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Friday, December 17, 2010

The Sandbar Fight--The Maddox Version

The famous Sandbar Fight on September 19, 1827, started out as a duel between Dr. Thomas H. Maddox and Samuel L. Wells. Several accounts of the fight were published soon afterward, written by eyewitnesses and participants. Dr. Maddox did not write down his own recollection until 1880, 53 years after the event. As it is less well-known than the other accounts, I am reprinting it below:
I am the only survivor of the twelve persons engaged in the 'Sand Bar Fight', and having seen lately many various accounts of what they call the 'Bowie Sand Bar Fight', and there being little truth in them, I am induced to give a true statement of the affair as I saw it.  

Some difficulty occurring between myself and General Montford Wells, or for some other cause which I do not recollect at this time, induced Samuel L. Wells to send me a very offensive 'Carte Blanche' which I accepted as a challenge, and it was agreed that we should meet at Natchez and settle the matter, each party leaving Alexandria Sept. 17, 1827.

Of my party there were R. A. Crain, my second, Norris Wright, Alfred and Cary Blanchard and myself, being five of us in number. The opposing party were: Samuel L. Wells, McWhorter, his second, James Bowie, Richard Cuney, Jefferson Wells and Sam Cuney, making six of them in number. Having arrived at Natchez, I called Dr. Denny to be my surgeon, who made number six of my party, and making six of each party, and no more.

Having accepted the carte blanche as a challenge, I directed Col. Crain, my second, to call on Mr. Wells and state my terms and mode of combat, which were: to stand eight paces apart, right side to right side, pistols down, to be raised at the words "Are you ready?" One-two-three-Fire!; the usual way in which gentlemen vindicate their honor.

Mr. Wells objected to my terms; assumed that he was the challenged party and had the right to name the terms, as I was informed by my second, Col. Crain. Whereupon, I told Col. Crain to go back and get his terms, as I waived my right, which he did. They were: stand left side to left side, pistols down, and at word "prepare" we were to raise our pistols in an opposite direction from each other, and at the word "Fire", we were to fire as we chose. I fired across my breast. How he fired, I do not know. Two rounds were fired without effect, and the affair was then settled by Mr. S. L. Wells withdrawing all offensive language.

We shook hands, and were proceeding to my friends, in the edge of the woods, to take a glass of wine as a cement. Dr. Denny and myself were a few paces ahead of the rest of the party when Gen. Cuney, James Bowie and Jeff Wells came running down to us; General Cuney saying to Col. Crain that this was a good time to settle their difficulty, he, Cuney, and James Bowie, drawing their pistols.

Col. Crain saw at a glance how things stood; therefore, he shot the one he thought to be the "Major General" of the party through the breast, as I believe, and so it was said at the time, for Bowie declared he was glad there was so much powder in the pistols, as all the balls passed out. Col. Crain after shooting at Bowie, who had also shot at him, wheeled around and passed over a little wash in the sand-bar, and he and Cuney fired simultaneously at each other. Cuney fell, mortally wounded, and then Col. Crain, with an empty pistol in his hand, turned to meet James Bowie, who was rushing upon him with his famous "Bowie Knife" in his hand; and when, within reach of his arm, he, Col. Crain, struck him over the head with the empty pistol and brought him to his knees. As he arose, I caught hold of him, and he threw me off and faced Wright and the two Blanchards, who had arrived on the field from the edge of the woods. I, at that time, had a pistol pointed at me, but it was not fired, and being totally unarmed myself, I ran to the edge of the woods, a few paces off, to get my shot-gun; and on returning met Mr. S. L. Wells, who said to me, "Doctor, for God's sake, don't do any further damage, for it is all over."

On my arriving at the seat of war again, to my surprise, I found my dear friend, Major Wright, dead, and General Cuney dying from excessive hemorrhage, Bowie badly wounded and Alfred Blanchard slightly wounded. And this was the end of that memorable affair, the "Sand Bar Fight". So there were two killed and two wounded [actually, four wounded: Bowie, Crain, and the two Blanchards] out of the twelve, six on each side, and not, as has been erroneously stated by some writers, six killed and fifteen wounded. Nor were we over at the "Gushing Spring", as has been said, and where I was said to have sent for champagne, brandy and cigars. Some writers have stated that Bowie killed Col. Crain in the melee, and that the duel was not between myself and S. L. Wells. Such contrariety of opinion is, indeed, singular. Col. Crain and James Bowie were not so inimical as has been represented; the only feeling between them was owing to the advocacy of James Bowie to the cause of those opposed to himself and Major Wright. Subsequently, in New Orleans, James Bowie invited Col. Crain to his room, and contrary to the advice of his friends, he went; and upon entering the room, Bowie locked the door and asked Col. Crain to take a seat, where they had their talk, and came out perfectly reconciled with each other.

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