MY comrade and I went on
to New Orleans, and established winter quarters. We slept under the
tarpaulins which covered the goods on the dock, and lived largely on
fruit we picked up at the same place.
At Mississippi City we
witnessed the fistic battle between John L. Sullivan and Paddy Ryan. We
enjoyed it from a treetop where, hidden by the moss, we had a splendid
view of it.
On our way back to town
Jerry was enthusiastic over the champion, and he punctuated his praise
with philosophical observations.
“Did yer notice, Injun,
how th’ big feller got it on th’ jaw once in a while, en’ how he kep’
smilin’ en’ goin’ back f’r more? That’s th’ way a man ’ll win at
anything. No matter what a feller goes at, ef he cain’t take a jolt on
th’ jaw once in a while en’ smile back at it, he’d better not climb
through th’ ropes.”
We walked awhile in
silence. I broke it.
“Jerry, I can fight,” I
He looked down at me with
an incredulous smile.
“Oh, I don’t mean a big
feller like the two back there, but one of my size. Find me a man of my
weight, and I’ll do to ’im what Sullivan did to Ryan,” I boasted.
Jerry grew thoughtful.
Finally he agreed that I might be made into a prize fighter.
By the time we had
reached New Orleans our plans were made. Then came the necessary
preliminaries —the finding of a place in which to train; the securing of
an expert boxer to instruct me in the art of fistiana; and, last of all,
the matching of a suitable opponent. These details my partner arranged
in due order.
My training-place was the
back room of a saloon; my trainer a down and out ex-pugilist, who agreed
to get me into shape for half of my part of the purse.
It taxed Jerry’s wits to
get suitable stuff for me to train on, for our food was whatever my
comrade could get by hook or by crook. He found what I needed, however.
He said the “coming champion of the world,” as he frequently called me,
must be fed.
I had plenty to eat, even
when my appetite became voracious.
Jerry, no doubt, went
hungry many days.
Almost at the start, my
instructor told me I was an apt pupil, and after I had had about three
weeks of constant training, he judged me ready for an opponent.
Jerry matched me to fight
at catch weights with a fellow of some reputation—Bull Skillet by name.
The purse was to be
whatever the spectators would chip in.
Came the day of the
That morning Jerry took
me to the French Market and treated me to a breakfast of wonderful
coffee, fried steak, potatoes and rolls. Where he got the money is a
mystery. He didn’t join in the feast—wasn’t hungry, he said.
I took but little
exercise that day.
About the middle of the
afternoon I had another beefsteak as thick as my foot. Ravenous as
usual, I devoured the meal and all the other eatables Jerry had
provided. All that he would eat was a banana which he dug out of his
I knew he lied when he
said he wasn’t hungry, and I noticed that his face had grown thinner and
more seamy. I had grown robust and as hard as nails.
While I was eating
greedily, Jerry’s leathery old face twisted into a smile of pleasure as
he pictured the good things we would have after the fight.
It was about nine o’clock
that night when Jeriy and I appeared in the back room of the saloon. The
place was packed with a crowd of whites and negroes—as tough a crowd as
one would care to see. My trainer elbowed a way for us.
A broken-down old fighter
was chosen for referee, and after some preliminary talk Jerry passed a
hat among the crowd. The vagabonds tossed their coins into it.
There were no dressing
rooms in the place, so I undressed in the ring. As I stood stripped down
to a pair of old swimming trunks, Jerry tied a bright American flag
around my waist.
We looked across the ring
at my opponent. He stood stripped and ready for battle. The sight of him
made Jerry’s hands shake as he fumbled with the flag.
Bull’s appearance was
sufficient cause for apprehension. He was thick-set and short-necked and
his muscles stood out in bunches and ridges—a striking contrast to my
slim physique. He weighed about one hundred and sixty pounds. I was
fully twenty pounds lighter.
Each of us was furnished
with a soap-box for a resting-place, and we sat while waiting for the
Jerry was nervous. When
the word came, he whispered cautiously,
“Keep away from ’im,
As we shook hands in the
centre of the ring a smile of contempt spread over Bull’s face, and his
short pug nose turned up as far as it could go. A fire-flash of anger
passed through me. The turn-up of that nose was a nerve tonic to me. I
would make the pug point downwards very shortly.
During the first two
rounds we sparred, each of us feeling out the other. I found he was much
slower than I, but I also found I had plenty to do to keep clear of his
tremendous swings. One catch, and it wouldn’t be well with me.
In the third round he got
to my jaw with a right-hand hook, and I went down. But I kept my head
and rested on my knee while the referee counted nine.
As I regained my feet
Bull came at me with a rush and a roar. Down I went again under a
sledge-hammer blow on the chin.
This time I did not wait
for the count. I was up in an instant and like a flash shot my right to
his jaw, and floored him.
Again I got to him with a
left swing on that pug nose. He staggered and the pug nose bled.
Bull came at me with
another of his rushes.
Above the raucous shouts
of the onlookers, rose Jerry’s voice.
“Keep away, Injun/’ he
But I swung.
Bull ducked, and my right
fist came into contact with the top of his head. It was like striking a
rock. My right hand was broken.
While I sat in my corner
for the precious two minutes’ rest, Jerry rubbed me down with a gunny
“Keep away from ’im, I
tell yeh/’ was all he could say.
My hand puffed up. It was
all but useless, and we were fighting with bare knuckles.
We came together for the
I silently prayed to win,
and vowed, if winner, to devote to the Sun all of my food for two days.
As we toed the mark I
noticed that Bull’s lips were bleeding and his right eye bruised. But it
was the pug nose that gave me encouragement. It looked like a piece of
I went down with a clip
on the side of the head. It made me see stars.
After that I lost
consciousness. Indeed, during the next several rounds, I wasn’t
conscious of what happened.
I came to myself for a
while just before the last round. Jerry was squirting water out of his
mouth into my face and rubbing my skin almost off with the gunny sacks.
“Yeh’ve shore got ’im
goin’, Injun, en’ yeh’ve got t’ git ’im this round. Now, go to ’im,” he
ordered, as I rose from my corner.
That last round is a
blank to me. When I woke I couldn’t open my eyes; I couldn’t sit up; I
couldn’t turn over; I couldn’t remember anything that had taken place
for a while.
I stretched out my hand
and touched Jerry. He was blubbering at my side.
“Yeh got ’im good and
plenty,” he said, between sobs.
“I got ’im?” I repeated,
as memory slowly returned, “but what did he do to me?”
“Not a thing but give yeh
the damnedest lickin’ a man ever got,” he blurted. “But yeh knocked ’im
clean aout—made ’im dead t’ th’ world—en’ you, yeh pore little cuss! yeh
was aout y’rself f’r three rounds. But I couldn’t make yer quit fightin’,
en’ yeh won,” he concluded, with a triumphant burst of weeping.
Poor, tender-hearted old
partner! He was crying because of the mauling I had received.
Bull, who was in another
corner of the room—the same in which we fought—was in no better plight
than I. And he was swearing at his friend who was applying some healing
lotion to his bruises.
When we parted he
complimented me in most forcible language for my gameness. He had
thought he could eat me up in one round, he said.
The purse, which
consisted of four dollars and eighty-five cents, I never got. The rascal
who held it vanished with it.
It was two days before I
could get about. I was black and blue from the waist up, and the worst
was —two knuckles broken and my nose flattened against my right cheek.
Jerry didn’t succeed in getting it entirely straight.
Neither knuckles nor nose
ever regained their normal condition.