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Saturday, October 16, 2010

A Preposterous Duel Reported as Fact

I present the following article from an 1883 issue of the New York Sun  as an example of the sort of stories about the Wild West that were circulated in the East. Though entertaining, it is so obviously fabricated that I didn't consider including it in my book.
One of the most desperate duels ever engaged in by any of these fellows was that fought by a Mexican cowboy named Jesus Garcia and a young Philadelphian named Gus Davis at a camp on the river Pecos (New Mexico), August 7, 1883, and which has been described by a correspondent of the New York Sun, as follows:

Gus Davis, of Philadelphia, came here several months ago, and was engaged as a cattle-herder by Mr. John Shure, a wealthy stock-owner. Davis soon showed himself to be a useful man, and gained the esteem of his employer and the envy of the other herders. In less than three months he  had resisted so many temptations to quarrel with his associates that he was nicknamed "The Northern Coward." One morning, about three weeks ago, while Davis was on duty looking after his cattle, Jesus Garcia, a Mexican, saluted him, as usual, with "Good-morning, Northern Coward."

Human endurance has its limit, and Mr. Davis thought he had been insulted long enough. The Mexican was at first surprised at the stand taken by the Philadelphian, but word brought on word, until each determined that the other must die. The quarrel soon brought all the neighboring cowboys to the spot. The mode of combat was speedily arranged. A chain thirty inches long was securely locked about their necks. A Mexican dagger (a two-edged knife six inches long) was given to each of the duellists. The obliging cowboys then lowered the men into a dog-canyon, a descent of seventy-five feet. There they were to remain until one killed the other. A key to the lock was given to each, and no one was allowed to interfere further. The rest of the cowboys then went to work, as if nothing unusual had occurred.
For some days nothing was known as to the result of the encounter. Yesterday, however, Davis, weak and emaciated, returned to camp, dragging after him the lifeless body of Jesus Garcia. The story Mr. Davis tells is as follows: "The fight began as soon as we reached the bottom of the canon. Being locked together, each was always within reach of the other's knife. After such deliberation as the few moments during our descent permitted, I decided that unless the first blow was fatal the chances were decidedly in favor of the party assailed. I accordingly allowed the Mexican to strike the first blow. He plunged his knife into my side. As soon as I found his arm thus stretched forward I cut the muscles of his right arm near the shoulder. Immediately his knife dropped. While he was stooping to pick up his knife I sent my blade into his body from the back. Before I could strike again he had p1cked up his knife and cut the cords of my arms, so as to render them both useless. Here we both stood for a few seconds, when I discovered that his heart had been reached. His body soon fell in the death-struggle to the ground.

The chain was so short that he brought me down with him. In a few minutes he was dead. I was so weak from loss of blood that I lay down by his side. We lay there for five days and nights, until hunger drove me to make a last effort. I climbed the steep incline of the walls of the canon and reached the camp, carrying Garcia on my back."

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