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Monday, March 14, 2011

The Cassius Clay-Sam Brown Fight; An Eyewitness Account

After the publication of the interview with Cassius M. Clay reprinted here, the newspaper received a copy of a letter which had an eyewitness account of Clay's fight with Sam Brown, reprinted below.
Description of the Most Ghastly Encounter Ever Witnessed in Kentucky.

Lexington, Ky., special to St. Louis Globe-Democrat.
Mrs. John M. Clay, daughter-in-law of Henry Clay, furnishes the Leader, apropos of the reminiscences of General Cassius M. Clay by Frank G. Carpenter, a letter written in 1843 by her uncle. T.A. Russell, to his brother and her father, Colonel William H. Russell, then a resident of Missouri, in which the famous fight between General Clay and Sam Brown, at Russell Cave, this county, was discussed at some length. Mr. Russell in this letter writes most affectionately concerning Henry Clay, and tells of his departure for New Orleans, Mobile, and other Southern cities in December of 1843, preparatory to the Baltimore convention of 1844, where he received the Presidential nomination of the Whig party. After discussing Clay’s prospects for the Presidency the following year, Mr. Russell recalls a meeting a few days before with Cassius M. Clay on the streets, at which the fight with Brown was mentioned.

“In a former letter,” wrote Mr. Russell to his brother, “you seem to express surprise why Clay’s friends, in his encounter with Brown, suffered Ashton to strike with the chair. I will tell you, nobody saw the chair until it came down upon Clay’s head and shoulders. At this moment they were clinched, lying side by side on the low plank fence, nearly poised as to which side they would go. For the purpose of parting them I sprang in and seized Clay by the waist. At this juncture, the chair was thrown, by whom I know not. My own head made a narrow escape. While I was holding on to Clay someone seized Brown and the outside of the yard and dragged him across the fence. He fell to the ground like a dead hod thrown out of the pen for the purpose of scalding. Thus ended the most desperate personal encounter I have ever witnessed. Brown about the head, face, and shoulders was literally cut to pieces, the blood running in every direction from every wound down his body. Imagine a butcher’s shirt steeped in blood and you will see him. Having seen where Brown’s pistol ball took effect on Clay’s clothing, I thought he was a dead man. Brown was carried up stairs in the little room in Uncle Russell’s old house. Clay sitting on one of the benches on the front porch, still holding his bloody bowie knife firmly grasped in his hand. He appeared sick. It was with great difficulty I could prevail on him to let me examine where the ball had taken effect. On unbuttoning his pantaloons I immediately discovered that the ball had struck the scabbard of his knife, about four inches from the top. On raising his shirt and examining his body I found, to my great gratification, it had not passed through the inner side of the scabbard. Thus, almost by a miracle, was his life saved. In a short time he left for town. He did not lack for friends, for he had five where the other had one. As you have understood, old Prince Hal appeared for Cassius on his trial.”

By Prince Hal the writer meant the great Commoner, Henry Clay.
Henry Clay, of course, was the prominent congressman and later senator from Kentucky. Henry Clay successfully defended his cousin Cassius Clay at his trial for mayhem.

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