In looking at the past of “dueling,” it was the ultimate way to settle disputes. From Goliath and David to the parks in Washington and New Orleans, both sword blades clashed and pistols flashed sending a hot ball toward an adversary. Instead of tavern brawls and stabbings, the more genteel males would find offense, according to historical records, at mostly points of legislative or political honor. There were, of course, the satisfaction requirements of ungentlemanly attentions of the female. But it was really rare.
It seems that legislators and attorneys were pointing pistols at each other in most accounts. Sounds good to me.
Actual the mortality odds were in the 20 percent range, with most contenders aiming at legs, but accidently hitting a vital spot like the famous Alexander Hamilton/Aaron Burr duel. Unknown to many, even Abraham Lincoln answered the call “to come out” by a James Shields, but the political contenders’ “seconds” settled the matter before gun powder exploded. A dueler always had a “second” and that person was in charge of making sure pistols were both equally charged, plus their main purpose was to try and persuade the adversaries to apologize to one another thus avoiding bloodshed.
Normally it was polite to wait 7 days after the challenge to let tempers cool and reason prevail. While Florida had its share of gun blasts, our neighbor New Orleans was both a sword slicing and penetrating lead bloodbath. When a .40, .50, or .60 caliber ball entered the body, it was almost certainly “curtains,” as the gangsters would say. The firing range was from 20 to 40 feet. Historically most duels only allowed two shots each.
As for Florida, the most famous duels were in the 1800s. On Dec. 12, 1839, General Leigh Read and Col. Augustus Alston, of the Whig Party, walked off 15 paces with rifles. Read, who was not familiar with weapons, was bullied by Alston with two challenges. Read popped him in the chest and his tormentor dropped dead. Read was eventually hunted down by Alston’s brothers and murdered.
The year 1836 saw Abraham Bellamy and Sen. William White blasted away at each other over delegates to the Florida House of Representatives. Both survived.
In 1870, Masteo Crozoco, a Cuban patriot, put a death bullet into Don Gonzalo Castanon. Seems Castanon was a newspaper editor and published an article derogatory of Cuban women.
Today there are various dueling societies on the Internet — of course all in fun and amusement.
However, there is one chap that is well known in literary circles that has come to the reasonable approach that perhaps it’s time to revive the honorable art of dueling. Most states actually outlaw dueling while others file second-degree charges against the squabbling parties. But no one has challenged those statutes in a court of law. If assisted suicide can be legal, why not dueling? After all, both parties acknowledge that the loser could lose his very life.
Mr. Ryan Ruby, who writes for “Philosophy Now,” states that dueling could be the perfect solution to our current rancor since the practice tends to draw the legal and political minded. He reasons that the courts are beset by docket backlogs that benefit attorneys to the detriment of their clients. If the lawsuit claimants or legislators cannot agree and instead rely on never-ending court proceedings, why not let the fates choose the winner?
He has a marvelous point. If an attorney is on your side as he claims, how far will he go? For a charge will he be your second? Time limits can solve the problem and if not settled in a designated period, why burden the courts and drain the client’s purse? Make a settlement on the field of honor that goes back to the Bible.
Most dueling societies today are more of the recreation medieval sword and shield type, but the ball and powder (paint ball) is slowly evolving. I recall many eras ago in Memphis there was a BB-gun dueling club. Participants would wear heavy sweaters, teeth protectors and diving masks to protect the eyes or they would don football helmets with plastic facemasks. They would meet once a month. I went to one event and loved it. The shaking hands, the seconds counting steps out loud and the exchange … then came the, OUCH!
Fair winds to ye matey.
Chick Huettel is a long-time Walton County resident, writer and artist. He is a member of a number of local organizations including the Emerald Coast Archeological Society.