Colonel Sanders Once Shot a Man to Defend His Business

When you see a pic of Colonel Sanders, his friendly demeanor and all-white suit and black string tie cause an immediate craving for a bucket of KFC. However, the lovable founder and symbol of KFC, Colonel Harland Sanders, is more than just a friendly, ingenious founder of an American fast food restaurant. It turns out that the real Colonel Sanders once shot a man to protect his business.

Colonel Sanders grew up in Henryville, Indiana and worked many jobs throughout his life before becoming the successful franchisee of the fast food chain Kentucky Fried Chicken. Before getting into the fast food business, he served in the Army in Cuba, and was issued the Kentucky Colonel award by Governor Ruby Laffoon.

colonel sanders shot
Flickr: Mr. Blue Mau Mau

Then, in the late 1920's, he started selling his famous fried chicken from a roadside restaurant during the Great Depression. It would be decades before he opened the first KFC franchise in Salt Lake City, Utah, but Colonel Sanders was already developing his secret recipe and making plans for the chicken restaurant chain that he would eventually open.

During this time, the Colonel was also working as a manager for a Shell Oil Gas Station in North Corbin, Kentucky, about 160 miles from Louisville. And, although his army days were in the past, Sanders knew his way around a gun and was prepared to use one if the situation called for it.

The Feud Begins

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When managing the Shell service station in the late 1920's, Sanders was having some trouble with the competing Standard Oil station down the street. Sanders had the great idea of painting signs throughout the town to advertise his gas station. However, the owner of Standard Oil, Matt Stewart, was afraid of Sanders taking his customers.

To combat this, Stewart would paint over the signs that Sanders used to advertise his business, sabotaging Sanders' strategy to attract more customers. This pissed Colonel Sanders off, and Sanders eventually confronted Stewart and threatened to shoot him if he kept painting over his signs.

The Fateful Sign Painting

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One day, Sanders was meeting with two Shell district managers when they caught Stewart in the act of painting over a sign. The three men ran down the street to stop him. However, Stewart was determined to complete his mission, and had brought a gun.

When he saw the three men running toward him, Stewart jumped down from the ladder, pulled out his gun, and began shooting. He hit Robert Gibson, one of the Shell managers, who died immediately.

The surviving manager had also brought a gun and was firing back at Stewart. Sanders acted quickly, grabbing Gibson's gun and joining the gunfight. Reportedly, Colonel Sanders hit Matt Stewart in the shoulder, who then yelled "Don't shoot, Sanders! You've killed me!"

Soon after, the police arrived and arrested the three surviving men. Sanders got off without serving any time, since his shot was fired in self-defense. However, Matt Stewart was sentenced to 18 years for the murder of Shell Manager Robert Gibson. Two years later, Stewart died in jail at the hands of a sheriff. Although the story gets murky at this point, some sources suggest that the sheriff was bribed by members of the Gibson family.

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Josh Ozersky's book Colonel Sanders and the American Dream goes into further detail about the shootout. The next time you chow down on a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken, you'll be able to fully appreciate the Colonel's dedication to his craft.

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