Gavel Gamut

By Jim Redwine



Judge Eagleson liked to work out alone on the heavy bag in his barn. He found he could assuage the cares of life with sweat, but he wanted to do so at his own pace. So when his new bailiff found out about the bag and asked if he could occasionally join the Judge, Eagleson felt ambiguous about it. He enjoyed the bright young Jack’s company, but he usually preferred his own. Plus, he had always tried to keep some distance between himself and his staff. He had found that casual proximity made management more difficult.

But Jack had divulged that he had been a Golden Gloves boxer, and more importantly to Eagleson, the powerfully built Jack was extremely handy with such things as tools and even a portable welding unit. There were always jobs to be done around the judge’s rural home. Jack offered to pitch in when needed in exchange for a free place to work out and the copious helpings of food Morgan enjoyed feeding to the appreciative young man.

Thanksgiving morning Jack and the Judge met at 7:00 a.m. in the barn and began their workout jumping rope and stretching. Eagleson had a long association with boxers and was impressed by Jack’s skill. He appeared to understand the sweet science better than one might expect from an amateur.

“Jack, I notice you punch in combinations I normally haven’t seen at the Golden Gloves level. You double your jab; you hold your elbows in to protect your body; you bob and weave instead of simply walking in or out. And when we spar, your left hook to my ribs feels more like a sledge hammer than an amateur’s weak reaching blow. I am glad my rule is no head shots. Where’d you get your training?”

“Thanks, Judge. I appreciate you letting me work out here. There’s really no other place I feel comfortable since I work for you. I didn’t mean that the way it came out. I mean we come into contact with almost everybody, and I know you want the court staff to maintain a certain distance from the public. Here in your barn I can relax, and I really like Mrs. Eagleson’s cooking.”

“She wants you to call her Morgan; she does not go for the Mrs. Judge thing. But you didn’t respond to the question asked. Who taught you to box?”

“I grew up in Evansville and graduated from Bosse High School before getting my degree from the University of Southern Indiana. But my great grandfather who’s passed now used to live in Tulsa, and I’d spend my summers with him in Oklahoma. My old maiden grand aunt who raised me would send me out to keep him company. He was quite a character and very old, or at least, it seemed that way to me. He told tall tales about cowboys and Indians and he claimed to remember the Tulsa race riots of the 1920’s. He couldn’t drive because he was almost blind, he claimed due to all the blows to his head from boxing, but he would get different women from his church to take us around Tulsa and up to the Osage Indian Nation and even down to the African American college at Langston, Oklahoma.

“That old man had more girl friends than Nat King Cole. There was always some doting woman willing to drive us around as long as Ajax sweet-talked them. That was his legal name, but I called him Gramps. He claimed he was a direct descendant of the original Ajax. And when I questioned how a black man could come from Greece he boxed me up side of my head and said, ‘Where do you think your name of Jack came from? You’re part of the same line.’ I found it safer to just keep my questions about his bona fides to myself.

“Gramps claimed he was born at Langston to Ajax and Jane Crider in 1890 and learned to bulldog steers from Bill Pickett at the 101 Ranch near Marland, Oklahoma during the ranch’s wild west shows. He did have a faded old clipping that he claimed showed a picture of him with Pickett in 1905. I nodded my head in respect, but couldn’t make out what it showed.

“Not only did Gramps claim to ride with Pickett, survive the Tulsa riots and run with outlaws in Indian Territory, he told me he learned to box from his father, Ajax, Sr., and the legendary Jack Johnson whom he met when he got a job helping set up the boxing ring for Johnson’s fight with James Jeffries on July 4, 1910 in Reno, Nevada. Gramps said he had to watch the fight from the roof of a downtown cathouse because black people, other than Johnson, weren’t allowed at the fight.

“Whether Johnson taught him or my great, great, grandfather, Ajax, Sr., that old man knew how to move and throw a punch even up into his nineties. He died in 1995 at a nursing home in Tulsa. But until he fell and broke his hip in 1990, he could still display the proper way to throw a punch. He always claimed his boxing skills saved his life several times during days of segregation in Oklahoma when Gramps’ fondness for willing white girls was a dangerous habit. On the other hand, Granddad was not above shining people, including me, on. So when he came up with all his exploits it might have been more of the Munchausen Syndrome than real.

“That’s probably a whole lot more than you were asking for, Judge, but that’s where I learned it, and it served me well boxing for Danny Thomas’s boxing gym in Evansville. Danny T. also worked with me quite a bit.”

“The man I’d like to have met is your Gramps. Do you have any written family history about him? A Bible or even a diary?”

“No, just a few faded old news stories, and you can’t make much of them; although, one is from Reno dated nineteen, it looks like ten, but you really can’t tell, and he has a letter or two from some women who supposedly ran a house of ill repute on the Osage Reservation about sixty miles from Tulsa. One of the letters mentions a place Gramps always called Dead Man Springs where the head of a black man was supposed to have been thrown after some problem with a white woman. Gramps had one of his church ladies drive us up there a few years before he died. It is a few miles north of the capital of the Osage Nation in Pawhuska, Oklahoma.”

“Now, Jack, you are just full of interesting mysteries. But for now, let’s see if you can avoid this old man’s jab. And don’t forget who has to approve your paycheck. Say, what’s that bandage on your forearm? I didn’t see it until you pushed up the sleeves of your sweatshirt.”

“Oh, I had a little run in with a table saw when I was building some bookshelves.Judge, if you’re ready to quit, I sure can. Do you think Mrs., Morgan, might have breakfast ready?”

“You’re on young man. It was very prudent of you to quit before I keeled over. Let’s grab a cup of coffee.”

As Eagleson pushed the button to open the overhead barn door, a police car suddenly appeared. The Prosecuting Attorney, Tom Rachels, Mt. Vernon Chief of Police, Arlis Hayes and Coroner, Jay Holder, got out.

Mr. Rachels said, “Judge, bad news, Audrey Kastle was murdered last night.”


Comments are closed.