Before Mark Twain: A Sampler of Old, Old Times on the Mississippi

By John Francis McDermott | Go to book overview

SKETCHES FROM THE SAGA OF JACK PIERCE

Flatboatman and Ram-Butter

MENRA HOPEWELL

[In Mississippi rowdy lore Jack Pierce has never won the popular place that Mike Fink did, but if we can credit Menra Hopewell's Legends of the Missouri and Mississippi (London, 1874?), he was a worthy confrere of that notorious bully and on one occasion beat him up. Hopewell's literary career is but faintly known; for four or five years he was listed in St. Louis directories as an M. D. and during this period collaborated with Richard Edwards on Edward's Great West and her Commercial Metropolis.... (St. Louis, 1860). Legends was in all probability written in St. Louis about this time. The following passages are from pp. 387-89, 391-97, 398-99, 400-401.]

One day while he was seated among his companions, who should come in but a mulatto fellow, who lived in New Orleans, and was known by the name of Nigger Jim. He was the bully of that town, with huge limbs more like those of a horse than a man, and in his many contests, in all of which he came off victorious, he used rarely his fists in striking, but would butt his antagonist in so severe a manner that on three occasions death ensued.

This was the first visit of Nigger Jim to St. Louis, and among the flat-boatmen his arrival created quite a sensation, and some most marvellous stories were told of his prodigious strength, and of the fights of which he was the hero. The negro did not bear his honours meekly, but, as all other negroes do, when made too much of, grew impudent and imperious. On this occasion he sat down and commenced boasting of some of his exploits, and because one of the boatmen ventured to differ with him in opinion in some unimportant part of the narrative, the negro threw back his tremendous head, and brought it with such force against that of the boatman, that the latter was tumbled from his seat, and remained stretched senseless upon the earthen

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