Only A Hobo / The Big Rock Candy
Edgar Rice Burroughs On The Road To Salvation
R. E. Prindle
Continued from Part 2a in ERBzine 1331
The Affair Jack Johnson II
Even though he had defeated Burns fair and square the Irish, backed by general White opinion, now claimed that Johnson had not defeated the "true" champion because hero, Jim Jeffries, had retired undefeated. The cry rose immediately for Johnson to meet Jeffries, who was Irish and considered unbeatable. Johnson was nothing loath, but Jeffries quite justifiably was reluctant to come out of a five year retirement to fight anybody. A boxer does get rusty after a five year hiatus.
Jim was what is known as a team player so he abandoned a retirement, where he wasn't battered around, to fight the "imposter" on Independence Day in Reno, Nevada in 1910. The date is psychologically significant. The White Folks weren't taking any chances. In an effort at what has become known as "leveling the playing field" an attempt was made to poison Johnson. Not to kill him necessarily but to put him out of commission for a few months. Give him a hint, you know. A devoted trainer who sampled all of Johnson's food at this time bit into a long and painful case of "food poisoning." That attempt failing, Johnson was let known that a sniper was in the audience carrying a bullet labeled Jack Johnson and a revolver to speed the bullet on its way.
The Pride of the Irish, their weeny so to speak, turned his Snow white face to the ceiling in the fifteenth. The Ego of the Irish people was devastated. There were riots in several cities. Psyches were distorted, no longer able to deal with the truth. Listen to the great Irish writer of the popular history "Our Times," Mark Sullivan:
Another headline (larger in some newspapers than the one about the assassination of the Archduke [August, 1914]) recited that "Jack Johnson Retains his (sic) Championship, Wins Decision Over Moran" [another Irisher] -- Jack Johnson being a colored prize-fighter whose winning the heavyweight championship from Jim Jeffries four years before had added a new facet of the race problem to the difficulties of making the American democracy workable."
Not only does Sullivan refer to Johnson slightingly as a colored prizefighter whose identity is probably unknown to the reader, but the importance of the fight in Sullivan's Irish mind was that Johnson won the championship from Jeffries four years earlier in 1910, while in actuality he won the title six years earlier in 1908 from Burns. How the Ego rebels at unpleasant facts.
Notice in the headline that the only word not capitalized is "his" referring to Johnson. That's a significant Freudian slip or, even, intentional slight.
The Irish were also determined that Johnson was not to benefit financially from his championship. He was not allowed any matches except with Moran. The proceeds from that fight fought in Paris, fairly big money, were impounded on a technicality. As late as 1927, when Johnson wrote his autobiography, the money had still not been disbursed.
No matter, Johnson had defeated the Pride of the Irish. The group mind of the Irish people rebelled. They couldn't let Johnson get away with that. When the Great Irish Hope, Moran, went down in 1914 they knew they had to try another way.
Sullivan deprecatingly refers to Johnson as an ex-stevedore. Johnson came from Galveston, Texas, from whence he began his rise as a boxer. By the way, I've just learned that Texas is not a Mexican word but an Indian word meaning "Welcome Friend," next thing you know they'll tell me there ain't no Santa Claus.
In the Group Psychology of Black Folk you may be sure that the fight with Jeffries was equally important for their psychology, which made the denouement so tragic for race relations. But Mark Sullivan again, in the same volume III of Our Times pages 560-61:
Johnson's mother, "Tiny Johnson," sat on a stage of a colored theatre in Chicago during the fight listening to bulletins from ringside. When the announcement came that her son had won, her mother's pride led her to make an observation which had the un-looked for result of enriching the vernacular with a slang phrase so pithy and so impressive that in 1932, (when Sullivan was writing) twenty-two years after it was uttered it was embedded in the common speech, and gave promise, because of its enduring vitality, of outliving the most weighty pronouncement of the most eminent public men of the day: "He said he'd bring home the bacon, and the honey boy has gone and did it."
Yes, indeed, but that was going to be the most costly bacon the honey boy ever brought home.
What the bacon was that the honey boy brought home was obviously an access of pride to the Black race. By soundly beating the Pride of the Irish, the finest White boxer in the World, perhaps of all time, Johnson had proven at least the physical equality of the Race if not superiority in their minds.
Johnson's defeat of the Pride touched off a number of race riots in the following days. White pride always assumes that these riots were caused by Whites directed against Blacks but this is not necessarily so. The move North of huge numbers of Negroes had freed them from the oppressive atmosphere of their native South. Held securely down in the South, up North they had freedom to express themselves. It is more than probable that many of the race riots were either begun by them or that they were more than ready to answer any White insults. As will be noted later, the great race riots of the end of the decade, if not incited by Johnson's treatment, definitely coincided with it.
You may be sure that White Chicagoans saw Negroes bouncing down the street on the balls of their feet the next few days and they knew what it meant.
Johnson didn't make his lot any easier by his policy with women. After being disappointed in love by two successive Black women he foreswore colored girls for White women. Maybe he knew something about White women that us White guys don't. At the time of the championship he was married to Etta Duryea. Johnson said that she was of French ancestry, although Duryea is an Irish name and the woman looks more Irish than French. Perhaps he identified her as French to defuse Irish anger.
If she was Irish then the Irish certainly felt that they had double the incentive for their rage.
Returning to Chicago, where he had taken up residence, with his prize money of seventy thousand or so which represents millions in today's money, Johnson perhaps unwisely adopted a high profile life style. He opened a nightclub called the Cabaret de Champion which was a great success.
Remember that we aren't discussing morality or right and wrong here but only what happened. It is quite possible that the Irish took the name of his nightclub, Cabaret de Champion, as a fresh offence to the beating of their Pride. They may very well have thought the French name was a "nigger putting on airs."
Johnson also made the mistake of encouraging a cosmopolitan crowd, mingling the Black and White races in his clientele. This may have made him look like a "revolutionary" trying to break down race distinctions.
During this period Johnson was exposed to the most vituperative newspaper reporting. Any minor faux pas received headline coverage in the papers. No attempt at ridicule was missed. In the background try to imagine what effect this defamation had on the Negroes of Chicago's Black Belt. Johnson must have endured outrageous insults every day of his life as Chicagoans tried to provoke him into any act for which criminal charges could be filed.
One can only conjecture that Johnson's wife, Etta Duryea, was driven to commit suicide, which she did some eleven months after the Cabaret was opened. With her death Johnson closed the Cabaret de Champion down, either wisely or under threat. Perhaps he got the hint; shooting yourself in the head is not the preferred method of suicide by women.
Unable to defeat Johnson in the ring, while being unable to provoke him into unwise deeds, those now unsmiling Irish eyes just lodged false charges against him. After all they had City Hall and the judiciary in the palm of their hands.
Johnson had taken a German girl, Belle Schreiber, with him to a fight in San Francisco several years earlier. She was now induced to bring charges against him for violation of the Mann Act. Interestingly the Mann Act was introduced by the Irish Congressman James R. Mann of Chicago. It was enacted on June 25, 1910, a few days before the big fight and quite a while after Johnson had taken Belle Schreiber to San Francisco. The Mann Act was designed to discourage the transportation of prostitutes across State lines, not merely taking a girl friend on a lark. Any big man in Chicago, including James Mann, could have been brought up on the latter charge. I'm sure many, if not most, had taken their amours up to Wisconsin or over to Michigan, or even perhaps to the Big Apple itself. Hypocrisy to be sure, but when you control City Hall and the courts with no regard for right or wrong in the legal sense only your will is law which creates a different standard of right and wrong. That was the way the "laird" did it on the Ould Sod.
Johnson was duly convicted to no one's surprise, but while out of jail on appeal his mother told him she'd rather see his bacon in exile rather than that he should spend a day in jail. On July 1, 1913, Jack Johnson was driven from his native soil by Irish rage. This goes down in history as an "American" or "White" injustice, not an Irish crime. I didn't do it. I swear.
Just after Johnson's flight, Edgar Rice Burroughs sat down to write The Mucker. Whatever his original intent he worked the current event into his story at the end. We will see him adapt his story to current events spectacularly in "Out There Somewhere." From this point it appears that Burroughs was watching the boxer's story unfold very attentively.
In his autobiography Johnson never complains, while he was wise enough to gloss over the true story. After all he had tens of thousands of dollars still coming from that Moran fight. Whether Irish elements drove him out of England and France is not clear but we do know that the IRA and Sinn Fein had agents quite capable of doing it. The lonely Jack Johnson was driven into Spain. Interestingly he learned the skill of the Matador from reigning Spanish experts -- even doing duty in the bullring.
Even that must have been too much for his pursuers. We next find him on Cape Finisterre reporting on German submarine activities to the American army. Finisterre -- that translates into the end of the earth -- so, symbolically and actually, unsmiling Irish eyes had driven him to the end of the Earth.
Johnson wanted desperately to get back home. The Irish desperately wanted the championship back. This is really colorful: Pancho Villa arranged the fight between Johnson and Jess Willard for Ciudad Juarez in Mexico just across the Rio Grande from El Paso. One assumes that the fight would have netted him something more than mere chump change to carry on his war with Venustiano Carranza, the Red President of Mexico. Carranza let it known that if Johnson set foot in Mexico he would arrest him and send him back to the United States.
The location of the fight was changed to Havana, Cuba, where it was fought on April 5, 1915.
Johnson says that he was promised that if he threw the fight, that is returned the title to the Irish, all would be forgiven and he could return to Chicago. He wanted to see his mother before she died, but he was allowed to return only after she had died. Coincidence or malice?
The Irish say there is no proof for such an allegation. Quite right. Why would clever people leave a trail? With no further proof, one must elect to believe Johnson of the Golden Smile or those unsmiling Irish eyes. For myself, Johnson's story has the ring of truth, while I know from experience what the word of people in power is worth when they don't like you. Zip, nada, nothing. Suffice it to say that, unlike the situation in Paris, Johnson insisted on having the money in his hand before he got into the ring. As Johnson returned to Europe from Cuba, stripped of his title, rather than returning directly to Chicago, one may assume that he knew he had been betrayed.
As to the quality of Willard as a boxer it is generally agreed that he was an amiable guy who everybody liked, but a very mediocre boxer. While it is said that Johnson was out of condition, he nevertheless managed to go twenty-six rounds in stifling heat under a blazing sun before he took his dive. Willard in no way punished him.
Jess Willard was an Anglo. Why an Anglo when the Irish wanted the title back? I suspect that since they knew they hated Johnson and were lying to him they thought he hated them equally and might lie to them laying out an Irish boxer as a further insult to their collective Ego. At any rate, this mediocre boxer, Jess Willard, was allowed to retain the title while there was any chance of a return match with Jack Johnson. On Independence Day 1919, nine years to the day when the Pride had hit the canvas, Jack Dempsey reclaimed the title from its Anglo caretaker for the Irish.
Johnson had a real longing to return to the States, as Mark Sullivan unkindly puts it, "to be among his kind in the Black Belt of the South Side Chicago where he belonged." Now, Sullivan was one of the lace curtain Irish, as a guardian of national virtue he was the editor of the Slick magazine, Colliers. If he, who was really a cultivated man, took this attitude you can imagine what the attitude of the shanty Irish might be.
Into 1917-18 Pancho Villa had been disposed of, leaving Carranza more or less secure or perhaps as Johnson had no boxing match providing Villa with millions, Carranza had no objection to Johnson residing in Mexico. Johnson moved to Tijuana where, while waiting to work things out with the authorities, he operated the Main Event Cafe. "Main Event." I love this Freudian stuff.
Jack didn't bother to display his Matadorian skill in the Corrida of Tijuana.
On the way across Mexico he had adventures so fantastic that Burroughs would have been ridiculed for inventing them. His train was stopped by a band of Pima Indians, who he believed had every intent of murdering all the travelers. When he announced that he was Jack Johnson the Indians crowded around him in admiration, restored the passengers' valuables and sent them on their way unharmed.
Continuing to Mazatlan, the only boat he could hire was one run by a smuggler with a load of fifty Chinese destined for the US. At sea in true Burroughs fashion they were caught in a sudden squall driving them into a cove for shelter. In a scenario for which Burroughs is criticized for using, Johnson traveled inland for a few miles to come upon a band of stone age Indians, living in what he described as indescribable squalor.
Continuing on, the captain brought the boat up the Colorado to near the American border, where the Chinese turned right for Texas while Johnson and his wife turned left for Tijuana.
There Johnson believed that he had worked out a deal with the Irish of Chicago. For those followers of Americana ,Big Bill Thompson was now mayor. The word came; Johnson began his trip to the Windy City in the company of US Marshals. A crowd of believers waited expectantly at the LaSalle Street Station, but here Johnson, as well as multitudes of us, learned that White Men speak with forked tongue. Don't know what the truth is; so crooked they don't know how crooked they are.
Just a few miles outside Chicago the train stopped at Joliet State Prison. Rather than meeting an admiring crowd in Chicago Jack Johnson's US Marshalls took him directly to jail.
Those unsmiling Irish eyes had Jack Johnson where they wanted him. Black brows were furrowed in anger. After several months of waiting he was sentenced to a year and a day in Leavenworth Federal Prison -- the Mann Act was a federal crime. Jack Johnson was an innocent man and all knew it but, shucks, that don't bother us none, do it?
Independence Day, July 4, 1919. Jack Johnson was out of the way, Jess Willard was no longer needed, the Irish champ, Jack Dempsey, took center stage. The Pride was back.
It is interesting to examine Dempsey's career in comparison with Johnson's. Dempsey after all was the Irish revenge. The playing field had been leveled a little, bulldozed down, by putting Johnson in prison but he had it coming didn't he? The uppity nigger.
After John L. Sullivan, ring rules were modified to eliminate bare knuckle boxing; after Johnson's championship the sport was modified again -- one presumes, to level the field so Johnson wouldn't be able to compete, discounting the fact that he was forbidden to compete. Beginning with Dempsey was the legend of the miraculous punch. No matter how the fight was going, if Dempsey unloaded the miraculous punch his opponent hit the canvas. This "punch" was made possible by binding the hands combined with a larger glove also protecting the hand which made it possible for the boxer to ignore possible damage to his hand. the effect was transferred to a boxer's brain.
Jack Johnson certainly fought as many rounds as any other fighter; Sullivan, Corbett and Jeffries had all had long tough bouts, yet none of them ended their days punch drunk as, say, Joe Louis or Cassius Clay.
Stereoview of Jack Johnson in his Chicago home
As Johnson had been champion for just short of seven years it was psychologically necessary for the Irish champion to best that. Thus in just over seven years Dempsey turned the championship over to the Irish Gene Tunney in Chicago. Psychologically the Irish believed they had avenged the Negro insult to Burns, Jeffries and the Irish people so Tunney quickly resigned the title undefeated as had Jeffries. No one called him back to fight Joe Louis. The Irish then faded from the heavyweight boxing ranks.
The media was controlled by Whites so no notes of Negro dissatisfaction were recorded. Had more attention been paid to Black opinion a deep rumbling note of anger would have been heard. Note that the first big race riots centered around the years 1919, 1920, 1921.
Jack Johnson 1948 Trading Card ~ Gene Tunney: Heavyweight Champ 1926-28
To return to Edgar Rice Burroughs as he began to write The Mucker in August, 1913.
Billy Byrne, the Mucker, was Irish for a good reason. As John the Bully had been Irish he had terrorized Burroughs not only into a love-hate relationship with himself, but a love-hate relationship with the Irish. For a long period Burroughs had subordinated his love of his own people to that of the Irish.
The feeling was to haunt him all his life. In a period of great psychological stress in 1931 when he was about to leave his wife of thirty-one years, he wrote a story titled Pirate Blood. He wanted it published under the pseudonym of John Tyler McCulloch. Avoiding a detailed analysis of the choice of name let us note that John reflects his dual attitude toward John the Bully while Tyler is a family name of his father. The Irish McCulloch may actually be the real last name of John the Bully, Burroughs' "born again" father. The provenance of the name McCulloch is uncertain. I only speculate on its origin, nevertheless in a time of supreme stress Burroughs reverted to an Irish identity he had assumed forty-seven years earlier. The man had baggage to carry.
In the last pages of The Mucker Burroughs seems to idolize the Irishers Corbett and Jeffries over the Big Smoke, as Johnson was known in slang. Corbett the former champion was in Jeffries corner in 1910.
When Johnson fled the country in 1913 this created a conflict in Burroughs' mind. He too had fled running down the street, probably howling, to the derision of the Irisher, John the Bully. Burroughs' heroes always remark that they have been proud of their physical strength, now he saw the heavyweight champion of the world running form the same Irish who had terrorized him. While John the Bully had been bigger than him, the Irish establishment of Chicago was bigger than Jack Johnson. The same Fate that had been unjust and unkind to him now treated the toughest man in the world the same way.
This happened just as Burroughs was entering his first great psychological crisis which was to last for seven years or so. He felt enormous sympathy for Johnson's plight as he lamented his own. His mind was torn between his enthrallment to the Irish and his desire to resume his own Anglo character. He was unable to reject his Irish connection in favor of a Negro like Johnson, so in "Out There Somewhere" he combined Byrne the Irish fighter with the Black Jack Johnson while reclaiming his Anglo heritage in the character of Bridge.
The Mucker was his tenth novel while "Out There Somewhere" was his twenty-third. Numerologists can make what they will of the mystic numbers 10 and 23. I'm no believer in numerology, but I know that historically 10 and 23, which is made up of 10, 12 and 1 or 13 have great significance in the psychology of Homo Sapiens. I doubt if Burroughs consciously planned these two important novels for those significant numbers, but his subconscious was manipulating symbols in the Jungian sense.
In 1910, before he began to write, interestingly he began his literary career the year after Johnson beat the Irish hero. Burroughs was an absolute nobody in Chicago, although he may have been remembered as his father's son. The elder Burroughs had attained some prominence while his wife's father had been a Chicago alderman.
By 1913 he had attained some success in writing for the pulp magazines. Nineteen thirteen was the first year that he made significant money, actually changing his status from a pauper to a prince. His third and fifth books of 1911 and 1912 had been Tarzan titles which created a minor sensation, so he might have been attaining some recognition in Chicago, but probably not much. By 1914, when Tarzan of the Apes appeared in book form as a smash seller he began to come into his own. His only book titles published in the 'teens were his first six Tarzan novels plus A Princess of Mars. The rest of his enormous magazine output of the 'teens began to appear only in the twenties.
While never a social lion, as the 'teens passed and his notoriety increased, certainly the big men of Chicago would want to "meet" him. As on such occasions men's small talk runs to sports, and since Burroughs was a boxing fan, it is most likely that inside tidbits about the Affair Jack Johnson were confided to him.
"Out There Somewhere" was written from January to March in 1916. Jack Johnson had given up the title on April 5, 1915. By 1916 negotiations for Johnson's return had begun. Now remember when Burroughs pirates a political idea he prefers "a definite impression of fictionalizing." "Out There Somewhere" opens as Billy Byrne has abandoned his boxing hopes to return to Chicago to prove his innocence. He gets the same short shrift that Johnson got at his trial in 1912 and would get again a year or so later. Byrne is railroaded through the courts from thence entrained to Joliet State Prison. Unwilling to face a life sentence for a crime he didn't commit, Byrne escapes out there somewhere into the hobo jungles where he is befriended by the Happy Hobo, Bridge.
One knows that Burroughs has some familiarity with Knights of the Road since he spent a year in a railroad shack's harness in Salt Lake City in 1903-04. In addition he traveled through the jungles on the railroad trip from Salt Lake City back to Chicago. What he did with the rest of his spare time is hard to guess, but he seems to have first-hand knowledge of the down and out, The Men Who Don't Fit In.
Further Burroughs, the dominant half of Burroughs split persona, identifies with the down and out, with the dispossessed, thus his alter-Animus, Bridge, is on the road, not on the yacht. On the Road he is alone a fine decent man among a group of criminals. Burroughs makes Bridge an astute judge of character although he himself confessed to possess no such quality. He even confessed that his own illusions about his ability to judge had proven false.
So when Bridge eyes Burroughs' other half of his Animus, Billy Byrne, he notices the cuff marks on his wrists, but intuitively knows the man is innocent. As innocent as Burroughs is himself. They team up and as in Knibbs' poem Byrne rustles grub while Bridge rustles rhyme, a division of labor in those years of labor unrest, at which Byrne takes no offence.
Burroughs very deftly takes the duo from the hobo jungle in Illinois across the country to El Paso, then across the river to Ciudad Juarez where Villa had tried to organize the big fight between Johnson and Willard.
One suspects that an earlier scene in the novel in which two criminal hoboes try to rob the old lady is based on a crime that occurred in the Midwest at this time. A sort of early day "In Cold Blood." Byrne and Bridge thwart the attempt. I suspect that there was an actual murder which Burroughs tries to reverse in his kindly way by a sort of magical incantation.
Fleeing from the ubiquitous Chicago police who are hot on their trail they cross over into Mexico at Juarez. At the time the Mexican Revolution was in full swing. American Marines had taken Vera Cruz in 1915 when American business interests were being expropriated as Carranza nationalized oil fields and mines. It was at this time that Edward Doheny who would later be implicated in the oil scandals of the Harding Administration lost his oil rights. W.R. Hearst, the newspaper baron, lost his mining and ranching interests. Burroughs and other Americans viewed these proceedings with horror. Thus Barbara Harding and her father are about to lose their ranch, although Pancho Villa was hardly the villain on that scene.
That twisted device in the White House, Woodrow Wilson had given Villa every encouragement against Carranza, then deserted him in Carranza's favor. Probably in retaliation Villa stopped a train murdering a dozen or more Americans in January 1916 at the time Burroughs began writing. In March, as Burroughs was completing the novel, Villa made his famous raid on Columbus, New Mexico. Burroughs managed to incorporate both items into his novel in progress. Thus at the end Byrne and his valiant band of Americans are rescued by General Funston, who was pursuing Villa after the raid on Columbus.
Burroughs' novel is a marvelous recreation of on-the-minute contemporary history. His only contact with Mexico had been when he and his family had visited Tijuana in 1913. Still his Mexico does not differ substantially from that of B. Traven's later Treasure of the Sierra Madre which deals with the same times and which in many ways is not as good a novel. Traven, that man of mystery, lived in Mexico for years. His rather mediocre novel was saved by John Huston's superb movie script. Huston's movie, which is one of the all-time cinema greats, is nearly on a par with Burroughs' "Out There Somewhere." Burroughs always wrote in the concrete images of the cinema. If you have any imagination he is visually stunning.
In his novel, in a scene which seemed improbable to me, he had Barbara Harding abducted by a band of Indians living in primitive conditions. I found this unlikely until I read Jack Johnson's account of his travels across Mexico which far exceeded Burroughs' imagination. If he had portrayed his Indian abductors as Johnson portrayed his group one would have thrown the novel aside.
Burroughs was well read on evolutionary and anthropological themes, so in all probability he knew what the public would and would not accept, consequently softening the image.
One imagines that Burroughs was privy to the gossip about Johnson in Chicago so that he was aware of what Johnson had done and any speculation on what he would do. As the accompanying "Chart" from the New York Globe of 1914 indicates, Johnson's doings were the second most discussed topic at the time in New York; it could have been no less in Chicago.
As I indicated earlier Burroughs began an approach to a psychological crisis when he began the trilogy in 1913; now in March/April 1916 this crisis came to a head beginning to burst.
At this point Burroughs entered a fugue state in which he would have been unable to account for his actions; he was being impelled by subconscious motives. Whenever Burroughs was passing through severe psychological convulsions he had his main alternate personality, Tarzan, get hit on the head causing him to lose his memory. Burroughs himself had suffered a severe blow to his head when he was returning to Chicago from NYC in the summer of 1899. It left him dazed for some little time. I suspect the effects lingered throughout his lifetime. Thus Tarzan loses his memory in Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar, written in September through October 1915, just before he began "Out There Somewhere," January 24, 1916. So, he probably wrote the latter book in fugue state. More than likely he did not come out of it for a year or two, possibly longer.
He had a desperate need to leave Chicago, the scene of his humiliations. He had already left Chicago for Oak Park, which by the way was, and is, an elite Chicago suburb associated with Frank Lloyd Wright and Ernest Hemingway. In 1913, with proceeds of that first good year, he packed up his family for his first visit to California, which was as far away from Chicago as he could get.
For a man who was in the midst of his first good year he did this in a rather improvident manner. He had little security and no assurance that he would continue as a successful writer, yet he spent every dime he made that year, which was the equivalent of hundreds of thousands of dollars in today's money.
At any rate he made the trip as a parvenue spending with a recklessness that a more provident person would eschew. But the release from a most debilitating poverty must have been exhilarating. Other men in the same situation have done much worse.
Next: Part 3 ~ On Auto Pilot In The Ozone
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