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Dusting Off the Old Ones
Originally published 1961, W. B. Clarke, Miles City, Montana

106. Badger Fights

There was a practical joke that used to be played on innocent newcomers to the community in the earlier days, and which usually brought about a much closer relationship between the newcomer and the older inhabitants than had existed. Around the early part of the century, it was a fad among the more "blooded" of the sporting fraternity here in Miles City to own a bulldog--and, of course, each and everyone of these young sports claimed his own partipular dog could outfight any other dog in the community. At this time, Miles City was not too large nor too lively. So it was not uncommon for excitement to be contrived or planned by those who had the time and ingenuity, as there were several of the local gentry with fertile minds who could think of something to create a ludicrous episode. Hence, the origin of the "Badger Fight". If a stranger would come to town, accompanied by a bulldog, it would not be long until, in a convenient bar room, he had been led to make the usual extravagant claims about his bulldog's dauntless prowess and fighting ability. Some bystander would then innocently remark that he knew of a bull dog once that could whip a badger, meanwhile surreptitously glancing at a stuffed badger mounted on the back bar--a dejected looking specimen not half the size of the bulldog. A loud discussion would inevitably follow about the relative merits of the two animals as fighting units, when someone would come out with the statement that he had a captive badger at home that had whipped every dog--bull or otherwise--he had ever encountered and that he had $500 in his hand to bet that his badger could whip any dog in town this very night. Of course, his bet would be immediately called and the stranger's dog would be selected to hold up the honor of bulldogs in general, as well as the stranger's word in praise of his dog's fighting ability. Thus would be set up the preliminaries of one night of real fun that would be remembered for years to come.

Of course, further plans had to be consummated before the actual "fight" would take place. The usual pattern was for the owner or the "badger" to leave for a while and upon his return, announce that Mr. Badger was under a box in the back room. When the crowd would adjourn to this backroom, they would find in the center of the floor an upside down beer case (in those days, a heavy strap-iron bound wooden box). Perched on top or this box would be some fellow weighing about 200 pounds, begging the promoters to hurry up the fight, as he could not hold the box down much longer, what with this ferocious animal confined straining to get out. Hideous snarls and growls would be emanating from within the box, and it would raise up from the floor an inch or two, lifting the man on top of it, to show what a powerful and furious beast was confined. And now, we are going to let you readers in on a secret. The "badger" existed only in the minds and imaginations of the plotters. The innocent stranger did not know that the box covered a hole in the floor, and that down in the basement, under the hole, a powerful man had a length of pipe thrust up thru the hole and into the box.

When the stage was all set, this man in the basement would try to dislodge the man perched on the box, by pushing on the pipe. After so much thumping around, he would put his mouth to the end of the pipe and emit blood curdling noises, such as any wild animal would make in an effort to gain his freedom and face his foe. After the preliminaries, the stranger would be handed a lead chain which came from inside the box, with instructions to pull and pull hard at the signal "go". The owner of the badger was permitted to hold the stranger's bull dog. The dog, after hearing the commotion in the box would be by this time straining to get between his owner's legs for protection--and the stranger would be wishing he had never left home. Finally--after seemingly endless delay and argument, the crowd would be shouted to silence. Then--after a final pause, the fatal word "Go" would be called out. The man on the box would leap to the floor, tipping the edge of the box toward the stranger who would "pull and pull hard" as he had been instructed. Out would come the "badger"--not a snarling desperate fighting beast--but one of those homely old pieces of chinaware which was at that time considered a necessity in any well furnished bedroom. A red-faced stranger would immediately realize that he had been "taken"--and would gladly suggest that he "buy for the house". Human nature being what it is, he usually would be the first one to suggest a "badger fight" to the next newcomer with a bull dog. The last "badger fight" staged in Miles City, to the best recollection of the author of this story, was the one pulled in the 'teens by the Big Triumvirate at that time operating a hotel on the corner of Fifth and Main--and the victim was a merchant of Yiddish tendencies with a store on the south side of Main Street in the 700 block.

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