That was the point, above all others, that impressed me and remained with me after I had returned to the East; and, ever since, I have tried to live up to the standard of those pioneers of the shooting game.”

Words well worth considering in a time when “I was in fear for my life” has become a mantra.

One response

  1. As a boy in the mid ’40s, my first cousin’s dad used to summer in Hot Springs. One of the old men at the city’s park my cousin made acquaintance with was named Castillo Givens. Mr. Givens had ridden for Judge Parker. According to the old law man, Judge Parker’s advice on taking a wanted man was if possible: “Go in laughing and joking, boys. It takes the ‘wire edge’ off your quarry.”

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