The Strange Story of Tought-Guy Sammy Smith

Damon Runyon

My old home town out West may not be so much to look at, what with the smelters smoking it up some, and our citizens not being so very careful about what they throw in the streets, but it is a pretty first-rate town at that.

In fact, if anybody thinks it is not a good town, they had better keep it to themselves until they get out of the city limits, because our citizens are quite touchy, indeed, on this particular subject.

The people of my old home town are the finest people that the Lord ever lets live, which nobody can deny, not even my grandpap, who is not very much of a booster either when it comes to talking about people.

Maybe you read some of the stories my grandpap tells me about people, and also about himself, but this story has nothing to do with him. This story is about Sammy Smith, the toughest guy in my old home town, bar nobody.

Sammy Smith is the only son of the Widow Smith, and he grows up on the same block I do on Cottonwood Street. In fact, Sammy Smith and I run together more than somewhat, but when he starts getting tough I split out with him, because the way I look at it, being tough only breeds scabs on a guy’s nose.

Sammy Smith’s mother is a little old blind woman, no bigger than a minute, and I can see her now, leaning over the gate in front of their house, with a black shawl over her head, and I can hear her calling Sammy Smith. She always calls him in a funny kind of way, her voice high and singsongy, like this: “Hi, Sammy, and a ho, Sammy, and a hey, Sammy.”

It sounds like music to hear the Widow Smith calling Sammy Smith, and Sammy Smith never fails to drop whatever he is doing, which is more apt to be some hellishness than not, and hurry to her. As near as I can figure, Sammy Smith loves his little old blind mother pretty much, and nobody blames him.

Well, as I am telling you, Sammy Smith grows up good and tough, what with hanging around saloons, and one thing and another, and everybody in my old home town is pretty much against him. He is always quarreling and fighting and some people do not put it past him to be doing even worse.

But always along toward evening Sammy Smith manages to get himself home somehow, for that is the time his little old blind mother comes to the gate and starts calling him the same as she does when he is a little boy, “Hi, Sammy, and a ho, Sammy, and a hey, Sammy.”

Sometimes it is pretty tough going for Sammy Smith what with being full of liquor, but he always gets there, and no matter how bad off he is his little old blind mother is glad to feel his arms around her.

Well, everybody in my old home town feels sorry for the Widow Smith, and they put Sammy Smith’s orneriness down to his old man, who dies when Sammy Smith is quite young of general cussedness. Everybody in my old home town tries to be nice to Sammy Smith and excuse him for his goings-on, but one day when he is about twenty years old he hauls off and kills Joe Follansbee over nothing at all, and everybody figures Sammy finally goes too far.

The killing comes off about noon and Sammy Smith makes his getaway out of town. He has two six-shooters on him, and everybody knows he will certainly endeavor to knock everybody off who fools with him, so he is not pursued so very much.

This Joe Follansbee is not a bad guy, and there is much indignation over his killing, especially in his own family, and Joe’s old man and several brothers take to hunting for Sammy Smith.

One of these brothers, a fellow by the name of Bob, goes to school with Sammy Smith, and he knows all about Sammy Smith’s little old blind mother, and what Sammy thinks of her.

So along toward evening, this Bob gets behind a tree in Cottonwood Street with a Winchester rifle in his hand, not far from Sammy Smith’s house, and waits. Pretty soon the Widow Smith comes out of the house with a shawl over her head and goes down to the gate and begins calling: “Hi, Sammy, and a ho, Sammy, and a hey, Sammy.”

Her voice is still echoing along the street when out of the shadows comes Sammy Smith, the guy everybody is looking for. There he comes hurrying to meet his mother, and back of the tree Bob Follansbee takes dead aim at him down the sights of the Winchester.

Well, sir, this Bob Follansbee is naturally pretty sore at Sammy Smith, and maybe he is justified if he pulls the trigger, but somehow he is not able to do it. No, sir, he does not shoot Sammy Smith at all, but leaves Sammy there with his arms around his little old blind mother, and comes back down town.

And this is all the story, except that Sammy Smith clears out, and takes his little old blind mother with him, and the committee which organizes to hang Bob Follansbee if he shoots Sammy Smith under such circumstances breaks up without Bob ever knowing anything about it.