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Monday, January 17, 2011

Bowie-Knife Duel on Horseback (?)

After I have posted a few accounts of events that are plausible, I feel entitled to vary the mix with something implausible. True of false, these stories make up a large part of bowie-knife lore. Newspapers that published the following second-hand report, which was widely reprinted, slyly covered themselves with the concluding sentence: "It sounds like romance, but the source of my information will not admit of a doubt of its truth."
Terrible Duel Between Gamblers in the Indian Territory, Both of the Combatants Killed. Free Fight Between their Comrades.
A Fearful Scene.

Lowell (Kansas) Correspondence of the New York Herald, of November 18. Dr. V. C. Lawrence, of Vacuna, Colorado, recently of Philadelphia, has just arrived here, and furnished me the following details of one of those bloody tragedies enacted no where else than on the border:

On Tuesday, election day, Joe and Charley Bigger, brothers, Gus Norton and Tom Jackson, who had been driving a herd of cattle into Missouri, passed through here on their return home, in Northern Texas. The men were all young, well mounted and armed, and each possessed of considerable money, the proceeds of the sale of their cattle.

They stopped some two hours in this place and I had a long conversation with them. On Wednesday afternoon they camped on the bank of a small stream in the Indian territory, about forty miles from here, and after staking out their horses while cooking their supper, sat down to a game of cards. They had hardly commenced their game when Orestes Watrous (familiarly known as Cock-eyed Wat), Theo. Allison and Pick Bradford, noted New Orleans gamblers, rode into the camp. These gamblers were on a professional tour from Fort Scott, and were bound for Baxter Springs and Kansas City. The new comers were gladly welcomed and invited to camp with the herders, which invitation was quickly accepted.

The sun being some two hours high it was suggested that there was plenty of time to have a sociable game of poker before supper and accordingly Watrous, Bradford, Joe Bigger and Jackson took a hand. At first Bigger and Jackson won, but luck turned, and Watrous and Bradford were in a fair way of cleaning out the others, when Bigger detected Watrous cheating. A row at once ensued, blows were interchanged and weapons drawn by both parties, when it was proposed that in order to secure fair play that Bigger and Watrous should fight it out on horseback, their weapons being bowie knives.

This was at once agreed to and the men prepared for the bloody fray. They were divested of their coats and shirts, and their knives were bound to their right hands. They were then placed sixty yards apart, with orders to ride at each other full speed, passing on the left side. Both were splendid horsemen. Bigger was mounted on a clean-limbed, fiery pony, a little over fourteen hands high, while Watrous rode a large, "watch-eyed," vicious roan.

At the word "go" the combatants spurred towards each other like the wind, but passed without inflicting any injury. A second and a third joust was run, when Watrous' horse received a slight cut on the flank. On the fourth round Bigger, as he passed Watrous, threw himself on the off side of his pony, so as to expose no portion of his person, and plunged his knife deep into the back of his adversary's steed. Watrous divining the manoeuvre, wheeled as the blow was struck, and attempted to hamstring Bigger's pony, but succeeded only in inflicting a severe wound. This style of fighting was then abandoned, and both men and horses appeared to become infuriated at the sight of blood. As they neared each other the fifth time Bigger struck Watrous with his left fist in the face, at the same moment cutting a fearful gash in his thigh; but before he could get away Watrous succeeded in driving his knife into Bigger's shoulder. The combatants and horses were becoming weak from loss of blood, when Watrous determined, if possible, to end the combat by riding down his adversary, which he thought the superior weight of his horse would enable him to do. Accordingly, on the sixth round, he rode directly upon Bigger's pony, and Bigger, in attempting to avoid the collision, was severely cut in the arm and face. The pony, however, was game, and, although very lame, seized the roan by the cheek, lacerating it in a fearful manner.

At the seventh encounter the horses came together with a fearful shock, the pony being thrown, falling upon his rider, but both immediately regained themselves. Watrous' horse was fast bleeding to death from the stab in the neck, and Watrous himself could scarcely keep his seat from the wound in the thigh. Bigger succeeded in again sticking Watrous in the thigh, and was struck in return in the side. Several blows were interchanged and evaded, or fell only upon the horse.

The fight had now lasted more than half an hour, when Dr. Lawrence rode up in time to witness the final round.

As they came together, Watrous endeavored to rise in his stirrups and throw himself upon Bigger, but neither horse could stand the encounter, and both fell. Bigger was streaming with gore from the cuts in the face, back and arms, but was able to extricate himself, and rushed upon Watrous, who could not arise on account of the wounds in his thigh. Bigger threw himself upon Watrous, with the fury of a fiend, and almost in a moment his knife had reached the unfortunate gambler's heart, and Bradford, seeing the fate of his friend, raised his pistol, fired, and Bigger fell dead across the corpse of Watrous.

A free fight at once ensued; Charley Bigger, Norton and Jackson firing upon Bradford and Allison. Bradford was killed in the melee, and Charley Bigger and Jackson severely wounded. The wounded were taken to a cabin about a half a mile from the battlefield, and their wounds dressed by Dr. Lawrence who pronounces them in a fair way of recovery.

This is one of the most remarkable sights that has ever occurred, even among the lawless adventurers of the border. It sounds like romance, but the source of my information will not admit of a doubt of its truth.

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