The Big Fight

It was the biggest fight ever seen in San Jose. The adversaries were “Frank Heney,” at 450 pounds, versus the team of “Reuf” and “Schmitz,” each weighing in at 250 pounds. The victor was “Frank Heney,” who nearly killed his opponents and then kicked them out of the arena.

Frank Heney, Abe Reuf and Eugene Schmitz were corrupt San Francisco politicians who lent their names unwittingly to three members of the ostrich farm located in east San Jose at Alum Rock Avenue and King Road. The major battle occurred there in April of 1907. At that time there were two ostrich farms in California, one in Pasadena and the other in our backyard. Ostrich farming was good business, for all fashionable ladies of that period needed the plumes for their chapeaus and boas.

In addition to their feathers, the ostriches were quite a tourist attraction and they could be seen when spending 25 cents and riding the San Jose and Alum Rock Steam Railroad to Alum Rock Park. There were about 50 ostriches at the farm, and the head ostrich was “Frank Heney.” “Frank” was not monogamous, as is normal in the ostrich world, but had two females in his harem, “Carrie Nation” and “Nellie Bly.” (W.C. “Doc” Bailey, the farm owner, believed in naming his birds after popular figures of the day. Carrie Nation was the prominent temperance advocate who stood six foot tall and carried a hatchet to smash saloons. Nellie Bly was a famous New York newspaper woman who set a record travelling around the world.)

“Reuf” and “Schmitz” had designs on “Carrie Nation” and “Nellie Bly.” The two young male ostriches were feeling their oats when they jumped the four-foot high fence separating pens, but this proved to be a very unwise thing to do. “Frank Heney” set upon the intruders and a fierce 20-minute battle ensued. “Heney” outweighed each if his opponents by 200 pounds and an ostrich kick was the equivalent of a 60-yard field goal. After nearly annihilating “Reuf,” he kicked him over the fence and then proceeded to do the same to “Schmitz.”

This was the last time any ostrich dared challenge “Heney.” Two years later the ostrich farm moved to Sacramento and the craze for ostrich feathers went out of style. Recently there has been a resurgence of ostrich farming as the meat is very low in cholesterol, the skins make excellent leather, and the fertilized eggs sell up to $3000 each.

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