THEN & NOW: Two Men, One Gun and 1,213 Kegs of Black Powder

THEN & NOW: Two Men, One Gun and 1,213 Kegs of Black Powder

The Would-Be Marksmen

On July 17, 1891, after they had exercised their arms enough at a Rock Springs saloon by throwing back shots as well as punches, Jacob Santala and Jacob Hilli decided it was time to go out and see who was the best shot.

The two men, loaded with a keg of beer, two flasks of whiskey and Santala’s pistol, took to the streets to find the perfect place to test their marksmanship. They got in a buggy and headed a short ways out of town.

They eventually found a building they thought would be the perfect backdrop to test their shooting skills. Standing 12 feet from the building, Santala lined up his pistol sights on the door and fired a bullet right into.

Advertisement - Story continues below...

What he and Hilli didn’t know is that the building they had just fired a bullet into was the Union Pacific Coal Company’s powder house with 1,213 kegs of black powder stored inside.

That one bullet caused the building to explode and with that, never gave Hilli the chance to prove who was the better shot.

Aside from killing the two shooters, the explosion destroyed two homes, severely damaged six others, and left nearby railroad tracks twisted and railroad cars demolished. All that is left of those two men and their unfinished marksmanship contest is the pocket watch featured above that is kept at the Sweetwater County Historical Museum.


Same Location, Two Explosions – 48 Years Apart

In 1939, five boys ages 7-12 where out hunting rabbits with a .22 rifle. They found a wooden box under some greasewood bushes and decided to use it as a target. What they didn’t know was that the box was full of explosives. At some point, a shot from their .22 set the explosives off killing all five boys. This sad accident occurred in the same location as the powder house in the previous story.

SweetwaterNOW series Then and Now
In 2008, this estimated 50-year-old dynamite was found two miles from Lonetree near the Utah border.

A Suspicious Wooden Box near Lonetree

Because our area has deep roots in the mining industry, left-over explosives from previous work have be found in different areas.

In 2008, a suspicious wooden box was discovered by a Uinta county local about 2 miles from Lonetree near the Utah border. Law enforcement was contacted and bomb techs from the Sweetwater County Sheriff’s Office and the Rock Springs and Green River Police Departments safely exploded the dynamite.

When such a discovery is made, law enforcement should be contacted to make sure these materials are handled safely and correctly.


Be safe out there when you are shooting at any object – you may not know what is behind or inside of it.

Special thanks to the Sweetwater County Historical Museum, and Rock Spring Police Department for the images and details of this story.

Then and Now stories of the Green River Police Department with Mike Kinniburgh