the Civil War, Texas and Southern men had come to their senses,
at least about one thing. They no longer deemed it necessary to
challenge another gentleman to a duel, with all the rules attendant
Even in the last years before the outbreak of the rebellion it had
become the fashion to simply shoot -- without warning -- an offending
party. Why give the other fellow a fighting chance? Of course, it
was considered mean spirited (though undeniably practical) to shoot
someone in the back, but slapping their face with a glove, demanding
"satisfaction" and meeting at dawn to shoot at each other at 10
or 20 paces was far too complicated.
Nevertheless, the dueling tradition had lasted for hundreds of years,
and it reached its peak in Texas during the almost decade that it
stood as an independent
In 1837, someone with both a keen eye and a way with words came
to Texas and spent some time in Galveston
and Houston. Described
only as "R.," he wrote about his visit in a two-part article for
a Columbus, OH magazine called The Hesperian, or Western
anonymous visitor did a fine job of capturing what life was like
in Texas' largest port and the smaller town on Buffalo Bayou named
after the republic's first president. The first installment of his
observations ran in the Hesperian's September 1838 issue, followed
by the rest in the October number. He wrote about a lot of things,
including a couple of duels.
"I do not think I would be authorized to state that there were those
in Houston, who made
dueling an occupation," R. declared. But then he proceeded to do
just that, noting "I feel at liberty to say that there were some
who seemed to think that there was no better way to employ their
time than to lecture upon the principles of honor, to lay down the
laws of the pistol, and to let no occasion pass to encourage others
the summer of 1837, R. wrote, a group of young men "in the spirit
of polemics" (and perhaps having imbibed over much of the distilled
kind of spirits) meet in Houston's
unfinished frame Capitol "to discuss some grave and heavy matters
connected with the science of government." However, the man who
had been employed to build the government house had not finished
the job and still viewed the property as his. Not only did he feel
the men had no right to be there, he was justifiably worried that
the candles they were burning might catch the place on fire.
To protect his interest, he barged into the meeting, declared it
over, and blew out the candles. One attendee took umbrage to the
contractors' precipitous actions and slapped him soundly. At that,
the builder drew a pistol, but others in the group prevented him
from using it.
His honor clearly sullied, the following morning the contractor
sent a messenger to see the man who had slapped him and challenged
him to a duel. The slapper accepted and once the rules had been
agreed to, the two men met "at the edge of town." Houston
not yet having a professional baseball team or many other diversions,
the townspeople delighted at the news of a duel and crowded around
to take in the show.
At the appointed hour and with all due dignity, the two men counted
off 10 paces, turned and fired. When the black powder smoke cleared,
it was plainly evident that both duelists had missed.
The challenger could have claimed satisfaction and called it a day,
but instead, he insisted on a second round. The parties reloaded
their handguns, marched off 10 paces and whirled to fire again.
This time, the challenger missed again, but his opponent's bullet
tore into his leg. Though the impact of the shot jolted the man,
he remained standing and no blood appeared. No one but the challenger
knew he had a wooden leg, and even he had not expected to be shot
Having escaped death twice in a matter of minutes, the challenger
announced that his honor had been fully vindicated and the initial
affront would be considered a thing of the past.
second duel R. witnessed had a more unfortunate outcome. A young
man had wrongfully been accused of stealing money. Acquaintances
and others goaded him into challenging the theft victim to a duel.
In the confrontation that followed, the innocent party suffered
a mortal wound.
Those who had talked the losing duelist into throwing down the proverbial
glove signed a document affirming their belief in his innocence,
expressing their condolences to the victim's widowed mother and
excoriating the surviving duelist for his false accusation. Realizing
he was persona non grata in Houston,
he departed for the frontier town of San
There, the duelist got into a quarrel with someone in a bar. This
time, he ignored the protocol of affairs of honor and simply pulled
his pistol and fired. Fortunately for the intended victim, someone
hit the shooter's arm just as he pulled the trigger and the bullet
went wild. Rightfully offended, the man chased his attacker into
another room and shot him dead.
"Texas Tales" November
2 , 2017 column