In Victorian Frankfort, Kentucky, high society held washtub boat races on the Kentucky River. In once race, Campbell E. James took his competing craft Bashi-Bazouk to victory. From the Turkish, Bashi-bazouk translates as “damaged head,” and as “disorderly,” and as “leaderless.” The term originated when applied to different soldiers in the Ottoman Army who fought as irregulars. The intent of Campbell E. James to characterize his prospects for victory was evident in his irrepressible humor.
In her book Filling the Chinks, Ermina Jett Darnell wrote about everyday life in Frankfort at the time. As a descendant of the Cole family ancestors of Frank & Jesse James, Darnell was their 3rd cousin. Campbell Edmundson James, or C. E. James, was the son of Judge A. J. James & Mary Allison Beatty, and also a relation. In Filling the Chinks, Darnell recorded the following story of Campbell E. James taking his Bashi-Bazouk to victory.
On September 1, 1877, the local paper announced that there would be a tub race on the river at 5:30 on the following Tuesday. The writer said: “The course selected is from Herndon’s wharf to the boathouse below the upper bridge. All tubs other than the regulation wash-tub will be ruled out.”
“Herndon’s wharf” was back of the site of the present Southern Hotel. “The regulation wash-tub” was a heavy affair made of wooden staves held together with metal hoops.
The contestants were: E. H. Berry, C. C. Todd, Jacob Evans, Ed Grant, M. H. Malone, Dudley Watson, Campbell James, Clarence Drane, Howard Jett, W. C. Dudley, M.P. Gray, John W. Milam, John Pendleton, Robert Franklin, Peter Dudley, T. L. Crittenden, F. C. Hutchinson, Willoughby Rodman, Albert Crutcher.
New announcements were made in such an edgy, eager style that it is hard to see how anyone in Frankfort slept the night before the race. No contestant could be under eighteen. There were to be no paddles, but each man steer and propel with his hands. The winner would become the proprietor of all the tubs. There would be boats in attendance to pick up the crew of any capsized tubs. Crews would not be allowed to swim by the side of their tubs, and no tubs could go ashore until the end of the race.
Then came the great day, and all Frankfort turned out. The bridge was crowded, and both sides of the river were lined with people.
But of the twenty entries, only sixteen started, and of these, only three reached the goal. The Bashi-Bazouk, paddled by Campbell James, came in full two tub lengths ahead of Ocean Wave, paddled by Dudley Watson. The Undine No. 2, by Albert Crutcher, was capsized, alas, about ten feet from the string!