Don't Put The Bullet In The Gun!

Pool's Cove is a small community in Fortune Bay, Newfoundland. Up until 1970, the only way in or out was by boat.

In 1933 most people there kept cattle, or huge animals called oxen. There were very few bulls, so a 'government bull' was usually brought in for breeding purposes. He was generally wild and not to be trusted.

During the summer and early fall, these animals were kept at pasture in the country. Every now and then they came out to drink the salt water. Their route to the beach took them past the home of my grandparents, Berkley and Helen Nurse. You could feel the large, two-story house tremble as they went by. The roar of their hooves was like distant thunder.

After drinking their fill, the animals wandered around the community for a while before returning to the country. They had an annoying habit of getting into vegetable gardens. People feared the damage that might be done to crops that were needed for winter storage.

Late one night, when the Nurse family were all in bed, John Tom Williams came to the house. He persuaded Berkley to help him herd the animals back to the country before any gardens were destroyed. He also wanted Berkley to take his 30-30 rifle - probably with the intention of scaring the animals and heading them in the right direction.

The house was pretty dark, with only one kerosene lamp lit. The front door was open so they could watch the animals coming in the road. As they passed, both men started for the back door. John Tom had the rifle and Berkley issued a warning:

'Don't put the bullet in the gun in the house, John Tom!'

What happened next is not quite clear. The two men jammed in the hall doorway as both tried to get through at the same time. The sound of the shot had everyone out of bed and running downstairs immediately.

The bullet from the loaded rifle had gone through the inside part of Berkley's foot, about midway between the heel and toes, splintering some bone in the process. The resident missionary, Dr. Harrington, and his wife (a nurse) were quickly fetched to clean and dress the wound. The bullet had gone clear through the foot, leaving a hole in the hall doorstep, which remained as long as the family owned the house.

Berkley's foot was dressed every day by the Harringtons. However, despite their best efforts, an infection set in, possibly caused by the lead content of the bullet. At any rate, it was feared that gangrene might develop and result in the loss of the foot.

So Berkley was dispatched to Grand Bank on the Canadian National coastal boat. There he was treated by Dr. John Burke at the Cottage Hospital, and the foot was saved. He returned home with a plaster cast on his foot, which had an open area over the wound. It was a long time before he was fully mobile again.

To this day, two questions remain unanswered: Why didn't John Tom listen to Berkley's warning about not loading the gun in the house? Did the shot, untimely though it was, have the desired effect on the oxen, sending them back to the country?

© F. Herridge
Published in Canadian Stories, June/July 2004

Non Fiction
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