THE BLIND TIGER

(Felis Tigris sine oculis.)

Written for the New York “Spirit of the Times” by “Chausseur Boheme.”

We know that upon the sands of long-ago we find the records of both animals and vegetables which have entirely disappeared from the face of the earth ; and in the Pyramids of the East and the sepulchral mounds of the West, we see the vestiges of human families, unknown to us of this generation even through tradition. How carefully Nature has marked upon her rocky tablets the progress of creation, from the earliest formation until the appearance of Man upon the stage. And while these traces of a lost creation are so distinct, affording a clear record of animals claiming even a pre-Adamite existence, it is passing strange that we find no memento of one animal which, during its period, ranked as the most savage of all the brute creation, and which, within the last half century, has been lost to the list of ferœ naturœ. In no work on “Animated Nature” do I find any mention of this “varmint,” a prominent member of the feline race ; and I am truly astonished that it should have so completely escaped the notice of our eminent naturalists, men of deep study and extensive research. My astonishment is the greater since I am made aware of the fact that this monster was not a denizen of the tangled brake, a prowler amid trackless wilds, but made his den close to crowded thoroughfares, and sought his victims alike in the open glare of day or under cover of the night. Perhaps this “kitten” may been a strictly local institution, and thus escaped the eyes of those shrewd old savans. As we find no fossil remains of this “Tiger,” his existence might be pronounced mystical, were it not that we have come across the oldest citizen—a man handed down from those good old days, the gallon-law, cock-fighting, quarter-racing, camp-meeting, muster-going days of Mississippi—a man who recollects well when the “Blind Tiger” was the terror of the State, and “Tiger’s milk” was the favorite beverage of ferocious youths.

A few years ago I found myself, one cold December day, sitting around the stove, in a certain reception-room, listening to the “experience” of a man whose face was tanned by the exposure of many years and marked with scars. Though an old man, his broad shoulders displayed a power akin to Samson’s, with fingers that closed down with the clamp of a vice, and seemingly a “bear-hug” would be fun compared with his under-hold in a tussle. He gave his name as “Fulton, of Bargrass,” and, according to his reckoning, “had run the river from Orleens to Louisville for thirty years, and knew every bar and bend on the Mississippi—equally at home on a steamer, a raft, or a broad-horn.” Among his other experiences I recorded the following:--

“It war several years ago that me and Ben Horton war runnin’ the Little Pike, a flat, loaden with projuce, and tradin’ along the coast. One night, when the fog war as thick as ever I seed it, we drifted purty close by a house whar they war fiddlin’, drinkin’, and frolickin’ like fury. After floatin’ ‘bout an hour we passed close by another house whar they war dancin’ an cuttin’ up like the devil ; and, after a while, we passed another. And so on, every hour or so we would pass a house whar they war carryin’ on in high style, and, what seemed the curiousest thing, at every place they had a nigger fiddler always playin’ the same chune. At last, says Ben to me:

“ ‘Aint these here the beatenest folks along this river fur frolickin’, you ever seed? I jest wish I war ashore to give ‘em a little of the regular Kentucky touch.’

“And then Ben began to dance away on top of the flat ; fur I tell you, next to a showy horse, a fiddler’s the thin’ to touch Kentuck’s finer feelin’s.

“Well, when we found ourselves next mornin’, dod bust me, if we hadn’t been travellin’ round through the fog in one big eddy all night ; and you see, all them houses whar they war frolickin’ so war the same house all the time, which we would pass by once in a while. I tell you, me and Ben war mad enough, but as we war close to a small town, we concluded to run ashore and try the chances for tradin’. Just as we tied up and shoved out a plank, down comes a crowd of fellows to inspect us. Among ‘em war one tremendous big fellow, and I saw, from signs hung out, that he had been on a bust all night before.

“ ‘Whooper!’ he hollered, jumpin’ up and crackin’ his heels together, ‘here’s Tom Rawlins, the fighting dog of Adams ; bring out your wild cats, gentlemen, if you want ‘em chawed up. I’m a smashin’ tornado in a tussle, with the scream of a steam-engine, the grip of a he grizzly, and the hoss power of a four biler boat. Whar’s the man kin stand before me?’

“I knowed it [unclear] and I tell you it fired me considerably—me, who had never taken a dare, and never bin whipped. Thinks I, to myself, we’ll try you before we leave this place.

“After a while I goes up town, leaving Ben in charge of the flat ; and, after cruisin’ around awhile, I sees a kinder pigeon-hole cut in the side of a house, and, over the hole, in big writin’, ‘Blind Tiger—12(1/2) [written as 12 1 over 2] cents a Sight!’ I noticed several folks goin’ up and peepin’ in, so I walked straight up, and, lookin’ in, sees a feller inside stirrin’ somethin’ with a stick. I immediately recognized a familiar kinder menajery smell about the place, and says to the showman standin’ inside:

“ ‘Here’s your chance;[1] walk out your tiger!’

“Well, instead of showin’ me a wild varmint without eyes, dod bust me, if he didn’t shove me out a glass of whisky! You see that ‘Blind Tiger’ was an institution to evade the law, as they couldn’t sell liker thar except by the gallon. It is useless to say that my visits war numerous to that animal what couldn’t see. Bymby, I happened along whar Tom Rawlins war telling some long yarn or other to the crowd around him. I felt the ‘Tiger’ workin’ on me, and when Tom finished his yarn, says I to him familiar like:

“ ‘Tom, has you got the papers for that?’

“It war no use to add another word. I looked at Tom and saw “Tiger” plain in both eyes, as he said to me, ‘Shuck yourself.’

“We warn’t long in sheddin’ our superflus kiverin, and at it we went. Nip and tuck, up and down, over and under, rough-and-tumble, we had it ; hittin’, bitin’, scratchin’, and gougin’. It war an awful scrimmage, and we both fought beautiful. But it war no use, and I might as well acknowledge to him second best in that fight. Me and Ben warn’t long in shovin’ out the Little Pike from thar, and I tell you, between Tom Rawlins and the “Blind Tiger,” a friend of mine war darned nigh clawed to death.” Q.E.D.

MEM. FOR “COL. PIPES.”

To Brew “Ye Tiger’s Milk.
”—Take the yolks of three eggs, one half pint of best brandy, the peel of one lemon cut thin, a wine-glass of white sugar, one dozen cloves and cardamoms ; add to these one quart of fresh milk, and grate in part of a nutmeg. Stir well, say grace, think of your friends, shut your eyes and drink.


Notes:

Source: New York Spirit of the Times 30.23 (14 July 1860): 271. University of Virginia Alderman Library

Erin Bartels prepared this typescript.

[1] "Change" in original. Printer's error likely.

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