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Saturday, January 15, 2011

A Bowie-Knife Duel in 1878

The following account of a bowie-knife duel was published in June 1878:
A Terrible Duel With Bowie Knives
A frightful encounter occurred at Forest Depot, near Lynchburg, Virginia, Monday, May 27, between Messrs. Frost Coles and Alexander Sliey, two prominent citizens.

They got into a dispute as to which had the longest corn, and Frost finally called Sliey a liar. Sliey proposed that they meet in a piece of woods a mile distant, and fight it out with long knives. They met at twelve o'clock. Both men were Herculean in strength. They took with them old Robert Armsted, an old colored family servant of Mrs. Samuel Badford, who lived in the neighborhood. Both agreed that the old negro should be the solitary witness of the duel, and that he should see fair play. Uncle Robert was given an ax and told that, when he saw one taking undo advantage of the other, he was to make him desist or kill him with the ax. Uncle Bob gave the signal for the onslaught. Both came together with terrible force. Coles was cut in the left breast painfully, but not fatally, the point of the bowie knife breaking in his breast-bone. Sliey received a ghastly wound in the left shoulder. He staggered and fell.

"Damn you," cried Coles; "Now who is the best man?"

"I am," replied Sliey, and he came slowly to his feet, and again proposed to renew the deadly contest.

"Stop young marsters," said the old negro, rushing up to them and raising his keen ax over their head; "bloody work enuff for one day. I'll kill the fust man that strikes another lick."

As he was speaking, Sliey fell to the ground, crying: "I am killed!"

His antagonist then threw down his bloody knife and fled. Sliey died in a few minutes. Coles is believed to be concealed in the adjacent forest. Both men had formerly been warm friends, and were brothers-in-law, and had families.

The old negro man went to the nearest constable. He said that when he went out with the young men he had no idea what they were going for. When they reached the woods, they told him they wanted him to act as second, and see fair play done. He declined to, and they threatened to kill him. He then consented to act. His story is believed. Intense excitement prevails in the community, for both, men were popular.
Here is a second account of the same fight. In this, the name of the man killed is given as Siley, which sounds more plausible than "Sliey." It contains some additional details.
Two Virginiana farmers, Messrs. Alex. Siley and Frost Coles, brothers-in-law, fought a duel at Forest Depot, Virginia, recently of a most distressing nature. The quarrel arose out of a bet as to the height of some corn. Hot words ensued, and finally “the lie passed." Siley proposed to adjourn to a wood about a mile distant, and "fight it out with knives." This suggestion met with the approval of Coles, and the two men went home and procured carving knives.

They told an old colored laborer named Bob, Ormington to meet them at the spot arranged, and to bring an axe with him. On arriving at the wood they informed the negro of their intention, and directed him if he found one taking advantage of the other "to rush in with the axe and straighten them."

They then stripped to the waist, and without any delay began. The duelists, it is stated, were men of "splendid physique," and perfectly cool. They first tried fencing, but after a few parries Coles began to use his knife like a madman. He inflicted five deep wounds in his antagonist's body, one being a severe gash in the throat. Siley fell to the ground in a few minutes, and died in less than an hour. Coles received three wounds--one in the arm, one in the ribs, and one in the neck.

The old negro was so terrified that he did nothing but yell; but when Siley was dying, and Coles had fallen to the ground exhausted from loss of blood, the negro rushed off and gave the alarm. A constable whom he had met hurried to the spot and found Siley dead and Coles apparently dying. They were carried to the nearest house, but Coles’s recovery, by latest accounts, was thought doubtful. Siley had only been married a few months, and was singularly handsome. Coles, it is added, is related to a "prominent politician."

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