Brookfield Central High School and Who Was Captain Joel Compton? A Murderer or A Southern Hero?

Dick The Bruiser
Dick The Bruiser

Fighting has always interested me. Boxing, the martial arts and wrestling, not professional wrestling, but collegiate and high school. These sports put the individual athlete on his own, in front of others, trying to prove he is better than his opponent. If he loses, he has to stand with his head down while his opponent raises his fist in victory and gets cheered by all the spectators and his teammates. For the loser, it is rather humiliating.

Our high school wrestling coach was a former Captain in the Marines with dark eyes that could pierce the armor of a tank. His jet black hair was cut in a flat top, which was popular in the 1960’s before the Beatles and “Yesterday” and every day he sported a five o’clock shadow by the time the bell rang to start school. He was intimidating in kind of a passive-aggressive way, when he suggested something, you wanted to do it. Maybe it was fear or just respect for one scary Marine.

When I was a freshman in high school I weighed 98 pounds. That was in the morning when I would smuggle candy into school in my pockets. By the end of the day when I had emptied my pockets, I dropped to 96 pounds. I called it my candy diet. It was in my freshman year and I had my first girlfriend, I guess. We didn’t go out or anything, we just met in the hallway every day and talked. I considered her my girlfriend and I think she considered me her boyfriend. Her name was Karen and she happened to weigh exactly the same as I did when my pockets were still filled with candy. In fact, we were the exact same height as well, 4′ 11″ with our shoes on.

One day, while I was in the hallway with Karen, being suave by attempting to copy the moves the upperclassmen used by leaning into her while she had her back against her locker holding her books to her chest, I noticed our high school wrestling coach staring at me, not because of my good looks, but, I was soon to find out, because of my weight. He walked up to us and looked me in the eye while a sneer rolled up his lips. I was watching you play basketball the other night. I immediately thought he was going to compliment me on playing a good game, but he told me I was wasting my time and that I should go out for the wrestling team. I couldn’t believe he said that. I saw myself as the next Bob Cousey, the former Boston Celtic pro basketball team’s hall of fame guard, even though I stood only  4′ 11′ tall.  In fact, I barely reached the lowest mark on the high school nurse’s height chart. But that didn’t matter, I was determined to prove I could play basketball.

He could use me, he said. By the tone of his voice and the look in his eyes I immediately knew what his fellow Marines must have thought in Korea when this Captain issued an order. I felt I would be letting down not just my alma mater, but the whole United States of America as well.

He said I would earn a varsity letter in my freshman year, something that was virtually unheard of back then as freshmen were rarely, if ever, allowed to play varsity sports. He said I would win all my matches because he didn’t know of anyone in our conference that would be in my weight class. I would win every match by default. That didn’t sound too exciting to me, but I liked the idea of wearing a varsity letter as a freshman. Then I thought I probably wouldn’t get to walk out onto the mat and enjoy my victory by pumping my fist in  front of hundreds of cheering classmates which would include my little girlfriend Karen. Well, maybe not hundreds, but there were usually a couple of dozen folks sitting in the stands watching two boys squirming around on the floor.

My mind wandered to the wrestling room that I would pass going to the locker room to suit up for basketball. It was a small windowless room that smelled and had these sweaty guys stretching and rolling around on the mats wearing sweat shirts and sweat pants. Some of them also wore rubber suits so they could drop pounds and “make weight” by the 5:00 p.m weigh-in. At lunch, when the rest of the school was eating meat, potatoes, vegetables and a desert, the wrestlers were off by themselves in a corner peeling oranges. I didn’t want any part of that. I also knew I would have to give up my booty of smuggled candy each day so I could stay at weight. And would the coach want me to stay at 96 pounds for four years until I graduated? Would I always be winning matches by default, going through my high school career as the only undefeated wrestler by default in Brookfield Central High School’s history? I asked him who I would wrestle if there wasn’t anyone in my weight class.

“Well,” he said, with a smile and turning those black piercing eyes on my little squeeze, Karen, “maybe she could work with you?

Immediately my mind started wheeling and the fantasies were flying as I envisioned myself pinning little Karen to the mat and having her lying there completely at my mercy. But there was only one thing wrong with that fantasy, Karen could beat me up. She already proved it  after school one day while we were waiting for our separate buses to pick us up and take us home. She bent my wrists back and brought me to my knees. It was painful and humiliating.

Finally, common sense took over, one of the few times in my long life, and I felt my spine crumble as I said I would think about it, knowing full well I wasn’t going to do it. I just didn’t have the courage to tell him to his face. From that day on, whenever I saw the wrestling coach in the hallway, I turned and went the other way.

Well, I never did go out for wrestling, and, as it turned out, our wrestling coach didn’t need my massive 98-pounds of muscle and my weekly default wins; he was very successful and was able to teach real wrestlers the moves that ensured they were more successful than not.

I eventually played basketball and I shot up to 5’10” tall, 6′ if you believe some of our high school programs, but I fell short of being the next Bob Cousey as my considerable basketball skills flamed out before they actually began.

Our high school wrestling coach’s name was Howard Mathias, Captain USMC, a true American hero. He received the purple heart while serving in the Korean War. So who was Captain Joel Compton?

Well, Captain Joel Compton was Robert E. Lee’s wartime cook. He was from Gretna, VA, a burly young man billed as the wrestling champion of the Army of Northern Virginia. He was responsible for Lee’s only victory over Grant when, in a wrestling match,he killed a blue coat following the Confederate surrender at the Appomattox Courthouse. I never heard of a wrestler dying from a wrestling match. Boxing? Yes, there are many documented cases. Was it murder? We’ll never know as all witnesses no longer exist. Personally, the only wrestlers that I heard that died did so from overdoses of drugs and they were “professional wrestlers” who more than likely snorted steroids and other drugs on a daily basis.

Captain Compton lived to be ninety years old and passed away in 1932, still a defiant Confederate rebel – and wrestling champion!


long before any scouts could locate the small town of Brookfield, Wisconsin where I grew up.

That’s why I was trying the art of gentle persuasion while with her when coach approached us.

Auburn War Eagle? I don’t think so. University of Georgia War Eagle? Hardly.


For over 100 years now a battle has raged between these two schools as to which school originated the war eagle cry. But they are both out in left field because it was in Wisconsin where the true War Eagle originated. One that actually saw combat, albeit, he showed some of his chicken heritage as he feared artillery fire and took off whenever the big guns began to fire. But then, who doesn’t? In fact, he was actually wounded in battle, well, maybe not in battle, but he did injure his leg during a hurricane.

My Auburn University friends say they are the originators of the “war eagle” yell, but I know this isn’t true. I have read that there are three or four different theories on how the Auburn Tigers seized the War Eagle sobriquet and a couple of them have ties to football games against the University of Georgia. My favorite one is when the bird takes off in flight and screams, igniting the fans to scream, ‘war eagle,’ and the Auburn offense to score the winning touchdown. Immediately after the score, the eagle performs a kamikaze act, taking a nose dive onto the football field where it dies. Can you believe that? I can’t. In fact, some of the stories claim Auburn actually stole the war eagle cry from Georgia. Another one claims a Carlisle player was named War Eagle and they would call out his name during a game. But, listen, I’m here to put this silly argument to rest. Whatever side you support on the War Eagle debate, you are wrong. The cry “War Eagle” originated in Wisconsin. In fact, many cries originate in Wisconsin it’s so damn cold up there, plus Lutefisk and bratwurst both produce a case of indigestion that can cause any man to whimper in pain.

The true story of War Eagle began many years ago, a Wisconsin Ojibwe, Chief Sky, one of five sons of Thunder of Bees, Chief of the Flambeau band of Chippewa Indians, part of the Anishinaabe tribe, called the first people, during sugar making time about 125 miles outside the city of Eau Claire, chopped down a pine tree containing an eagle’s nest with two eaglet’s nestled inside. One died. Chief Sky, gathered up the other one and, evidently, not learning from the 1626 bead transaction his brothers conducted with the Dutch for selling Manhattan, sold the eaglet to a Dan McCann from Eagle Point, Wisconsin, for a bushel of corn. Actually, the bead transaction story is also a farce. The Canarsie Indians sold Manhattan to Dutch settlers, but not for some worthless glass beads, but for iron kettles, axes, knives, and cloth. The kicker to the story is that the land that they took payment for didn’t even belong to them. But, I don’t think all the kettles and other gadgets involved in that transaction come close to the $2100.00 per square foot that vacant land is currently selling for in Manhattan.

Now back to Wisconsin’s War Eagle. Dan McCann eventually sold the little eaglet to the commanding officer of the Eau Claire Badgers militia company. Typical of Wisconsin, a tavern was involved in this purchase when tavern owner, S.M. Jeffers, pitched in to help defray the exorbitant selling price of $2.50.

When the eagle was sworn into service, he was adorned with a breast rosette (rose shaped ornament) and a red, white and blue ribbon around his neck. They named him Old Abe.

While in Madison, a dog joined the regiment. Abe and the dog, Frank, tolerated one another because Frank provided rabbits and other small mammals for Abe to eat. Unfortunately for Frank, one day he ventured a bit too close to Abe’s meal, bringing an end of their relationship.

During “Old Abe’s” service, the 8th Wisconsin militia participated in many battles, expeditions, and pursuits of Confederate forces during his namesake’s Mr. Abe Lincoln’s war. Among these were the battles of  Corinth; Island Number 10; Big Black; Champion’s Hill; the Red River and Meridian expeditions; and the Battle of Nashville. “Old Abe” was there every step of the way. In many battles, he would circle the smoky battlefield as the enemy would be closing in and the bullets flew. He would rise high in the sky, all the while screaming at his assailants. After the battle, upon seeing his bearer, he would descend like a shot and fly into his arms. “Go War Eagle!”

Old Abe so infuriated Confederate General Sterling Price he was said to declare that he would rather “capture that bird than a whole brigade.”

Old Abe entered his last battle in the Great Rebellion, also referred to as the Civil War, as well as with many other names, at Hurricane Creek, MS. The war eagle’s shrieks could be heard clearly and distinctly above the victorious shouts of the Eau Claire Badgers militia. Abe seemed to have protected his bearers and dodged the bullets of rebel sharpshooters who had failed to kill them.

Old Abe died on March 26, 1881, of smoke inhalation in the loving arms of his handler when, it has been said, he was reminiscing with his old militia pals while smoking a fine cigar and sipping a brandy. I might be distorting the truth here a bit but it was reported that one time he did get drunk on some peach brandy that was left unattended in his presence. “Go War Eagle!”

Today, a likeness of Old Abe, the original War Eagle, can be found at the main entrance to University of Wisconsin’s Camp Randall Stadium.

And that my friend, is the true story of the one and only War Eagle!

Go Badgers!