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Sunday, January 23, 2011

Bowie Knife Affray in New Orleans, 1860

From Vincent's Semi-annual United States Register, 1860, comes the following account of an affray in a New Orleans hotel lobby involving pistols and a bowie knife.
This day, the crowded rotunda of the St. Charles Hotel, New Orleans, was thrown into the most intense state of excitement by a rencounter which took place there about one o'clock, or shortly before that hour, between Mr. Charles N. Harris, of Carroll parish, and Col. W. H. Peck, of Madison parish, a member elect of the State Legislature. The result of the difficulty was the killing of Harris by Col. Peck, who inflicted upon his person seven wounds,--three shot-wounds and four stab-wounds, two of which were necessarily fatal, as will be seen by the result of the examination made, and which appears below.
In order to give the whole facts of the case, we would state that, about a year ago, a difficulty occurred between the parties, in the parish of Madison, State of Louisiana, which led to some correspondence between the gentlemen, the exact result of which were ignorant of. However, it appears that Mr. Harris came down to New Orleans a short time ago, and Col. Peck arrived also on the steamer Vicksburg, on her last trip down. The day before the murder, Col. Peck and a friend, with whom he came down to the city, came out from the gentlemen's ordinary, where they had been dining, and proceeded to make their way through rather a large crowd into the centre of the rotunda.
While going through the crowd, Mr. Harris--who was unknown to the friend of Col. Peck--turned round and asked if they intended to insult him by pushing against him. Col. Peck's friend, thinking, from Harris's appearance, that he was drunk, replied, politely, that no one intended to insult him. Harris, while asking the question, looked at Col. Peck, who at once recognized him. Harris, after the answer given by Col. Peck's friend, and looking directly at Peck, said, as he placed his hand in his pocket, to the latter, "D--n you. you did intend to insult me."

Harris, the moment he had finished speaking, drew a pistol and fired at Peck, who was in the act of placing his hand in his side-pocket for his pistol.
After firing and missing his aim, Harris turned and ran through the crowd; and Peck, seeing, doubtless, that he must kill innocent persons if he fired, desisted from so doing.
A short while after this affray, Harris was arrested, at the request of Mr. Hildreth, for disturbing the peace of the St. Charles Hotel, by firing a pistol in the rotunda, and locked up in the First District Station-House, where he remained until the following morning. When he was arrested, he had in his room a revolver, a Derringer pistol, and a bowie-knife, which were also taken to the station-house, he was arraigned before Recorder Summers and fined twenty dollars, which, upon paying, his weapons were handed back to him. When about taking them away, his attorney advised him not to put them in his pocket, but to wrap them up in a piece of paper and carry them in his hand; which he did. He intended leaving the city that evening, and was at the window of the clerk's office of the St. Charles paying his bill when the difficulty recommenced.
Col. Peck, it is said, thought that Harris had left the city the previous evening, but was standing in the rotunda of the hotel when the baggage-master of the hotel, who knew him, said to him, "Colonel, there is the man who shot at you yesterday," (pointing at Harris;) and, probably supposing that Peck was not acquainted with him, added, "Don't molest him; for I am not positive he is the man."

The baggage-master then passed up the stairs on the right-hand side.
Col. Peck, it appears, on having his attention directed toward Harris, walked over from the stairs toward him, who, as we before stated, was paying his bill at the window, and halted a few paces from him, with his hands resting upon his hips.
At this juncture, Harris turned his head somewhat and saw him; and the statements of what occurred during the nest few moments are somewhat conflicting. The clerk, Mr. Mayne, who had just handed Harris a ten-dollar bill in change, says that Peck looked for about a quarter of a minute at Harris, then a few words passed which he did not hear, and both drew about the same moment and fired; but he thinks Col. Peck shot first. Others state that, as Col. Peck advanced toward Harris, the latter asked him if he intended taking advantage of him; that Peck replied, "You took advantage of me yesterday: I am armed, and I suppose you are;" that both then drew; some say that Peck shot a little in advance, some say that Harris shot first, and others that the reports were simultaneous. Another version of the affair is that Peck asked Harris if he was armed, and he, avoiding the question, replied, "I am not prepared to have a difficulty with you here, and I wish you would leave me;" and that both drew at once. However, the testimony which will be taken before the coroner will doubtless clear up this portion of the difficulty.
The firing having commenced, Harris retreated, and finally dodged into the door of the small bar and cigar room, and, shielding himself partly behind the glass door, looked out and fired from time to time. Two of his balls can be seen where they entered,--one in a pillar in a line with Peck, and another on the opposite side of the wall,--both high up. Peck, while Harris retreated, stepped out from the office, nearer to the dining-room, and fired several shots, --three of which took effect upon the person of Harris,--and was in that position when he was fired at from the room.
Exhausting his pistol, Peck drew his bowie-knife and deliberately advanced toward the door of the cigar-shop from behind which Harris had shot, and seemed to hesitate a moment whether to enter. The next moment, Harris, doubtless seeing his shadow upon the glass, fired at the open doorway, the ball of his pistol entering the side or jamb of the door.
After firing this last shot, Harris ran back just as Peck entered the door, got over the marble counter of the bar, and got into a corner among the bottles. Peck, following, sprang over after him, and, grasping hold of him, inflicted upon his person four stabs with the bowie-knife.
Thus ended this terrible rencounter. Harris was picked up and placed on the floor for a moment, and then carried to his room near by, expiring almost the moment he was placed upon the bed. This account of the affair has been gathered through various persons who were present, though, from the great excitement which prevailed, there may have been things which were overlooked. The excitement was very intense, and most of the crowd got out of the way at the first firing. Some got behind pillars, others ran into the passages leading to the dining-room and ladies' parlor, and not a few, thinking it too late to fly, made shields of the chairs. A group of gentlemen were standing conversing immediately in a line with the shot from Harris, which lodged in the wall a few feet above their heads. The accused was arrested, a short time after the killing, by Lieutenant Dryden, of the First District Police-Station.
Col. Peck is a large, powerful-looking man, about six feet in height. The deceased was a man of ordinary stature and rather slight build.
The post-mortem examination was held by Dr. Lethelet, which showed the following wounds: One shot-wound in the right shoulder; two stab-wounds in the left arm; one stab-wound in the left side, between the fifth and sixth ribs, penetrating the lungs; one shot-wound in the right side, between the seventh and eighth ribs, penetrating the liver; (these two wounds last above mentioned were the immediate cause of death); one shot-wound in the breast, between the first and second ribs.

1 comment:

  1. Affray charges are often difficult to prove. Self defence can often be raised to as a defence to an affray charge. We have successfully defended many affray charges and know the sentencing principles impacting the offence of affray very well.