Section 1 opens with the vivid image of an eastern train "whirling onward" (Crane 79) from San Antonio through Texas, headed west toward the town of Yellow Sky. Jack Potter, Yellow Sky's town marshal, is aboard the train with his new bride, who "was not pretty, nor was she very young" (Crane 79). The couple are happy but awkward; the train's opulence both pleases and confounds them—they are unaccustomed to it—and they are uncomfortably conscious of the formal setting. Other travelers, as well as the porter and waiter, regard the Potters humorously due to their self-conscious affectations. For example, upon witnessing Mrs. Potter's coquettish behavior with her husband, a passenger "grew excessively sardonic, and winked at himself in one of the numerous mirrors" (Crane 80).
The Potters are due to arrive in Yellow Sky at 3:42pm. As they grow closer to the town, Jack Potter becomes more anxious. He worries about his decision to get married in San Antonio without first notifying any of his townspeople. "His friends could not forgive him. Frequently he had reflected on the advisability of telling them by telegraph, but a new cowardice had been upon him" (Crane 81). Potter decides to take his bride directly to his home and tell the town's citizens of his nuptials from there, thus allowing them time to adjust. Mrs. Potter understands her husband's reservations about approaching Yellow Sky. "She flushed in comprehension. A sense of mutual guilt invaded their minds" (Crane 81). Finally, they arrive at Yellow Sky.
In Section 2, in Yellow Sky, six men are in the Weary Gentleman Saloon: a drummer from the East, three Texans, and two Mexican sheepherders. The drummer is much more talkative than his companions, and the barkeeper enjoys a quiet afternoon. The scene is interrupted by the entrance of a young man, who announces that Scratchy Wilson is drunk and prowling around town.
This news causes the Mexicans to leave immediately. Though the drummer is unaware of the import of this message, the other men clearly react. The barkeeper shuts down the saloon and boards up the entrance. Another patron tells the drummer that there will be shooting, since Scratchy Wilson is skilled with a gun and becomes belligerent when drunk. "The drummer seemed to be swayed between the interest of a foreigner and a perception of personal danger" (Crane 83). When the barkeeper informs the drummer that stray bullets may enter the saloon, the drummer too becomes worried.
The other men, who reside in Yellow Sky and thus are familiar with Scratchy Wilson, explain to the drummer that the drunkard simply seeks trouble and wants to fight. Yet, the only man who will stand up to him is Jack Potter, who is in San Antonio. The drummer wishes to ask more questions, but the men are irritated with him. The other men drink whiskey as they wait. The barkeeper expresses his desire for Potter's presence. Then, they hear the sound of far-off shots and footsteps.
In Section 3, Scratchy Wilson stalks the streets of Yellow Sky carrying two revolvers, one in each hand. As he walks, he yells indiscriminate challenges at the town at large, and he shoots his revolvers around. "The man's face flamed in a rage begot of whiskey. His eyes, rolling, and yet keen for ambush, hunted the still doorways and windows" (Crane 85). The town remains very still and silent. No one accepts Wilson's challenge to a gunfight.
The barkeeper's dog, which is outside, growls at Wilson. Wilson yells and shoots at the dog, which frightens it into running away. Eventually, Wilson turns to the Weary Gentleman Saloon and bangs on the boarded entrance, demanding a drink. Since no one responds, Wilson knifes a piece of paper into the door, then tries to shoot this target from afar. He barely misses. Disappointed that still no one will fight him, Wilson decides to go to Potter's home. The home is empty and "regarded him as might a great stone god" (Crane 86). Wilson awaits Potter's arrival.
Finally, Potter and his bride arrive at the house, and they are shocked to be confronted by Wilson. "The two men faced each other at a distance of three paces. He of the revolver smiled with a new and quiet ferocity" (Crane 87). Mrs. Potter remains silent, horrified. Wilson claims that Potter attempted to ambush him, but Potter assures Wilson that he is not carrying any weapon. Wilson continues to attempt to elicit a violent response from Potter, but Potter is steadfast in his calmness, repeating that he has no weapon and warning Wilson to shoot now if he wants to cause Potter harm.
When Wilson questions why Potter is not carrying his gun, Potter explains that he has just returned from San Antonio, where he was married. Wilson is astounded by this response and must repeat Potter's assertion regarding his marriage several times. Wilson finally acknowledges Mrs. Potter's presence. Then, realizing that Potter's marriage has irreparably changed their relationship as gun-toting antagonists, Wilson walks away. He says, "I s'pose it's all off now" (Crane 88).
Crane adopts a comic tone in the beginning of "The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky." His description of the not-so-young couple is quite humorous. They are clumsy and overly self-conscious of their new relationship. In an example of dramatic irony, other passengers and crew members on the train are aware of the couple's awkwardness. Potter and his wife, however, are unaware of the others' mild derision. This results in a humorous caricature of Mr. and Mrs. Potter.
Potter shows apprehensiveness regarding the introduction of his wife to the Yellow Sky community in this simile: "As a matter of truth, Jack Potter was beginning to find the shadow of a deed weigh upon him like a leaden slab" (Crane 81). The right thing to do was to keep the town informed of his choices, but this is going to be a surprise. The hyperbolic description of his apprehension also contributes to the story's ironic tone: "he felt he was heinous. He had committed an extraordinary crime" (Crane 81). Clearly, marrying his bride is not a heinous crime, but Potter only feels that way because he has violated the traditions of the West. Towns like this one, after all, strongly prioritize manly males and tend to valorize violence—consider, for instance, the lone sheriff or gunman.
The figure of the drummer, in contrast, is a symbol of the East. Like the Swede in "The Blue Hotel," the drummer does not fully understand the circumstances of the West. He is uncomfortable in the Western setting and unused to its tropes: "The drummer seemed to be swayed between the interest of a foreigner and a perception of personal danger" (Crane 83). He is thus more nervous than the residents of Yellow Sky, who are more accustomed to Scratchy Wilson's behavior. They simply take cover until he has calmed down or gone away. The drummer's character thus serves as a foil to the Western men, especially Scratchy Wilson and Jack Potter, the one man who will directly confront Scratchy.
The first description of Scratchy Wilson automatically pokes fun at his image of a traditional Western villain. He is a man " in a maroon-colored flannel shirt, which had been purchased for purposes of decoration, and made principally by some Jewish men on the East Side of New York" (Crane 85). Later, Crane writes that "his boots had red tops with gilded imprints, of the kind beloved in winter by little sledding boys on the hillsides of New England" (85). Wilson's stylization as a Western villain or anti-hero is false or insincere, for his is no real man of the West with his Eastern fashions. Thus, Crane acknowledges but undermines Western manliness and makes it a myth.
Crane uses additional parody to describe Wilson. "The name of Jack Potter, his ancient antagonist, entered his mind.... He moved in the direction of his desire, chanting Apache scalp-music" (Crane 86). Though "ancient antagonist" is quite dramatic language, Potter is simply a mild-mannered sheriff who has recently been married, while Wilson is little more than an alcoholic. These are not lifelong warriors, and Wilson is nowhere near an Apache warrior.
The parody is further emphasized by Crane's creative similes. "Taking up a strategic position, [Wilson] howled a challenge. But this house regarded him as might a great stone god" (Crane 86). The house is unmoved, indifferent to Wilson's overexcited gestures as he maneuvers into position. Nonetheless, Wilson "fumed at it as the winter wind attacks a prairie cabin in the North" (Crane 86). The imagery keenly demonstrates Wilson's exaggerated mannerisms as the Western villain, spoiling for a gunfight, yet impotently attacking a wall.
When Potter finally arrives and explains to Wilson about his marriage, this revelation completely alters the dynamic of their relationship. The arrival of a woman, of domesticity, entirely disrupts Scratchy’s Western myth of a violent and purely masculine world. Potter’s new domesticity cannot coexist with Scratchy’s violent antagonism in his version of the mythic West. Now that Potter’s life is not just a game, Wilson takes the mature path and rightly admits, "I s'pose it's all off now" (Crane 88). The era of the mythic West has gone and passed, exemplified by Wilson's dejected realization; "[I]t was merely that in the presence of this foreign condition he was a simple child of the earlier plains" (Crane 88). Interestingly, the presence of Mrs. Potter ultimately neuters Wilson’s antagonism and might be of great value to the town’s safety, because if Scratchy is looking for a fight, he now knows that he has to go elsewhere.