Sunday, June 16, 2013

Once upon a time in a saloon

This painting, completed in the 1790s by English artist C.R. Ripley, illustrates boxers Daniel Mendoza and Richard Humphreys fully prepared to engage in fisticuffs. The two fighters were prominent men-among-men in their day, which was a bit more than a century before an informal brawl took place between two small-town protagonists in a Minnesota saloon. While the names of these small-town fighters are all but forgotten today, perhaps their battle was no less relevant than any engaged in by Mendoza and Humphreys -- at least in terms of family lore -- and the painting serves as a fitting illustration for the story being told here. And, as for the music accompanying this post, it is here because I can never get enough of Victor's guitar and Valery's voice, and hard rock does seem to go hand-in-fist with hard fights.

Epic struggles are where you find them

[Editor's Note: I had the occasion this week to visit with a few relatives I have not seen for a few decades. It brought family history into my mind. History begets history, so the next day I opened a few local history books and re-read portions of them. I became interested in one article written about fifty years ago by an old-timer who was recalling an event he had witnessed about fifty years before that. It is fascinating to me because one of the central characters in this "epic struggle" is linked to my ancestry. In fact, I even have a shotgun he owned. So then, just for fun, here is the article for you, with only a few minor changes, written in a rather genteel style of description which seems appropriate to the era it portrays:]

It was an extremely hot Saturday afternoon in (our town). The year was 1908. Bill Davis was a local saloonkeeper, tall, dark and handsome, quick and lithe as a ballet dancer. He was an only son, trained by his boxing-instructor father since childhood in the manly art of self-defense. As an enterprising youth, he had gone to Wyoming, rounded up wild horses and brought them home to sell to area farmers. With the profits from this venture, he had purchased the Southside Bar.

Stor-Alex (Big/Large/Great Alex), a young immigrant from Norway, was the very essence of his Viking ancestors. Of fear, there was none in his makeup. Well over six feet in height, barrel-chested and immensely powerful, to the amazement of onlookers. His prowess in battle and his numerous feats of strength were renowned and fabulous. And yet, because of his mild disposition and gentle good nature, he was often teased and taunted in hopes of seeing him provoked to anger, and consequent deeds of classical violence.

On this particular afternoon, Stor-Alex had come to town with horse and wagon for supplies. Having loaded his wagon, he apparently decided that a cold beer would be in order, so he crossed the street and entered Bill Davis' saloon.

As a ten-year-old boy that afternoon, I had just finished my Saturday chores. Noon-day lunch was long since past, and a dip in the lake seemed a fine idea. Hurrying uptown in hopes of finding other kids to go along, there was a sudden burst of shouting along the street, and a loud cry of, "Slaw homeeyel!" (Kill him!)

People were running from their shops down the street to the saloon, where a crowd was already congregated. I immediately ran down there also, but being unable to see the action, crawled on hands and knees between the legs of on-lookers until I was flat on my stomach right inside those swinging doors.

No one seemed to know what had started the fight, but a good guess would be that Stor-Alex had again been teased by Bill Davis or one of his customers, and it was just the kind of day to make his usual good nature turn hot as the weather.

First, he showed his displeasure by picking up the end of the long and heavy bar and shaking it vigorously. As if an earthquake had hit the place, glasses and bottles came tumbling and crashing and rolling over the floor. In a flash, Bill Davis leaped over the bar and landed a terrific right to Stor-Alex's jaw, drawing a gush of blood.

As I watched from my vantage point, with eyes and mouth wide open, Stor-Alex grabbed and clutched at Bill Davis, tearing his shirt to ribbons, leaving only the collar and starting trickles of blood on his neck and chest. With the instinct of a trained boxer, Bill Davis danced aside, weaving and coming in with lightning jabs which closed one of his opponent's eyes and caused profuse bleeding.

Stor-Alex had knocked Bill Davis off his feet a couple times, and I vividly remember looking in fascinated horror at the pools of blood on the floor. Quick as a cat, Bill Davis was on his feet again, trying desperately to get in a knockout punch, but Stor-Alex was too tough, and not to be downed.

At one point, Bill Davis managed to land a blow which backed Stor-Alex into a pool table, knocking it and its contents to the floor with a rumbling crash. With a lunge, Stor-Alex then caught Bill Davis by the throat in his powerful grip, and that was all for Bill Davis.

It had been a classic struggle, but now a tragedy could easily have besmirched the fair name of (our town). For it required the combined and frantic efforts of six or seven bystanders to save the life of William Davis.

It was then that a ten-year-old kid decided it was time to get going. At a safe distance across the street, I saw Stor-Alex come out with a group of men who saw him to his wagon and helped him get started back to the farm.

The melee became the talk of the countryside, and even the most peaceable and abstemious of Stor-Alex's fellow-Scandinavians took more-or-less secret pride in his herculean performances.

To the credit of the participants in this brawl, however, it must be said that neither carried a grudge. Such it was in those days. Occasionally afterwards, I saw the two in friendly conversation in front of the saloon, but I never heard whether any of the drinks that followed were on the house.


ANITA said...

That was a nicestory Fram!.Indeed one shall never tease a Viking!fight is in their blood if they admit it or not.

So you belong to Norway from far away time!I know you was telling something about it a long time ago.Its fun to dig into the old times and see Our anchestors.What some stories:))
About the trolls Fram--hah..But i think all of us visiting you..that is Wind..Monica Magdalena Kaya and many more--Stil come back here to visit you..Life goes on and we find something New to do.Work love ect ect..
However..Much time was spent here..and .Ii think we kind of love Your notes :)

Think its Nice you have an eye to love :)))))

About the guns..i underestand the other meaning about The Ragnarock.But in Our time it comes in different clothes.We will see
Better be prepared!

Thanx for Nice summergreetings.Yes we will have 5weeks of vacation.Some in Cypruz and the rest travelling in Norway.
Iam glad you took the time to publish a post.I will hight light you to see if there comes more sooner or later.
!and see you around!:)

Fram Actual said...

There are a few stories about "Big Alex" that have been recorded in local history books, Anita, and at least one other involves a fight. Fighting was and still is part of competitive life for farm boys.

My own background is three-quarters Norwegian ancestry and one-quarter German. On my father's side, a cousin has traced the lineage back to the mid-1500s.

I am not certain who comes and goes here since there are few comments. But, I seldom leave a comment at the blogs I visit these days, either, so I do not suppose many people know when I have come and gone. The blogs do not hold the interest for me that they once did, but I cannot escape from them altogether. Right now, I do not anticipate posting often at all.

Guns, coins and watches have always fascinated me more than other objects. I think it is because they all are fundamental to life. Guns are symbolic of freedom (although not everyone understands and realizes this), coins of power and watches of how our lives are measured in every sense by the passage of time.

I might add that I simply enjoy the presence of guns as decorative objects.

Thank you, Anita, for still another visit and comment. Take care ....

its_me_in_montana said...

Love the story! Oh to be that 10 year old boy, crawling on hands and knees to get a better view.

I have relatives, distant cousins, in Minnesota. German ancestry.

Peace to you Fram. Thank you for continuing to post on your blog.

Fram Actual said...

It is nice to see you here again, Boni. You seem to be keeping a low profile these days, with your visits too far between.

"Big Alex" was gone from this Earth long before I was born, but in addition to a few written stories, it was not unusual to hear tales about him when that branch of our clan was gathered occasionally for a Sunday dinner or a special event. More often than not, one of the men would relate a "Big Alex" story when they gathered after the meal, followed by five or ten minutes of smiles and laughter from all among the group.

The Protestant Norwegians and other Scandinavians settled west and north of my hometown, the Protestant Germans east of town and the Catholic Belgians south of town. Saturday nights and Sunday afternoons, they were all part of the same family.

Thank you, for your visit and your comment, Boni. Take care ....

Smareis said...

OLá Fram,

Eu também adoro guitarra, o estilo musical pra mim o melhor é o rock, adoro! A pintura é bem bacana, só não gosto muito de luta que machuca uns aos outros, existe esporte que é fatal.Gosto dos mais leve, mais saudáveis.Um dia fui assistir uma luta de boxe e sai de la passando mal com a agrecividade de um lutador risos.

Você parece que gosta de colecionar armas. E essa de espingarda, fiquei a lembrar que quando eu era criança, meu pai tinha algumas espingarda no sitio que ficava a 80 km de nossa residência, hoje ja não se pode ter mais arma em casa, aqui no Brasil, perigo é constante, muito assalto, e os ladrões usa a arma da propria pessoa pra matar, triste isso..

Adorei a história muito boa,com certeza essa briga tinha o dedo da bebida.
Adorei o video,Kipelov canta muito,Smolski grande guitarrista, adoro rock.

Amei a postagem!
Deixo um grande abraço !
Ótimo fim de semana!

Fram Actual said...

I grew up in an age and a place where fights were part of the experience of a boy and a young man, but the object never was to have someone hurt badly. Others would stop a fight if things went badly for one of the two combatants, just as the fight was stopped in the story about "Big Alex" when he lost control. Today, there is more evil in the world, more people who have no sense of right and wrong, of honor, or who have no conscience. Fighting can be competition -- a sport -- or it can be meant to do harm.

My own form of fighting, by the way, centers around judo, which in translation literally means "gentle way."

I have bought, sold and traded firearms since I was a ten-year-old boy. I am not sure I could stay long in a place -- city or country -- where it is not relatively simple to own them. The world is a dangerous place and evil men will always be among us. Firearms are a tool. To be proficient with them is a measure of personal safety, from my point of view, and part of an individual responsibility to be able to protect one's self and those in his circle of family and friends. The primary elements of owning firearms are safety and proficiency.

Each of us is at least two people, I think. As for me and music, one of me loves Bach and Pachelbel most of all; the other of me loves Blackmore and Smolski most of all. We are always at war with ourselves, I think, and not only in terms of musical preferences.

I could keep writing, but instead I will end this with a thank you for your presence here, Smareis. I very much enjoy your visits.

Something special ....