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A Rough & Tumble Snapshot by Mark Hatmaker


This passage from Rex Lardner is a gorgeous glimpse into just how varied the combat scene was in the rough & tumble days of America’s frontier growth.

“Americans fought. They fought in saloons over party principles, religion, the favors of hostesses and national origin. They fought over business on the decks of barges, riverboats, flatboats, and canalboats. They fought for their lives in such bandit-ridden areas as the Natchez Trail, San Francisco’s Barbary Coast and New York City’s murderous Five Points and Bowery. They fought, for economic reasons, as butcherboys, longshoremen and runners soliciting trade for immigrant boarding houses (where there was intense competition for the privilege of fleecing greenhorns); as truckmen, cabmen and hostler. They were more apt, however, to use the tools of their trade than the naked fist. Rivermen afloat used boathooks and belaying pins. The axeman used his axe or hobnailed boots. Coopers used hammers; the woodsman, his double-edged, razor-sharp bowie knife; the mule-skinner, his whip; the Irish canal-diggers, their pickhandles and shovels. And if the contestants fought weaponless, they relied more on wrestling holds, kicking and gouging than on the clenched fist, paying little attention to the rules laid down by Broughton in 1743. In saloons they improvised weapons—the leg of a chair, the chair itself or the jagged neck of a bottle smashed in haste.”

The depth and breadth of applied violence is truly staggering. We will continue to feature the historical aspects here on the blog, and the tactical applications in the Rough & Tumble portion of the RAWSubscription service.

Down the road, observations on “fighting with chains” and a South American tribe with a penchant for breaking arms and much more mayhem to come.

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