A Tragic Bar Fight, 1884

A terribly true story of my great-great grandfather, Lorenzo, and his brother, Rufus, taken directly from eyewitness
accounts in court records.

On the afternoon of September 16, 1884, Rufus Eldridge and Lorenzo “Ron” Stevens, farmers living on adjoining properties in London, Ontario, drove their horse-drawn wagon to Nilestown, Ontario to purchase “domestic supplies”.

Lorenzo was a 41 year-old bachelor who managed the family farm and cared for his mother. Rufus was his 48 year-old half-brother and close friend who was recently married and had just become a father for the first time. His son Freddie was a little over one year old.

The two journeyed to Nilestown that day, as they had so often in the past, probably to purchase goods like sugar, fabrics, or fencing. As the pleasant afternoon turned to evening, the brothers were apparently in no great rush to get home. They settled in at the Nilestown Hotel with drinks, their wagon and horses stationed nearby. It was there, at the saloon, where they came across strangers John Richards, William Butt, Edward Noulty, and Henry L’Ansette, among others.

The group caroused well into the late evening, when sometime after 10pm an argument broke out between Rufus and Edward Noulty about which man was the better man–especially which man could “draw brick” better. Rufus began to brag that he could “lick” any man in the room, pressing his hand onto Noulty’s shoulder he exclaimed “I can draw more brick than you, or I can lick you either”. 

Noulty turned to L’Ansette and suggested “Here’s a man can ‘lick’ you”, indicating the inebriated Rufus.

Jeremiah McRoberts, proprietor of the hotel came over, grabbed Noulty by the shoulders and took him to the corner of the room to reprimand him not to cause a fight. Noulty relented and agreed, but as soon as he returned a scuffle broke out between him and Rufus. Shoves. Jabs. Maybe even a punch or two.

 

The dispute, which began at the Nilestown Hotel soon shifted just down the street to the Byers Hotel. Rufus and Lorenzo had left the first hotel, and walked down the street a short way to the Byers, not ready to end the evening, and presumably to lick their figurative wounds and grouse about the troublemakers. 

The two weren’t long at the Byers before Noulty and L’Ansette reappeared. Almost immediately, “Rufe” threw Noulty to the ground and began choking him, prompting the hotel-keeper to pull him off.

At the same time, Ron had started brawling with L’Ansette. The latter hit Ron, knocking him down to the ground. Witnesses differ on whether Ron crawled or ran behind the bar, but all agree that then, with L’Ansette reaching for him over he bartop, Ron grabbed a liquor bottle and broke it over his attacker’s head. As blood ran down the Frenchman’s head, Ron reached for more bottles to start throwing, when he was grabbed by a witness and pulled to a hallway at the back of the bar. Rufus was escorted back there as well.

Noulty and L’Ansette were ejected out the front door.

After much protest by Noulty and L’Ansette, they were shortly allowed back in and L’Ansette was said to be quite worked up, holding his bleeding head and muttering that “a man that would do that would kill his own brother.”

The aggravated Frenchman was about 27 years old, and was said to be stout and powerful in appearance, with a “bulldog”-like head and an aggressive countenance. He was well known around the neighborhood as a fighter with a bad temper–a trait that was on full display as he paced, threatened, and ranted, hoping to get revenge against the older men. He was heard shouting “Rufe, you —–, I can lick you, and I will!”

By that point, Ron and Rufus had moved into the kitchen, where a witness told them to sit tight for a while before leaving. The altercation had already gotten too hot, and the brothers were determined to leave. Rufus pulled out a knife saying that no one was going to prevent him from going home. 

Continue reading “A Tragic Bar Fight, 1884”