The arena was a simple circle of seventeen wagons with an eager audience lining its edges. At the centre was a lone barrel, the battleground where the contest would be decided. At stake was not only the prize of fourteen dollars and three pounds of coffee; but the respect and admiration of the entire train. Who would prove himself the greatest “Indian wrestler” on the trail?

The champion stretched and flexed as he awaited the combat. Sam Kelly was a burly Irishman who had arrived in Baltimore about ten years before. He had dug his share of canal on his westward journey to Cincinnati, where he had tried his hand at several less than successful enterprises.  His path eventually led him to Independence, Missouri where he made the acquaintance of the Tolberts, a Pennsylvania family of the middling sort, who were on their way to the Willamette. They soon hired him to drive their team and to do odd jobs along the trail.  Sam thought he might give Oregon a try, and if it didn’t pan out, he would head to California.

His challenger was Mosha Weiss, a harness-maker from Hamburg. He was of average build, and just a hair over six foot in height. He spoke tolerably good English, but his accent had left most folks calling him just “The Dutchman.” He had joined the train at Independence, but didn’t plan on making the entire journey.  No, he was going to settle-up in either Laramie or Boise, sell his rig, and set up trade servicing the passing trains.

Now, the time had come. Both men set elbows on the barrel head and joined palms.

“That’s quite a grip you have there,” said the Irishman.

“Well, my name is “Vice” responded the Jew.

Both men had a good laugh at that, then tensed as the preacher raised his handkerchief as a sign for battle to commence.


See also: Awaiting Discovery and The Rest as Oregon Trail Stories.


Check out Fandango’s One Word Challenge – “Trail”


7 thoughts on “Gladiators

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