Saturday, May 31, 2008

Academic articles: "Gouge and Bite, Pull Hair and Scratch"

It never ceases to amaze me what academics study.

Nevertheless, a truly interesting, yet bizarre, article.

Peter Huston
For full text go to

"Gouge and Bite, Pull Hair and Scratch"
The Social Significance of Fighting in the Southern Backcountry
Journal of Manly Arts
Apr 2001

By Elliott J. Gorn

First published in The American Historical Review, volume 90, February to December 1985, pages 18-43. Copyright © 1985 Elliott J. Gorn. Reprinted courtesy Elliott J. Gorn. All rights reserved.
The Sea Tiger
A still from the motion picture "The Sea Tiger",
First National Pictures, 1927
(source - "The Strongman", Joe Bonomo, Bonomo Studios, 1968)

"I would advise you when You do fight Not to act like Tygers and Bears as these Virginians do - Biting one anothers Lips and Noses off, and gowging one another - that is, thrusting out one anothers Eyes, and kicking one another on the Cods, to the Great damage of many a Poor Woman." [EN1] Thus, Charles Woodmason, an itinerant Anglican minister born of English gentry stock, described the brutal form of combat he found in the Virginia backcountry shortly before the American Revolution. Although historians are more likely to study people thinking, governing, worshiping, or working, how men fight -- who participates, who observes, which rules are followed, what is at stake, what tactics are allowed - reveals much about past cultures and societies.

The evolution of southern backwoods brawling from the late eighteenth century through the antebellum era can be reconstructed from oral traditions and travelers' accounts. As in most cultural history, broad patterns and uneven trends rather than specific dates mark the way. The sources are often problematic and must be used with care; some speculation is required. But the lives of common people cannot be ignored merely because they leave few records. "To feel for a feller's eyestrings and make him tell the news" was not just mayhem but an act freighted with significance for both social and cultural history. [EN2]


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