Even without the aid of social media and a 24-hour news cycle, the City of Fishers managed to make national — and international — headlines 142 years ago following the Battle of Mudsock, a 24-hour bar brawl between patrons of the two main saloons at the time.
Historian Robert Bowling of the Fishers Historical Society and author of “Wicked Fishers,” a book about the community’s rough past, said that at the time of the historic brawl — Nov. 19, 1881 — Fishers Switch, as it was then called, had a population of about 200 and had been a town for only about a decade.
“There were two bars in the center of town, pretty much right around the railroad tracks in downtown Fishers,” Bowling said. “One of the bars was run by a man named Hampton West. And the other bar was run by the Farrell brothers.”
It was a Saturday, and with no enforced closing times for bars, drinking started early. A little before noon. Bowling said, a disagreement between a couple of patrons at the Farrell brothers’ saloon kicked off a series of violent events.
“We don’t really know the specifics of what they were arguing about,” he said. “But we know that alcohol was involved, obviously.”
Some of the characters prominent in the Battle of Mudsock include West — a former Confederate soldier with a reputation as a bully — three brothers, Daniel, Wesley and Adam Lynn; and former Marion County deputy sheriff Benjamin Fouch, known for his bad temper.
The initial argument ended when one of the two men involved left the bar, but Bowling said everyone kept drinking over the next few hours, getting themselves riled up. According to Bowling’s book, the fights that followed didn’t necessarily connect with the original argument. The saloon owners were rivals, and patrons were loyal to their favorite bar.
“Patrons had their favorite saloon and they viewed the other saloon with disdain. So, insulting the quality of each saloon’s whiskey was a sure-fire way to start a fight,” Bowling wrote. “George McCoy, a friend of Hamp West, entered the Farrell’s saloon. McCoy walked up to Adam Lynn and hurled an insult at him. Adam Lynn threw a punch at McCoy, knocking him to the ground. He was then promptly thrown out of the saloon.”
McCoy returned about an hour later with West and another friend, Bob Dawson.
“A huge fight broke out in that bar,” Bowling said. “We’re talking about billiard balls being thrown, cue sticks being hurled — at one point, Hampton West was pushed up underneath the pool table and he was being hit with cue sticks and everything else.”
“Everything else” included brass knuckles wielded by Fouch. Bowling said Andy Farrell told West that if he came out, he’d make sure he was safe.
“I think Andy Farrell probably meant it, but as soon as (West) came up from underneath the pool table, Benjamin Fouch basically just started pretty much gouging in (his) eyes,” Bowling said. “The fight was back on again.”
West was badly beaten before he was able to escape, Bowling said, and was so concerned about being followed that he took a complicated route through people’s yards before making it back to his own bar to lick his wounds.
“All of these people that were over at Farrell saloon … they were happy that they won,” Bowling said. “They were still drinking and they still wanted to fight some more. So, they decided, ‘Hey, let’s go over to the Hampton West saloon.’ So, they all gathered up and they just started walking over and Hampton West could see them coming to this bar. So, he immediately ran over and shut and locked the door so they couldn’t come in.”
One thing led to another and someone in West’s saloon opened the door while West wasn’t looking. Fouch called West a coward, which was a major insult back then, Bowling said, but West was hurting and didn’t take the bait.
Things were starting to calm down until Dawson insulted the Lynn brothers’ mother.
“Before you know, it, once again, it was another all-out melee of fighting inside this bar,” Bowling said. “Cue sticks, billiard balls, beer bottles — everything was being thrown.”
Fouch chased West around and around a table until West used a brass beer faucet to hit Fouch on the head.
“He fell to the ground and that’s pretty much what ended that portion of the fighting,” Bowling said, adding that Fouch died from the head trauma several hours later.
The fighting didn’t really end until the next day, though, when the Hamilton County sheriff arrived with a posse to restore order.
Although there were many, many injuries resulting from the brawl, Fouch was the only person to die in the infamous Battle of Mudsock. West was arrested and charged with murder for Fouch’s death but was found not guilty by reason of self-defense.
West’s saloon never reopened after the battle, and the Farrell brothers’ bar burned down days after the incident in what could have been arson, but the cause was never determined.
What happened to Hampton West?
After he was acquitted of murder following the Battle of Mudsock, Wade Hampton West went back to farming, but was convicted years later of a rather gruesome side-gig — grave robbing.
Fishers Historian Robert Bowling said West was the kind of guy always looking for an easy buck — even if it’s a fake buck.
“He called the police because he tried to engage in counterfeit money, and then he got swindled,” Bowling said. “So, he tried to report that he bought fake counterfeit money. So, yeah, this guy just wasn’t bright.”
Bowling, a former police officer, said he would have loved to have been the cop to take that call.
West wasn’t charged in that incident, but in 1902 he was arrested — and convicted — of robbing graves and selling human remains to area medical schools. He died in prison before completing his 10-year sentence.