Inside the town watering hole, the Weary Gentleman saloon, are six men: a drummer who is new to the town, three Texans, and two Mexican sheepherders sit at the bar. In front of the door, the barkeeper’s dog lays lazily on the boardwalk. Across the sandy street from the saloon are “vivid green grass-plots” that resemble “grass mats used to represent lawns on the stage.” Circling the town, the “fresh-cut” bank of the Rio Grande gives way to “a great plum-colored plain of mesquite.” The town is largely placid and asleep, save for the patrons in the Weary Gentleman.
Crane uses the calm environs of Yellow Sky to foreshadow a coming storm. His vivid descriptions of the neat grass plots, the manicured riverbank, and the restful saloon invoke the replenishing insides of a cozy home tended by a woman’s touch. This former frontier town is now a quiet retreat, possibly too quiet.
The drummer regales the other patrons with fantastic tales until a young man enters the saloon and proclaims that Scratchy Wilson is drunk and “turned loose with both hands.” This news causes the two Mexican sheepherders to lower their glasses and quietly slip out the saloon’s back entrance, while the remaining patrons become “Instantly solemn.”
The perplexed drummer wonders about the “chapel-like gloom” that descends upon the saloon. He watches as the barkeeper locks, then bars the door, and pulls down the saloon’s heavy window shutters. The young man tells him, “for the next two hours this town won't be a health resort.” When the drummer asks if this portends a shootout, another patron warns that there will most certainly be some “good shootin,’” while the young man guarantees that a fight is coming. The drummer’s curiosity piques. He asks again the name of the man who is causing so much fear, and the patrons answer in chorus, “Scratchy Wilson!”
In the previous passages, Crane likened Yellow Sky to, in the young man’s words, “a health resort”—hardly the traditional setting for a Western story. The looming threat of a shootout from Scratchy Wilson, however, suggests that some wild remains in this Wild West town. The young man admits as much when he warns that as long as Wilson is around, the town will certainly not be a health resort.
The drummer unleashes a barrage of questions about Scratchy Wilson. “Will he kill anybody?” “Can he break down the door?” The barkeeper replies that Wilson has failed to break down the door before, but he warns the drummer to get low, as Wilson is certain to try to shoot his way into the saloon. As the drummer lies on the floor, the other patrons insist that Wilson is “out to shoot” and “out for trouble.”
The description of Scratchy Wilson as a man prone to violence presents a starkly different version of masculinity than the one Jack Potter displays at the beginning of the story. While Potter is mild, respectful, and devoted to the bride and the town, Wilson is loud, belligerent, and violent to anyone around him. These contrasting versions of masculinity suggest that the plot will eventually hinge on which type of masculinity survives at the end of the story.
Only Jack Potter can stop Wilson, the patrons claim. They tell the drummer that Potter is the town marshal who “goes out and fights Scratchy when he gets on one of these tears,” but unfortunately, Potter is in San Antonio. The chatter in the saloon dampens down to “mere whispering.” Still flush with questions “born of an increasing anxiety and bewilderment,” the drummer waits in silence for Wilson to arrive. The barkeeper pours a full glass of whiskey for a patron who promptly gulps it down, then takes up a Winchester rifle and motions for the drummer to hide behind the bar.
This is the first time readers learn about the mutually reinforcing relationship between Wilson and Potter. That Potter is the only person in town capable of dealing with Wilson’s drunken tears indicates that the two men need each other: as the outlaw, Wilson needs Marshal Potter as a foil and vice-versa. That their relationship has passed into contemporary town legend attests to its long history.
The barkeeper tells the drummer that Scratchy Wilson is a “wonder with a gun” and “the last one of the old gang” that hung around the river. Although harmless when sober, the barkeeper adds, alcohol turns Wilson into “a terror.” As the barkeeper laments that Jack Potter is not in town to deal with Wilson, he hears a shot in the distance followed by several wild “yowls.” Scratchy Wilson is heading towards the saloon.