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Sunday, February 13, 2011

Another Pistol vs. Bowie Knife Fight

The following syndicated article appeared in the North Adams, Massachusetts, Evening Transcript in 1900.
It Saved a Government Detective's Life In a Street Duel.

George T. Bell, for years a Texas ranger and later in the employ of the government secret service, carries marks of six knife wounds and seven bullet wounds received while on duty as a ranger for the government. Possibly the most thrilling experience through which he passed was a duel on the streets of Tucson, A. T. [Arizona Territory], in that town's palmiest days.

Bell had been instrumental in rounding up and capturing a gang of counterfeiters known as the "Shang Brooks" gang. They had their "mint" up in the Peloncillo mountains in the Gila river country.

All were sent to the penitentiary and had been released save Brooks, who escaped. A warrant, endorsed "dead or alive," was placed in Bell's hands for service. He located Brooks in a saloon in Tucson and, walking up, notified him that he was under arrest.

Shang glanced patronizingly upon Bell, for he was 6 feet 2 in his stocking feet and a giant in strength. Then he announced, "Sonny, you'se'll have to grow some."

He had half turned from the bar as he spoke, and Bell did not know that the movement was shielding his hand as it crept to his pistol. Someone in the saloon yelled a warning, and instantly there came a shot. Shang reeled and then sank to the floor with a bullet through his abdomen. Bell had fired through his coat pocket. The wound was fatal, though it did not at once cause Brooks to lose command over himself.

Pulling himself together, the desperado drew his weapon, which lay beneath him, and was leveling it at Bell when the detective sent another bullet through his pistol wrist, ending his ability to do harm. He died a few hours later.

Though Bell did not know it at the time, Brooks had two companions in the town, Jack and Jim Styles, brothers.

They heard of the shooting and decided to avenge the death of their pal. Later in the day as Bell walked past a general store in the frontier town some one yelled, "Look out, Mr. Bell!" Turning like a flash, at the same time drawing his revolver, the detective saw Jim Styles on the opposite side of the street. He saw smoke issue from Styles' weapon, and a bullet seared his temple. Jim Styles continued shooting, his brother Jack, on the same side of the street with Bell, coming to his assistance.

One shot at Jim Styles laid that worthy on the ground. Jack Styles gave a yell of anger as he saw his brother fall and advanced toward Bell, firing as he came. The two men paused within ten paces of each other, and there they emptied their weapons. Bell had no knife, and when Styles saw this he gave a yell of triumph, tossed his revolver from him and jumped in with a bowie knife in his hand.

The two closed in upon each other. At Styles' first slash of the knife Bell side stepped, though the point of the knife made a painful wound over his right eyebrow. Another vicious thrust he parried, though the keen weapon laid open his left forearm, pierced his upper lip, knocking out two front teeth. By this time the two men were upon the ground, Bell beneath his antagonist. He heard someone call his name and another moment felt something strike his side.

Reaching out, his hand fell upon a pistol. A sigh of relief followed this discovery, and he placed the weapon full against Styles' chest just as the latter raised his knife for a last thrust. Bell pulled the trigger and sent a bullet through his heart.

Both brothers lay dead, and Bell fainted from loss of blood.
Great story, but I can find no supporting evidence for it; no mention of a Texas Ranger named George Bell and no mention of such a fight in Tucson. A fight in which three men were killed would not have gone unnoticed by the newspapers of the time. However, since bowie-knife lore is part fact and part fiction, I present it for whatever it might be worth.

Stories like this seem to get a pass under the Geezer Rule. If an old guy tells you a great story about something he claims to have done or witnessed in his youth, you can publish it without any fact checking. If he's lying, it's his bad thing. Click here for another geezer story recounted in this blog.

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