The Farm Chronicles: St Louis Gun Battle

It was sometime in April 1968 and Dad and I were headed home from another horse-buying mission at Oscar McWilliam’s ranch near Sedalia, Missouri. By that time, the by-pass around St. Louis was complete, but the signage was tricky. We missed it and took the main street through the city. Below the bridge over the Mississippi was a slaughter house. You knew you were close when you could smell the terrible scent of blood and death. That’s one reason favoring the by-pass. We continued on in our white 1963 International stake-bed truck with homemade 8-foot stock racks, pulling our horse trailer. We were crawling through a pretty dangerous part of town, another reason why the bypass was better.

People were staring at us. Some were pointing in amazement at this strange sight of a truck full of horses pulling a trailer with more horses. Others were laughing and pulling on their friends to take a look. Not only were the horses unusual, we were probably the only two white people trying to navigate through the streets that these folks had seen in a long time. We were lost, and I could see the worry on Dad’s face. He was reading the street signs and trying to hit all the lights green. He wasn’t sure if we were on the right route that could get us back to I-70 East. There was no threat to us, but we were drawing a lot of attention.

Then we heard gun shots. Dad told me to slink down in the seat. The more we drove on, the more people there were. Some were starting to run out into the street. The further down the street we went, the more crowded it got, not so much of cars and trucks, but people. They were running toward the gunshots that we were hearing, and we were driving toward them because there was nowhere else to drive. At this one juncture, the people had stopped and gathered by an intersection, standing by, watching. We had a green light, so Dad just kept on driving. There were a large number of police on my right side and they were in a gun battle with several people across the street on Dad’s left side. All this confusion and we were driving right through it. Shots overhead, people yelling and running.

As we approached the epicenter of the battle, everything just stopped, both sides just staring at us in wonderment. And like the account in Exodus 14:21, “…the LORD caused the sea to go back … and the waters were divided,” the sea of people parted and let us pass through, many laughing and pointing, others with their jaws dropped as if they were thinking, “What am I really seeing?” For a moment, there was almost complete silence among all the combatants. Then, in the rearview mirror, I could see the fight was starting all over again. Strange thing about humanity. Violence can stop for a peculiar moment in time while all is forgotten, then the next moment it’s raging again. If differences can be put aside long enough to look at a truckload of horses and two crazy cowboys, seems as though they can be permanently put aside.

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Bill Wilson