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Jean Sybil McElrath

Short Story from
Aged in Sage

The Badger Fight
by Jean Sybil McElrath

Gambling in Nevada, unrestricted since the first prospectors began poking into her bald mountains around 1851, was wiped out by legislative edict, October 1, 1910. Contests that inspired betting, as well as all gambling games and mechanical devices were forbidden. In fact, about the only activities not under the ban were living, and a few such sober pursuits as ranching, merchandising and mining.

In November, The Nevada State Herald (Wells) reprinted White Pine county sheriff's warning that the anti-gambling law would be enforced to the letter in his bailiwick. The boys must quit dropping in at the saloon for an evening's poker, the loser to buy the cigars. By December, when ladies from some of Carson City's "prominent" families had reportedly organized a secret poker club and were playing for money (sometimes as much $10) within sight of legislative halls, the Herald had about concluded that the anti-gambling law was a bust. but, seven months later, Nevadans refusing to be puritanized were still being arrested occasionally.

Messrs. Faragor and Johnson, for instance were tapped during a raid on a locked room in Elko's Commercial hotel on the night of July 28, 1911. Johnson was dealing a faro game, and when the gentlemen's trial began in December, his alibi was so weak as to be virtually non-existent, according to the Elko Independent. There was lively interest, though, in one sharp argument occurring when Julius Peltier's name came out of the hat during the jury drawing. He was finally dismissed.

Mr. Peltier, it was said, had a hand in the badger fight in front of the Commercial hotel shortly before the raid. That badger fight, the prosecuting attorney indignantly alleged was "a fake, a delusion, a fraud." Obviously Mr. Peltier was not entirely the mature, thoughtful, unbiased type of citizen who should serve on the jury hearing the trial of a man accused of dealing faro.

The hotel, a bubbling, seething center of social as well as commercial activity, was owned by Lew Bradley. Things were dull around the county seat after the Fourth of July, when Julius jobbed in from his Metropolis homestead and ran into his former employer.

"Whatcha lookin' so owley-eyed about, Lew?" Julius asked when the usually jocund hotelman returned his greeting with an absentminded nod.

"Running out of suckers for the badger fight, "Bradley replied, restlessly clinking silver coins together deep in his pockets. Peltier's scowl matched the big, sandy-haired man's, then smoothed. "

Say!" he suggested, "How about Big Alec?"

"Big who? Oh, you mean Sepulveda over in Deeth," Bradley said. "Big Alec's been in this country long enough to be about half wise." But the beginning of a grin turned up the corners of his mouth.

The badger fights had been a big attraction at the Commercial all summer. They were dangerous, bloody, ferocious encounters, between Lew Bradley's big, white, ugly looking, English bulldog, Jack and badgers from Nevada's wilderness country, where they grew almost bear-size and savage. It took a brave man to pick up the rope tied around a badger's neck. Only a man of tremendous strength could pull one of those fighting, uncooperative critters out of the barrel that was its refuge in captivity.

Julius Peltier stopped in Deeth on his way home, looked up Alexander Sepulveda, and told him these things with candor. "If you want to try it, Lew'll pay you for it - not much, but some," Peltier offered., "It ain't every man that can. Not enough muscle or guts in most."

In a single easy motion, Sepulveda rose from the doorstep of the Deeth store and postoffice where he had been lounging. He looked down on Julius and flexed his great shoulder muscles. Dark eyes gleamed and a quick smile showed even white teeth under his luxurious mustache.

"When I am young in Spain, I pool these badger from hees hole. No trouble," he said gently.

"But them ain't Nevada badgers," Julius warned. "A man's gotta have muscle to haul one of these Nevada varmints out!"

Big Alec considered. This tranquil slowness of thought, plus his fractured English and casual attitude toward work, entertained his friends who might otherwise have envied him his gifted physique. Once, when Deeth sports bet he couldn't carry a 400-pound bag of wool a block, from the railroad's loading platform to Truett's saloon, he's let two men slide the full bag off the platform onto his shoulder, and had carried it to the saloon. Then, turning, he marched back and himself tossed that bag into place, all without a break in the erect stride that carried him like a grandee.

"I pool thees leetle one--these badger," he assured Julius Peltier now. Big Alec had a wife of character, who served Deeth as a midwife. He also had five children, four of them growing boys. And as his wife often remarked with near brutal frankness, the occasional work he liked, herding or shearing sheep for Mason and Bradley, didn't bring enough to let them live like the family of a don.

But for Big Alec, money was secondary to muscle on that warm star-shot night in 1911 when, wearing a clean shirt and with his mustache freshly trimmed, he strode easily through the crowd loitering outside the Commercial, looking over their heads to spot Lew Bradley in the hotel's lobby. The two men met with wide grins over gripped hands.

"We'll do our best to see you don't get hurt, Alec," Bradley promised. "The boys've got stovepipes for you legs. that badger'll never claw through them. Stovepipes for your arms, too, and bullhide gloves. Never saw a bigger, meaner badger than this. Boys are layin' bets on whether you can pull 'im or not." He clapped the Spaniard on the shoulder and left while the good-natured crowd elbowed for places in the circle, watching Bradley's deputies armor the heroic volunteer.

On a wooden balcony above the street, some ladies sat, absorbing the cool night breeze and the excitement. A barrel with a gunnysack draped over its open front and a rope straggling out beneath it, stood ready in a cleared space in the street below them. A stout leash in the hands of a keeper held Jack, the white bulldog, who sat quietly, almost as if bored.

"Somebody should stop them," one of the balcony ladies said.

"A bloody spectacle!" another shrilled. "As if this were heathen Rome instead of civilization."

In the street below, unaware of the ladies' presence, the excited crowd was betting more heavily on Big Alec's prowess than on the fight's outcome. Big Alec's dressers jumped back. Lew Bradley personally took Jack's leash. The bulldog yawned and full revelation of those fangs brought a stifled gasp from the balcony. Slowly, in the silence, big Alec leaned over to pick up the rope. The badger, crowding to the back of the barrel, must be digging in with those powerful claws. Big Alec straightened cautiously, bracing himself, feet apart. Then, he reared back and heaved on the badger rope. Out of the barrel, on the end of the rope, flew a big white china "thundermug,"* the kind they kept under hotel beds.

Big Alec crashed backward off balance. Jack growled and barked furiously, straining at the leash. Lew Bradley, convulsed with laughter, was having some trouble holding the beast until Jack decided he'd seen and heard this insane spectacle of laughing, shouting, back-slapping before, and sat down to look bored again. On the balcony, chairs tipped over as the ladies jumped to their feet, screaming and blushing - worse than if the badger and dog had really been tearing each other up.

"There was one helluva commotion!" Julius Peltier summarized with gleeful satisfaction, when he told the story years later to his son, Austin, in Wells. "Sitting on the ground, trying to get outa them stovepipes, Alec was a sight," Julius chortled. "But we lit out. Mad! If that big Spaniard caught us, he'da smashed us."

By the time Alec cooled so they dared return, they'd raided Johnson's faro game. The badger game? It might be "a fake, a delusion and a fraud," but even in staid, non-gambling Nevada, it was not illegal.

*Chamber pot

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