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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Rough and Tumble in the Ozarks

The following account of rough and tumble fighting among early settlers in the Ozarks comes from an on-line document available here.
Fist fights among men were of common occurrence, the gathering of any sort, except 'meetins' at which at least one did not occur being out of the ordinary. The queer thing from the modern viewpoint about most of the encounters was that the battlers were not the least bit mad at each other, had had no previous trouble and generally remained firm friends afterward. Indeed, the closest friendships existing between men of that day were between two men who had fought to a draw--perhaps more than once. Quarrels entered into some fights, liquor into some, general cussedness into some, and sometimes a man was soundly whipped for cause; but more than half the fights were simply to see which was the better man. If the battlers were of considerable standing and had a following of believers, these fights took on a good deal of ceremony, and at Vienna, Grove Dale, Stony Point, Spencer's Mill, and Coppedge's Mill, where a large part of the encounters occurred, most of them were held under roughly 'standard' conditions. The fight was matched anywhere from a day to two weeks beforehand; each fighter had a second who had to be a good fighter himself, and the seconds were permitted, even supposed, to be armed; pistols were not reliable those days and rifles were obviously in the way; so the seconds usually armed themselves with bowie knives.

The day of the battle having arrived, each second took his principal to a secluded spot where he made ready for battle. He was stripped to the waist, his hair cut as short as could be, his body and head greased, and he was admonished of any flaws in his opponent's technique that might have come to the notice of the second. The principals were then presented and searched for  82 weapons, the seconds armed themselves, and gave the word for the fight to begin. Rounds were unknown, also rules; each man did the best he could with the weapons nature gave him until one of them was licked and said so, or his second said it for him.

During the battle the seconds not only saw to it that their principals had fair play and the benefit of their advice, but enforced the former--and this is where their knives came in. More than often a partisan of one or the other of the combatants 'showed foul play' by endeavoring to help the man of his choice, in which case it was the duty of either second to discourage him in any handy way. If two jumped in, both seconds acted. If a 'whole passel' took a hand, the seconds used their knives. For this reason, selecting seconds who were known to be willing to use knives if necessary kept down the disturbances. On rare occasions the seconds had to 'correct' each other, and there are a few times recorded when the principals has to cut their own affair short and come to the rescue of the seconds. As a general rule, however, the fight was fair and without interference, and after one had 'hollered' hostilities ceased and the whole crowd adjourned to the saloon, where the fighters drank to each other's continued good health and strength. After this ritual had been observed it was the further duty of the seconds to return to the scene of battle and make at least cursory search for any pieces of fingers, ears, and noses that may have been chewed off in the conflict, it not being considered 'fitten' for their bosses to show any interest in such small matters.

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