A Touch of the Wild West in Fishers: The Battle of Mudsock was a National Sensation
By David Heighway
This year is the 135th anniversary of the “Battle of Mudsock”. I mentioned this event a couple of years ago in an article about early Fishers and in a later article about grave robbing in Indiana. However, I’ve done some more research and found that it was even larger than I originally thought. A fistfight between two men in the fall of 1881 snowballed into an explosion of violence that left one person dead, 32 injured, and caused the destruction of two buildings. And it was all because of the new economic growth in the area.
Unfortunately, there are no records at the courthouse – the county court records only go back to January of 1882. However, the story was picked up by newspapers all over the country. So, this information is drawn from a great many news accounts which can vary widely.
The town got a reputation for violence which started almost immediately after its founding in 1872. At an 1875 shooting competition, James Redwine got into an argument with Milford G. “Dick” Parsley about who had won. Tempers flared and Parsley drew his revolver and fired three shots. Redwine died the next day, leaving a widow and children. That was the peak of violence in Fishers Station for a few years. However, it remained a stopping place for drifters and rowdies.
The two saloons where the brawl occurred were on the south side of the plank road (116th Street), with one on the east side of the tracks and one on the west side of the tracks. The western saloon was run by the Farrell brothers, Edward and Andrew, who had emigrated from Ireland in 1850 as small children. The eastern saloon was run by Wade Hampton “Hamp” West, a Confederate army deserter who had drifted north after the Civil War. Hamp West’s building was in a low, swampy area of land and was supported by pilings sunk into the muck. It was known as the “saloon on poles”.
The event started around noon on Saturday, November 19 in a low-key manner (for Fishers) when two men got into a fight – Barney Reinier, whose family owned the land north of the plank road and west of the railroad, and “Dutch Joe”, one of the many anonymous drifters. It broke up soon, but not before many people in town picked sides. There were probably a lot of old vendettas involved.
At the Farrell saloon a few hours later, about 5 o’clock, Benjamin Fouch was playing billiards with the Lynn brothers, Daniel and Wesley, while their brother Adam Lynn watched. They were all rough characters – Fouch in particular. He worked in Adam Lynn’s blacksmith shop as a stable hand and was a former Marion County deputy sheriff. He had been forced to leave Marion County a few months earlier when he threatened a man for paying too much attention to Fouch’s wife. He was known to be particularly mean when he had a few drinks in him.
George McCoy entered the saloon and insulted Adam, probably in connection with the earlier fight, and was beaten by Fouch and thrown out. Soon after, he came back with Hamp West and Bob Dawson. West allegedly gave a signal to fight. However, Dawson and McCoy were thrown out and West was savagely beaten by Fouch and the Lynns using brass knuckles and pool cues. After a time, he was allowed to leave
West went back to his saloon by a circuitous route – he crossed the plank road going north, jumped Rienier’s fence and washed in their pond, cut through Mrs. Redwine’s yard, and then down the alley behind W. H. Dixon’s house and William Bolton’s house, and then back across the plank road to his saloon. Dawson had already gotten back.
Fouch and the Lynns finished up their billiard game about an hour later and Henry Justus decided to create more trouble by suggesting that they go to West’s for a drink. The group headed down the street twice – once as far as the blacksmith shop and once as far as Tucker’s drugstore. West shut the front door and said the saloon was closed. Then Dawson opened the door and invited them in. West said he was done with fighting and didn’t want any more trouble.
Fouch was wearing his brass knuckles and said he could whip anyone in the house. Dawson drew a knife and slashed Daniel Lynn. A general fight broke out, and the crowd started throwing billiard balls. In the midst of the general melee, West hit Fouch with a brass beer faucet, killing him. Fouch was carried first to Tucker’s drugstore, then to the Redwine boarding house where he died that night. Tragically, the boarding hose was run by the widow of James Redwine, the man who had been killed in the 1875 shooting.
Fighting had continued at the Farrell saloon where Elwood Haworth and Thomas Perkins attacked Andy Farrell. However, Farrell had armed himself with a Colt Navy revolver. Shots were exchanged but, fortunately, no one was killed. The Farrell saloon burned down that night, whether by accident or on purpose wasn’t known. West’s was closed and later reported destroyed
The Sheriff arrived by railroad handcar on the 20th and the Coroner’s inquest ran from the 20th to the 23rd. A grand jury was convened and heard testimony on November 29. They handed down eighteen indictments on December 3. Although charged with the murder of Fouch, Hamp West was not indicted. The grand jury felt that he had acted in self-defense.
Why did Fishers become the epicenter for this tragedy? The main reason is that it was a brand new railroad stop with very little government organization. A minister later claimed that Salathiel Fisher was going to forbid taverns from being built in the town, but died before he could implement this. The rest of county was strongly in favor of the Temperance movement, even to the point of having night-riding vigilantes attack saloons. Add to this that there were apparently no law enforcement personnel in Delaware Township, and Fishers ended up being the only place that you could go to drink and raise hell. If you’ve seen the movie “Tombstone” or the TV series “Deadwood” – that was what Fishers was like.
The brawl hit the national news. Since the gunfight at the OK Corral had happened only the month before, people were paying attention to violent incidents. The New York Times had an article on page one titled “A Fight Among Ruffians”. There was an editorial in the New Orleans Times-Picayune titled “Mudsock Matinee” that called it a “brilliant battle”.
The event had a profound impact on Hamilton County. The people of the area became more vigilant against saloons and other places considered detrimental to the community. In 1882, a group of Westfield women demolished a saloon and set fire to the rubble. In 1883, a brothel in Noblesville was burned to the ground by a mob.
Fishers became less of a focus after the Monon Railroad was finished in 1882 and much of the economic activity switched to that side of the county. Then the discovery of natural gas in 1887 caused major changes in the population of the county. There was still some excitement coming out of Fishers – it was the center of a major grave robbing scandal in 1902 – but, by the end of the First World War, it had begun to settle into a quiet farming community.
by David Heighway