Posted by Elyse Bruce on April 7, 2014
Today’s idiom is one that is found in a conversation between Frannie Goldsmith and her father, Peter, in Chapter 6 of “The Stand.”
“I don’t know. I never had a pregnant daughter before and am not sure just how I should take it. Was it that Jess?”
“You told him?”
She nodded again.
“What did he say?”
“He said he would marry me. Or pay for an abortion.”
“Marriage or abortion,” Peter Goldsmith said, and drew on his pipe. “He’s a regular two-gun Sam.”
When Stephen King wrote about two-gun Sam was he thinking of the Yosemite Sam cartoon character? You know the one. He’s the short cowboy with a fiery red handlebar mustache and huge voice who is known to have a hair-trigger temper, and who brandishes two guns most of the time. Bugs Bunny has made quite the sport of antagonizing Two-Gun Sam at every turn.
In any case, just because Yosemite Sam is a literal two-gun Sam, does this mean that the idiom originated with the cartoon character?
Friz Freleng created Yosemite Sam (whose animation real name — as opposed to his animation nickname — is Samuel Michelangelo Rosenbaum) in 1944 for the animated short, “Stage Door Cartoon” where the character appeared as a southern sheriff. The following year, he appeared in “Hare Trigger” alongside Bugs Bunny.
Fourteen years before Yosemite Sam was created, Volume 1 of “The Haverfordian” published in November 1930, made mention of Two-Gun Sam. The magazine was a monthly publication that focused on fostering “the literary spirit among the undergraduates.” Contributions were solicited, and considered for publication solely on their merits. The editor, Lockhart Amerman advised the Haverfordian readership of the following:
Beginning with this number and continuing for several more numbers, the HAVERFORDIAN will shoulder the white mans burden and publish “Uncle Bob’s Kiddies’ Page,” by Harris Shane, author of “Two Gun Sam,” “Blood on the Desert,” “The Maverick Murderers” and “Dainty Desserts for Summertime.“
Going back to 19264 and a book of short stories titled, “Counter Currents.” The stories were written by Elsie Janis and Marguerite Aspinwall and published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons. In one of the short stories, the idiom was used a handful of times including, but are not limited to, page 149:
“Two of them,” Jinny decreed. “You can borrow mine if you haven’t an extra one. You’re to be Two-Gun Sam — how’s that for a name? Wear them low on your hips like that tin-horn gambling cowboy at Bar 13 last year.
And page 155:
“This, ladies and gentlemen,” turning on the room at large with a flourish, “is Two-Gun Sam, the Bad Man of the Stillwater Range. Kind of short on patience and long on straight shooting.”
During the Civil War, a large side-wheel steamer known as the Uncle Sam was commissioned by the Union Navy and renamed the USS Black Hawk. It was an impressive river gunboat armed with the following guns: two 30-pounder Parrot rifles, two 12-pounder Parrott rifles, two heavy 12-pounder Parrott rifles, two Union repeating guns, and one B&R gun. It’s easy to see why it was colloquially referred to as the two-gun Sam.
In a song book compiled by George Stuyvesant Jackson entitled, “Early Songs Of Uncle Sam” the song “The Battle of Stonington” is included. As students of American history know, the Battle of Stonington was part of the War of 1812. While the book was published in the 20th century, it has a bibliography that proves the authenticity of the songs. One of the verses of the “Battle of Stonington” figures two guns prominently.
What many may not know is that during the War of 1812, the cartoon character of Uncle Sam was first used to symbolize the United States government. In September 1813, the name “Uncle Sam” began to appear in newspapers by journalists who opposed the war, using the term as an insult to American soldiers and government officials alike.
Why was calling anyone “Uncle Sam” an insult?
Because Sam was considered a euphemism in polite society for the devil. If an individual linked Sam with something or someone he or she believed was evil, the implication was that the devil was obviously involved.
Idiomation therefore pegs two-gun Sam to the War of 1812 without a doubt. Sorry about that, fans of Yosemite Sam.