“Shooting Jake Smith’s Hat” by N.P. Langford, 1877

Reprise from 07/28/2010


N.P. Langford

One of the members of the famous Washburn Expedition that explored  the uppper Yellowstone in 1870, a jocular man named Jake Smith, was always ready to gamble. Unfortunately, he lost all his money in a card game the night before the trip started. But Jake came up with a way to replenish his stake. N.P. Langford tells the story.


Jake Smith

Descending the range to the east, we reached Trail creek, a tributary of the Yellowstone about 3 o’clock in the afternoon, where we are now camped for the night. We are now fairly launched upon our expedition without the possibility of obtaining outside assistance in case we need it. Our safety will depend upon our vigilance. We are all well armed with long range repeating rifles and needle guns, though there are but few of our party who are experts at off-hand shooting with a revolver.

In the course of our discussion Jake Smith expressed his doubt whether any member of our party is sufficiently skilled in the use of the revolver to hit an Indian at even a close range. He offered to put the matter to a test by setting up his hat at a distance of twenty yards for the boys to shoot at with their revolvers, without a rest, at twenty-five cents a shot.

Several members of our party blazed away with indifferent success—with the result that Jake was adding to his exchequer without damage to his hat. I could not resist the inclination to quietly drop out of sight behind a clump of bushes. From my place of concealment I sent from my breech-loading Ballard repeating rifle four bullets in rapid succession, through the hat—badly riddling it.

Jake inquired, “Whose revolver is it that makes that loud report?” He did not discover the true state of the case, but removed the target with the ready acknowledgment that there were members of our party whose aim with a revolver was more accurate than he had thought.


  • Excerpt from N.P. Langford, Diary of the Washburn Expedition to the Yellowstone and Firehole Rivers in the Year 1879. You can read a condensed version in my book, Adventures in Yellowstone.
  • N.P. Langford Photo from the book.  Jake Smith Photo,Yellowstone Digital Slide File.
  • You can read a condensed version of Langford’s The Discovery of Yellowstone Park in my book, Adventures in Yellowstone.
  • To see more stories by this author, click on “Langford” under the “Categories” button to the left.
  • For more stories about the Washburn Expedition, click on “Washburn” under the “Categories” button to the left.

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