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Odd Wisconsin Archive

The Champeen of Michigan and His Peculiar Leg


In the heyday of logging, lumberjacks invaded northwoods towns every spring after spending a long winter isolated in the woods. "When we had been in camp four or five months," Otis Terpenning recalled, "we were so full of life and activity we just had to expand or die… One crew was always ready to fight any other crew, and when we was in some lumbering town it was sometimes rough."

One memorable brawl happened between Bat Meagher, "a hard-boiled and hairy giant" from Marinette, Wisconsin, and Pete Curtis, the "Champeen of Michigan." Meagher's fighting skills were lauded all across northern Wisconsin, but during one particular winter he heard over and over again that there was one man who could lick him, a Michigan logger-turned-bartender named Pete Curtis. Meagher boasted that, come spring, he would "see how hard this bum is." True to his word, when spring came he walked over 20 miles to Curtis's tavern.

Meagher's reputation had preceded him and a crowd was waiting when he burst through the tavern door. The fight began immediatley and both men were quickly bruised and bloodied. As it dragged on, each landed massive blows on the other but neither would go down for the count.

Eventually Meagher got the upper hand, lifted Curtis up, and threw him unceremoniously over a cast iron heater. The blow momentarily knocked the wind out of the Champeen of Michigan, but he doggedly pulled himself up and charged toward Meagher with renewed energy.

But Meagher fell back in amazement and called for a halt. When Curtis rose from the floor, his right leg was turned entirely around, with the foot facing backwards. "Hold on," Meagher shouted, "You win. Any man that'll look for more with a broken leg is too much for me. I'm through." And then he bolted out the door, shocked at the brutal deed he had done and the superhuman toughness of his adversary.

Meagher didn't know that at the height of his career Curtis had lost his lower leg in a logging accident and been fitted with a wooden one. This prosthetic had twisted around backwards and silenced Wisconsin's best fighter. He disappeared down the tote road, and history does not record whether he ever learned the truth.

Read more logging tales in our collection of Local History and Biography Articles or look at more than 200 lumbering pictures at Wisconsin Historical Images.
:: Posted in Bizarre Events on November 4, 2010

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