BACKING OUT A STRANGER;
OR, THE TENNESSEE JOCKIES BADLY SOLD.
Jim Borland and Tom Rice were a couple of the B’hoys ; some on a race track,
and in a rough-and-tumble-pitch-in fight, always thar. Sworn friends
and companions, nothing destroyed their flow of spirits but being tuk in on
a quarter race. That, however, was seldom ; for when they pronounced a horse
the real grit, the fact might be sworn to.
Borland had a beautiful claybank quarter nag, that could rather lick anything
in the western district ; and as for getting a race on him, where he was known,
that was an impossibility. Rice lived just across the Tennessee line, in Kentucky,
and owned Cub. In those days, for a Kentuckian to say that Cub
was entered for a race, was equivalent to his telling you that he had bet his
pile. He was, in reality, a splendid animal, black as night, heavy muscled,
and limbs as clean and beautifully moulded as those of the belle of a fashionable
ball room. Singular as it may seem, the two horses had never met on the same
field, but it may be shrewdly suspected, that the owners knew full well which
was the fastest.
On a certain occasion the cronies met at a campmeeting, where, as usual, they
were hand in hand. There was evidently something on Borland’s mind, he had not
had a race for three weeks, and was getting rather low in funds. Taking Rice
aside he said to him :
“ Tom, this is the last kick-up among the preachers this year, and I have bantered
every man on the ground for a race, and
can’t get it. This wont do. I must and will have some fun, let who will pay for
it. Now suppose we try the plan I spoke to you about some time ago ?”
“ But will that be exactly fair ?” replied Rice.
“ Don’t talk about fairness with them fellows. After you have been there a week,
if you don’t think they would steal their grandmother’s spectacles, you can take
my skin for a drumhead. Don’t you recollect how they swindled Sam Kendal out of
all his money, and then came near beating him to death because he didn’t have
more for them ; and then, not three weeks ago, they made old Ben Wheeler drunk,
won his horse, and the old man had to walk thirty miles home without a cent in
his pocket ?”
“ That’s sufficient, as Tom Hayes said when he saw the elephant. Jim, I’ll go.”
“ I know you are of the right stripe,” said Borland, his face brightening. “ Mind
now, keep your eyes skinned, stop at the grocery close by the quarter path, and
be certain to slip your knife down Cub’s legs, to cut away cords they might have
tied there over night.”
They separated. Jim’s face wore a peculiar smile, that could have been interpreted
by a physiognomist to mean, there is fun ahead, and I’m in.
In those days, every neighborhood had its quarter path and grocery, and certainly
not the least celebrated was that of Holly Fork, in Henry county, Tennessee. At
that place any one could be accommodated. Cards or chuck-a-luck, old corn or cider,
a fight or foot-race, mattered not, it was to be had at a moment’s  notice.
As for a quarter race, all that was necessary to get one up, was a mere banter.
Such was the place our Kentuckian drew up at for a time.
Weeks passed away. Accounts from the “ Fork” stated that Cub was carrying
every thing before him--had beat their brag nags, won their money, and things
were getting dull for want
of opposition. Borland might have been seen, after the above news reached him,
to tack some heavy laden shoes to the right-fore-foot and left-hind-foot of his
horse ; it is called cross-shoeing. Early next morning, with his boy Bob, Claybank,
four horses, and all the money he could raise, he was off for Holly Fork. He stopped
at Jess Gainer’s, a little distance from the grocery, and after resting a short
time, he and host walked down to the stamping ground. The boys were there as usual,
ready for anything. After taking a drink and looking round, he began :
“ Gentlemen, don’t some of you want a tip-top saddle horse ? I’ve got five as
good ones as were ever wrapped in so much hide.”
“ I don’t know what these gentlemen may want,” said Rice, “ but I’ll tell you
what, stranger, if you have got any thing that can run, I’d like to make a race,
just to pass the time this evening.”
“ I’ve got a claybank pony with me that I got from old squire Freeland, up near
Eddyville, and he said he could run like the devil. I tried him once myself, and
he did go right pert, but I don’t want to run him--he’s for sale.”
“ We don’t want any horses but what can run,” said a little fellow. “ Come,” said
Jim, “ let us all liquor ; you will think better of my horse when you see him.”
They drank several times, and Borland was getting to use his tongue quite freely,
discoursing upon the superior qualities of his horse.
“ Now, stranger,” said Rice, “ if your horse is such a d--d fine one, why don’t
you back him ? I’m almost freezing for a race.”
“ Gentlemen, replied Borland, “ I hain’t got much money, and I’m no racer, but
my horse is no scrub by a d--d sight, as you would all find out if he was to run.
I am not going to
bet today, for I’m getting tolerably tight, but I’ll be here tomorrow.”
After a few words more, Borland and host started for the house of the former seemingly
O’er a’ the ills of life victorious.”
A beautiful moonlight night it was, the air calm as the quiet breathing of a sleeping
infant, just the night wanted for a purpose that had entered more heads than one.
Gainer, after putting his guest to bed, stole round to the stable to take a look
at claybank. He found several of the boys already there, Rice with them. It was
suggested to try the horse with Cub, just to see if he could run. Rice
objected, saying, however, his horse was at their service, but he would not have
any thing to do with it, as it would not be exactly fair. They did not stand on
such niceties, and the horses were soon on the path, but the trial was a one-sided
business, for the claybank, encumbered with the leaden cross-shoes, was easily
beaten. They were satisfied he was no “ bite,” and the discomfitted Claybank was
thrust ignominiously into his former quarters. Through a crack in the log cabin,
Jim saw it all, and muttered through his clenched teeth, “ d--n you, you’ll be
fooled this time.”
After breakfast, Borland and host returned to the grocery. It was full, news having
got wind that another Sucker was to be fleeced.
“ Well, stranger, how did you rest last night,” said one.
“ Not well, I have an all-fired headache.”
“ How is Claybank ; you aint afraid to run him, are you ?”
“ I was drunk or d--d nigh it, or I would not have said anything about running
“ Come now,” said Rice, “ we want a race mightily. Gainer
says your horse aint no small things, and he is a judge of horse flesh, you may
depend on it.”
“ That he is a fine horse, said Gainer, I believe in him so much that I would
be almost willing to go halves on him, but I don’t know anything about his racing
qualities ; however, Mr. Borland, the boys say they want a race ; and though they
dont bet high, it being contrary to their principles, as an inducement to you,
they offer a hundred to fifty, that the black can beat your horse, if your horse
runs as you say ; and if he don’t deceive his looks, I advise you to take the
“ I see how it is,” said Borland, pretending to become extremely excited, “ because
I’m a stranger, you expect to back me out, but I’m d--d if you do ; I’ll take
your bet, Mr. Rice, and run in three days.”
“ Agreed,” said Tom.
“ Come plank up the tin, I’ll show you that Jim Borland aint agoing to be backed
out, by mere bragging."
From  the time the money was staked, Borland was surrounded--offers of bets
poured in upon him, at odds even greater than the main stake. Appearing to become
more and more excited, at what he said was their desire to back a stranger out,
soon his money, his horses, cash notes, (then a circulating medium,) his saddle
and bridle, every thing was bet at tremendous odds. Finally, to divert suspicion,
the ownership of the contending animals was to depend upon the result of the race.
Great, indeed, was the excitement throughout the settlement on the morning of
the race, it being known, thought kept as a profound secret, of course, from Borland,
that the horses had been tried ; they looked upon him as being already used up--he
knew they were. So both parties laughed in their sleeves at the verdancy of the
other. Time arrived. The moment Bob mounted Clay, he seemed as if transformed
into another animal, ears erect, nostrils distended, eyes seemingly emitting sparks
of fire from the protruding balls, and as he came to the
starting place, spurning the ground with his elastic tread, it is impossible to
conceive a more exciting object than that of the noble animal. Nor was the Black
unworthy of such an adversary--faultless in form and appearance, as the rays of
the sun glistened along his velvet coat, his beautiful neck curved, and veins
distended, there is no Kentuckian but would have proudly acknowled him an honor
to his sired State. After much seeming jockeying, and sundry oaths at the unfairness
of the positions assumed by each other, the horses were turned loose. Swift as
arrows shot from Norman cross-bows did the noble animals bound on their lightning-like
journey ; for a moment did the thin lips of Borland become compressed, and his
cheek pale, as he witnessed the mighty strides of the Black ; it was but for a
moment, for his own darling horse, as if knowing how much depended on his exertions,
with a bound that the mountain stag could scarce have equalled, shot ahead. Breathless
silence reigned throughout the motley crowd, as they came thundering down the
track ; nearer and nearer they approach. Claybank still in the advance. Not a
word was spoken or whisper breathed, until, swift as thought, the horses passed.
The goal was won, and Claybank declared winner by sixteen feet !
Such expressions of disappointment were probably never so plainly depicted in
the countenances of individuals before ; and well there might be, Holly Fork was,
for the first time, emphatically broke.
The booty was turned over to Borland, and after treating all hands, and advising
them in future not to try and back out a stranger, he prepared to start. At this
moment came up Rice, the tears trickling down his cheek, and begged the loan of
“ Cub” to ride home.
“ No,” said Borland, “ you can’t ride him ; but here is one you may, as our roads
lead in the same direction.”
Every thing being arranged, they left, and after a goodly distance from the Fork,
they dismounted, divided their winnings, and separated--Rice taking the road to
Kentucky, and Borland for his home. * * * * * * 
The thing leaked out, it was too good to keep, and coming to the ears of the fleeced,
the payment of the cash notes was resisted on the ground of fraud. On the trial,
however, it was proven that Borland’s horse had been stolen from the stable, and
run with the Black for the purpose of swindling Borland ; so he obtained judgment
and recovered his money.
Source: Southern and Southwestern Sketches: Fun, Sentiment, and Adventure.
Edited by a Gentleman of Richmond. Richmond: J.W. Randolph, n.d. 159-165. University
of Virginia Alderman Library.
Erin Bartels prepared this typescript.
 Original text reads “Fom.”
 Original text reads “moments.”
 Original text omits final quotation mark.
 Asterisks inserted at end of line--perhaps to denote "white space"
here by typesetter.
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