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The Rock Island Duel

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

Rock Island arrived too late on the scene to see much of knights errant or ladies-in-waiting, but it can still boast a joust or two for the hand of a young damsel.

Such as the battle on Second Avenue in downtown Rock Island on Thursday, September 21st, 1911, before an audience of fifty. Enter Thomas Cheney, 16, who had been keeping company with a lady several years his junior. Now enter Burt Eliott, 15, who took it upon himself to defend the young lady's honor, she and Cheney having been the subject of some town gossip.

Eliott stepped up to Cheney. "Cradle Robber," he cried, arousing in Cheney a lust for battle, according to a reporter who happened to be handy. Cheney challenged Eliott to two rounds of fist fights. Eliott accepted—with great gusto, said the reporter. Despite an edict from the Rock Island County sheriff prohibiting prize fighting within city limits, the joust was on.

The combatants dispensed with the formality of shaking hands. They were evenly matched. Cheney was taller, but Eliott the more agile, displaying clever footwork. There was much clinching and clever feinting. Round one ended slightly in Eliott's favor, but since there were no referees or bells, round two continued without a pause. Cheney landed a haymaker on Eliott's jaw, but Eliott responded with a wallop to Cheyenne's eye which impaired his vision so much that he became groggy.

Since there was no king or duke present to declare a victor—royalty being just as rare as knights errant in Rock Island—the task fell to Frank Christy, a messenger for Western Union, who stopped the fight.

The following day, Thomas Cheney's black eye, his badge of shame, was visible to all, a warning not to toy with Burt Eliott's sense of decorum.

Of the young lady herself, there was no sign or mention in the newspaper. No doubt she took the idea of robbing the cradle to heart and decided to drop the obviously immature Thomas Cheney.

Rock Island Lines is supported by grants from the Illinois Humanities Council, the Illinois Arts Council—a state agency—and by Augustana College, Rock Island.

Beginning 1995, historian and folklorist Dr. Roald Tweet spun his stories of the Mississippi Valley to a devoted audience on WVIK. Dr. Tweet published three books as well as numerous literary articles and recorded segments of "Rock Island Lines." His inspiration was that "kidney-shaped limestone island plunked down in the middle of the Mississippi River," a logical site for a storyteller like Dr. Tweet.