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Fisher's River
(North Carolina)
Scenes and Characters (1859)


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Josh Jones and Hash-head Smith were both men of renown in this belligerent and romantic section.  They made their mark upon their generation, in fist-fighting and scratching, if in nothing else.  Josh had picked up a few Latin sentences and phrases, and could use them when he chose with great facility and dexterity.  The people all hated "larnin' and college lingo," and though Josh's vernacular was no better than his neighbors'; nevertheless, his borrowed Latin made him quite a "larned man."  He had the art of having his comrades in a fine glee in one moment, and "all to flinderations" the next, "fightin' rantankerus mad."  He was the most popular and agreeable man in the crowd till his mischievous propensity forced him to blurt out, "e pluribus unum," "ipse dixit," "sine qua non," "sic transit gloria mundi," and it was as if you had assaulted a ball-hornet's nest.

Our friend Smith was a chunky, well-set, muscular man, with a large buffy head, so large and destitute of brains that Martin Falkner, a shrewd wag, gave him the name of "Hash-head Smith," though he was veritably John Smith.  Hash-head differed from most fleshy men, who are said to be good-natured, for he was quite sensitive, ill-natured, and hated Josh's "dog Lating," as he termed his small stock of Roman.  Josh Jones took great delight in teasing Hash-head.  They were quite different men in most things, but in their love of old peach brandy they were "hail fellows well met."

Now it came to pass, in the course of human events, that both of our heroes had some business at Grayson Court-house, Virginia, and on their return they called at the house of an old Quaker by the name of South, who, notwithstanding his rigid morals in most things, kept good brandies of all kinds, "pertic'ler the best old peach on the face uv the yeth."  They called for it, and, in the expressive language of Josh, who was always graphic in speech --- truly so when inspired with "old peach" --- they "smote it hip and thigh with the edge uv the sword, like unto Samson smitin' the plaguy Philistines at Ramoth-lehi with the jaw-bone of a jackass, as saith the book of Judges.

Under the exhilarating influence of the Quaker's old peach, Josh soon began to roll out his Latin freely and fluently, and Hash-head "got ashy."  But Josh intended to have some fun, and kept on.  Hash-head considered himself degraded in the presence of the old Quaker and his wife by Josh's superior learning.  He took it as a gross insult, and "walked into Josh right smack in old South's house."  I will let Josh describe the rest of the scene in his own style.

"Now I were detarmined to wake up those two demure old Quakers, old Mr. and old Miss South, who sot thar, and would only say, 'yea' and 'nay' to evry word I'd say to 'um.  They paid no more attention to my Lating than to a blackbird a-chatterin'; so Hash-head I seen was my on'y chance.  I kep' poking my old Roman at him thick and heavy, and he soon flew all to flew all to flinderatons.  But I salted him wusser and wusser, and the fust thing I knowed he struck me, co-diff, right plum between the eyes, with his maul-bustin fist, quick as a ball-hornet, and sprawled me on the floor full length.  I riz, and at it we went like blue blazes.  We tuck it best six out'n eleven, upsettin' chairs, tables, and furniter of evry natur all over the house, hither and thither.  The  two old Quakers looked at us as though they b'lieved the sperrit uv the devil were turned loose, which were a fact, fur Quakers is disarners uv sperrits.

"I soon seen that Hash-head would git my note ef I didn't play some game on him, fur he were feedin' me in the short ribs in double quick time.  I had seen before the scrimmage begun a big whoppin churn o' cream settin' on the ha'th by the fire, and the thought entered my pate, nolens volens, that I'd throw Hash-head by that churn o' cream, and turn it over in his face, and git out'n the scrape ef possible, fur I were shoved fur the rent.  I made a desput grab, and we fell side and side by said churn jist norated, and I turned it over right smack in his face, co-whollop, right in his eyes and mouth.  This sine qua non had the desired effect.  He broke his holt as quick as when you souse a bucket uv cold water on two bull-dogs a-fightin'.  I jumped up, but thar lay Hash-head, lickin' out his tongue, fust on one side then on t'other, tastin' old Miss South's yaller cream.

"The next thing I seen was old Miss South, with hands and eyes turned up to'ads the good world, which I reckon she were 'vokin' the sperrits uv Fox, Barclay, and Penn to cum to her relief and take signul vengunce, Deo volente, on me fur the loss uv her cream.  And lest she mout be hearn, and fur fear Hash-head, arter he had got the cream out'n his eyes and mouth, and his belly full on it, which he were hidin' it mighty fast, mout wade into me agin, I sloped, jumped on my hoss, darted down the Blue Ridge at the Blaze Spur, and was soon in good old Surry."


Fighting in that section was a common occurrence.  No pistols, knives, sticks, and cowardly weapons, such as are now used, were resorted to;  they scorned all such as beneath brave men.  Only such weapons as Nature had given them would they use in attack and in defense.  They would knock with their fists like a Milo, kick with their feet like a horse, bit like loggerhead turtles, gouge like screw-augers, and butt like rams;  any method with the body was lawful.  Bullies would keep their thumb-nails oiled and trimmed as sharp as hawk's claws.  Ask them why, they would reply,

"To feel fur a feller's eye-strings, and make him tell the news."

As you passed houses going home from musters and public gatherings, those who did not go (and they were not numerous) would accost you thus:  "Who fout to-day?"  If you replied, "No one,"  there was evidently a disappointment.  As Johnson Snow believed and expressed it, "That a good deal uv shoutin' and groanin' went a great ways towards settin' off a meetin'," it was the common belief of that pugilistic people "that a great deal of knockin', kickin', bitin', gougin', and buttin' went a good ways towards settin' off a muster of public gathering.

Sometimes a fight would come off at a "corn-shucking."  On such an occassion Peyton Tally and Henry Muneas fell out and "fout."  It was a short fight, for they were no sooner stripped, in the "ring," and the word given, than Peyton backed a little, and went at Henry old ram or old goat fashion, full tilt, struck him in the stomach with his head, "laid him to the land," and had well-nigh made a "finish of him."  The bystanders did not like such a short fight, and remonstrated with Peyton, who coolly replied,

"I'll be dadsamped ef one good butt ain't wuth two knocks.  It knocks the wind out'n you quick as thunder.  Thar is great need fur the camphire bottle when you take it ram-fashion.  Dadsamp ef his innards won't trouble him fur a 'coon's age.  His wife and chillun will har'ly know him when they see him.  He'll not be so pot-gutter in the futur, I reckon."


Speaking of the foregoing butting fight reminds me of a sharp fight between Sam Clark and Jim Smith, son of the renowned Hash-head Smith, about a quarter of a dollar --- no more nor no less.

The people in that region were scrupulously honest --- more so than any section I have ever seen.  They lived remote from commerce with its corruptions, and there was not fleece enough in all the land for sharpers to come in to corrupt their morals.  Not even a wooden-nutmeg Yankee could make any thing from off them.  They knew nothing but downright honesty.  A man who would not pay a debt to the amount of five cents was scouted and despised most cordially.  A man was never known to "make over his property."  He had to pay the "utmost farthing," else public sentiment collared him.  If a man's honesty was impeached, there was a fight, unless it was "taken back."

Now it came to pass in a settlement between Sam Clark and Jim Smith there was a misunderstanding about a quarter of a dollar.  At Shipp's Muster-ground, the "potter's field" of that country, the subject was brought up for settlement while they were both pretty full of "knock-'em-stiff."  They couldn't settle it, and they "drawed thar linnin" to settle the important contest.  Their friends hated to see them fight about so trifling a thing, and Miller W. Easley, a friend of both, offered to pay the quarter.  But nay;  their honor was involved in it, and the honor of "thar chillun," and they were determined to settle it on the Fisher's River field of honor (Shipp's Muster-ground), and with Fisher's River weapons.

They made a ring, "moseyed" into it, and no cool man --- one who had the least sympathy for his tabernacle --- would have taken the knocks, kicks, bites, gougings, battings, etc., that were given and received by those two duelists for a trifle.  After they had beaten each other into a "frozzle," and "inter mince-meat," they were parted by their "seconds," and, having vindicated their insulted honor, the matter was adjusted to the satisfaction of the belligerent heroes.


Here follows an account of a fight farther illustrative of the foregoing.  Josh Jones, who fought Hash-head Smith at the old Quaker's, in Grayson County, Virginia, was a tanner by trade, and "tanned on shares," as well as his own hides.  Davis Holder, one of his customers, was a considerable bully, and when a little "tight" boasted not a little of his manhood.  Josh tanned a "kipskin" for Davis "on shares," and there was a difficult in their settlement some way.  It became a serious affair, and Shipp's Muster-ground was the place of settlement.  Davis brought it up, the ring was made, and the pugilistic party went into it.  I will let Josh, in his graphic style, tell the rest of it.

"I felt mighty skittish and jubus uv Davis, fur he was allers a-swaggerin', and cavortin', and boastin' about, tellin' how many men he'd licked, and so on.  But I were mad as flugence, and didn't care a dried-apple cuss whether I lived ur died.  I jumped into the ring; 'Verbum sat,' says I, and slapped my hands aginst my hips, and crowed like a game-rooster.  In jumped Davis, and come full drive at me, like a fishin' hawk dartin' at a fish.  I had no idee uv boxin' with him, fur his arms was long as Maypoles.  So I jist hipped him, and throwed him co-whollup --- a desput fall on the hard yeth --- on the flat uv his back, soused my eye-string feelers sock into his eyes, and he blated like a calf.  Uncle Billy Norman pulled me off, who told Davis, who was talkin' 'bout tryin' it agin, "I could lick him any day.'  So that ended Davis's bullyin', puffin', and blowin' about his manhood."



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