No, Colonel Sanders never killed a man in a shootout

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The internet loves fun facts about Colonel Sanders. Yes, he was a real man named Harland Sanders. And yes, he really was a colonel. (Well, kind of.) But there's one fun fact about everybody's favorite chicken salesman that simply isn't true. Despite what you may have read online, Colonel Sanders never killed a man in a shootout.

UberFacts has helped to spread this fun lie around the internet. Which shouldn't surprise anyone who's familiar with UberFacts and its terrible relationship with the truth.


So what's the real story? Yes, Sanders once shot a man in self-defense. But that man didn't die. In fact, it was Sanders' business associate who died during a shootout with a rival business owner.

Sanders was managing a Shell gas station in Nashville during the late 1920s and was at war with a competing Standard Oil station down the road. Matt Stewart, the owner of the Standard Oil station kept painting over a sign that was advertising Sanders' business. Sanders and Stewart were both hot tempered men, and pretty soon Sanders threatened to shoot Stewart if he kept messing with his signs.


Sanders was meeting with two district managers from Shell one day when they saw Stewart painting over the sign yet again. Sanders and the two men rushed down to stop him. Stewart saw the men coming, jumped off his painting ladder and started shooting. Robert Gibson, one of the Shell managers, was killed in a hail of Stewart's bullets. Sanders grabbed Gibson's gun off his dead body and returned fire along with the surviving manager, H. D. Shelburne.

"Don't shoot, Sanders! You've killed me!" Stewart reportedly said. Obviously, Sanders hadn't killed Stewart but he was indeed wounded. And in the wake of the bloody mess all the surviving men were arrested. The case went to trial and both Shelburne and Sanders got off without serving any time. Matt Stewart on the other hand received 18 years for murdering Shell manager Robert Gibson.


Stewart died two years later at the hands of a deputy sheriff who it was rumored had been paid off by the surviving relatives of the Gibson family. The deputy sheriff was never charged.

So where did the tale of Sanders killing a man come from? It all seems to be yet another bad game of Internet Telephone. The 2012 book Colonel Sanders and the American Dream by Josh Ozersky tells the real story of the shootout in riveting detail. Ozersky wrote a piece for Time magazine to promote his new book. And the line that started it all seems to be: "He once shot a man in a gun battle, but was never charged as the other guy started it."


Notice that it says "shot" not "killed," which likely confused the online purveyors of fun facts who immediately thought that Sanders had killed a man. And so the fantastic game of Internet Telephone continues.

Images: Colonel Sanders in 1968 via the AP; Salt Lake City KFC store in 2002 via Getty


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