“The Tin Star” Summary: John M. Cunningham Short Story

The Tin Star John M. Cunningham Summary
“The Tin Star” Summary

“The Tin Star” is a short Western story by John M. Cunningham, first published in 1947. It’s his most famous story, and was the basis for the popular 1952 Western movie, High Noon. It’s about a sheriff who’s anticipating the return of a man who vowed revenge on him five years ago. Many people urge him to resign his post and get out of town before the train comes in. Here’s a summary of “The Tin Star”.

“The Tin Star” Summary

Toby, a deputy, is quitting. In Sheriff Doane’s office, he tells him he’s going to stay and see him through this business with Jordan first. After the train comes in and he’s dealt with, he’s resigning. He doesn’t see the point of the job. The pay is low, you risk your life, and then the juries let the bad guys go so they can come back and shoot at you. You’re poor your whole life and then you get killed. There’s nothing in it but a tin star and it’s a job for a dog. Doane agrees, but someone has to take care of things. He likes to feel like the pretty larks, free inside. Doane works his arthritic hands.

The mayor, Mettrick, bursts in to convince Doane to resign and get out of town. Doane orders him to shut up and sit down. Looking out the window, Toby sees Young Jordan drinking on the saloon porch. He’s waiting for his brother to arrive. Mettrick reiterates his position that Doane should go. His hands have been bad for two years now and there’d be no shame in quitting. It’s three o’clock; there’s still an hour. Doane knew five years ago when Jordan wasn’t hung that this day would come.

Mettrick says goodbye with a note of finality and leaves. Toby agrees that Doane should get out of town. He’s not a match anymore for Jordan, and then there’s Young Jordan, and possibly Pierce and Colby too. Doane thinks maybe jail has softened Jordan and it will be alright. Toby knows Jordan will be just the same. They don’t know why he wasn’t hung for murder.

Doane stretches, suddenly feeling tired. He’s going to a grave he’s been visiting every Sunday. Staley, a deputy, comes in a removes his badge. Doane hasn’t handled this right and he’s resigning. The train is on time. Staley saw Colby and Pierce is coming too. They’re all going to meet up. He hasn’t handled the situation right. Toby orders Staley out and punches him, knocking him down the steps.

Doane’s going to the cemetery. He’ll try the liniment for his hands when he gets back. He goes outside and unties his horse. Colby and Pierce are sitting on the porch with Young Jordan. When Doane mounts his horse and rides off, Young Jordan mounts his horse and follows. Doane leaves the town and starts up the hill to the cemetery.

At the gate, Young Jordan is showing the effects of drinking. He walks close to Doane and asks if he objects to his being in town. Doane doesn’t because he hasn’t done anything. He says he will do something; he takes out his gun and shoots twice at a bird but misses both times. He threatens to shoot up the town and heads for his horse.

Doane puts his flowers on the grave of his deceased wife, Cecelia Doane. Young Jordan has untied Doane’s horse and chased it off, and now he rides back toward town. Doane is flushed and starts walking back.

“The Tin Star” Summary, Cont’d

Doane hears shots from the town and the train whistle. He starts running awkwardly. The street is empty, but there’s a body lying in front of the saloon—Young Jordan’s. Doane draws his gun. There’s shooting from the saloon and his office. Toby calls out, warning Doane off and saying he’s been hit in the leg. Doane sees a figure walking down the street toward the station.

The train whistle shrieks and the ground shakes. Doane guides Young Jordan’s horse, keeping it between himself and the saloon, down the side alley and hitches it in the back. Inside, Toby is pale and bleeding from the leg. He got Young Jordan but was hit by Colby. He thought Doane was dead.

Doane gets back on the horse and rides it behind stores, through back alleys and across the street until he’s behind the saloon. He walks in the back door. Pierce is ducked behind the bar. He takes a drink and simultaneously turns his gun toward Doane. Doane fires first but his hand hurts and the recoil makes him drop the gun. Pierce slumps forward and falls down. He calls out to Toby but there’s no answer.

The train has arrived. Doane sees Jordan and Colby coming up the street. Colby runs back down the street and out of sight. Jordan stands in full view, smiling. Doane bolts the back door of the saloon and waits up front. When the back door rattles, he fires a shot at it, then it sounds like something solid hits it.

He can hear Jordan and Colby say Toby has passed out. Jordan goes to get him while Colby keeps Doane in the saloon. Doane takes a secure position by the bar. Pierce has revived; he was only skinned by the shot. Doane fires at the sound, hears a cry of pain, and sees the front doors swing. Doane tries getting out the back, but it’s been barricaded.

Outside his office, Jordan hold Toby in front of him then pushes him unconscious into the street. He fires twice near Toby, telling Doane to come out and face him or the next shot kills Toby.

Doane can hear Pierce breathing heavily just outside the doors. He walks through and is hit by a shot. He immediately fires at the blast. Doane is spun around and Pierce collapses. Doane’s right arm hangs uselessly. He draws his other gun with his left and steps out farther. Jordan comes out of the office firing, hitting Doane along the neck. Doane hits Jordan, knocking him back against the wall.

Doane is hit in the stomach and knee. He falls and drags himself to Toby’s body. Jordan aims at Toby. Doane throws his body over the deputy and takes it in the back. Toby manages to get onto an elbow and shoots Jordan.

Lying in the street, Doane reiterates their conversation from earlier—there’s nothing in it but a tin star and it’s a job for a dog. He asks Toby is he’s going to quit; Toby shakes his head. Doane sees a pretty bird in the sky and then dies. Toby takes Doane’s gun and star. A little crowd has gathered now. Mettrick starts saying he told Doane to get out of town, but Toby silences him. He orders someone else to get the doctor for his leg. He’s got a lot to do.

I hope this summary of “The Tin Star” by John M. Cunningham was helpful.