Did the old-west style duels (as depicted in movies) actually occur?

Did the old-west style duels (as depicted in movies) actually occur?

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Not sure whether this is better off here or on

It's a well-known movie cliché where two gunslingers stand in the middle of the street (possibly at high noon), staring intently at each other, hands hovering over the holsters - suddenly the villain goes for his gun. However, the hero, being "quickest on the draw" is too fast for him, draws his gun and shoots the villain first.

Did these types of gunfights really occur? It seems a bit unbelievable that they would wait for each other like that, rather than shooting their enemy as soon as they saw him. Would there have been an advantage in waiting for the other guy to go for his weapon first before you go for yours? I would think that even if you were quicker than him, you'd still draw as soon as possible rather than wait to react to him…

Not all were that ordered, and it may have been the exception rather then the rule, but it did happen:

Both men faced each other sideways in the dueling position and hesitated briefly. Then Tutt reached for his pistol. Hickok drew his gun and steadied it on his opposite forearm. The two men fired a single shot each at essentially the same time, according to the reports.[4] Tutt missed, but Hickok's bullet struck Tutt in the left side between the fifth and seventh ribs. Tutt called out, "Boys, I'm killed," ran onto the porch of the local courthouse and back to the street, where he collapsed and died.

The Wild Bill Hickok - Davis Tutt shootout

Note that from the sideways stance this resembled the classic style duel from earlier times.

For a list see this: List of Old West Gunfights. (Not just street gunfights, but many have their 'Hollywood' style reproductions as well.)

The Absolute Best Historically Accurate Westerns When Hollywood got It right.

A few Westerns we are celebrating were small at the box office, but played big, at least to those of us who like and appreciate portrayals of an authentic, nitty gritty Old West. Sometimes those portrayals appeal to our mythic understanding of the West, as in the case of Link Borland, one True West Facebook fan, who pointed out Dennis Quaid lost 40 pounds to play “Doc” Holliday in 1994’s Wyatt Earp: “He looked, acted and talked like someone who did not care what tomorrow would bring. That’s the real Doc’s story.” Lots of movie fans may think so, but actually Holliday did not have a death wish, Features Editor Mark Boardman says. “Doc fought to stay alive for as long as he could,” he adds. “He tried to build up a fortune so he could afford an even better sporting life.”
Wyatt Earp photo By Ben Glass —

To put it mildly, we at True West have been overjoyed—nay, overwhelmed—by our readers’ responses to the deceptively simple question: Which is the most historically accurate Western film, and why? With nearly 1,000 responses, we mulled over plenty of nominations.

If we wanted to go by sheer numbers, according to our readers’ responses, we could say 1993’s Tombstone wins with 125 votes, 1989’s Lonesome Dove places with 124 and 1992’s Unforgiven shows with 36, and be done with it. But this should not be merely a popularity contest. That’s why we also asked some of our historical experts, film scholars and passionate fans to weigh in.

Even our readers’ top vote-winners raise questions as to the meaning of historically accurate: Tombstone tells a story about real people and true events. Lonesome Dove is a work of fiction inspired by the true story of Oliver Loving and Charlie Goodnight. Unforgiven is a work of pure fiction, yet is so powerful, that the movie is one of only three Westerns to win the Best Picture Oscar, along with 1990’s Dances With Wolves, with 25 votes, and 1930’s Cimarron, with no votes.

“Doc” Holliday (Dennis Quaid) and “Big Nose” Kate (Isabella Rossellini) appeared in 1994’s Wyatt Earp. Quaid is fantastic as a lunger. Although Val Kilmer gets all the raves for that same role in 1993’s Tombstone, Quaid captured the look of the emaciated Doc perfectly.
— Wyatt Earp photo By Ben Glass —

No disrespect to Wesley Ruggles’s Cimarron, a wonderful film, for which RKO built the largest Western town in American film history, but who of late has had a chance to see it? The same goes for Raoul Walsh’s wonderful The Big Trail, released the same year, or any of a dozen great silent Westerns. The fact that they are difficult to track down makes them no less accurate.

Does Tombstone’s adherence to provable facts make it the most accurate? Or is a correct capturing of time and place and people as meaningful a definition of accurate? Truth, and even being there, isn’t everything. Lawmen like Bill Tilghman and outlaws like Al Jennings made their own movies, but Tilghman’s are so primitive, they’re barely watchable, and Jennings’s, while entertaining, are more self-serving than informative.

Logically, 1946’s My Darling Clementine should be the most accurate telling of the Gunfight Behind the O.K. Corral, since Wyatt Earp shared his memories with friend and director John Ford. For entertainment value, it may be the best film on the subject, but it ain’t history.

So, in choosing the Absolute Best Historically Accurate Westerns, we’ve made our selections in several different areas. We’ve looked at accuracy of biography and of specific historical events. We’ve looked at proper period costuming, proper weaponry, proper sets and locations, proper casting and proper representation of day-to-day life of real Westerners, from cowboys to lawmen to outlaws to soiled doves.

We also take entertainment value into consideration—it doesn’t matter how accurate a story is if you can’t keep awake through it. Nicholas Ray, whose Westerns include 1957’s The True Story Of Jesse James and 1954’s Johnny Guitar, called “cut” on a scene one day, and the script supervisor told Ray he had to do another take, because one of the characters had their cigarette in the wrong hand. Ray shook his head, and with a grin, he said, “Listen honey, the vaults are full of movies with perfect continuity that are unreleasable.”

—Henry C. Parke, True West’s film editor

— Courtesy Paramount Pictures —

The Covered Wagon (1923)

The Covered Wagon was the template for every Western ever filmed since its release…. Not only is every scene classic, it was the first time many of the historical events were ever put to film. And they were shot without gimmicks nor special effects, yet just like the original pioneers actually accomplished them. In addition, the acting is surreally “non-silent film style”—natural and completely unlike the weird machinations of grandiose face and body movements so typical of acting during the silent era. A lot of credit has been given to John Ford’s silent Westerns, especially The Iron Horse, but it doesn’t hold a candle to The Covered Wagon. —Danny “Ramblin’ Jack” O’Connell

— Courtesy Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation —

Brigham Young (1940)

One of the advantages to the older Westerns is that the clothing, props and wagons were still around mere decades after the passing of the Old West and in many cases, still being used! We have seen the above still and this one passed off as historical photos—that’s how good the authenticity is in these scenes. —Bob Boze Bell

— Courtesy RKO Radio Pictures —

Cimarron (1931)

This early film pulled out all the stops to create a sprawling Old West town in what turned out to be the largest Western town set in American film history.

— Courtesy Paramount Pictures —

Shane (1951)

Some of the early Westerns don’t get credit for trying to be authentic, but here is another film that tried to get it right. Great look, a very authentic looking scene.

— Courtesy National General Pictures —

Monte Walsh (1970)

Shane was about who owns what and what they will do to retain their “supposed” land. A much better story was Monte Walsh, with Lee Marvin. Although Marvin and Jack Palance were a bit long in the tooth to play cowboys, they were no worse then the 200-plus-pound cavalry troopers.

But Monte Walsh deals with so much more. The end of an era. A “what do we do now?” situation. The barely accepted new hand Shorty trying hard to fit in (and may well have, at a later date). [Another cowhand,] Chet Rollins, sees the writing on the wall and tries to change with the times, but to no avail, as the survival of one becomes the end of the other. Even Monte Walsh tries to change, and just might have, had it not been for the death of the countess.

Walsh is the one having the hardest time of it. He wants to move on, but doesn’t know how. He has a code, and he can’t break it. He won’t be a drugstore cowboy and promote the legends and lies that are being told as to “How It Really Was “ in the forerunners of the Western movies, the Wild West shows. In the end, it all falls apart, as the people he lived and worked with are gone or moved on to try and survive.

The last scene kind of says it all. Walsh is alone. He’s taking a bead on another one that is outliving his time—a wolf. Once again, he comes full circle. Walsh drops the carbine from his shoulder and asks, “ Did I ever tell you about Big Joe Abernathy? “ But no one is around to hear his story. He’s the last one of his kind, just like the wolf.

—Doc Ingalls of Mesa, Arizona

— Courtesy Twentieth Century Fox —

The Culpepper Cattle Co. (1971)

The Culpepper Cattle Co. is the story of a young man’s coming of age during an 1866 cattle drive. The farm boy, played by Gary Grimes, talks a gruff trail boss into giving him a job, but soon finds being a cowboy isn’t the romantic life he imagined. This film provides an accurate portrayal of the bloody, violent post-Civil War period, warts and all.

McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971)

The town being built as the movie opens and progresses is quite authentic, showing walls and roofs unfinished, and boards hanging out. I love it when we see McCabe (Warren Beatty) sewing his shirt. Sewing! When is the last time you saw Gene Autry or Hopalong Cassidy or John Wayne sewing?

Then, in the main saloon, people are talking over each other, and you can see their breath! It’s that cold. In fact, what I really love about this Western is the weather: the snow, the freezing conditions and heavy overcoats. For my money, it’s the most authentic weather in a Western ever!

Some Westerns get dinged for having bad hats and incorrect weapons for the times they are portraying, yet the geography is dead on.

— Courtesy Twentieth Century Fox —

The Gunfighter (1950)

Even if a Western failed on so many levels, the look of one of the main actors could still be just about perfect. Case in point: Gregory Peck, from The Gunfighter. And as one True West Facebook fan pointed out, Skip Jordan, the Western was also taught in college as a “prime example of film dramatization and structure— seven segments of 12-minute scenes, for a total of 84 minutes. Aside from that, it was an unusual character study for a time when Westerns were usually shoot-’em-ups. I think it fit in with the 1952 Westerns Viva Zapata! and High Noon, but is mostly forgotten today.

— Courtesy National General Pictures —

Little Big Man (1970)

Jack Crabb (Dustin Hoffman) meets up with “Wild Bill” Hickok (Jeff Corey) in the saloon. Crabb reaches out his right hand to shake Hickok’s hand as old friends….Hickok grabs Crabb’s right hand with his left hand so that his own right hand is free to reach for his gun “just in case.” A really nice touch, which was probably missed by almost every viewer except those of us who know about Hickok. —Thom Ross

— Courtesy Fox Film Corporation —

The Iron Horse (1924)

Arguably the master of movie magic was John Ford. In his The Iron Horse, Ford added extra realism by intercutting remote Nevada backgrounds combined with scenes filmed at a half dozen then-underdeveloped sites in California. He knew how to use landscape. One of the most memorable of these was the still impressive segment of the locomotive, which is the real deal and not some 20th-century prop or miniature being hauled through the rugged mountains in Truckee. Despite some of the contrived plot smacking of melodrama, Ford’s The Iron Horse set a high bar for epic Oaters then and now. The silent classic tells a compelling monumental tale on a personal level, as well as demonstrates how the West was made up of all sorts, from many lands and backgrounds, creating a mosaic of types.

— Design by Dan Harshberger Emilio Estevez from Young Guns courtesy John Fusco / Twentieth Century Fox Billy the Kid tintype courtesy William Koch Collection. —

Young Guns (1988)

When Young Guns was released in 1988, its Number One opening at the box office was tempered, for me, by a critical bashing that assumed the movie was a contrived Hollywood ploy to put the “Brat Pack on Horseback.” Nothing could have been further from the truth.

I’ve been fairly obsessed with the historical Billy the Kid since I was a kid. It started with the famous tintype photo in a book on gunfighters. That image of Kid Antrim did not seem to square with the popular legends and the movie portrayals fueled by such myth. I wanted to know the unvarnished Kid.

The fact that the young age of the Kid—and many other participants in the Lincoln Wars—lent itself to casting opportunities was just a bonus. The studio saw marketing gold there, but it all started with me and a lifetime fascination with the history.

How that history became myth—even in the Kid’s lifetime—is dramatized some in both Young Guns I and II. Wherever I could get in verified quotes (“many a slip twixt the cup and the lip”) from the historical Kid, I did. The day that we replicated the taking of the tintype, I got into a scrum with the studio over taking too long to get the tintype right. The studio didn’t see what the damn shot represented. For me, and Emilio Estevez, who played the Kid, it exemplified the commitment to authenticity. It was also a full-circle moment for me, as the original and only known photograph of the Kid had started my obsession.

If I was to write the script today, would I do it differently? Today’s audiences are more demanding of historical ballast—and I greatly appreciate that. But then the Neo-Western that became Young Guns would not exist, nor would the fans who developed an interest in the Old West because of it. My proudest moment was hearing Dr. Paul Hutton reference Young Guns as one of the more historically-accurate portrayals of the Lincoln County War.

Recently, with the run of my Netflix series Marco Polo, historian John Man told me something that I think could apply to Young Guns: “As long as you know the true history—which clearly you do—you can wring truth from the facts through dramatization that might not resonate as deeply otherwise.”

—Producer/Screenwriter John Fusco

— Courtesy Universal Pictures —

Ride with the Devil (1999)

In Ride with the Devil, the authenticity of firearms and clothing has never been matched, much less surpassed, in films about the same subject.

Bushwacker or Missouri guerrillas have shown up from time to time in Westerns: Kansas Raiders, with Audie Murphy, as Jesse James two Randolph Scott efforts, Fighting Man of the Plains and The Stranger Wore a Gun and The Outlaw Josey Wales, the greatest Clint Eastwood Western, in my humble opinion. Yet, in The Outlaw Josey Wales, an aging John Russell portrays “Bloody Bill” Anderson in a horrible hat and completely unlike the real-life Anderson who looked more like a 1960s rock star. Plus, when the bushwhackers surrender, only Sam Bottoms looks young enough to have been genuine the rest look to be of an age that the “real deal” never came close to reaching.

In Ride with the Devil, however, the young actors look like the young killers they are playing: long hair, wispy beards, frock coats ,vests, cravats, ties, hats of every variety from the period, multiple revolvers festoon their belts, and the authentic 1851 Navys, 1858 Remingtons, 1860 Armies, a bowie knife and saddles with pommel holsters. Look at historical photographs of these 16- to 20-year-olds and then see their historical reflection in Ride with the Devil. Even the language is very much like the vernacular of True Grit it’s of another age, with a rustic formality that is true to the time. The locations are wonderfully correct as to the actual killing fields of Missouri: thick brush creek bottoms, woods that green and leaf in the spring and go bare in the gloomy wet winters when the fighting hibernated. Finally, there’s Lawrence, Kansas, sitting out on the rolling prairie, seen from afar.

How did Ang Lee do what no American director never did, or chose not to do?

—Rusty York of Chandler, Arizona

— Courtesy Columbia Pictures —

Arizona (1940)

More often than not, Hollywood pays little attention to geography. One backlot is as good as another to represent any part of the West. Not so for Arizona, with all its action filmed in southern Arizona and one of the most realistic movies sets ever created out of adobe hand formed by Tohono O’odham (a.k.a. Papagos) who had been making mud bricks for hundreds of years. Beside building Old Tucson as a convincing stand-in for its namesake of a century earlier, the production added extra details, such as period-correct firearms, not anachronistic Colt “Peacemakers” that never run out of ammunition a cast of characters sprinkled with names of actual residents of the town in the 1860s and mostly period-correct costumes, including headgear that even the most rabid “hat Nazi” could not fault.

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)

“For one thing, it stayed true to the meticulously researched novel by Ron Hansen. The clothing, guns and settings were all spot on. The acting was superb and location settings also very accurate with the tone of the movie, its characters et al, gripping. There was no romanticizing the lives of the outlaws and the denouement of Bob Ford’s life after killing Jesse, only served to add to the realism of the lives of those men in that time.”

—Billy Brooks of Beverly Hills, Florida

Heaven’s Gate (1980)

Of all the Westerns Kris Kristofferson has acted in, Heaven’s Gate is his favorite.

We can see why that train scene was breathtaking—hundreds of extras authentically dressed for this train that had to be brought over a mountain in pieces and reassembled for the short sequence.

“I think it was a really beautiful film that got clobbered,” he says. Why did critics beat up on this Johnson County War dramatization, released in 1980? “I think it had to do with our director. It just seemed like that was not an uncommon thing, to get in a film, and all the rivals running it down in the papers and everywhere. And it was so long a production that there was plenty of time to get down on [Director-Writer] Michael Cimino.” —Kris Kristofferson, with commentary from Bob Boze Bell

— Courtesy Columbia Pictures —

Geronimo: An American Legend (1993)

Hollywood has drawn upon Geronimo more than any other Indian leader—even more than Sitting Bull or Crazy Horse. Walter Hill and John Milius teamed to bring Geronimo’s story to the screen in a visually stunning show that, while uneven, paid considerable attention to many fine points.

For instance, Production Designer Joe Alves, under the guidance of Apache Technical Advisor Michael Darrow, carefully crafted the Apache village, while Costume Designer Dan Moore made certain both Apaches and cavalrymen alike were decked out in the most accurate film renditions ever released. This included superb field uniforms and even one of the only instances of correct 1880s dress uniforms since the silent era.

Even more, Re-enactor Coordinator Riley Flynn made certain his make-believe troopers knew their drills, and their weapons, accoutrements and armaments remain among the best efforts to re-create the look of the last of the Apache campaigns.

— Courtesy Buena Vista Pictures —

The Alamo (2004)

This movie actually tried to follow the history of the battle, including the associated politics of Mexico concerning the empresario system that was used to bring the settlers in. The actors match the actual combatants pretty closely in age (Travis was 26, Bowie, 40, Crockett,50, Houston, 40, Santa Anna, 42). The details for arms and cannons in the mission are very close, as well as the dress of the Texians. The battle is portrayed properly as to the time of day and the probable time that it took to occur.

Even though, this movie did not do well at the box office, I think that is probably because it does not match the popular “mythos” for the battle. It is a pretty accurate portrayal of what the situation must have been like at the siege—a group of cold, trapped, hopeless men caught up in a situation that got out of their control, and who received no relief from their friends on the outside.

—Jarold “Hat” Addington of Florissant, Missouri

— Courtesy Paramount Pictures —

Bad Company (1972)

From the opening scene—when boys are shanghaied into fighting in the Civil War, even though they’re trying to escape conscription by dressing as girls—to the scene where the leader of a gang of teenage desperadoes skins a rabbit for the first time, the film is crammed with episodes that startle and enthrall with their realism.

—John Burlinson of Austin, Texas

— Courtesy Universal Pictures —

Ulzana’s Raid (1972)

While the outfits in Ulzana’s Raid are less than perfect, especially for the cavalry, the look and feel of Fort Lowell—including the opening shots of a baseball game on the parade ground, based on serendipity of location scouts seeing a group of re-enactors playing in uniform after one of their drills—was not a typical U.S. Army versus American Indian rehash. The gritty script has no U.S. colors flying over a column of hundreds of horse soldiers as they charge with sabers. Instead, a small patrol doggedly follows a frustrating trail of an equally determined and frankly more-savvy Apache enemy.

While brutal, the picture is no Sam Peckinpah bloody ballet of carnage. As for Burt Lancaster, he nails the white frontier scout modeled after Al Sieber, a literary figure who could be traced back to James Fenimore Cooper’s Leatherstocking model. In a way, Lancaster had a bit of a dress rehearsal for the role, playing the title character in Valdez is Coming from the previous year.

— Courtesy Fox Film Corporation —

The Big Trail (1930)

While not known for attention to detail in later films, John Wayne’s major film debut in 1930’s The Big Trail proved a notable exception. His incredible “Kentucky” long rifle, stellar buckskin outfit, great backgrounds (from scenery to the wagon train) and camp equipment all made this picture notable. Unfortunately the film flopped at the box office, condemning the Duke to poverty row and Six-Day-Westerns, until the actor was reprieved nine years later by John Ford’s Stagecoach. —John P. Langellier

— Courtesy Twentieth Century Fox —

The Last of the Mohicans (1992)

Daniel Day-Lewis nailed Hawkeye in 1992’s The Last of the Mohicans based on James Fenimore Cooper’s novel. Lewis’s exquisitely crafted La Longue Carabine (nickname for the marksman, which translates as “The Long Rifle”) and the movie’s letter-perfect 18th-century siege, faithfully rendered French and British battle flags and a host of other carefully crafted visuals raise this eastern Western to heights seldom seen in cinema. —John P. Langellier

How the West Was Won (1962)

Although the sprawling How the West Was Won was more Hollywood than history, the 1962 film offered many momentary glimpses into the everyday life of the daring pioneers who made their way across the continent. For instance, the wagon train encampment rivaled some of the best the silver screen had to offer, as did the buffalo hunter portrayed by Henry Fonda and the “hell on wheels” railroad scenes harkening back to 1924’s The Iron Horse. —John P. Langellier

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Early history and Middle Ages Edit

In Western society, the formal concept of a duel developed out of the medieval judicial duel and older pre-Christian practices such as the Viking Age holmgang. In medieval society, judicial duels were fought by knights and squires to end various disputes. [7] [8] Countries like Germany, United Kingdom, and Ireland practiced this tradition. Judicial combat took two forms in medieval society, the feat of arms and chivalric combat. [7] The feat of arms was used to settle hostilities between two large parties and supervised by a judge. The battle was fought as a result of a slight or challenge to one party's honor which could not be resolved by a court. Weapons were standardized and typical of a knight's armoury, for example longswords, polearms etc. however, weapon quality and augmentations were at the discretion of the knight, for example, a spiked hand guard or an extra grip for half-swording. The parties involved would wear their own armour for example, one knight wearing full plate might face another wearing chain mail. The duel lasted until one party could no longer fight back. In early cases, the defeated party was then executed. This type of duel soon evolved into the more chivalric pas d'armes, or "passage of arms", a chivalric hastilude that evolved in the late 14th century and remained popular through the 15th century. A knight or group of knights (tenans or "holders") would stake out a travelled spot, such as a bridge or city gate, and let it be known that any other knight who wished to pass (venans or "comers") must first fight, or be disgraced. [9] If a traveling venans did not have weapons or horse to meet the challenge, one might be provided, and if the venans chose not to fight, he would leave his spurs behind as a sign of humiliation. If a lady passed unescorted, she would leave behind a glove or scarf, to be rescued and returned to her by a future knight who passed that way.

The Roman Catholic Church was critical of dueling throughout medieval history, frowning both on the traditions of judicial combat and on the duel on points of honor among the nobility. Judicial duels were deprecated by the Lateran Council of 1215, but the judicial duel persisted in the Holy Roman Empire into the 15th century. [10] The word duel comes from the Latin duellum, cognate with bellum, meaning 'war'.

Renaissance and early modern Europe Edit

During the early Renaissance, dueling established the status of a respectable gentleman and was an accepted manner to resolve disputes.

The first published code duello, or "code of dueling", appeared in Renaissance Italy. The first formalized national code was France's, during the Renaissance.

By the 17th century, duelling had become regarded as a prerogative of the aristocracy, throughout Europe, and attempts to discourage or suppress it generally failed. For example, King Louis XIII of France outlawed dueling in 1626, a law which remained in force afterwards, and his successor Louis XIV intensified efforts to wipe out the duel. Despite these efforts, dueling continued unabated, and it is estimated that between 1685 and 1716, French officers fought 10,000 duels, leading to over 400 deaths. [11]

In Ireland, as late as 1777, a code of practice was drawn up for the regulation of duels, at the Summer assizes in the town of Clonmel, County Tipperary. A copy of the code, known as 'The twenty-six commandments', was to be kept in a gentleman's pistol case for reference should a dispute arise regarding procedure. [12]

Enlightenment-era opposition Edit

By the late 18th century, Enlightenment era values began to influence society with new self-conscious ideas about politeness, civil behaviour and new attitudes towards violence. The cultivated art of politeness demanded that there should be no outward displays of anger or violence, and the concept of honor became more personalized.

By the 1770s the practice of dueling was increasingly coming under attack from many sections of enlightened society, as a violent relic of Europe's medieval past unsuited for modern life. As England began to industrialize and benefit from urban planning and more effective police forces, the culture of street violence in general began to slowly wane. The growing middle class maintained their reputation with recourse to either bringing charges of libel, or to the fast-growing print media of the early 19th century, where they could defend their honor and resolve conflicts through correspondence in newspapers. [13]

Influential new intellectual trends at the turn of the 19th century bolstered the anti-dueling campaign the utilitarian philosophy of Jeremy Bentham stressed that praiseworthy actions were exclusively restricted to those that maximize human welfare and happiness, and the Evangelical notion of the "Christian conscience" began to actively promote social activism. Individuals in the Clapham Sect and similar societies, who had successfully campaigned for the abolition of slavery, condemned dueling as ungodly violence and as an egocentric culture of honor. [14]

Modern history Edit

Dueling became popular in the United States – the former United States Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton was killed in a duel against the sitting Vice President Aaron Burr in 1804. Between 1798 and the Civil War, the US Navy lost two-thirds as many officers to dueling as it did in combat at sea, including naval hero Stephen Decatur. Many of those killed or wounded were midshipmen or junior officers. Despite prominent deaths, dueling persisted because of contemporary ideals of chivalry, particularly in the South, and because of the threat of ridicule if a challenge was rejected. [15] [16]

By about 1770, the duel underwent a number of important changes in England. Firstly, unlike their counterparts in many continental nations, English duelists enthusiastically adopted the pistol, and sword duels dwindled. [17] Special sets of dueling pistols were crafted for the wealthiest of noblemen for this purpose. Also, the office of 'second' developed into 'seconds' or 'friends' being chosen by the aggrieved parties to conduct their honor dispute. These friends would attempt to resolve a dispute upon terms acceptable to both parties and, should this fail, they would arrange and oversee the mechanics of the encounter. [18]

In the United Kingdom, to kill in the course of a duel was formally judged as murder, but generally the courts were very lax in applying the law, as they were sympathetic to the culture of honor. [19] This attitude lingered on – Queen Victoria even expressed a hope that Lord Cardigan, prosecuted for wounding another in a duel, "would get off easily". The Anglican Church was generally hostile to dueling, but non-conformist sects in particular began to actively campaign against it.

By 1840, dueling had declined dramatically when the 7th Earl of Cardigan was acquitted on a legal technicality for homicide in connection with a duel with one of his former officers, [20] outrage was expressed in the media, with The Times alleging that there was deliberate, high level complicity to leave the loop-hole in the prosecution case and reporting the view that "in England there is one law for the rich and another for the poor" and The Examiner describing the verdict as "a defeat of justice". [21] [22]

The last fatal duel between Englishmen in England occurred in 1845, when James Alexander Seton had an altercation with Henry Hawkey over the affections of his wife, leading to a duel at Browndown, near Gosport. However, the last fatal duel to occur in England was between two French political refugees, Frederic Cournet and Emmanuel Barthélemy near Englefield Green in 1852 the former was killed. [18] In both cases, the winners of the duels, Hawkey [23] and Barthélemy, [24] were tried for murder. But Hawkey was acquitted and Barthélemy was convicted only of manslaughter he served seven months in prison. However, in 1855, Barthélemy was hanged after shooting and killing his employer and another man. [24]

Dueling also began to be criticized in America in the late 18th century Benjamin Franklin denounced the practice as uselessly violent, and George Washington encouraged his officers to refuse challenges during the American Revolutionary War because he believed that the death by dueling of officers would have threatened the success of the war effort.

In the early nineteenth century, American writer and activist John Neal took up dueling as his earliest reform issue, [25] attacking the institution in his first novel, Keep Cool (1817) and referring to it in an essay that same year as "the unqualified evidence of manhood." [26] Ironically, Neal was challenged to a duel by a fellow Baltimore lawyer for insults published in his 1823 novel Randolph. He refused and mocked the challenge in his next novel, Errata, published the same year. [27]

Dueling nevertheless gained in popularity in the first half of the 19th century especially in the South and on the lawless Western Frontier. Dueling began an irreversible decline in the aftermath of the Civil War. Even in the South, public opinion increasingly came to regard the practice as little more than bloodshed.

Prominent 19th-century duels Edit

The most notorious American duel was the Burr–Hamilton duel, in which notable Federalist and former Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton was fatally wounded by his political rival, the sitting Vice President of the United States Aaron Burr.

Another American politician, Andrew Jackson, later to serve as a General Officer in the U.S. Army and to become the seventh president, fought two duels, though some legends claim he fought many more. On May 30, 1806, he killed prominent duellist Charles Dickinson, suffering himself from a chest wound that caused him a lifetime of pain. Jackson also reportedly engaged in a bloodless duel with a lawyer and in 1803 came very near dueling with John Sevier. Jackson also engaged in a frontier brawl (not a duel) with Thomas Hart Benton in 1813.

On September 22, 1842, future President Abraham Lincoln, at the time an Illinois state legislator, met to duel with state auditor James Shields, but their seconds intervened and persuaded them against it. [28] [29]

On 30 May 1832, French mathematician Évariste Galois was mortally wounded in a duel at the age of twenty, cutting short his promising mathematical career. He spent the night before the duel writing mathematics the inclusion of a note claiming that he did not have time to finish a proof spawned the urban legend that he wrote his most important results on that night. [30]

Irish political leader Daniel O'Connell killed John D'Esterre in a duel in February 1815. O'Connel offered D'Esterre's widow a pension equal to the amount her husband had been earning at the time, but the Corporation of Dublin, of which D'Esterre had been a member, rejected O'Connell's offer and voted the promised sum to D'Esterre's wife themselves. [31] However, D'Esterre's wife consented to accept an allowance for her daughter, which O'Connell regularly paid for more than thirty years until his death. The memory of the duel haunted him for the remainder of his life. [32]

In 1808, two Frenchmen are said to have fought in balloons over Paris, each attempting to shoot and puncture the other's balloon. One duellist is said to have been shot down and killed with his second. [33]

In 1843, two other Frenchmen are said to have fought a duel by means of throwing billiard balls at each other. [33]

The works of Russian poet Alexander Pushkin contained a number of duels, notably Onegin's duel with Lensky in Eugene Onegin. These turned out to be prophetic, as Pushkin himself was mortally wounded in a controversial duel with Georges d'Anthès, a French officer rumoured to be his wife's lover. D'Anthès, who was accused of cheating in this duel, married Pushkin's sister-in-law and went on to become a French minister and senator.

In 1864, American writer Mark Twain, then a contributor to the New York Sunday Mercury, narrowly avoided fighting a duel with a rival newspaper editor, apparently through the intervention of his second, who exaggerated Twain's prowess with a pistol. [34] [35] [36]

In the 1860s, Otto von Bismarck was reported to have challenged Rudolf Virchow to a duel. Virchow, being entitled to choose the weapons, chose two pork sausages, one infected with the roundworm Trichinella the two would each choose and eat a sausage. Bismarck reportedly declined. [37] The story could be apocryphal, however. [38]

Decline in the 19th and 20th centuries Edit

Duels had mostly ceased to be fought to the death by the late 19th century. The last known fatal duel in Ontario was in Perth, in 1833, when Robert Lyon challenged John Wilson to a pistol duel after a quarrel over remarks made about a local school teacher, whom Wilson married after Lyon was killed in the duel. Victoria, BC was known to have been the centre of at least two duels near the time of the gold rush. One involved a British arrival by the name of George Sloane, and an American, John Liverpool, both arriving via San Francisco in 1858. In a duel by pistols, Sloane was fatally injured and Liverpool shortly returned to the US. The fight originally started on board the ship over a young woman, Miss Bradford, and then carried on later in Victoria's tent city. [39] Another duel, involving a Mr. Muir, took place around 1861, but was moved to a US island near Victoria.

By the outbreak of World War I, dueling had not only been made illegal almost everywhere in the Western world, but was also widely seen as an anachronism. Military establishments in most countries frowned on dueling because officers were the main contestants. Officers were often trained at military academies at government's expense when officers killed or disabled one another it imposed an unnecessary financial and leadership strain on a military organization, making dueling unpopular with high-ranking officers. [40]

With the end of the duel, the dress sword also lost its position as an indispensable part of a gentleman's wardrobe, a development described as an "archaeological terminus" by Ewart Oakeshott, concluding the long period during which the sword had been a visible attribute of the free man, beginning as early as three millennia ago with the Bronze Age sword. [41]

Legislation Edit

Charles I outlawed dueling in Austria-Hungary in 1917. Germany (the various states of the Holy Roman Empire) has a history of laws against dueling going back to the late medieval period, with a large amount of legislation (Duellmandate) dating from the period after the Thirty Years' War. Prussia outlawed dueling in 1851, and the law was inherited by the Reichsstrafgesetzbuch of the German Empire after 1871. [4] Pope Leo XIII in the encyclica Pastoralis officii (1891) asked the bishops of Germany and Austria-Hungary to impose penalties on duellists. [42] In Nazi-era Germany, legislations on dueling were tightened in 1937. [43] After World War II, West German authorities persecuted academic fencing as duels until 1951, when a Göttingen court established the legal distinction between academic fencing and dueling. [44]

In 1839, after the death of a congressman, dueling was outlawed in Washington, D.C. [45] [46] A constitutional amendment was even proposed for the federal constitution to outlaw dueling. [47] Some US states' constitutions, such as West Virginia's, contain explicit prohibitions on dueling to this day. [48] In Kentucky, state members of the Electoral College must swear that they had never engaged in a duel with a deadly weapon, under a clause in the State Constitution enacted in the 1850s and still valid. [49] Other US states, like Mississippi until the late 1970s, formerly had prohibitions on dueling in their state constitutions, but later repealed them, [50] whereas others, such as Iowa, constitutionally prohibited known duelers from holding political office until the early 1990s. [51]

From 1921 until 1971, Uruguay was one of the few places where duels were fully legal. During that period, a duel was legal in cases where ". an honor tribunal of three respectable citizens, one chosen by each side and the third chosen by the other two, had ruled that sufficient cause for a duel existed." [52]

Pistol sport dueling Edit

In the late 19th and early 20th century, pistol dueling became popular as a sport in France. The duelists were armed with conventional pistols, but the cartridges had wax bullets and were without any powder charge the bullet was propelled only by the explosion of the cartridge's primer. [53]

Participants wore heavy, protective clothing and a metal helmet with a glass eye-screen. The pistols were fitted with a shield that protected the firing hand.

Olympic dueling Edit

Pistol dueling was an associate (non-medal) event at the 1908 Summer Olympics in London. [54] [55]

Late survivals Edit

Dueling culture survived in France, Italy and Latin America well into the 20th century. After World War II, duels had become rare even in France, and those that still occurred were covered in the press as eccentricities. Duels in France in this period, while still taken seriously as a matter of honor, were not fought to the death. They consisted of fencing with the épée mostly in a fixed distance with the aim of drawing blood from the opponent's arm. In 1949, former Vichy-official Jean-Louis Tixier-Vignancour fought school teacher Roger Nordmann. [56] The last known duel in France took place in 1967, when Gaston Defferre insulted René Ribière at the French Parliament and was subsequently challenged to a duel fought with swords. René Ribière lost the duel, having been wounded twice. [57] In Uruguay, a pistol duel was fought in 1971 between Danilo Sena and Enrique Erro, in which neither of the combatants was injured. [58] [59]

Various modern jurisdictions still retain mutual combat laws, which allow disputes to be settled via consensual unarmed combat, which are essentially unarmed duels, though it may still be illegal for such fights to result in grievous bodily harm or death. Few if any modern jurisdictions allow armed duels.

Offense and satisfaction Edit

The traditional situation that led to a duel often happened after a perceived offense, whether real or imagined, when one party would demand satisfaction from the offender. [60] One could signal this demand with an inescapably insulting gesture, such as throwing his glove before him. [61]

Usually, challenges were delivered in writing by one or more close friends who acted as "seconds". The challenge, written in formal language, laid out the real or imagined grievances and a demand for satisfaction. The challenged party then had the choice of accepting or refusing the challenge. Grounds for refusing the challenge could include that it was frivolous, or that the challenger was not generally recognized as a "gentleman" since dueling was limited to persons of equal social status. However, care had to be taken before declining a challenge, as it could result in accusations of cowardice or be perceived as an insult to the challenger's seconds if it was implied that they were acting on behalf of someone of low social standing. Participation in a duel could be honorably refused on account of a major difference in age between the parties and, to a lesser extent, in cases of social inferiority on the part of the challenger. Such inferiority had to be immediately obvious, however. As author Bertram Wyatt-Brown states, "with social distinctions often difficult to measure," most men could not escape on such grounds without the appearance of cowardice. [62]

Once a challenge was accepted, if not done already, both parties (known as "principals") would appoint trusted representatives to act as their seconds with no further direct communication between the principals being allowed until the dispute was settled. The seconds had a number of responsibilities, of which the first was to do all in their power to avert bloodshed provided their principal's honor was not compromised. This could involve back and forth correspondence about a mutually agreeable lesser course of action, such as a formal apology for the alleged offense.

In the event that the seconds failed to persuade their principals to avoid a fight, they then attempted to agree on terms for the duel that would limit the chance of a fatal outcome, consistent with the generally accepted guidelines for affairs of honor. The exact rules or etiquette for dueling varied by time and locale but were usually referred to as the code duello. In most cases, the challenged party had the choice of weapons, with swords being favored in many parts of continental Europe and pistols in the United States and Great Britain.

It was the job of the seconds to make all of the arrangements in advance, including how long the duel would last and what conditions would end the duel. Often sword duels were only fought until blood was drawn, thus severely limiting the likelihood of death or grave injury since a scratch could be considered as satisfying honor. In pistol duels, the number of shots to be permitted and the range were set out. Care was taken by the seconds to ensure the ground chosen gave no unfair advantage to either party. A doctor or surgeon was usually arranged to be on hand. Other things often arranged by the seconds could go into minute details that might seem odd in the modern world, such as the dress code (duels were often formal affairs), the number and names of any other witnesses to be present and whether or not refreshments would be served. [63]

Field of honor Edit

The chief criteria for choosing the field of honor were isolation, to avoid discovery and interruption by the authorities and jurisdictional ambiguity, to avoid legal consequences. Islands in rivers dividing two jurisdictions were popular dueling sites the cliffs below Weehawken on the Hudson River where the Hamilton–Burr duel occurred were a popular field of honor for New York duellists because of the uncertainty whether New York or New Jersey jurisdiction applied. Duels traditionally took place at dawn, when the poor light would make the participants less likely to be seen, and to force an interval for reconsideration or sobering-up.

For some time before the mid-18th century, swordsmen dueling at dawn often carried lanterns to see each other. This happened so regularly that fencing manuals integrated lanterns into their lessons. An example of this is using the lantern to parry blows and blind the opponent. [64] The manuals sometimes show the combatants carrying the lantern in the left hand wrapped behind the back, which is still one of the traditional positions for the off hand in modern fencing. [65]

Conditions Edit

At the choice of the offended party, the duel could be fought to a number of conclusions:

  • To first blood, in which case the duel would be ended as soon as one man was wounded, even if the wound was minor.
  • Until one man was so severely wounded as to be physically unable to continue the duel.
  • To the death (or "à l'outrance"), in which case there would be no satisfaction until one party was mortally wounded.
  • In the case of pistol duels, each party would fire one shot. If neither man was hit and if the challenger stated that he was satisfied, the duel would be declared over. If the challenger was not satisfied, a pistol duel could continue until one man was wounded or killed, but to have more than three exchanges of fire was considered barbaric, and, on the rare occasion that no hits were achieved, somewhat ridiculous. [citation needed]

Under the latter conditions, one or both parties could intentionally miss in order to fulfill the conditions of the duel, without loss of either life or honor. However, doing so, known as deloping, could imply that one's opponent was not worth shooting. This practice occurred despite being expressly banned by the Code duello of 1777. Rule XII stated: "No dumb shooting or firing in the air is admissible in any case. children's play must be dishonourable on one side or the other, and is accordingly prohibited." [66]

Practices varied, however, but unless the challenger was of a higher social standing, such as a baron or prince challenging a knight, the person being challenged was allowed to decide the time and weapons used in the duel. The offended party could stop the duel at any time if he deemed his honor satisfied. In some duels, the seconds would take the place of the primary dueller if the primary was not able to finish the duel. This was usually done in duels with swords, where one's expertise was sometimes limited. The second would also act as a witness.

Pistol duel Edit

For a pistol duel, the two would typically start at a pre-agreed length of ground, which would be measured out by the seconds and marked, often with swords stuck in the ground (referred to as "points"). At a given signal, often the dropping of a handkerchief, the principals could advance and fire at will. This latter system reduced the possibility of cheating, as neither principal had to trust the other not to turn too soon. Another system involved alternate shots being taken, beginning with the challenged firing first. [ citation needed ]

Many historical duels were prevented by the difficulty of arranging the "methodus pugnandi". In the instance of Richard Brocklesby, the number of paces could not be agreed upon [67] and in the affair between Mark Akenside and Ballow, one had determined never to fight in the morning, and the other that he would never fight in the afternoon. [67] John Wilkes, "who did not stand upon ceremony in these little affairs," when asked by Lord Talbot how many times they were to fire, replied, "just as often as your Lordship pleases I have brought a bag of bullets and a flask of gunpowder." [67]

Europe Edit

Great Britain and Ireland Edit

The duel arrived at the end of the 16th century with the influx of Italian honor and courtesy literature – most notably Baldassare Castiglione's Libro del Cortegiano (Book of the Courtier), published in 1528, and Girolamo Muzio's Il Duello, published in 1550. These stressed the need to protect one's reputation and social mask and prescribed the circumstances under which an insulted party should issue a challenge. The word duel was introduced in the 1590s, modelled after Medieval Latin duellum (an archaic Latin form of bellum "war", but associated by popular etymology with duo "two", hence "one-on-one combat"). [68]

Soon domestic literature was being produced such as Simon Robson's The Courte of Ciuill Courtesie, published in 1577. Dueling was further propagated by the arrival of Italian fencing masters such as Rocco Bonetti and Vincento Saviolo. By the reign of James I dueling was well entrenched within a militarised peerage – one of the most important duels being that between Edward Bruce, 2nd Lord Kinloss and Edward Sackville (later the 4th Earl of Dorset) in 1613, during which Bruce was killed. [69] James I encouraged Francis Bacon as Solicitor-General to prosecute would-be duellists in the Court of Star Chamber, leading to about two hundred prosecutions between 1603 and 1625. He also issued an edict against dueling in 1614 and is believed to have supported production of an anti-dueling tract by the Earl of Northampton. Dueling however, continued to spread out from the court, notably into the army. In the mid-17th century it was for a time checked by the activities of the Parliamentarians whose Articles of War specified the death penalty for would-be duellists. Nevertheless, dueling survived and increased markedly with the Restoration. Among the difficulties of anti-dueling campaigners was that although monarchs uniformly proclaimed their general hostility to dueling, they were nevertheless very reluctant to see their own favourites punished. In 1712 both the Duke of Hamilton and Charles 4th Baron Mohun were killed in a celebrated duel induced by political rivalry and squabbles over an inheritance.

By the 1780s, the values of the duel had spread into the broader and emerging society of gentlemen. Research shows that much the largest group of later duellists were military officers, followed by the young sons of the metropolitan elite (see Banks, A Polite Exchange of Bullets). Dueling was also popular for a time among doctors and, in particular, in the legal professions. Quantifying the number of duels in Britain is difficult, but there are about 1,000 attested between 1785 and 1845 with fatality rates at least 15% and probably somewhat higher. The last duel in England was fought in 1852 between two French political exiles. [18] In 1777, at the Summer assizes in the town of Clonmel, County Tipperary, a code of practice was drawn up for the regulation of duels. It was agreed by delegates from Tipperary, Galway, Mayo, Sligo and Roscommon, and intended for general adoption throughout Ireland. [12] An amended version known as 'The Irish Code of Honor', and consisting of 25 rules, was adopted in some parts of the United States. The first article of the code stated:

Rule 1.—The first offence requires the apology, although the retort may have been more offensive than the insult.
—Example: A. tells B. he is impertinent, &C. B. retorts, that he lies yet A. must make the first apology, because he gave the first offence, and then, (after one fire,) B. may explain away the retort by subsequent apology ." [70]

The 19th-century Irish statesman Daniel O'Connell took part in a duel in 1815. Following the death of his opponent, John D'Esterre, O'Connell repented and from that time wore a white glove on his right hand when attending Mass as a public symbol of his regret. [71] Despite numerous challenges, he refused ever to fight another duel. [72]

In 1862, in an article entitled Dead (and gone) Shots, Charles Dickens recalled the rules and myths of Irish dueling in his periodical All the Year Round. [73]

British prime ministers who took part in duels
Four Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom engaged in duels, although only two of them – Pitt and Wellington – held the office at the time of their duels.

    fought a duel with Colonel William Fullarton (1780) fought a duel with George Tierney (1798) fought a duel with Lord Castlereagh (1809)
  • The Duke of Wellington fought a duel with Lord Winchilsea (1829)

Holy Roman Empire and Germany Edit

In Early Modern High German, the duel was known as Kampf, or Kampffechten. The German dueling tradition originates in the Late Middle Ages, within the German school of fencing. In the 15th century, duels were fought between members of the nobility wearing full plate armour. During the late 16th and the 17th century, this tradition was gradually replaced with the modern fencing with the rapier following the Dardi school, while at the same time the practice of dueling spread to the bourgeois classes, especially among students.

The term Kampf is replaced by the modern German Duell during the same period, attested in the Latin form duellum from ca. 1600, and as Duell from the 1640s. [74] A modern remnant of German dueling culture is found in the non-lethal Mensur tradition in Academic fencing.

Greece Edit

In the Ionian Islands in the 19th century, there was a practice of formalised fighting between men over points of honor. Knives were the weapons used in such fights. They would begin with an exchange of sexually related insults in a public place such as a tavern, and the men would fight with the intention of slashing the other's face, rather than killing. As soon as blood was drawn onlookers would intervene to separate the men. The winner would often spit on his opponent and dip his neckerchief in the blood of the loser, or wipe the blood off his knife with it.

The winner would generally make no attempt to avoid arrest and would receive a light penalty, such as a short jail sentence and/or a small fine. [75]

Poland Edit

In Poland duels have been known since the Middle Ages. The best known Polish code was written as late as 1919 by Wladyslaw Boziewicz. At this time duels were already forbidden in Poland, but the "Polish Honorary Code" was quite widely in use. Punishments for participation in duels were rather mild – up to a year's imprisonment if the outcome of the duel was death or grievous bodily harm. [76]

Russia Edit

The tradition of dueling and the word duel itself were brought to Russia in the 17th century by adventurers in Russian service. Dueling quickly became so popular – and the number of casualties among the commanding ranks so high – that, in 1715, Emperor Peter the First was forced to forbid the practice on pain of having both duellists hanged. Despite this official ban, dueling became a significant military tradition in the Russian Empire with a detailed unwritten dueling code – which was eventually written down by V. Durasov and released in print in 1908. [77] This code forbade duels between people of different ranks. For instance, an infantry captain could not challenge a major but could easily pick on a Titular Counsellor. On the other hand, a higher ranked person could not stoop to challenge lower ranks so, it was up to his subordinates or servants to take revenge on their master's behalf.

Dueling was also common among prominent Russian writers, poets, and politicians. Russian poet Alexander Pushkin fought 29 duels, challenging many prominent figures [78] before being killed in a duel with Georges d'Anthès in 1837. His successor Mikhail Lermontov was killed four years later by fellow Army officer Nikolai Martynov. The dueling tradition died out in the Russian Empire slowly from the mid-19th century.

Americas Edit

Latin America Edit

Duels were common in much of South America during the 20th century, [52] although generally illegal. In Argentina, during the 18th and 19th century, it was common for gauchos—cowboys—to resolve their disputes in a fight using working knives called facones. After the turn of the 19th century, when repeating handguns became more widely available, use of the facón as a close-combat weapon declined. Among the gauchos, many continued to wear the knife, though mostly as a tool. However, it was occasionally still used to settle arguments "of honor". In these situations two adversaries would attack with slashing attacks to the face, stopping when one could no longer see clearly through the blood.

In Peru there were several high-profile duels by politicians in the early part of the 20th century including one in 1957 involving Fernando Belaúnde Terry, who went on to become president. In 2002 Peruvian independent congressman Eittel Ramos challenged Vice President David Waisman to a duel with pistols, saying the vice president had insulted him. Waisman declined. [79]

Uruguay decriminalized dueling in 1920, [52] and in that year José Batlle y Ordóñez, a former President of Uruguay, killed Washington Beltran, editor of the newspaper El País, in a formal duel fought with pistols. In 1990 another editor was challenged to a duel by an assistant police chief. [80] Although not forbidden by the government, the duel did not take place. Dueling was once again prohibited in 1992.

A senator, and future President of Chile, Salvador Allende, was challenged to a duel by his colleague Raúl Rettig (who would later be his ambassador to Brazil) in 1952. Both men agreed to fire one shot at each other, and both fired into the air. [81] At that time, dueling was already illegal in Chile.

There is a frequently quoted claim that dueling is legal in Paraguay if both parties are blood donors. No evidence exists that this is indeed true, and the notion has been outright denied by members of Paraguayan government. [82] [83] [84]

Colonial North America and United States Edit

European styles of dueling established themselves in the colonies of European states in North America. Duels were to challenge someone over a woman or to defend one's honor. In the US, dueling was used to deal with political differences and disputes and was the subject of an unsuccessful amendment to the United States Constitution in 1838. [85] It was fairly common for politicians at that time in the United States to end disputes through duels, such as the Burr–Hamilton duel and the Jackson-Dickinson duel. Dueling had become outdated in the north since the early-19th century. Dueling in the US was not uncommon in the south and west, even after 1859, when 18 states outlawed it, but it became a thing of the past in the United States by the start of the 20th century. [86] To this day, anyone sworn into any statewide or county office or judgeship in Kentucky must declare under oath that he or she has not participated in, acted as a second or otherwise assisted in a duel. [87]

Historian Bertram Wyatt-Brown said of dueling in the United States:

Teenage duels were not uncommon, at least in South Carolina and New Orleans. Three ironies emerged from the dueling custom. First, though confined to a segment of the upper classes, dueling served essentially the same purpose as the lowest eye-gouging battle among Tennessee hog drivers. Second, because of this congruence between upper and lower concepts of honor, dueling was not at all undemocratic. It enabled lesser men to enter, however imperfectly, the ranks of leaders, and allowed followers to manipulate leaders to their taste. Third, the promise of esteem and status that beckoned men to the field of honor did not always match the expectation, but often enough dueling served as a form of scapegoating for unresolved personal problems. [88]

Physician J. Marion Sims described the dueling culture in 1830s South Carolina. [89] Crude duels were also fought to uphold personal honor in the rural American frontier, that were partly influenced by the code duello brought by Southern emigrants. [90] [91] The quick draw duel is a common trope in a gunfighter story in most Western stories, although real life Wild West duels did occur such as the Wild Bill Hickok – Davis Tutt shootout and Luke Short – Jim Courtright duel. Gunfighters Jim Levy and Tom Carberry became infamous for participating in at least two quick draw duels in their lifetimes. [92] [93] Besides quick draw duels, more formal European duels were also fought in the Old West such as those participated by former cowboys Hugh Anderson and Burton C. Mossman. [94] Settlements such as Tombstone and Dodge City, prevented these duels by prohibiting civilians from carrying firearms by local ordinance. [95]

The penalty established upon conviction of killing another person in a duel in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in its 1728 law to punish and prevent dueling stated "In Case any Person shall slay or kill any other in Duel or Fight, as aforesaid and upon Conviction thereof suffer the Pains of Death, as is by Law provided for wilful Murder, the Body of such Person, shall not be allowed Christian Burial, but be buried without a Coffin, with a Stake driven Through the Body, at or near the Place of Execution, as aforesaid." [96]

In Upper Canada, then a British colony, John Wilson killed Robert Lyon on June 13, 1833, in Perth. That incident is believed by some to have been the last fatal duel fought in Canada it was certainly the last in what is now Ontario. However, several reliable sources state that the last fatal duel in what is now Canada occurred in Lower Canada (now Quebec) on May 22, 1838. The duelists were British officer Major Henry Warde and lawyer Robert Sweeney Warde was wounded in that incident and subsequently died. [97] [98]

According to a 2020 study, dueling behavior in the United States declined as state capacity (measured by the density of post offices) increased. [6]

Australia Edit

Australia had a history of duelling, with the last recorded one being in Sydney between Thomas Mitchell and Stuart Donaldson (later Premier of New South Wales) in 1851. Only Donaldson's hat was damaged. [99]

India Edit

Duels or niyuddha were held in ancient India (including modern-day Pakistan and Bangladesh) for various reasons. Many kshatriya considered it shameful to die in bed, and in their old age often arranged for a yuddha-dhan, literally meaning "combat charity". According to this practice when a warrior felt he did not have much time to live, he would go along with a few attendants and ask another king for a duel or a small scale battle. In this way he chooses his own time and manner of death and is assured that he will die fighting. Duels to the death were legal in some periods, and punishable by execution in others. [100]

Ancient epics and texts like the Dharmashastra tell that duels took place under strict rules of conduct, and to violate them was both shameful and sinful. According to these rules, it was forbidden to injure or kill an opponent who has lost their weapon, who surrenders, or who has been knocked unconscious. The Manusmṛti tells that if a warrior's topknot comes loose during a duel, the opponent must give him time to bind his hair before continuing. Both duellists are required to wield the same weapon, and specific rules may have existed for each weapon. For example, the Mahabharata records that hitting below the waist is forbidden in mace duels. [101] In one ancient form of dueling, two warriors wielded a knife in the right hand while their left hands were tied together. [100]

The Portuguese traveller Duarte Barbosa tells that dueling was a common practice among the nobles of the Vijayanagara Empire, and it was the only legal manner in which "murder" could be committed. After fixing a day for the duel and getting permission from the king or minister, the duellists would arrive at the appointed field "with great pleasure". Duellists would wear no armour and were bare from the waist up. From the waist down they wore cotton cloth tightly round with many folds. The weapons used for dueling were swords, shields and daggers which the king would appoint them of equal length. Judges decided what rewards would be given to duellists the winner may even acquire the loser's estate. [102]

Duels in Manipur were first recorded in the Chainarol-Puya which details the ethics of dueling. When a fighter was challenged, the day for the bout would be fixed to allow for time to prepare the weapons. Allowing the opponent the first chance to fire an arrow or hurl a spear was considered particularly courageous. The duel itself was not necessarily to the death, and usually ended once first blood has been drawn. However, the victor was still expected to behead the loser. Either before the duel or before the beheading, the fighters would share the meals and wine prepared by their wives. If it had been so requested beforehand, the loser's body may be cremated. Heads were taken as trophies, as was custom among the headhunters of northeast India. Various taboos existed such as not killing an opponent who runs, begs or cries out of fear, or anyone who pleads for protection. [ citation needed ]

In Kerala, duels known as ankam were fought by the kalari-trained Chekavar caste warriors . [103] [104]

Indonesia Edit

Weapons and rules for dueling in the Indonesian archipelago vary from one culture to another. In Madura, dueling is known as carok and was typically practiced with the sickle or celurit. The Madurese people imbued their sickles with a khodam, a type of mythical spirit, by a way of prayer before engaging in a duel. [105]

The traditional form of dueling among the Bugis-Makassar community was called sitobo lalang lipa in which the duellists fight in a sarong. The challenger stands with a loosened sarong around him and respectfully invites the other man to step into the sarong. The sarong itself is kept taut around both their waists. When both men are inside, an agreement to fight til death and thereafter shall be no hereditary grudge nor will any party be allowed to question the duel, shall be made. If both fighters agree, they then engage each other within the confined space of a single sarong. [106] Unlike the more typical kris duel of Javanese and Malay culture, the Bugis-Makassar community instead wield badik, the local single-edge knife. Because avoiding injury is near-impossible even for the victor, this type of duel was considered a sign of extraordinary bravery, masculinity and the warrior mentality. Although true sitobo lalang lipa are no longer practiced, enactments of these duels are still performed at cultural shows today.

Japan Edit

In Edo period Japan, there was a tradition of dueling ( 決闘 ? , kettō) among the samurai class. On April 14, 1612, the famous Japanese swordsman Miyamoto Musashi dueled his rival Sasaki Kojiro on the island of Funajima. Miyamoto is said to have fought over 60 duels and was never defeated.

Philippines Edit

Dueling was a common practice in the Philippines since ancient times, and continued to be recorded during Spanish and American colonialism. [107] In the Visayas, there is a tradition of dueling where the offended party would first hagit or challenge the offender. The offender would have the choice whether to accept or decline the challenge. In the past, choice of weapons was not limited. But most often, bolos, rattan canes, and knives were the preferred weapons. Duels were either first-blood, submission, or to the last man standing. Duels to death were known as huego-todo (without bounds). [ citation needed ] The older generation of Filipino martial artists still tell of duels which occurred during their youth.

Duels with the bolo knife were prominent in North and Central Philippines, common in farmlands where the machete-like bolo is commonly used as a domestic tool. A duel reported internationally occurred on 14 April 1920 by Prescott Journal Miner which was known as "The First Bolo Duel in Manila since the American Occupation". It happened when Ángel Umali and Tranquilino Paglinawan met with friends in a vacant lot near the city centre before dusk to settle a feud Paglinawan lost his left hand. With no law against bolo fights, Umali was charged for a petty crime. [108]

Bolo fights are still seen today, albeit rarely, and have become part of Filipino rural culture. On 7 January 2012, two middle-aged farmers were wounded after a bolo duel over the harvest of rice in a village in Zamboanga City. Geronimo Álvarez and Jesús Guerrero were drinking and at the height of their arguing Álvarez allegedly pulled out his bolo and hacked Guerrero. Guerrero also pulled his bolo and repeatedly hacked Álvarez, and their relatives immediately intervened and rushed them to hospital. [109]

The Myth of the Quick Draw September 7, 2010 8:05 AM Subscribe

David Milch has mentioned numerous falsities that have been created by the Hollywood Western, though I can't recall if the quick draw is one of them. If you're interested in the topic as a whole, you might want to check out his work (he created Deadwood).

Pretty sure he's responsible for me knowing that the Cowboy Hat was not what cowboys actually wore. Some non-locals came to the gold rush wearing that style of hat, which the locals (the cowboys) thought ridiculous. Because photography was in its infancy, photos were taken of these men to show how silly they looked. The photos became wide-spread and others participating in the gold rush thought that was the proper attire and bought them. Rinse, repeat.
posted by dobbs at 8:42 AM on September 7, 2010

The Gunfighter: Man or Myth? is a pretty good read if you're interested in gunfighting in general, and it specifically addresses the quick draw. A few things stand out after you read it:

1. The most important gift one could bring to a gun fight was nerve. Speed wasn't quite as important.

2. A lot of fast, skilled gunmen lost fights because of freak circumstance: One account in the book mentions that a combatant was killed because his opponent's first shot blew off the tip of his thumb. He tried to shift his pistol over to his other hand to cock the hammer, but his opponent took steadier aim and shot him before he could manage that.

3. A number of narratives end on notes like "but one of his shots went wild and struck a nearby child, so even though he won the fight he was promptly strung up after a hasty trial."

The book also provides one of my favorite quotes: Upon being shot, a gunfighter yells "You big son of a bitch, you murdered me!"
posted by mph at 11:18 AM on September 7, 2010 [3 favorites]

There definitely were gunfights in which both parties started with guns holstered and then drew and fired quickly. In fact, the first recorded one happened in my hometown between Wild Bill Hickok and Dave Tutt.

However, this was a gunfight. That is, two people were angry, and had guns, and one of them went for the their pistol as the other responded. It wasn't a formally-declared/challenged/accepted duel of the swordfighting/flintlock variety.

This is not the same as the Hollywood idea of people squaring off and calmly waiting for the clock to strike noon before drawing and firing simultaneously.
posted by Netzapper at 11:37 AM on September 7, 2010

The Straight Dope did an article on this a few years back. As other have said above, it didn't happen in real life.

I've heard, although I don't know if it's true, that the idea of the two cowboys facing off in the street comes from samurai movies by way of spaghetti westerns. In the movie "High Noon", which is usually cited as a classic gunfight, everyone has guns drawn for the final battle. When Sergio Leone started making westerns based on Kurosawa samurai, he added quick draw gun fights that resembled one on one samurai battles.
posted by chrisulonic at 2:02 PM on September 7, 2010

The Meanest Towns in the West

The following is an article from the book History's Lists from Uncle John's Bathroom Reader.

From the archives of the Old West, we've culled a list of the most notorious places on the frontier. Here's our countdown of the baddest of the bad, meanest of the mean, Wild West towns. Some historians say that the Wild West wasn't as dangerous as we've been led to believe by Hollywood, but there's no doubt that some frontier towns were beyond the immediate reach of the law -places where mischief, mayhem, and murder were everyday occurrences.

8. FORT GRIFFIN, TEXAS One of the wildest places in the old West, Fort Griffin sprouted at the intersection of the West Fork of the Trinity River and the Clear Fork of the Brazos River in northern Texas. Built in the 1860s on a hill overlooking the Brazos, the fort itself was designed to protect the folks -mostly farmers and ranchers- who lived below in the settlement of Fort Griffin. The town was soon invaded by outlaws and cowboys driving their cattle north to Dodge City. By the 1870s, skirmishes with the Kiowa and Comanche in the north diverted the soldiers from Fort Griffin and, as a result, law enforcement broke down, which attracted even more rough types to the town.

Visiting Celebrities. The motley collection of buffalo hunters, gamblers, gunfighters, and "painted ladies" brought with them a penchant for violence. Among them were a gambler and prostitute named Big Nose Kate and her pal, the legendary gambler Doc Holliday. Also passing through were Wyatt Earp (who met Holliday for the first time at the fort), lawman Pat Garrett, and John Wesley Hardin -by some accounts the most sadistic killer to ever come out of Texas. Dustups and gun violence became so frequent that the commander of the fort finally placed the town under martial law in 1874.

7. RUBY, ARIZONA From the days of the Spanish explorations prospectors had searched for veins of gold, silver, copper, lead, and zinc near Montana Peak in southern Arizona close to the Mexican border. In 1891, high-grade gold was discovered. A local assayer judged it to be a bonanza, and the rush was on. The town of Ruby was born practically overnight.

Here Comes Trouble. Most of the miners lived in tents or rough adobe huts, and bought their meager supplies at George Cheney's Ruby Mercantile, the one and only general store. The men provided for themselves and their families by hunting and rustling cattle. But the primary source of trouble came from Mexican bandits who frequently terrorized the settlement. By the early 1900s, Ruby was so dangerous that Philip and Gypsy Clarke, who owned a general store, kept weapons in every room of their house as well as the general store. When Philip eventually sold the store to a pair of brothers, he warned them of the danger. They didn't heed Clarke's warning and were soon found shot to death. Today, Ruby is a well-preserved ghost town.

6. DELAMAR, NEVADA Delamar got its reputation as a notorious Wild West town not from gun violence but from dangerous conditions in the mines. The 1889 discovery of gold in nearby Monkey Wrench Gulch unleashed a stampede of miners intent on digging for the peculiar form of gold, encased as it was in crystallized quartz. A former ship's captain named Joseph Raphael De Lamar bought most of the profitable mines in 1893 and built a mill to crack the quartz and refine the gold. Within a few years, the town had 1,500 citizens, a hospital, post office, opera house, school, several churches, and plenty of saloons. But then the deaths began to mount.

Dust to Dust. Operations at the mill exposed the miners -and the town- to clouds of silicon dust. The mill workers were at the greatest risk of breathing in the dust, which slowly caused silicosis of the lungs and death. At one time, 400 widows lived in Delamar, giving the town its reputation as the "Widowmaker." Delamar began its decline in 1909 when Captain De Lamar tore down the mill. Operation started up in the mines two decades later, but eventually slowed to a halt. The last resident moved away in 1934.


Bat Masterson Fights and gunplay were all too familiar in Dodge City in the 1870s. In its first ten years, it became a well-known gathering hole for gunslingers -so well known that companies such as the Atchinson, Topeka, and Santa Fe railroad came to Dodge to hire fighting men when they needed to protect their business interests. Fearless buffalo hunters, cowboys, muleteers, and bullwhackers (wagon train drivers) populated the city. Characters with colorful nicknames arrived, among them Cherokee Bill, Prairie Dog Dave, Fat Jack, and Cockeyed Frank. Said one resident, "With a few drinks of red liquor under their belts, you could reckon there was something doing. They feared neither God, man, nor the devil, and so reckless they would pit themselves, like Ajax, against lightning, if they ran into it."

The Upside to the Downside. There were plenty of deaths and gunfights in the streets of "Wicked Dodge," as writers termed it, but it could have been worse. Because so many inhabitants were known as "sluggers, bruisers, and dead shots," most of them were wary of starting trouble with one another. Also happening on the scene were legendary lawmen such as Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, Charlie Bassett, and Bill Tilghman, who stood ready to step in and jail anyone who got out of hand.

4. ELDORADO CANYON, NEVADA Spanish explorers in the 18th century gave Eldorado Canyon its name, but it was American gold miners a century later who gave the mining camp at the canyon its reputation. The miners were drawn to a gorge on the Colorado River after prospectors discovered a vertical vein of gold there in 1861. The established the Techatticup Mine, which eventually fell into the hands of California senator George Hearst (father of publisher William Randolph Hearst). Eventually, dozens of mines in Eldorado Canyon became a magnet for prospectors, entrepreneurs, Civil War deserters, and "sporting women." Their only connection to the outside world was a steamboat that carried the gold, silver, copper, and lead down the Colorado River to distant Yuma, Arizona.

The Original Fight Club. Political clashes among supporters of the North or South in the Civil War and greed, vigilante justice, and disputes over claims made for frequent brawls, stabbings, and gunfights. Killings became so common they were nearly a daily event. And the canyon was so remote -300 miles from the closest civilized town- that lawmen simply refused to enter it. A military post was eventually established near the settlement in 1867 to protect the steamboats and bring a sense of civility to the neighborhood.


Like many other famous Wild West towns, Deadwood owes its reputation for violence to the discovery of gold. In 1874, U.S. Army general George A Custer led an expedition into the Black Hills to confirm the existence of gold. The U.S. government tried to keep the gold a secret in honor of the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie, which recognized the Black Hills as belonging to the Lakota-Sioux. But in1875, when a miner found gold in a narrow canyon lined with dead trees, the news of the find in "Deadwood Gulch" spread like wildfire. Within a year, miners stormed into the area and established the rough-and-tumble mining camp of Deadwood.

Deadwood Comes to Life. The Black Hills gold rush was in full bloom by 1876. Deadwood swarmed with men determined to get rich by any means. Dozens of saloons, gambling parlors, and brothels competed for their attention and dollars. Legendary characters Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane were town fixtures. But danger lurked everywhere. Henry W. Smith, a Methodist minister, was murdered while walking to church, and Hickok was shot in the back of the head while playing poker in one of the saloons. By 1879, the rowdy nature of Deadwood began to ebb after a town government was established. Today, the well-preserved city is a gambling destination for tourists as well as a National Historic Landmark.


Many consider Tombstone the most dangerous of all the Wild West towns because of its lawlessness and frequent gunfights. The named seemed appropriate enough, but it wasn't derived from the Boothill graveyard outside town -it came from a nearby mine named by prospector Ed Schieffelin, who filed the claim in 1877. He was told by a soldier that warring Apaches controlled the area. "All you'll find in those hills is your tombstone," said the soldier. But Schieffelin was undeterred and named his mine the Tombstone. News of the strike brought other miners to the site, and the town of Tombstone soon came into being.

Lovely Downtown Tombstone. Consisting of 40 buildings, a post office, and 500 residents by 1878, Tombstone began to draw the usual collection of men and women from the fringes of society. Within a few years, the town boasted more gambling parlors and saloons than anywhere in the Southwest, as well as the largest red light district. Wyatt Earp arrived at the end of 1879 with the intentions of establishing a stage line but instead invested in a gaming parlor while riding shotgun for Wells Fargo stagecoaches. Four of his brothers followed: James opened a saloon, and Warren, Virgil, and Morgan went into law enforcement. Wyatt's friend Doc Holliday arrived in 1880 with Big Nose Kate, who established a brothel in a tent. The Clanton gang and the McLowrey brothers terrorized the countryside, running afoul of the Earps, which led to the showdown at the town's O.K. Corral, thus sealing Tombstone's legend. The city has survived into the 21s century, as has its newspaper, the Tombstone Epitaph, which memorialized Tombstone as "The Town Too Tough to Die."

1. CANYON DIABLO, ARIZONA Nowhere in the Southwest was there a more violent place than the railroad town of Canyon Diablo, giving it the top spot on our list of the meanest Wild West towns. The settlement was born when workers laying tracks for a railroad came to the edge of the canyon, with no way to cross over until a bridge was built. Constructing the bridge took ten years, during which time the town that came into being took its name from the canyon. It was as despicable a place to live as there was in the West. With the closest U.S. marshal 100 miles away, Canyon Diablo quickly attracted drifters, gamblers, and outlaws. Fourteen saloons, ten gambling parlors, four brothels, two dance halls, a couple of cafes, a grocery, and a dry good store did business 24 hours a day. The buildings faced each other across the aptly-named Hell Street, the town's single rocky road just off the railroad right-of-way.

They Shot the Sheriff. Fights and gun duels were frequent among the town's 2,000 residents, filling dozens of graves at the town's cemetery. Bandits regularly held up the stage that ran between Flagstaff and Canyon Diablo. When mounting violence persuaded the townspeople to hire a police officer, the first one put on his badge at three o'clock in the afternoon and was dead by eight o'clock that evening. Five more who tried it lasted a month or less before being slain. But what the law couldn't do, the completion of the bridge accomplished. The town died, and according to Western lore, completely disappeared by 1899 when its last resident, a trading post owner named Herman Wolfe, died peacefully.

The article above was reprinted with permission from Uncle John's Bathroom Reader History's Lists. Since 1988, the Bathroom Reader Institute had published a series of popular books containing irresistible bits of trivia and obscure yet fascinating facts.

If you like Neatorama, you'll love the Bathroom Reader Institute's books - go ahead and check 'em out!

Did the old-west style duels (as depicted in movies) actually occur? - History

I always notice this in westerns, the police or law officers, will always wait for the villains to draw their pistols first, before drawing theirs. Like in this example from Tombstone:

But you see it in other Western movies as well.

But in modern times, the police always have their guns drawn, and aimed and ready to go, when making arrests. Like when they send in SWAT teams to make arrests, guns out and ready to go.

I am wondering, did they actually historically wait for the villains to draw first before drawing, when making arrests in the old west times, or is that just a movie style cliche, and not historically accurate?

In the case of the historical shootout at the OK Corral, the Earps were moving to disarm the Clanton gang, who were already causing trouble and were in violation of Tombstone's prohibition of carrying firearms (those entering town had to surrender their weapons - why would a lawman allow someone the opportunity to produce a firearm that person wasn't even legally allowed to carry?). The Earps and company were variously holding their guns (though, generally, discreetly - they were hoping everything would go down without incident) or had them readily available. It is not even certain that all the gang members were armed (accounts differ on whether or not Tom McLaury had turned in his gun at the saloon).

The idea that lawmen were giving criminals some sort of 'sporting chance' is pure nonsense. They were performing a job, not practicing some sort of chivalric code. Quick-draw duels are almost entirely mythical, as were the ludicrous scenes of one gunslinger slaying a handful of opponents at once (those stupid enough to try such things led very short lives). Also, long guns were often favored, in contrast to the archtypical revolvers of cinema.

The western genre's accuracy in portraying the behavior of law enforcement is about on par with that in Die Hard - which is to say, like pretty much everything in pretty much every western, it's fantasy.

I like to think the "real" West was more like what was portrayed in "Unforgiven". If you wanted to kill someone, you killed them in the most expedient way possible.

"You just shot an unarmed man".
"Well, he should have armed himself."

And like Pat Garrett waiting for Billy the Kid in his bedroom and shooting him to death when he entered.

You just get it done however.

You only get one chance to make the first impression in a gunfight. Lawmen who enjoyed long lives and careers generally did so by consistently ensuring they maintained the advantage when confronting someone thought to be dangerous. Skilled lawmen rarely left anything to chance if it could be avoided. That doesn't mean they went into every encounter with guns drawn, but good lawmen were always ready to draw their weapon quickly if the moment called for it. Much like most police officers today.

That said, Hollywood does greatly exaggerate how common gunfights were in the Old West. Another thing that "Unforgiven" got right was that most men were not skilled gunfighters at all, and even those who did live rough, violent lives were usually reluctant to escalate a confrontation to the point where guns were drawn - because even experienced men knew that no matter how good you were, anything could go wrong in the heat of the moment, and there was no certainty about how it would turn out. Just like today, most men just wanted to get through life without causing trouble or fighting it out with the law, and violent sociopaths like John Wesley Hardin or Billy the Kid were extreme rarities.

The quick draw duel seen in so many movies and TV shows is a creation of the films and television programs. When homicide was the goal, or protecting one's own life, there was no code of chivalry which said you had to meet in the street and observe some sort of fairness doctrine. That stuff belonged to the Code Duello, where some gentleman has challenged another over some perceived insult. Those were fought by a strict set of rules with seconds there to make sure that the rules were observed.

Nothing at all like that prevailed in the west. When someone wanted to kill someone else, it was typically either a matter of tempers flaring on the spot with both antagonists reaching for guns, or more likely, someone shot from ambush where they had no chance to fight back. No formality, no meeting in the street, no notion of fairness, just killing and surviving. In the case of the temper fueled shootout, the opponents were most likely drunk. Someone thinks he has been cheated at cards. That someone goes home and comes back with a shotgun. The victim may never see it coming.

The lawmen of the west, particularly in the wild Kansas cattle towns, seldom drew their guns and when they did, it was much more likely to use as a club against some obnoxious drunk who wouldn't obey orders to calm down or leave the premises. Wyatt Earp was famous for "dragooning" miscreants (hitting them with the butt of his large revolver). In his career in Kansas he was among several lawmen shooting at an escaping criminal and it may have been his bullet which killed the guy, but no one knows. Apart from that, he never shot anyone while there. Bat masterson's brother Ed was also a deputy in Dodge and he was killed because he tried to disarm a drunk while not drawing his own weapon first.

Finally, when the Earps confronted the Clanton gang in the vacant lot in Tombstone, Doc Holiday was holding a shotgun while the Earp brothers still had their pistols holstered. The Earps hoped for a peaceful solution and knew that if they came with drawn guns, it would be interpreted as an intent to kill. They didn't have their guns in their holsters because they wanted to give their opponents some sort of fair chance.

Credit:Taylors & Company, Inc.

On the contrary, most men would rather carry around a rifle or a shotgun. A revolver’s effective range could just be up to 30 yards, usually for shooting at people. A rifle has more range and better accuracy. No wonder the weapons of choice are the longer-barreled rifle and shotgun. Both offer better protection against bad-intentioned trespassers on your property and wild animals in the open country.

Handgun accuracy depicted in westerns.

My question is this, I've watched numerous westerns throughout my life good guys, bad guys are always unbelievably accurate with their shooting. Just how accurate were the gunslingers & lawmen of the "Wild West" ? Were they great shots like the legends depict or was it mostly luck with shoot and hope it hits the other guy first?

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The first thing you need to know is that most of what people believe about the Wild West is myth.

In particular, the iconic WW quickdraw duel was purely an invention of the dime novels of the day, later cemented into the public consciousness by the movies. Never happened, not even once. In the entire history of the WW, there were a grand total of two recorded incidents that kinda-sorta resembled quickdraw duels, but there were other factors that disqualified them from being like the ones in movies.

Dueling had been outlawed pretty much everywhere by the 1840s. The only reason pistol dueling was ever a real thing was because until the later 19th century, even the best pistols had crap accuracy. In the early 19th century, two expert marksmen with top-quality pistols standing 50-100 feet or so apart could shoot at each other and miss by a mile.

WW towns were actually quiet, boring places, and the carrying of guns in town was almost always forbidden by law. The big cities of the east had MUCH higher violence and murder rates.

And pistols were not great. The most commonly-owned pistol of the 1880s (by ordinary people, anyway) was the British Bull Dog (and knockoffs of it), a real POS gun that would be today described as a "Saturday night special." Such guns remained the norm well into the 1970s.

Not many people even owned pistols. Actual cowboys--that is, ranch hands on a cattle ranch--almost never owned them, not only because they couldn't afford them, but in some cases, their employers actually forbade it. The legendary rancher Charlie Goodnight forbade his employees from carrying pistols. If they needed a gun on the range, they would be issued a long gun.

REAL gunfights, when they happened, were chaotic affairs, just like today. Despite what you've seen in the movies, the OK Corral shooting happened in a very narrow alleyway with the participants barely two meters away from each other. In 30 seconds, some 30 shots were fired, and even at point-blank range with nine people shooting, there were only three deaths and three wounded.

However, then, as now, there were quickdraw artists and sharpshooters. The two skills are mutually-exclusive, you can't do one when you're doing the other. But legendary sharpshooters like Annie Oakley were pretty much as good as the legends say. These people didn't work as "gunslingers," however, they worked in showbiz, like Oakley's tour with Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show (another source of WW myth).

Johnny Ringo's your huckleberry

If you've seen Tombstone, then you might recall the character Johnny Ringo, who couldn't quite match the quick-witted sidekick Doc Holliday in quick-handedness. Though a villain in that film, Ringo was portrayed as a hero in the 1960s and inspired a string of spaghetti westerns and television shows. As recounted in Johnny Ringo: The Gunfighter Who Never Was, those flattering titles included Ringo and His Golden Pistol, Stagecoach, in which John Wayne played the Ringo Kid, and The Johnny Ringo Show, whose theme song hailed Ringo as "the fastest gun in all the West, the quickest ever known." Author Steve Gatto writes that these glittering depictions of Ringo as the non-Bond-villain with the golden gun are based on romantic exaggerations of the past.

During his life, Johnny Ringo presented himself as an educated gentleman who could recite Shakespeare and comported himself like a British Lord, according to History. His image was mostly gunsmoke and mirrors, but despite having no formal schooling, he was well-read enough to convince others that he was a legitimate gentleman. By age 12 he had already developed deadly aim. As an adult he was "dubbed Tombstone's deadliest gunfighter," per the Arizona Capitol Times. By that time, he had already survived a feud called "the Hoodoo War," during which he killed at least two men and managed to escape police custody or avoid arrest altogether.

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Cowboy culture refers to a style of ranching introduced in North America by Spanish colonists in the 16th century—a time when most ranch owners were Spanish and many ranch hands were Native. None of the first cowboys were (non-Hispanic) white. And while historians don’t know exact figures, by the late 19th century roughly one in three cowboys (known as vaqueros) was Mexican. The recognizable cowboy fashions, technologies, and lexicon—hats, bandanas, spurs, stirrups, lariat, lasso—are all Latino inventions.

White Americans wouldn’t be exposed to, and subsequently incorporate, cowboy culture into their ranching practices until 200 years after its inception, once westward expansion brought Anglo-colonists and African slaves into the area in the early 1800s. At that time, cowboys did the kind of hard labor that wealthy white Americans would often force others to do, meaning many were black slaves. Around this same time, the frontier was also populated by roughly 20,000 Chinese immigrants who contributed significantly to the development of the West, including the construction of the first Transcontinental Railroad. In other words, people of color were not only present at the inception of the Wild West—but they were also its primary architects. And yet, even today, black cowboys are fighting for recognition.

Most historians and cowfolk of color agree that Hollywood is responsible for popularizing the falsehood of the all-white Wild West. Filmmakers built a genre that hinged on racial conflict and then, in defiance of that fact, filled the silver screen with only white protagonists. While whitewashing remains a modern problem, it has a long history in American film: In the very first Hollywood movie, 1910’s In Old California, white actors played non-white roles.

This practice was especially commonplace in Westerns, which relied on racist stereotypes of Native people as bloodthirsty savages and drew inspiration for stories about white heroes from the experiences of freed slaves in the West. The story of one of America’s most eminent frontiersmen, Jim Beckwourth, formed the basis for 1951’s Tomahawk, which starred a white actor even though Beckwourth was black. The famous 1956 Western epic The Searchers was based on a black man named Britt Johnson. He was played by John Wayne, one of the genre’s biggest movie stars, who in 1971 told Playboy, “I believe in white supremacy until blacks are educated to the point of responsibility.” Even the fictional character of the Lone Ranger (who originally debuted in a radio show in 1933) shares striking similarities to Bass Reeves, believed to be the first black U.S. Deputy Marshal west of the Mississippi.

By the time Westerns gained wider prominence with movie audiences in the 1950s, the ubiquity of the genre’s all-white protagonists had helped fully obscure the reality of race on the American frontier. Crucial to this effort were directors like Cecil B. DeMille (The Squaw Man, Rose of the Rancho, The Trail of Lonesome Pine, The Buccaneers) and John Ford (My Darling Clementine, Fort Apache, The Searchers). Non-white characters were usually antagonists with names like “Mexican Henchman” or “Facetious Redskin.” When filmmakers weren’t misrepresenting other races (whether intentionally or not), they were often ignoring them entirely: Ford’s 1924 opus The Iron Horse manages to tell the story of the country’s first transcontinental railroad without Chinese actors, save a few who were background extras.

Over the next few decades Hollywood would occasionally cast a black cowboy to appear alongside otherwise all-white casts in Westerns such as Lonesome Dove (1989) or Unforgiven (1992). In a 1993 Chicago Tribune article about Beckwourth, the writer commended the aforementioned films for their palatable diversity while criticizing 1993’s Posse for being “too politically correct” with its all-black cast (which, historically, would have been more plausible). Both before and following the Civil War, many black men fled to the frontier for a cowboys’s life of freedom. The broad notion of “freedom” stitched into the seams of the Western canon has far more cultural significance than the genre has ever truly acknowledged.

Whenever Westerns spring back into relevance, they resort to the same habits of misrepresentation. The result is that racial ignorance has been stratified, brick by brick, into the foundations of the genre on the groundless basis of “historical accuracy.” So what happens when a modern Western tries to remain faithful to genre conventions while being less regressive on issues of race?

Viewers wind up with an ouroboros like The Hateful Eight, a film Quentin Tarantino intended as commentary on American racial inequity, made with the art form that helped edify it. The movie’s predecessor, Django Unchained, is also supposedly a revisionist Western, but the title character (played by Jamie Foxx) is inert until the white hero Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) takes Django and guides him forward. The Keeping Room (2014), set at the close of the Civil War, was billed as a “feminist, revisionist” movie but clumsily equates the problems white women face with those endured by enslaved black women. In one cringe-worthy moment, the sullen Louise (Hailee Steinfeld) calls Mad (Muna Otaru) the n-word, at which her older sister Augusta (Brit Marling) snaps: “I done told you, Louise. We all niggers now.”

Such films have a difficult time critiquing the systemic power imbalances that helped usher the genre into being, despite the intentions of those involved. Tarantino said he wanted to “tap into” modern racial strife for The Hateful Eight, and the Keeping Room’s star, Marling, said of the film, “It’s an incredibly prescient movie in that this country is in some ways hopefully waking up to racism.” But both films depict racism through a white lens: In each, a black character experiences violence until a Caucasian hero steps in to enlighten the attacker. In this way, the films offer the same white-savior premise as 1960’s The Magnificent Seven without really critiquing it. But even these films are an improvement over works like The Lone Ranger (2013) and Bone Tomahawk (2015), which take the radically conservative approach and offer genocide so gratuitously violent that even Tarantino objects. In keeping with tradition, these films present racially motivated conflicts earnestly, and in The Lone Ranger, Johnny Depp plays the famously Native character Tonto.

If the Western genre is to truly reckon with its past, then Hollywood needs to start with the basics. Studios should hire more directors and writers who aren’t white, while more regularly seeking out stories about the American frontier that feature both characters and actors of color. This has already begun: The Revenant (2015), from the Oscar-winning Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu, was made with remarkable realism. It was meticulously researched, and the Native characters were played by Native actors. The film itself is was based on William Ashley’s 1823 expedition up the Missouri river, of which at least three black men were members (including, interestingly enough, Beckwourth).

The Magnificent Seven, too, has received attention for its “rainbow coalition” cast. The director Fuqua, for his part, has a sturdier grounding in American history than most of his forbears. “The west was a mixed bag of people coming from everywhere,” he told ScreenDaily. “It was more diverse than what we see in westerns.” But one of the biggest criticisms of the film has been that the characters of color are there “just for show” and inadvertently treated as tokens—a frequent flaw of “diverse” major-studio ensemble movies such as Suicide Squad. It’s unfair to expect a couple contemporary Westerns to reverse the genre’s legacy, but it’s heartening to see broader representation in big-budget films with all-star performers and famed directors at the helm.

In a Guardian interview, Denzel Washington tried to downplay the idea that The Magnificent Seven was trying to explore deeper or more serious themes. “The average person who’s paying to see it is just looking for a good time,” he said, adding that people go to the movies to escape. “It ain’t that deep.” So, too, decades worth of Westerns offered their own kind of escape from reality. At the turn of the 20th century, the country was trying to construct a new national identity following the end of slavery, and amid immigration and westward expansion. Through it all, stories about cowboys and renegades on horseback offered entertainment, but also fantastical utopias of white heroism. These tropes will always be part of the genre’s past. But Hollywood’s gradual efforts to extend more opportunities to people of color and to—hopefully—learn from its mistakes, may prompt more viewers to eventually see the all-white Wild West for what it is: fiction.

Watch the video: History Documentary Gunslingers of the Old West Documentary (November 2022).

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