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I don’t recall

May 9, 2009
Adirondack Daily Enterprise

Last week when the title of this column was "Last Call" little did I realize that I would be writing about another famous, rather than "infamous" man named Call. Joe Call had a book written about him just as James A. Call, the Air Force deserter and killer had a book written about him.

There were many stories in many journals written about this man but my friend, the author Maitland C. DeSormo, in 1981 published a book, "Joe Call, The Lewis Giant" with the book illustrated by my Enterprise colleague, Bill McLaughlin.

The illustration by Bill published here today depicts this version of a tale about Joe as found in the Record-Post of AuSable Forks on January 30, 1930.

Article Photos

How strong was he?

"Occasionally some man, whose strength was prodigious, was known as a giant. Such a man, by the name of Joseph Call is referred to as the Lewis Giant, and is buried in the cemetery on Depot Street in Westport. Driving to Pleasant Valley one day in winter he met a couple of men with horse and cutter on a steep hill. Whether from drunkenness or obstinacy they refused to turn out and an argument ensued. Finally, Call stepped up to the horse, seized it about the body, and threw horse, cutter and men over the steep bank.

"Call's reputation as a wrestler was known throughout all the east. One day an Englishman, who had an enviable reputation as a wrestler, heard of Call and came to arrange a match with him. Reaching Lewis, and seeing a man plowing in a field he went over and asked if he could be directed to Call's home. The man (who was Call himself) stopped his team, lifted the plow with one hand and pointed with it toward his house and said, 'he lives there'. The Englishman lost no time in leaving the scene without making his errand known."

The War of 1812

DeSormo writes that Joe did not arrive in Essex County until in his late twenties. He and his wife, Irene Whitney of Hartford, Vt., lived for a short time in Jay, moved to Lewis in 1812 and in 1833 moved to Westport and settled on what was described as the "Old Donaghy Mill property.

Excerpts from the DeSormo book:

"Call, like most of the other able-bodied north countrymen, served in the militia and at the outset of the War of 1812 was ordered to head off the British invasion. On may 12 and 13, 1814, the enemy made an unsuccessful attempt to attack the Americans who were busily engaged in building a fleet at Otter Creek Falls, now Vergennes, Vt.

"The next day they came back in three-row galleys to destroy Army supplies stored at Willsboro Falls on the Bouquet River. However, the marauders were again thwarted because they found that the flour and other items had already been removed to a safer place and that strong opposition was in position to head off their escape downriver. The British force took many casualties as they fled in haste to Schuyler Island, where they buried their dead and then backtracked to Canada for safety.

Fight to the death

Later that year in September, the Essex County militia was sent to defend Plattsburgh. Joe was classified as an unranked militiaman and for some unknown reason was later sent on an errand to the enemy camp. His fame was known among the British as a wrestler and his identity was soon revealed; the British had an undefeated 'monster-man' of their own.

"A group of British officers immediately proposed a match but Joe temporarily declined because he did not want to be the aggressor. However, when the British bully made some insulting remarks about the Americans Joe became anything but docile and the action soon started.

"At the first onset Joe was brought to his knees. He was so maddened at meeting a man who had the ability to honestly throw him that he determined to finish him willy-nilly (permanently).

"We have often heard Joe say that previous to this time he had never discovered any difference in the strength of the men who opposed him but that he now felt that he should exert all his power. Seizing hold of his antagonist he bowed himself with all his strength and gradually squeezed the vain boaster to his breast. Shortly afterward the Englishman gave one shriek and fell dead at his feet. Joe said afterward that it was either his life or mine."

Continued next week.



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