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Saturday, April 9, 2011

Bowie Knife Stabbing at the St. Nicholas Hotel

The St. Nicholas Hotel was a posh New York City hotel in the 19th century, and when a fight involving a bowie knife occurred there in September 1855, it made national news. 
Murder at the St. Nicholas Hotel.
The St. Nicholas Hotel was on Saturday evening the scene of another frightful rencounter [spontaneous fight], similar to that enacted about a year ago, when Col. Loring, of San Francisco, lost his life.

It appears that shortly before 9 o'clock, on the evening named, two of the boarders, Capt. J. J. Wright and Mr. R. S. Dean, were seen talking together in an excited manner in the barroom.

Suddenly Capt. Wright drew from his pocket a cowhide, with which he struck Mr. Dean in the face. Instantly the latter drew from a sheath which he carried under his vest, a large bowie knife, the blade of which he plunged almost to the hilt in the side of his antagonist.

The wounded man immediately dropped the cowhide, and attempted to get away, but was followed by his antagonist who again wounded him in the abdomen.

Lieut. Stagg, of the eighth ward police, happened to be present, and as Mr. Dean was in the act of making another thrust with the knife at his adversary, caught him by the collar and prevented the further infliction of violence. Capt. Wright soon fell exhausted from loss of blood, to the floor, and was conveyed to his room, where he was attended by several physicians, all of whom pronounced his wounds to be mortal.

Mr. Dean, in making the third thrust with the knife, cut himself severely in the thigh, and was also conveyed to a room in the hotel, where the wound was dressed by the surgeon. He, as well as a friend of his named Montgomery, who witnessed the affray, are under arrest, and will be kept in custody until an examination shall take place.

The whole affray occupied but a few moments and was conducted so quietly, that many who were in the barroom at the time, were unaware of its occurrence until it was over. The news however, spread rapidly and soon the halls and the rum-room were crowded by the excited inmates.

The quarrel grew out of something Dean had said and circulated reflecting upon the honor and character of Capt. Wright. They had frequent and bitter altercations in regard to the objectionable language, and on Saturday night met by previous appointment in the rum-room of the St. Nicholas. Dean, fearing violence on the part of Capt, W., had armed himself, and when the Captain struck him with the cowhide used his weapon.

The knife with which Capt, W. was stabbed was seven inches in length, and entered the abdomen almost up to the hilt. The physicians in attendance were yesterday of the opinion that the blade had glanced, and not divided the intestines, and if such be the case, the wound though frightful, may not prove mortal. Yesterday afternoon he appeared to suffer less pain and informed our reporter that the reason of his hostility to Mr. Dean was, that the latter had made a statement that he (Capt. W,) had misappropriated some plate which was on board the steamer Jewess, which was lost at Sandy Hook in October last, and which was owned by him and Mr. Dean. He first heard of the slander while is was in Boston last week, and immediately came on to have it retracted. He had several interviews with Mr. Dean, who put him off from time to time, and on their meeting at the St. Nicholas, he being again refused, drew a cowhide, but was immediately held by Mr. Montgomery, a friend of Mr. Dean's; and had it not been that he was so held Mr. Dean would not have succeeded in stabbing him so severely.

Capt. Wright was in the Texan navy, all through the war between that country and Mexico. He distinguished himself on many occasions, and displayed great bravery. When but a young man of twenty, he commanded a small vessel, named the James Bowie, in which ship, with a crew numbering about thirty men, he took a Mexican sloop-of-war, with two hundred and fifty men on board. He did so by a skillful ruse, by covering his ship with figures dressed as men; and so numerous did they appear to the Mexicans, that the captain struck his colors without firing a shot. He also commanded two other respects, and Com. Moore speaks in the highest terms of his bravery. After the war, Captain Wright run a steamboat between New Orleans and Galveston. Since then he has been in different enterprises. At one time he commanded the fleet little steamer United States, (that was blockaded at the foot of 8th street last summer,) and ran her between New York and New Orleans. He was to have had charge of the Ocean Bird, when he had a misunderstanding with her owner. Captain Wright is 36 years of age, has a wife, but no family. James Montgomery, who is arrested, is the inventor of the corrugated steam boilers, and is a well known mechanic. R.D.S. Dean is a widower, and reputed to be wealthy.

There is hardly a probability that Mr. Wright will survive, as there is extreme danger of mortification of the bowels. Six inches of cold steel in a man's belly is likely to cause a gangrene wound.

While the Tribune insists that both Wright and Dean were under the maddening influence of liquor, the other journals deny that, and say that the appointment was made in a barroom and that they both came there under the conviction that a fight might ensue. It is a sad case throughout, as it shows how venomous hasty and harsh words may become when men cannot control their angry passions.
Though the article says, "There is hardly a probability that Mr. Wright will survive," in fact he recovered fairly quickly, according to subsequent reports.

One thing I like about 19th-century newspapers is that they gave readers the blow-by-blow account of a fight rather than couching it in vague terms as is the custom today.

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