Full Metal Jousting in Jefferson County?

Have you watched ” Full Metal Jousting” on the History Channel? According to their website:

“A maverick group of fighters competes for top honors in the most dangerous competition in history. Far from the contrivances of the Renaissance Fair, this is authentic, full-contact jousting, with two competitors on horses charging towards each other at 30 miles an hour. Gone is the traditional armor, replaced by state-of-the-art protective gear. Each week’s episode features full-contact trials and preparations that will ultimately determine the champion-king of the joust.”

Surely, we never had anything like that in Jefferson County, West Virginia? Well, to paraphrase one of our recent Presidents, it depends on how you define the word “jousting.”

Before the Civil War, a gentler form of jousting, known as “Ring Tournaments,” was very popular among the social elite of the area.  In these competitions, “knights” on horseback charged at full-gallop over a course toward suspended rings. Using a long, fine-tipped lance, the competitors had a limited time to complete the course and “spear” the rings. If you missed a ring, you were out. During each phase of the competition, the rings got smaller and the competitors fewer, until only one was left.

During the Civil War, Confederate cavalrymen put their jousting and foxhunting skills to good use, often out maneuvering their Yankee competitors, who lacked the Southerners’ decades of practice and  whose horses were often reluctant to jump fences. Armed with pistols and sabers, these competitors were certainly involved in “full metal jousting.” In this case, the winner usually got to fight another day and the loser was dead or in prison.

After the war, the ring tournaments reappeared, often with less pomp than the antebellum competitions. These contests sometimes became a friendly way for northerners and southerners to compete without killing each other.

To read accounts of local ring tournaments, type “tournament” in the Text field of the Search Bibliography function on the West Virginia GeoExplorer website. You will find more that fifty sources, many of them fully transcribed. For newspaper articles appearing before 1870, you can also read the original newspapers by going to Browse Resources | Newspapers and clicking the link to a specific issue.

(Post by Dr. William Theriault)

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