Trading Post Arm Wrestling: on line short story


Gater tells a story

The folks around here generally call me Gater Flint. The Gater part started with Mike Fink who hung it on me when we worked on keelboats together. One of Mike’s brags was that he was “half horse, half alligator.” He said he’d allow that I was all alligator and started calling me Gater . Somehow I married up with a city gal named Megan Cassidy. Together we started this trading post and I reckon we make a good team. I know furs and the people who hunt them. She knows business. Something she learned from her daddy. Together we buy furs from the trappers and sell them supplies, canned foods, sugar, coffee, tobacco, pots and pans along with whatever else comes along. Megan’s brother John is here with us from Baltimore. He was training to be a priest but balked at taking the final step to be ordained. Can’t say as I blame him much. It’s a big step and hard to back out of later. For a guy who spent most of his life in school, he has got into some odd adventures out here. Folks that know us tend to trust him because he is kin but he has also proven himself to be kind impressive on his own. He has his sister’s business sense and helps out in the store a bit. Being there are no real towns nearby, the trading post is the center for anything going on around here. Folks come to visit, put up notices on the doors. They drink at the bar and share a bit of food, although we don’t fix nothing fancy.

Folks along the river is a bit odd by outsider standards. Maybe more odd is that John’s sister Megan and I are somewhat leaders here. That’s because we got the trading post, which just about everybody passes through once in a while. It is the only place within a hundred miles to buy the things they can’t hunt or grow themselves. Sometimes they just hang around for awhile—swapping lies, smoking, playing cards or what not. There were keelboatmen like Frenchy, who dropped in to deliver goods for sale and pick up goods to go back to the big cities. There’s trappers, hunters, friendly Indians and some folks just passing through.

John tends bar

When you run a trading post like ours—out where most folks think you are beyond the borders of civilization. Not very much surprises you. On the other hand, my wife and her brother are both city bred and, for that matter, I din’t grow up in the forest. So there are some interesting contrasts. One day John was helping out in the store which includes a bar where we serve decent whiskey, not like some that is sold by some drummers coming through. John was tending bar for a few trappers. A couple of trappers were getting a bit drunk and John refused to serve them any more. Maybe it’s his Irish blood or maybe it’s his seminary schooling but for him it was fine to drink—up to a point. Maybe he just wanted to avoid trouble later. He even cut off Frenchy, his best friend from the keelboat that he took passage on to get here. Anyhow, the trapper he refused to serve further challenged him to arm wrestle. The trapper was a bit bigger and heavier than John. John was athletic but not too used to the frontier rough and tumble ways. The trapper was also Irish but what they call an Orangeman. That’s a Protestant Irishman. While the Catholics like Megan and John use green as a national color, the Protestant defiantly use orange. When the first round started people started to gather around. Even the circuit rider, Rev. Isaiah Jones was there. Somehow word spread because pretty soon more people were there to watch. The struggle was something to watch. First John’s arm would tighten and he pushed an inch or two toward the table. Then the trapper would push back. Finally the trapper pushed John’s arm to the bar top.

Cheers went up from the trapper’s friends. Rev. Jones moved up closer to look. Now he was a man that preached against drinking and fighting and he always argued with John about the sinfulness of both, but he owed John a debt of gratitude for saving his life once. It looked like the trapper was going to get the best of John again. Then John inhaled, held his breath a minute and thrust his hand against his challenger. The sudden move took the trapper by surprise and John followed up to press his hand to the bar. The trapper’s face showed his surprise and cursed under his breath. Then he said. “You got me on that one Cassidy, but it won’t happen again.”

John just smiled and said, “We’ll see.”

John kept his good humored smile but the muscles in his face showed intensity and concentration if you knew him. Both men braced themselves and leaned into the bar. I could see the strain in John’s muscles, although the trapper looked almost relaxed. Both of them were concentrating on the other searching for a weakness. Slowly John started to push the trappers arm off the center point between their noses. Very slowly he pushed and both men’s arms were trembling with the strain. Then the trappers arm started to gain on John and pushed almost to the center. A look of concentration took over John’s features and he pushed back. As he started to gain momentum his elbow started to slip and it seemed to lose balance. The mountain man was pushing back with a steady deliberate push. The onlookers watched with fascination. The mountain man would gain an inch, and then John would push back and gain a bit.

Both men leaned into the task. I could see sweat running down John face into his eyes. He tried to blink it away. The mountain man was sweating too. He wiped his face with the sleeve of his other arm. For several minutes the contest went from one to the other and back again. Finally, I could see that Johns arm was tiring and he couldn’t muster as much energy as before. His opponent was tiring too and the contest seemed to lose its energy.

I watched and it was my time to hold my breath. Johns’ hand was slowly being pushed to the bar top . The back of his hand touched to the surface and the mountain man won the round. There were signs of disappointment from John’s friends and cheers for the mountain man.

The Reverend Jones shook his hand and said, “for a Papist, you put up a good fight, but drinking is sinful.”

“All things are good in moderation,” John said.

The mountain man took his hand and said, “How about serving me that drink now, Cassidy?”

“Nope, but I’ll buy you a drink tomorrow.”

The mountain man laughed and slapped John on the back almost knocking him over.

Copyright 2013 Don Hoglund

© 2013 Don A. Hoglund

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Comments 22 comments

WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 3 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

Very good, Don!

Contests like this were very popular in the early West, because professional entertainment was not available. One of the most popular contests was the foot race, and thousands were often wagered.

dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 3 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

Thanks Will,

You are right. Those days they had to entertain themselves and sometimes it must have gotten pretty rowdy. Thanks for the comment.

Becky Katz profile image

Becky Katz 3 years ago from Hereford, AZ

Good, entertaining story. I enjoyed this look at the common things they did and how they got turned into something big and fun. Making your own entertainment was a way of life. Everything became entertainment. I remember when my cousin got married. They lived in a little town and his aunts and uncles decided to have them chivareed. The police closed the highway through town and they made him put his bride in a wheelbarrow and push her the whole length of town with the whole bunch following, laughing and chanting. We also gathered anyone else who wanted to join. It WAS a very boring little town.

dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 3 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

Glad you enjoyed the story Becky. It was probably pretty boring on the frontier. Yet, I think we may have too much commercial entertainment now. Thanks for commenting.

xstatic profile image

xstatic 3 years ago from Eugene, Oregon

Good story! I was arm wrestling in a tavern once and snapped my humerus (large bone in the upper arm) which ruined my good humor. I held it an walked a block to the hospital emergency room. No cast, just a sling for a few weeks and had to sleep sitting up in a recliner. Doc said it was not uncommon in arm wrestling. I have not arm wrestled since.

dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 3 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

xtatic, thanks for reading my story and commenting. It has been so long since I have tried arm wrestling that I don't remember who or where.

drbj profile image

drbj 3 years ago from south Florida

Your narrative, Don, was very natural and relaxed. I felt as if I was there at the Trading Post watching that arm wrestling contest. Well done!

ajwrites57 profile image

ajwrites57 3 years ago from Pennsylvania

dahoglund, very nice story. How did you develop the tone and pace of the story--and the language? What are your influences? Halfway through it made me think of James Fenimore Cooper's Leatherstocking tales. Have you ever read them? Your characters have same slow, folksy rhythm as the narration of Natty Bumpo in Cooper's stories. Enjoyed your story as usual!

dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 3 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

drjb, Thanks for the feedback. I appreciate your opinion.

dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 3 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

ajwrites, I am not sure that I really know where my style comes from, except a lifetime of influences. I don't think I ever read Cooper but saw some of the movies based on his stories. Mark Twain is probably my biggest influence. Hemingway's style impressed me in college, especially a short story titled "The Killers." Ray Bradbury has said a writer should read anything and everything and that influenced my reading.

I admired James Dean and the concept of method acting. I try to apply it to writing, in that I try to get inside the head of the characters I use.

I spent a couple of years writing letters to customer and learned what they called the "you attitude." That means to talk about what th customer wants, not what the company wants. That means to understand what the customer wants. It is amazing how many correspondents don't really read the customers letters. Anyhow, it might have led to a style with a personal touch.

I remember in a job interview once, the interviewer suggested that I should try writing for radio because I had a "chatty" style which might fit in radio.

Although I have been writing frontier and western stories lately I read mysteries more than westerns.

I hope this helps to answer your question.

ajwrites57 profile image

ajwrites57 3 years ago from Pennsylvania

Thanks for your answer! I could definitely see Mark Twains folksy easy going influence! Being able to, as you say, "get inside of the headf" of your audience is important. I also think of some of the diaries that were read on PBS's Civil War documentary when I read your stories. Thanks again!

dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 3 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

ajwrites,glad to oblige.

Angela Blair profile image

Angela Blair 3 years ago from Central Texas

You did a great job on building momentum in this tale -- couldn't decide who I was rooting for! Very enjoyable story. Best/Sis

dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 3 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

Hi Sis,I appreciate your observations.

moonlake profile image

moonlake 3 years ago from America

Enjoyed your story seem like I was right there. My husband and his brothers use to always arm wrestle every time they saw each other. They're to old now. Voted up and shared.

dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 3 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

Hi moonlake, glad you enjoyed the wrestling match. Thanks for the vote and share.

Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 3 years ago from Houston, Texas

Hi Don,

I remember arm wrestling with my family members when we were young. Am sure that my parents who taught us the fine art of arm wrestling let us kids win once in a while. :) As my brothers got older, we had some great bouts of it at the kitchen table. Thanks for bringing back those memories. You are a great story teller! Up and interesting votes and will share.

dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 3 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

Hi Peggy, I used the arm wrestling mostly to create the atmosphere of the time and place Also, I thought it was a way to define the characters. I am glad it brought something you could identify with and enjoy. Thanks for the compliment about storytelling as well as the votes and sharing.

Jodah profile image

Jodah 20 months ago from Queensland Australia

I enjoyed this well written tale Don. The language was perfect for the setting and many a disagreement used to be settled by a good old arm wrestle. I was actually watching an arm wrestling competition on TV tonight. Good, fun story, voted up.

dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 20 months ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

Jodah, thanks for reading the story, your comment, and vote. At one time I had wanted to write a novel with the characters here. The concept was to have a protestant circuit rider preacher and a catholic on the frontier and contrast the way they respond to the environment. So far I have written several short stories on hubpages using the setting and characters but got a bit set back by some health problems the last couple of years.

Lee Cloak 20 months ago

A very enjoyable and engaging tale, felt as if I was there watching this awesome contest, thanks for sharing, voted up, Lee

dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 20 months ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

Lee, thanks for commenting and I am glad you liked my story. Thanks for the vote as well.

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