St. Louis History: I Challenge You to a Duel!

I haven’t made a history post in a while, so I thought I’d post another little known fact about St. Louis history.

On August 26, 1856 Benjamin Gratz Brown, a newspaper editor, future United States Senator, and future governor faced Thomas C. Reynolds, a United States district attorney and future lieutenant governor, on the field of honor. The duel was the outcome of several years of bitter political disagreements resulting from editorials published in the Missouri Democrat.

Brown strongly supported the emancipation of slaves and Reynolds sympathized with the slaveholders. The first planned duel was never fought because the near-sighted Reynolds could not agree to Brown’s choice of rifles at eighty paces.

A year passed, and tempers flared again. Brown accused Reynolds of not honoring the first challenge. Reynolds retaliated by “posting” Brown and publicly charging him with cowardice. Brown challenged and Reynolds accepted.

“But because dueling was now against the law in Missouri, the two men agreed to take boats to a small island in the Mississippi River, nicknamed “Bloody Island.” The two met in the morning and held their duel. But this was interesting in ways that we can’t understand in the 21st Century, it was truly an affair of honor,” said CEO of the Missouri Historical Society, Robert Archibald.

Brown was shot in the leg and limped for the rest of his life. Reynolds sustained no injuries.

Brown was elected to the United States Senate in 1863 and became Governor of Missouri in 1870. In 1872, he ran as the vice-presidential candidate on the ticket with Horace Greeley and lost to incumbent Ulysses S. Grant and Henry Wilson.

Reynolds was elected Lieutenant Governor of Missouri in 1860 and later served as second Confederate governor of Missouri.

Bloody Island continued to grow through the early 1800s and threatened to land-lock the levee and the harbor of St. Louis. So, the Army Corps of Engineers under Captain Robert E. Lee devised a system of dikes and dams that did away with the western channel and joined the Island to the Illinois shore. Throughout the nineteenth century, Bloody Island had been a popular rendezvous for duelists. The island appeared as dueling became popular in Missouri, and sank back into obscurity as pistols ceased to be an acceptable means of settling differences. (via KSDK)

Don’t you sometimes wish dueling was still legal? I could thing of a few people I’d like to challenge.