FromIMPERIAL ST. LANDRY -Genealogical and Historical Society
Vol III NO 4 (1993)
"One doesn't usually think of Opelousas, in fact the entire Louisiana territory, as part of the wild west and indeed, the majority of the early documents attest to civilized, well established communities even as early as the late 1700's. Until the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, government consisted mainly of a commandant who acted almost as a judge would today and settled differences among the inhabitants. After the purchase of Louisiana by the Americans, the new government began to take on the forms of the parish and city government we know today. Even though there was now a sheriff to enforce the laws of the community, it was still accepted and quite common for individuals to settle differences by dueling. Also, a gentleman's honor was a serious thing and was not to be questioned by others. Duels of honor were quite common. Jim Bowie was reported to have participated in several duels. The best known of these incidents was the "sandbar duel". The reason that this one was sowell known was probably because even thought the duelists had settled their differences , others present as witnesses, seconds and surgeons began to fight and things quickly escalated out of hand. Two were killed and three others, including Jim Bowie, were badly wounded.
The duel took place on a sandbar of the Mississippi River between Natchez, Mississippi and Vidalia, Louisiana, thus the reason it is known as the "Sandbar Duel". One group consisted of Jim Bowie, Gen. Momfort Wells, Samuel Wells, Jeff Wells, General Sam Cuney, Dr.Cuney and McWhorter. On the other side was Dr. T. H. Maddox, Maj Moris Wright, Col. Robert A.Crain, Alfred and Edward Cary Blanchard and Dr. Denny. Jim Bowie was not one of the principal duelists, however, his name is the one most widely mentioned when one speaks of the duel. The principals were Dr. Maddox and Samuel L. Wells. The following letter written by Col. Crain was in answer to a statement made by Samuel Wells and published in the "Argus" newspaper a few days after the duel, and we quote:
Natchez-Oct 1827 -
To the public...
"Having observed in the "Argus" of Oct 28th an extract of letter addressed to the editor, over the signature of Sam L. Wells, purporting to givea statement of the unfortunate affair that occured on the bank of the Mississippi in this state, on the 19th of Sept last . In which I am said to have been one of the principle (sic) actors from the distorted manner, it is thine represented . I am compelled, in justice to myself as well as friends, to reply to Mr. Well's Statement. I was called on by Dr. Maddox, to serve him as a friend in an affair of honor between himself and Mr. S.L.Wells. We met on the 18th of Sept at Natchez, where at, or near the Steam Mill, I handed the Doctor's communication to Mr. Wells and made arrangements thro(sic) and with his friend Major McWhorter for the meeting on the 19th. It was determined that there should be but three of a side on the ground, the object of that was to prevent certain gentleman, whom I knew were on the opposite side of the river from appearing on the ground, and whom neither Maddox or myself, wished to meet, or come in contact with, and I observed to Mr. W. (Wells) in the presence of Doctor Denny who had agreed to be the surgeon of Maddox. You know Mr. Wells that I cannot meet certain persons who are now at Concordia, He replied and said Col.Crain I know to whom you allude, I pledge you my honor, they shall not be on the ground, the following statement of Doctor Denny will prove these remarks; We parted and met the next day according to the appointmentand to my astonishment, I found those gentlemen, whom I had been so solicitous to avoid, on the ground or withing sixty or eighty steps of the spot Maddox and Wells fought on. I said nothing, but was convinced in my own mind that nothing brought them there but to make a the attack they did.
Doctor Maddox asked Doctor Cuney what they were doing there, he replied, they will not approach nearer. After exchanging two shots the affair was honorably settled between the parties; I will here observe that the honorable and gentlemanly conduct of Mr. W. Wells)throughout the fight with Maddox, induced me to believe that he would have given a fair and manly statement of that unfortunate and bloody affair: I must acknowledge myself, am much disappointed . As we were about to return Mr. Wells invited us to the woods to drink a glass of wine, on which I again observed to him, that I could not meet those at the woods, but Sir go and meet my friends and drink and bury the hatchet: 'agreed Sir, said he......' I then took up the brace of pistols that I had held during the fight, the servant took those the Doctor had used: he entirely unarmed. We then proceeded , to meet our friends, who were approaching; but who had been at the distance of three or four hundred yards off during the fight between Maddox and Wells. But observing and having been informed how the affair had ended, they had started up, and were within eighty or one hundred yards. When I was intercepted by Gen Cuney, Mr.James Bowie and Mr.Jeff Wells, those gentlemen started in a new down the first small declivity? from the woods, and then approached in a running walk. Which left no doubt in my mind of their intentions, and produced the same impressions on my friends generally. I have already remarked that Maddox was unarmed, he in company with Doctor Denny, was some ten or fifteen steps ahead; they rushed indirectly between us and (Gen) Cuney remarked: " Now sir is the time to settle our affair". and commenced drawing a pistol; as well as Mr. Bowie. S. L. Wells Caught (Gen) Cuney without having endangered the life of one of those gentlemen. I stepped back and drew upon Mr. Bowie, who was preparing his pistol for me; or I believed so from his manner. We fired, his without effect and whether mine touched him or not, I cannot tell, but he exclaimed : "Crain , you have shot me: and I will kill you if I can." I wheeled and jumped across some small washes on the sand bar; and passed Gen Cuney who by this time had got away from Wells and his brother. We fired simultaneously; he fell and his ball grazing the skin on my left arm, at this moment Mr. Bowie was rushing on me with his big knife. I wheeled and jumped back across the washes on the bar and as he approached I clubbed and struck him with the pistol, which staggered and nearly brought him to his knees; at this moment Maj Wright and the two Blanchards ran up. Mr. Bowie sheared off to a stump that was on the bar and exclaimed to Wright. "You d.....d rascal don't shoot me." He replied but I did not hear what he said. They however fired at each other; Wright was shot through the body, and I am convinced he never touched Bowie, they then rushed together. Wright with a small sword came and Bowie with his big knife; he made several passes wounding C.H. and Albert Blanchard who had run up with Wright at each time, he (Bowie)eventually caught Wright by the collar and plunged his knife in his bosom; at that moment expiring. Mr. Bowie who lay close by said to me, "For God sake; Crain assist me, give me some water, and help me to the shade." I unhesitatingly done all I could do for him. Maj. McWorter, myself and some other person carried him to the woods, he said to me as we went along, "Col. Crain, you ought not to have shot me or at me" I replied and said, Bowie, you ought not to have dawn your pistol on me, " He said, " I did not draw for you, it was to protect my friend." Now I will ask Mr. Bowie how he was to protect his friend, unless by shooting me: who was the only armed man then confronting four of his party; that were armed but for two of the gentleman I will do the justice to say; I do not believe they would have shot, or did shoot at me, these are circumstances so far as I can recollect that came under notice but under the excited feelings of the moment there may be other circumstances, that I did not notice or may have overlooked. The Statement of the gentlemen who were present, will complete the detail. I will now reply to one or two of Mr. Wells remarks. He says I fired first. It is a matter of no consequence: for on such an occasion, and under existing circumstances those persons must be held the aggressors: who approached the others armed and prepared for assault. And the first fire may have been made by those whose position was endangered, we can be made no less defensive than if made in reply to a fire from the other side. Mr. Wells further says that in addition to the above, I will state on the authority of Doctor Hunt of Natchez that Crain had said to his friends in Natchez that if Gen.Cuney made his appearance on the grounds, he, Crain, would kill him ! And that at all events he intended to kill him the first opportunity. I never have said so,Never have I made such a threat! And Doctor Denny's statement, will show that the remark he made to Mr. Wells on the subject was drawn from the inference of what he believed my feelings would prompt me to do. Upon the first meeting with Gen. Cuney since the ever memorable 9th day of May last, the public will naturally expect some explanation for the violent feeling that existed between Gen. Cuney and myself, but he is no more, and I will forbear to comment on either his conduct or the circumstances that led to the attempt on my life on that day."