Those of you Glibs who haven’t pickled your brains yet will recall my Glibitzer Prize-nominated article “Marshal Dillon – Libertarian Hero or Capital A Asshole”, in which I proved without a doubt that Matt Dillon is an authoritarian fuckwit. Since posting that article I have heard many ‘new to me’ episodes of “Gunsmoke”, one in particular has me questioning some long held beliefs. Not about Marshal Dillon, he’s always an asshole. So what’s in this episode that has me reevaluating my core principles? Let’s find out.
The episode in question is called “The Blacksmith” you can listen to it here (episode 108). It Originally aired way back on June 5th, 1954, and was written by the show’s co-creator and most prolific writer (379 scripts) John Meston. The story starts with Marshal Matt Dillon and his deputy Chester Proudfoot going to pick up Matt’s horse from the blacksmith, when they get there the blacksmith, a heavily-accented German named Emil, is getting an earful from a cowboy named Tolman. Tolman claims the horse Emil shoed is lame due to Emil’s shoddy (Ha!) work and refuses to pay. Emil tells him “fine, if you aren’t satisfied don’t pay,” after Tolman rides off Emil tells our heroes that the horse Tolman was riding was the one he shoed and they can all see it’s fine. Matt offers to go get the chiseling cowboy and make him settle his bill, but Emil declines and says it’s not worth the trouble.
A few days later Matt, Chester, and Doc are hanging out, talking about Lily Langtree when Emil approaches. He is waiting for the stage to meet his bride-to-be he got through the Old West version of Craigslist, and wants the fellows to join him and meet the soon to be Mrs. Blacksmith. After meeting Gretchen, a heavily accented German, and seeing the couple off to get settled, Matt, Chester, and Doc head off to the Long Branch for a beer (Doc’s buying.) When they get to the saloon Tolman, and his friends Spooner and Willy, are at a table bad mouthing Emil and bemoaning the changing demographics of Dodge City. This angers Matt and, as he often does, he takes it upon himself to tell private citizens to get out of a private establishment simply because he doesn’t like them. Tolman protests and Matt doubles down again orders them to leave and warns them to leave Emil and his “girl” alone. Willy starts to imply that Emil’s “girl” is nothing more than a whore but Matt cold cocks him before he can finish.
A few weeks later, Emil makes Gretchen an honest woman and the whole town gets together to celebrate the nuptials. A drunk Tolman and his friends arrive and Tolman makes a scene trying to get the Bride to dance with him. Emil in an attempt to defuse the situation picks up Tolman and dunks him in a water trough, much to the amusement of the crowd and the embarrassment of Tolman who vows to get revenge on the “Dutchman”. A few days later Tolman’s friend Spooner lures Emil out of down for a bogus blacksmithing emergency, while gone Emil’s shop is burned down, and Tolman is the prime suspect although no one saw anything. A lack of evidence notwithstanding, Marsal Dillon tells Emil if he’ll perjure himself and claim that Tolman was responsible Matt will arrest Tolman. Emil, declines but hints that he’ll get Tolman back in his own way.
Saturday morning finds Matt and Chester watching as Emil waits patiently for Tolman to come to town for his weekly supplies. When Chester sees Tolman approaching with Spooner and Willy, he and Matt go out to intercept the trio before Emil can confront them. Matt takes the cowboys’ guns from them just as Emil walks up and announces that he is there to chew bubble gum and kick Tolman’s ass. Tolman tells Emil that if he touches him Willy and Spooner will back him up, Matt offers to make sure the cowboys only go at the blacksmith one at a time. To Emil’s credit he declines this offer and ends up larruping all three at once. And thus the story ends with the three beaten half-to-death cowboys carried off to Docs and the winded but otherwise unhurt Blacksmith walks off triumphantly into the sunset.
Nice little story. Now, what could be problematic about that? What bothered me, aside from Chester’s insipid toadying, was the finale and the saloon scene. The one thing that keeps me from being The One True Libertarian is my position that the NAP is a bit to limiting, sometimes a person is just begging for an ass-kicking, and I have no issue if they get one. The belligerent drunk who insults your mother, or the jerk who keeps hassling you after repeated warnings, for example. On the surface these two scenes shouldn’t bother me, but they do. Is it merely my dislike for Marshall Dillon or something more?
In the saloon scene, Willy fits my prerequisites for a thumping and if Emil had been there I’d be cool with him doing the job. If someone deserve a beatdown does it matter who delivers it? Now, Dillon is The Law in Dodge and thus probably should be held to a higher standard than a father or husband who defends the honor of their wife or daughter. And, I’d be remiss to point out that, like Mason Rudolph, Matt started it. Those two objections aside, I still found my self a bit torn on the question of if his breaching of the NAP was justified here. I’d wager most of you gun nutz were bothered with Dillon’s disarming of the cowboys in the final scene, as was I, but what really got me thinking was his offer to hold the cowboys back so Emil could take them on one at a time. You may be thinking that there’s nothing wrong with insuring that it’s a fair fight, but what is a “fair” fight? Earlier in the show Dillon warns Tolman that if Emil ever got mad enough he could kill Tolman with his bare hands. In that sense Dillon knew that a one-on-one fight wouldn’t be fair. Also, suppose Emil wasn’t a big beefy blacksmith but some nebbish nerdy newsman, would it have been fair for Matt to hold Tolman’s arms so the weaker man could pummel away? Assuming Tolman deserved an ass-kicking does it matter how he gets it?
These are the issues that have me re-evaluating my position on the NAP. I’m not sure where I’m at, I’m leaning towards my initial take but realize that I have some gray areas to puzzle out. What’s your take fellow Glibs? Is the NAP sacrosanct or is there room for exceptions? Hash it out in the comments, or have a nerd fight over who drew Daredevil better, Mazzucchelli or Sienkiewicz, or whatever. I’m not the boss of you.