THE RETENTION OF THE SABER AS A CAVALRY WEAPON.
By Lt-Col James Parker, Thirteenth U. S. Cavalry.
Many articles have appeared within the last few years in the Cavalry Journal advocating the abolition of the saber as a cavalry weapon. Allow me to give in a few words some reasons why it should be retained.
1. The saber as employed in war is not the saber imagined by these gentlemen. There is as much difference between a sharp saber and a dull saber as between a razor and a club. The dull saber will not cut anything. Only its point can be used, and the natural instinct of every individual is to use the edge of a cutting weapon. A sharp saber, on the contrary, is a terrible weapon. Let some of these scoffers take the trouble to sharpen up a saber as sharp as a Japanese sword and go out in their kitchen and cut a piece of beef with it. They will find, whereas the dull saber will not make an impression, the sharp saber will make a wound eight inches long and four inches wide; that is, it will cut through a man's neck in one blow. As compared with this wound the wound made by a pistol will be insignificant.
2. The abolition of the saber will be the abolition of the charge in mass. With the charge as for skirmishers the pistol will be a better weapon. The enemy is not then obliged to meet you hand to hand, and the combat becomes a contest of maneuvering. Under these circumstances a weapon that will reach an enemy at a distance is necessary.
It is evident that those who would abolish the saber would get rid of the charge in mass. This is not always possible. When two regiments meet, when lines of 1,000 to 5,000 men are hurled at each other, there is an actual collision. It is not possible for the individual to separate as in the charge as foragers. There is a jam of men. The men are at arm's length. It is a melee. Under such circumstances the pistol is the worst of weapons. In this crowd of men a shot fired at an enemy is more than likely to hit a friend.
But say the opponents of the saber: "During the charge and while we are advancing on the enemy, we will with pistols overwhelm them with bullets, so that before the actual collision occurs they will have lost heavily and will retreat." I would ask these gentlemen if they have ever examined the record target practice of the United States army during the years when, prior to 1892, pistol practice firing to the front was in vogue? They will find there that the average percentage of hits for the whole army in firing to the front was about twenty per cent. The practice was as follows: Lines of men at slow canter advanced toward a line of targets, commencing the fire at eighty yards. They were allowed to fire until they passed the targets. The men passed between the targets and invariably reserved one last shot for the moment when the muzzle of the pistol came against the target. That last shot counted always. None of the other shots, as a rule, hit. As we fired five shots, and one shot hit, the percentage was twenty per cent.
But, further, in actual warfare this firing to the front during the charge would be inadmissible. It would be a waste of ammunition, because the horse proceeding at full speed, in terrific strides and jumps, is an impossible firing platform. It would be dangerous to our own men, and especially to our officers, for the reason that the charge in line, as it approaches the enemy, if not already in double rank, is likely to become so, and may as likely become a formation of three or four ranks, where the cowards and poor shots are in the rear. I should want nothing better than an enemy charging toward me in this formation, firing. It would not be my line which received the bullets. But I would not like to be the commanding officer of such a line, riding in front of it.
The truth is that the use of the pistol is incompatible with the charge. The charge is the act of a man wishing to close with his enemy. Shooting is the act of a man wishing to keep his enemy at a distance. If our friends will carry their argument to its logical conclusion, they would, perhaps, receive the charge at a halt. Men at a halt can shoot better. If they are cool enough, they should be able to wait until their charging enemy arrives within a few paces, and then fire a volley, which, if their premises are correct, ought to be sufficient to defeat the enemy.
Further, comparing the pistol with the saber, it may be said that the saber, if not dull, is always loaded. On the other hand, the five shots of our troopers of the charging line may be gone when they arrive. Consider their predicament, ' when, carried forward by their maddened horses, they plunge into the opposing ranks. Practically it is impossible to reload a pistol under such circumstances. The troopers will be practically unarmed, crowded in boot to boot with a mass of men armed with sharp knives, seeking to cut their throats.
The disadvantage of the pistol when fighting a cutting weapon is often shown in the cutting and shooting encounters of the South and West, knife against pistol, when the man armed with a knife, in a majority of instances, has the last say.
The use of projectile weapons on horseback is not a new thing. It has been tried again and again. The mounted archers of the old days carried a weapon, which, in the hands of an expert, was very nearly or quite as effective as the modern pistol, and yet it availed little against troops armed with the sword or lance and determined to close. The dragoons of the middle ages carried a pistol, and there were even many in those days who praised it, as do some of our cavalrymen, as being equivalent to a lance one hundred yards long. Some of the cavalry during the Civil War made use of a pistol which, for all practical purposes, was as efficient a weapon as the one we use to-day, and while it had its enthusiastic supporters, still its superiority over the saber, even the dull saber, was not so manifest as to lead to a demand for the general abolition of the saber. As a test of the question our Civil War was not complete. Too large a proportion of our cavalry were untrained.
In what respect have conditions, so far as mounted fighting is concerned, changed since 1866? In 1866 it was impossible, as it is now, to ride down infantry, but it was necessary, as it is now, to fight cavalry mounted. If war is to be in future a partisan affair; if grand charges, cavalry against cavalry, are no longer possible; if cavalry will no longer have to clear the way for the advancing infantry, beat down the opposing cavalry, penetrate through the network of defense so as to reach and discover the position of the enemy, then we need the saber no longer. But as long as cavalry in great bodies are liable to meet each other, then we need a weapon that can be used in hand-to-hand fighting in a melee. Such a weapon is the saber.
Let us not be so short sighted as to imagine that all the lessons of European wars go for nothing. Let us not be so densely convinced of our own superiority as to think that the decision of European experts, men who apply all their lives to the study of cavalry, that the pistol as a charging weapon is inferior to the saber, is of no consequence. Finally, let us not make a leap in the dark and deprive our cavalry of an arm which may on some battlefield save it from destruction. Let us retain the saber, and when war comes, keep it keen that it may not miss the opportunity that to a cavalryman comes seldom, but when it comes, is decisive.
Sunday, November 20, 2011
The following article was published in the Cavalry Journal in 1903, when it was still possible to debate whether mounted troops would be better armed with a sword or a pistol. The debate continued until the First World War, when, after a few cavalry charges against massed machine-gun fire, the topic was dropped.
Posted by Paul Kirchner at 9:38 PM
Thursday, November 17, 2011
A 19th-century corvo.
The corvo is a curved-bladed fighting knife peculiar to Chile. There follow a number of references to it I came across in my research. Please excuse the benighted generalizations made about the Chilean people.
From Working North From Patagonia (1921) by Harry Alverson Franck:
There is a saying in Chile that the population is made up of futres, bomberos, and rotos. The first are well-dressed street-corner loafers; the bomberos are volunteer firemen, and the rotos form the ragged working class that makes up the bulk of the population. The latter, said never to be without the corvo, an ugly curved knife, with which they are quick to tripear, to bring to light the "tripe," of an adversary by an upward slash at his abdomen, are not merely conspicuous, but omnipresent.In the Bulletin of the American Geographical Society of New York (1884) we read:
In relative justice to the Peruvian whites and half-castes, however, I ought to add that I do not think that they are any more cruel than the Chileans. Bull-rings and cockpits, to be sure, are prohibited in Chile, but by the enlightened will of the Government, not by the humane desire of the people. The first intense ambition of a Chilean boy in the common walks of life is to own a corvo, or curved knife, and it becomes his inseparable companion through manhood. The statistics of the losses in the battlefields of the present war tell the story. The proportion of the dead to the wounded in many of them has been more than two to one, by butchery after victory.
A modern corvo with a pronounced hook blade.
The following is from Chile and Her People of Today (1912), by Nevin Otto Winter:
The Chileno as a rule has a fiery temper. He loves a fight. It is not a fist fight that he will indulge in, but it must be a fight with revolvers, or, better yet, with knives. The knife is an indispensable equipment with the roto. It used to be said that as many lives were lost in a Chilean fair as in a decent battle. It is a sad fact that murders are extremely frequent, and scarcely a day passes in Santiago or Valparaiso without some fatal affray. Aguardiente may be placed at the bottom of most of these, just as rum is the primary cause of most of the murders in the United States. It inflames the naturally hot temper of the race and brings out all the passions of envy, hatred and jealousy. The death penalty is seldom inflicted, although sentence is frequently imposed. The prisoners are kept in confinement, and their sentence commuted from time to time. If the convicted one belongs to a family of prominence, he will eventually be released; if of poorer origin, he may be sent to some remote section of the country and set to work. Among the rotos there is a general contempt for death, which also adds to the prevalence of murders, and sometimes of brigandage in the mountains. A little judicious weeding out of some of these criminals would not be a bad thing for the country.From the Journal of the American Medical Association, Volume 75 (1920):
Drinking in Chile has become a curse. Monday is said by employers of labour to be a very unsatisfactory day, because so many of their employees have not yet recovered from the dissipation of the previous day. This is likewise true after some national holiday, such as the 18th of September, for which occasion five days are set aside, as this is the Chilean 4th of July. The better element of the Chileans have long realized that the drunkenness incident to these celebrations is a serious menace to the country, for, on the day following, the hospitals are oftentimes filled with wounded. There are always several deaths by violence, because every Chilean peon does not consider himself properly dressed until he has a knife placed in his belt where it can be easily reached.
The uneducated native Chilean settles his disputes with the knife and inflicts ghastly wounds, which make the razor slashes of our nonvoting voters south of the Mason and Dixon line appear trivial in comparison. I was told by a Chilean surgeon that when the Roto takes out his knife, all South America squeals and runs. Any one seeing, some of the injuries he inflicts would certainly be inclined to lead in the running.
A military-style corvo.
Lastly, there is this from Progressive Chile, by Robert E. Mansfield:
The Roto Chilenos not only constitute the laboring class in Chile, but the army, navy and police force are largely recruited from their ranks. As soldiers they possess a reckless bravery that will stop at nothing. With a cry of "viva Chile" they will charge an enemy, never to return, unless victory makes it possible. They are fearless to foolhardiness. They will rush fortifications under fire, scale walls or steep bluffs, swim rivers, and if all are killed the loss is not considered. One single-handed will not fight against odds, but in numbers and in hand-to-hand conflicts the bravery of the Chileno is not excelled by any nationality. They do not fight intelligently, but desperately. Their favorite weapon is a knife, and every Roto Chileno goes armed with a "corvo," a knife with a long, curved blade, tapering to a sharp point, and usually ornamented with a heavy metal handle. It is encased in a leather sheath, and is carried in the belt or boot of the possessor. It is an article of common utility, as well as a weapon of offense and defense. When angered, or threatened with danger, the Chilean produces a corvo as naturally as the American negro does a razor, and he is exceedingly skillful in its use. It is not an uncommon thing for one peon to disembowel another with one sweep of the corvo, usually leaving a triangular shaped wound, a mark of this weapon that is peculiar to the people. As an evidence of their partiality for the knife as a fighting weapon, it is related that in many instances during the war between Peru and Chile, in time of battle, the Chilean soldiers threw away their rifles and rushed upon the enemy with corvos, fighting in hand-to-hand conflict.
Posted by Paul Kirchner at 11:53 PM
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
The following scene is from "Trip to California in 1849," from The Overland Monthly, April 1889. I don't know how much credence to grant it--knife fights were a selling point for any travel report like this. We pick it up as the narrator leaves a fandango:
Leaving the dancers and the lively scenes about me, I was drawn, accidentally, towards a group of the commoner class at some distance away, and witnessed a duel between two peons. Stripped to the waist, barefooted, the pants drawn up and rolled above the knees, the left arm wound round with a poncho, the right hand grasping a sharp-bladed knife, the two men stood for a moment preparing for the fight. They were strong, muscular, and wiry, both young, and evidently in a drunken, quarrelsome state. They provoked each other with words. I could not understand, but no doubt they were insulting enough to answer the purpose. A circle of spectators formed around the combatants, but no attempt was made to interfere with them, with the exception that once or twice some maudlin, half drunken, crying women tried to make peace, but their presence seemed to add fuel to the flames.
All of a sudden, one struck his first blow, which was well warded off, and then both peons stood eyeing each other like wild animals ready for a bloody feast. One had the right arm partially raised in the attitude of striking, the knife blade flashing in the sun's rays. His opponent stood firmly on both feet, with his left arm covering his chest, his right hand hanging down at his side, the point of the knife from him, and pointing backwards; his knees were slightly bent, and with a startling, catlike jump, he sprang forward and took his foe by surprise. Before he could defend himself a deep gash was cut across the chest, just above the heart.
The fight now became active on both sides, and continued without cessation for several minutes; occasionally could be heard the clinking sound of the knives as the blades met or were slid from each other, and both men's bodies showed the severity of the fight. Numerous ugly wounds appeared, and the warm, crimson blood covered the dark, naked skin. Both showed exhaustion, and with one impulse hesitated, to obtain time to gather breath, panting with exertion. Once more they grasped their knives, this time more firmly, with their muscles strained and swelled; without a word being spoken by either, the eyes gleaming threateningly, it was seen by the spectators that a decisive moment had arrived, yet none dared to interfere to prevent further strife. Gradually they drew together, step by step, creepingly and with caution; there was no hesitation, but an evident desire to obtain advantage. Of a sudden, simultaneously, both men sprang towards each other to meet at close quarters; a thud was heard, followed by a second one; then one of the combatants turned slightly on his heel, made a convulsive spring off his feet, and fell flat upon the ground,— the knife blade had pierced his heart. For a moment his adversary stood rigidly erect; his eyes opened and closed; his face became a ghastly yellow; the tongue slightly protruded from the half open mouth, exposing a white set of teeth; he seemed bewildered and lost, suffering with pain, arid suddenly, as if realizing the cause as well as the location, he raised his hand to his throat, and grasped the knife handle of his foe. It had been sent with a firm upward blow through the hollow above the chest, cutting the windpipe, and came out at the back of the neck. His limbs began to tremble, the flesh to quiver, and doubling downwards in a heap, he fell on his side upon the turf. In a few moments more his death struggles were over. The spectators slowly dispersed, leaving the dead bodies on the duel ground, as unconcernedly as if nothing unusual had happened. The mounted police made an appearance some time after and had the bodies removed.
Posted by Paul Kirchner at 11:13 PM
Monday, November 14, 2011
There was some interest in the article on Col. Jack Chinn I posted recently, so I thought I'd post this report of his fight with John Dowling, identified in the previous article as "Dowlan." It appeared in the Chicago Daily Tribune, October 6, 1888.
SENSATIONAL CUTTING AFFRAY
John M. Dowling of Kentucky Attacked by a Prominent Kentucky Turfman.
A sensational cutting affray took place on the Latonia race track this afternoon. Jack Chinn, a prominent Kentucky turfman, owner of the Leonatus Stock Farm at Harrodsburg, a former proprietor of Ban Fox, Jacobin, and other noted horses, stabbed John Dowling, the Chicago sporting man and owner of the place known as the Opera in that city. The cutting occurred just before the last race, in the pool shed. Chinn entered the place evidently in search of someone. He soon discovered Dowling and jumped at him with a knife, and struck him twice in quick succession. The first blow penetrated the arm, cutting an ugly gash near the shoulder, while the second thrust penetrated the clothing near the heart. After the first stab Dowling fell to the ground and Chinn struck at him twice more without doing any damage. The wounded man, who will, however, recover, was brought to this city after his wounds had received attention. Chinn was arrested and locked up in the Covington jail but released tonight on his own recognizance. The cause of the trouble today is an old feud dating back eight years ago, when Chinn and his partner Morgan ran a gambling establishment in St. Paul, Minn.
This afternoon a colored tout went to Chinn and said that Dowling was looking for him. Chinn at once replied, "I'll find him first."
He went to the pool shed and met Dowling with the tragic result indicated. After he had stabbed Dowling, Chinn attacked Tucker, a friend of Dowling, suspecting that Tucker might have a revolver in his possession. The infuriated Kentuckian was, however, prevented from doing any damage. Dowling's version of the affair was that he was attacked by Chinn without the slightest provocation. He declares that he has borne no grudge against him. He asserts most positively that he did not know Chinn was at Latonia or anywhere around. Dowling denies that he made any sneering remarks about Kentuckians, as charged by Chinn in his statement of the affair. Dowling says his adversary approached him without warning as he was looking through an opera glass at the horses. Leading horsemen think the end of the feud is not yet, and that before the trouble is settled either Chinn or Dowling will bite the dust.
Jack Chinn, J.M. Dowling, and R. Tucker, in consequence of their altercation on the Latonia Jockey Club grounds, have been suspended from the Latonia Jockey Club course.
Posted by Paul Kirchner at 8:28 PM
Tuesday, November 8, 2011
I recently heard from Meredith Willis of Richmond, Kentucky, who is on the family tree of Cassius M. Clay, probably the greatest bowie-knife fighter of American history, if not as famous as Jim Bowie. Willis collects Clay artifacts, and through a trade came into possession of one of his knives. Measuring 8.5-inches overall and made in or around 1870, its blade is marked "Franz Widmann & Sohn, Munchen" and its silver pommel is engraved "Cassius M. Clay, White Hall." It was authenticated by Katherine White, the curator from the White Hall Museum, and Phil Gray, a historic weapons expert. It is not a bowie knife as we would define that term today, but may be a knife Clay presented to a friend.
I thank Mr. Willis for sharing his story and the photos of his knife. Perhaps some day someone will send me a copy of Clay's elusive manual of bowie-knife fighting!
I thank Mr. Willis for sharing his story and the photos of his knife. Perhaps some day someone will send me a copy of Clay's elusive manual of bowie-knife fighting!
Posted by Paul Kirchner at 7:38 PM
Friday, November 4, 2011
NB: Having come across a more thorough description of George Washington's battle sword than that I had posted previously, which relied on a New York Times article of July 28, 1932, I have rewritten this post.
General Washington's battle sword and scabbard.
George Washington's battle sword a hanger-type sword of forged steel with grooved blade. It had a grip of green dyed ivory with silver strip decoration. Its scabbard was leather with silver trim. It was 36.25" in over-all length. It was first worn by Washington while serving as a colonel in the expedition against Fort Duquesne in 1758, when he commanded 2,000 Virginia provincial troops. He retained it during the entire Revolution.
Upon Washington's death it was inherited by his nephew, Samuel T. Washington, an army captain. His son Samuel donated it to the United States government in 1843, along with a walking stick owned by Benjamin Franklin. Rep. George W. Summers, a Whig from Virginia made a speech to the House about the donation:
Mr. Samuel T. Washington, a citizen of Franklin county, in the Commonwealth of Virginia, and one of my constituents, has honored me with the commission of presenting in his name and on his behalf, to the Congress of the United States, and through that body to the people of the United States, two most interesting and valuable relies connected with the past history of our country, and with men whose achievments both in the field and in the Cabinet, best illustrate and adorn our annals. One is the sword worn by George Washington, first as a colonel in the Colonial service of Virginia, in Forbes' campaign against the French and Indians, and afterward during the whole period of the war of Independence as Commander-in-chief of the American army. It is a plain couteau or hanger, with a green hilt and silver guard. On the upper ward of the scabbard is engraven, 'I. Bailey, Fish Kill.' It is accompanied by a buckskin belt, which is secured by a silver buckle and clasp, whereon are engraven the letters ' G. W.' and the figures '1757.' These are all of the plainest workmanship, but substantial and in keeping with the man and with the times to which they belonged. The history of this sword is perfectly authentic, and leaves no shadow of doubt as to its identity. The last will and testament of General Washington bearing date on the 9th day of February, 1799, contains, among a great variety of bequests, the following clause.Washington owned at least seven swords. Here is a description of another, from the San Francisco Chronicle (March 2, 1902):
"To each of my nephews, William Augustine Washington, George Lewis, George Steptoe Washington, Bushrod Washington and Samuel Washington, I give one of the swords or couteaux of which I may die possessed; and they are to chose in the order they are named. These swords are accompanied with an injunction not to unsheathe them for the purpose of shedding blood, except it be for self-defense, or in defense of their country and its rights, and, in the latter case, to keep them unsheathed, and prefer falling with them in their hands to the relinquishment thereof." [I LOVE that!]In the distribution of the swords hereby devised among the five nephews therein enumerated, the one now presented fell to the share of Samuel Washington, the devisee last named in the clause of the will which I have just read.
This gentleman, who died a few years since, in the county of Kanawha, and who was the father of Samuel T. Washington, the donor, I knew well. I have often seen this sword in his possession, and received from himself the following account of the manner in which it become his property in the division made among the devisees. He said that he knew it to have been the side-arm of General Washington during the Revolutionary War; not that used on occasions of parade and review, but the constant service sword of the great chief; that he has himself seen Gen. Washington wear this identical sword, he presumed for the last time, when, in 1794, he reviewed the Maryland and Virginia forces, then concentrated at Cumberland under the command of General Lee, and destined to co-operate with the Pennsylvania and New Jersey troops, then assembled at Bedford, in suppressing what has been called the ' Whisky Insurrection.' Gen. Washington was the President of the United States, and as such was commander-in-chief of the army. It is known that it was his intention to lead the army in person upon that occasion had he found it necessary, and he went to Bedford and Cumberland prepared for that event. The condition of things did not require it, and he returned to his civil duties at Philadelphia. Mr. Samuel Washington held the commission of a captain at that time himself, and served in that campaign, many of the incidents of which he has related to me. He was anxious to obtain this particular sword, and preferred it to all the others, among which was the ornamented and costly present from the great Frederick. At the time of the division among the nephews, without intimating what his preference was, he jocosely remarked, 'that inasmuch as he was the only one of them then present who had participated in military service they ought to permit him to take choice.' This suggestion was met in the same spirit in which it was made, and the selection being awarded him, he chose this, the plainest, and, intrinsically, the least valuable of any: simply because it was the 'Battle Sword.' I am also in possession of the most satisfactory evidence furnished by Colonel George C. Washington, of Georgetown, the nearest male relative now living of General Washington, as to the identity of this sword.
This information, as to its history, was derived from his father, William Augustine Washington, the devisee first named in the clause of the will which I have read; from his uncle, the late Judge Bushrod Washington, of the Supreme Court; and Major Lawrence Lewis, the acting executor of General Washington's will—all of whom concurred in the statement that the true service sword was that selected by Captain Samuel Washington. It remained in this gentleman's possession until his death, esteemed by him the most precious memento of his illustrious kinsman. It then became the property of his son, who, animated by that patriotism which so characterized the 'Father of his Country,' has consented that such a relic ought not to be appropriated by an individual citizen, and has instructed me, his representative, to offer it to the nation, to be preserved in its public depositaries as the common property of all, since its office has been to achieve and secure the common liberty of all.
Washington's German SwordThere is more information on Washington's swords here.
Among the many relics of George Washington which are exhibited at Mount Vernon, and are almost idolized by Americans as national historical antiquities, there appears under the sign of "Washington's Sword" an object which may well be in future of great interest to the German as well as the American people.
A thorough inspection of this sword shows and established the undeniable fact that one Theophilus Alter, from Solingen, Germany, during the time of the Revolutionary War in the English colonies, sent his son with this sword in conjunction sympathies from the German people to America, to deliver the same with his own hands to General George Washington. That the son acted according to instructions from from his father, the sword itself is evidence, and if the necessary researches could be made concerning the subsequent life of this messenger, the verdict would most likely read: Died, after bringing greetings and sympathy from Germany, on the battlefield of American liberty.
The sword is of the same shape as the one worn by General Blucher at the battle of Waterloo, and to judge by its saw-like edge, it gives the impression of having gone through many a battle and it delivers to future generations in a sentence, etched in the steel plate close to the hilt, and partially obscured by erosion: "Destroyer of despotism, protector of freedom, steadfast man, take from my son's hand this sword, I beg of you! Theophilus Alte, Solingen."
Posted by Paul Kirchner at 9:46 PM
Wednesday, November 2, 2011
A short article on Chinn, with a portrait of him and his famous knife.
Colonel Jack Chinn was one of the most prominent knife men of the 19th century, and I name him the fourth greatest knife fighter in his profile in my book. There are several news articles describing knife scrapes he was involved in, but he often exaggerated his exploits with the cheerful indulgence of the press.
Below is a newspaper article about him from 1900:
COLONEL JACK CHINN AND HIS FAMOUS KNIFE
This Interesting Kentuckian Has a Philosophic Way of Life
Colonel Jack Chinn exhibited his famous knife yesterday.
There are some remarkable stories about that knife. The popular belief is that he carries it upon his back and attached by a patent contrivance to his collar. Colonel Chinn exploded this thrilling fairy tale by showing the true hiding place of his favorite weapon; that is, in the right of the rear pocket of his trousers. It is a harmless-looking object as he slips it from the rear pocket, simply an overgrown jackknife, securely closed. But he has a dexterous way of shifting it to the larger front pocket and opening it under that cover, then producing a wicked-looking instrument with thick, keen blade seven inches in length.
“That’s the way I always produce,” said the Colonel, smiling grimly at his “trusty steel.” “It is more effective that way. It’s a powerful argument. It has a great way of coaxing a man to do what you want him to.”
Colonel Chinn’s knife has done yeoman service. When its owner had an altercation with Jack Dowlan on the Latonia race track the blade started on a straight course to Dowlan’s heart.
“Yes, I intended to kill him,” said the Colonel. “He wore a steel shirt. That was what saved him. That steel made a nick in the knife. You can see it there.”
The nick was in evidence, scarcely more than a line upon the murderous, polished surface of the knife.
Colonel Chinn had sufficient provocation for this attack. He tells the story simply enough.
“Dowlan and I had some trouble about turf matters. He threatened that he would drive me off the race track. I was ready for him. When I hear that a man is looking for me I go and find him. That’s the way Dowlan and I came together. Once afterwards he drove behind me in Chicago and fired into the buggy from the back, then drove away so fast I couldn’t catch him. Friends of his came to me afterwards and said the fight was off; that he would leave me alone if I would him. I would have killed him if he hadn’t sent that message, but I am glad I didn’t, for the poor fellow died in an insane asylum a few years afterward, and I believe he was crazy at the time, for I had never done anything to make him turn on me like that.”
Colonel Jack Chinn has views of his own as to when he is justified in wielding the blade, which is variously characterized as a “bowie,” a “spring-back,” and the “Chinn knife.”
“I would never use it on a gentleman,” he said. “Gentlemen should never fight. They can settle their differences by a decent, gentlemanly kind of arbitration. But I would never let a scrub or a fighter back me down. I would be ashamed to go home to my wife and say that a man was looking for me, when I had this knife about me,” and again the Colonel looked at his blade, this time with the softness of a caress in his eyes.
There is another time when he thinks it would be justifiable to use the ugly blade.
“Under such circumstances as Colonel Phil Thompson’s meeting with Walter Davis it would be entirely so,” he says. “I will leave it to any Kentucky jury if I am not right. The sentiment in Kentucky is that if a man’s home has been dishonored he is less than a man if he does not avenge the dishonor by death. Read about the man who killed his wife’s employer at a picnic? The woman wanted to help her husband, who was an adoring man, and got a place as typewriter [sic]. Her employer was a devil and the husband punished his bestiality by death. The wife escaped, or he would have killed her. The jury was not out 20 minutes before it exonerated him. I witnessed Phil Thompson’s shooting of Walter Davis and helped to put the young man’s body back into the car. Walter Davis was my friend, so was his brother, ‘Crit” Davis, but I say that Colonel Thompson was right. His speech in his own defense in court was one of the prettiest things I ever heard. Senator Vorhees’ speech in his defense was magnificent. Everybody within reach of his voice was thrilled when he said: “Colonel Phil Thompson met the once-trusted friend who had despoiled his home. What did Colonel Thompson do? He fought. Why didn’t Walter Davis fight? They had met face to face, hand to hand, man to man. Why didn’t the betrayer of his friend’s trust and home fight? Why? Because a man named Shakespeare was right when he said, ‘Conscience doth make cowards of us all.’
“A man should fight if he is attacked by a scrub; he should fight if the honor of his home is at stake; he should fight if a woman or a weaker man are being ‘put upon.’ I have followed that rule always and have done a lot more fighting for other people than for myself.”
Posted by Paul Kirchner at 4:53 PM