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A Family Altercation

By Ulmer Speed


Growing up amongst family in Sand Flat, Miss’ippi, provided a protected environment for making mistakes without exposing your lack of forethought to people who didn’t love you.  Those forgiven missteps taught me self-confidence, which in turn built my self-reliance.  That lesson was reinforced by Denen, my first cousin, who interceded on my behalf during disputes only when it gave him the opportunity to parade his bravado to the other kids.  Even though I was only five years old, I had learned that his protection was iffy, so having no brothers to rely on, I assumed personal responsibility for whatever problems my mouth got me into.  

Denen, the oldest boy of Mama’s middle sister, was a lot bigger than me.  He was three years older too but I fought him one day during a disagreement over whose dog was more likely to win if we let them fight.  My dog, mostly German shepherd, was fearless and the undisputed fighting champion in Sand Flat.  Denen’s dog was a pit bull rumored to have run down and killed a grown cow in ole man Peavey’s pasture.  Mr. Peavey was mean and if Denen’s dog killed one of his cows, Mr. Peavey would have killed that dog and Denen’s daddy would have had to pay him for the dead cow.  The rumor regarding Jack’s ferocity was false I knew.  Jack, Denen’s pit bull, was a bad dog and could fight but he couldn’t hold a light in a fight to my dog, Ring – so named because of the white ring that encircled his tail about a third way down from the tip.  Jack was built for fighting; compact body, huge head, short powerful muzzle, and a large black lipped-mouth.  Ring was medium tall with reddish blond hair.  He had another kind of dog in him but we didn’t know what it was.  He looked somewhat like a German shepherd so we called him a German shepherd.  I suspected Denen had started the rumor that Jack killed the Peavey’s cow to enhance his bragging rights regarding Jack's fighting prowess, and I told him so.  Denen knocked out my tooth.  The tooth was loose anyway, but he had cast the die and I double dared him to go get Jack so we could settle once and for all which dog was the undisputed best fighting dog in Sand Flat.  Denen ran home as fast as he could go to fetch Jack.  Proof that Jack or Ring was the undisputed champion was going to be settled once and for all that very Saturday evening. 

Although three of us were holding Ring, he nearly pulled away when he saw Jack coming down the road dragging Denen by the rope leash.  Denen gained control over Jack just long enough to unleash him as we set Ring free.  The dogs rushed each other throwing the full weight of their bodies together as they rose on their hind legs trying to gain height advantage over the opponent.  Foam poured from both dogs’ mouths as they stood paw to paw growling from deep in their chest, biting at each other’s mouth.  Ring drew first blood when he seized Jack’s jowl and ripped a part away from the jaw to expose rear teeth.  The white foam on his mouth turned red.  Undeterred by the blood spewing from his wound, Jack grabbed Ring’s right front foot in his mouth crushing it with one grinding bite.  We heard the bones crack and saw Ring’s foot go limp. I began to cry certain I had pressed the issue of championship a bit too far.  But the fight was still on.  When Jack lowered his head to chew Ring’s broken foot, Ring crunched into the back of Jack’s neck ripping open the skin to expose muscle and bone.  That follow-through bite must have done what Ring wanted it to do.  Jack released the captured foot, arched his head back over his shoulders, dropped to the ground on his belly, and howled the most mournful cry I ever heard.  I began to cry again.  Ring continued to lord over the prostate figure under him shaking the beaten retch like a dirty rag until Jack no longer struggled.  Satisfied that his opponent was finished, Ring released Jack and limped under the porch licking his mangled foot.  Denen got a two-bushel corn sack from the barn, tied the rope leash to the open end to form an Indian stretcher, rolled Jack onto it, and dragged his dog home. 

Mom helped me doctor Ring with bandages soaked in coal oil to prevent infection.  It must have worked because Ring recovered.  He retained a limp, however, until the day he died some seventeen years later.  Jack lived too but he was a lot uglier with his disfigured mouth and humped back.  The battle changed him.  He lost his will to fight and if he had a tail it would have been forever tucked.  Jack ran away at the least provocation, barking over his shoulder to avoid confrontation at all cost.  Denen’s daddy reckoned that Jack had embarrassed his whole family by being beaten by his sister in-law’s dog so he kicked at Jack every time he had a chance.  Jack seldom ventured far from under the porch. 

The author is Mr. Ellis Ulmer Speed, a 1970 engineering graduate of Mississippi State University.  He current works for the Defense Technology Security Administration in Alexandria, Virginia. 

His e-mail address is


© 2002, Ellis Ulmer Speed, All Rights Reserved