Salem Peyatt was not the strongest man in Grovetown, Indiana in 1902. Neither was he the fastest man, or the largest man. He was, however, the blackest man, and was therefore the toughest. It was either be the toughest or not be there at all, because besides his grandmother he was the only black human being in Grovetown. And because he was twenty-one and virile and capable of breeding, he was either despised or mistrusted or both, and was always misunderstood by the 605 white males in that small but thriving community. If he could not have tolerated the epithets, rebukes, veiled threats and sidelong glances, he would have thrown his few possessions into a bag and walked to the tracks some dark night, leaving Grovetown and his elderly grandmother. But he chose to stay, at least for a while, until he could find a better place to put his only remaining blood relative. Until then, he would be tough and he would survive.
He was, most of Grovetown’s citizens would admit in private, a handsome man. His African-American features – broad nose, full ripe lips, dark brown eyes, small and neatly convoluted ears – were combined pleasingly with a measure of native American heritage. His cheek bones were high and distinct, and his nose in profile showed the bold, hooked bridge of the Muskhogean Indian that was his great-grandfather. His peculiar brows, angled sharply over his eyes in the classic Muskhogean manner, made him look like a man plagued with perpetual pathos.
The Muskhogean Indians (or Creeks, as they came to be called by the white men) were admired by the early English settlers. They were considered great hunters and warriors, and were valued consumers of English goods. Salem Peyatt, a product of African slavery, Anglo-Saxon capitalism, and the lust of a Creek warrior, was the meanest, smartest, most creative football player in northern Indiana. He was the most valuable asset of Grovetown’s athletic club, and at the same time its biggest liability. He was destined for greatness and doomed to destruction.