1. Ryan Elder
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    Ryan Elder Contributing Member

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    Does anyone know how laws in the wild west worked in this case?

    Discussion in 'Research' started by Ryan Elder, Feb 15, 2016.

    I had an idea for writing a western but could not find specific laws when it came to the rules of pistol dueling. Like under what circumstances could you legally duel, and get away with it, as oppose to being charged with a felony?

    What is the minimum age for consenting to a duel? 14? 16? It probably varies from state to state, but could not find this by googling it or anything.

    Basically in my situation in the plot, a teenager, in around high school is being bullied by a group of other guys. So after the bullying goes to far and the kid gets beat up or too hurt, and the school is not handling it right, the father steps in and challenges the boys to a pistol duel, using their egos to bait them into one.

    They agree. But if the father ends up killing or wounding them, in that type or situation could he legally get away with it, by proving it was fair fight? Would that count as a legal duel in the eyes of the law? It's not the whole plot but just part of it to get things started.

    But I cannot find any historical accuracies on such a specific situation. Would anyone know, or would it be believable? Should I just make up the law in this case?

    Thanks for the input. I really appreciate it?
     
  2. LostThePlot
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    Sorry to break it to you but you pretty much could not legally duel. Like at all. It was super illegal. That didn't stop people doing it anyway and they typically did so by finding places that were on jurisdictional borders and out of sight so it would be hard to prosecute them but there is no-where in the old west where it was accepted. Thing is that the 'old west' as we imagine it never really existed. Sure, there were lots of rough and ready towns but they had mayors and sherrifs and state troopers and all the stuff that brings with it. Laws were certainly broken an awful lot and ignored sometimes but never was it in law for duels to legally happen. Even where duelists have not been punished, murder is still murder even if it goes ignored.

    Additionally, sorry to say that the quick draw duels almost never happened. It helps that dueling was never legal; so if you were going to shoot someone it was radically better to do so in the back, where no-one could see you doing it. So that was somewhat more common. But the face to face, clock striking midday? Nah. Not so much. The only one I know for certain happened (Wild Bill Hickock vs someone Tutt) wasn't like that either. They had a feud, then a squabble over money (a watch I think?) and Hickock said 'Gimmie it back or I'll shoot you'; Tutt went for his pistol and Hickock shot him.

    That duel is actually notable because Bill Hickock went on trial for murder. He got off because frontier justice was seldom all that effective (and no-one really knew for sure what had happened anyway), but when he was acquitted the local towns people were seriously considering lynching Hickock. They didn't, and a legend was later born. But when the law came up short the locals were happy to take it into their own hands.

    On top of that - It's fine to have some dramatic licence (after all, everyone believes it was like that) but if you are writing in a realistic setting it's pretty clear why that kind of fast-draw never happened. Gun shot wounds were like super deadly. Even getting grazed could lead to you losing a leg or getting gangrene or really any infection and all of them were deadly. It is not a good long term survival strategy to stand anywhere near where people are shooting in that era. If you want someone dead it is sub-optimal at least to do so from a position where he has the opportunity to shoot you back, let alone notice of it happening. Given that there was no forensics or reliable way to record anything as it happened meant that you stood a way higher chance of survival from shooting/stabbing/bludgeoning them in the back and high tailing it for the next township than standing in front of him and saying 'draw'.

    If you are an honorable cowboy you might challenge someone to a duel nevertheless, but if you are a bad guy there is absolutely no reason why you wouldn't rather bushwack someone and blame it on the indians.
     
    Last edited: Feb 15, 2016
  3. Ryan Elder
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    Ryan Elder Contributing Member

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    Yeah okay. Perhaps I should take dramatic license and just write it so that the father gets away with a quick draw duel, like the way Eastwood did right in the middle of a town, in A Fisful of Dollars? Of course Eastwood had to threaten to shoot the sheriff to get away with it, which is quite extreme, so the father would have to be pretty hopeless in order to resort to threaten to shoot the sheriff, if it was illegal.

    If it was illegal back then, were their not as many duels as we are lead to believe? How come no one agrees to duels nowadays then, to settle their differences, in comparison to back then?
     
  4. X Equestris
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    X Equestris Contributing Member Contributor

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    With the examples of prominent duels I can find, the victor was usually brought to trial or fled after the duel. However, they were also almost always acquitted on self-defense or had the case dismissed. By the time period generally considered Western, dueling had fallen out of style as a socially acceptable practice.
     
  5. X Equestris
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    X Equestris Contributing Member Contributor

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    Copy-pasted from the Wikipedia article on gun fighters:


    The image of two gunslingers with violent reputation squaring off in a street in a duel, where each draws his pistol and tries to kill the other, is a Hollywood invention.[21] However, Wild West duels did occur in real life (though rarely) and as such are not entirely a myth.[9][12]These duels were first recorded in the South, brought by emigrants to the American Frontier as a crude form of the "code duello," a highly formalized means of solving disputes between gentlemen with swords or guns that had its origins in European chivalry.[31] By the second half of the 19th century, few Americans still fought duels to solve their problems, and became a thing of the past in the United States by the start of the 20th century.[32] Writer Wyatt-Brown in his book "Southern Honor: Ethics and Behavior in the Old South" described dueling in the American frontier as a "custom", and was primarily used for teenage disputes, rise in ranking, status and scapegoating.[33]

    The most famous and well-recorded duel occurred on 21 July 1865, in Springfield, Missouri.[21][25] Wild Bill Hickok and Davis Tutt quarreled over cards and decided to have a gunfight. They arranged to walk towards each other at 6 p.m. Wild Bill's armed presence caused the crowd to immediately scatter to the safety of nearby buildings, leaving Tutt alone in the northwestern corner of the square. When they were about 50 yards apart, both men drew their guns. The two fired at the same time, but Hickok's shot hit Tutt in the heart, while Tutt's shot missed. This was the first recorded example of two men taking part in a quick-draw duel. The following month Hickok was acquitted after pleading self-defense. The first story of the shootout was detailed in an article in Harper's Magazine in 1867, and became a staple of the gunslinger legend.[31]

    The famous lawman Wyatt Earp gave an account of having participated a duel once during his vendetta. While in the South Pass of the Dragoon Mountains, Earp's posse found one of the outlaw cowboys named "Indian Charlie" Cruz. One account says that after the party recognized Cruz, they chased him down and a gunfight ensued.[34] The party manage to capture Cruz and he confessed to have taken part in Morgan's murder, and that he identified Stilwell, Hank Swilling, Curly Bill and Johnny Ringo as other of Morgan's killers. During that time, Wyatt allowed Cruz to keep his revolver to "give him a chance to fight like a man." After the confession, Wyatt told Cruz to draw, challenging him to a duel, and the posse counted to three before Wyatt gunned Cruz down.[35]

    Doc Holliday himself had a duel in a saloon in Las Vegas, New Mexico.[36] One of the women who worked there had an ex-boyfriend named Mike Gordon who had just been discharged from the Army. Gordon wanted her to stop working. When she told him to leave her alone, he became angry, went outside the saloon, and started shooting out the windows with his pistol. As bullets went through the saloon, Doc unflinching, holstered his Colt Peacemakerrevolver, and walked outside. Gordon then started shooting at him but missed. Holliday then drew his pistol and shot Gordon at long range with one shot. He then went back to the saloon. Gordon died the next day and Holliday fled. Doc Holliday has also been credited with wounding and shooting a pistol out of saloon owner Milt Joyce's hand when he tried to brandish it at Holliday.

    Another well-known duel in the American West happened in Fort Worth, Texas, and was known as the Luke Short-Jim Courtright Duel.[25][37] Timothy Isaiah "Longhair Jim" Courtright was running the T.I.C. Commercial agency in Fort Worth, which provided "protection" to gambling dens and saloons in return for a portion of their profits. At the same time, Luke Short, a former friend of Courtright's, was running the White Elephant Saloon and Jim was trying to get Short to utilize his services. But the Dodge City gunfighter told Courtright to "go to Hell," that he could do anything that was necessary to take care of his business. On February 8, 1887, the two quarreled, and with Bat Masterson at Short's side, Courtright and Short dueled in the street. They drew their pistols at close range, and Short fired first, blowing off Courtright's thumb. Courtright attempted the "border shift", a move where a gunfighter switches his gun to his uninjured hand, but he was too slow. Short shot him in the chest, killing him.

    The Long Branch Saloon Shootout, involving Levi Richardson, a buffalo hunter, and "Cockeyed Frank" Loving, a professional gambler, happened on April 5, 1879.[38] Richardson had developed some affection for Loving's wife Mattie, and the two began to argue about her. In the saloon, Frank sat down at a long table, Richardson turned around and took a seat at the same table. The two were then heard speaking in low voices. After the conversation, Richardson drew his pistol, and Loving drew his in response. The Long Branch Saloon was then filled with smoke. Dodge City Marshal Charlie Bassett, who was in Beatty & Kelley's Saloon, heard the shots and came running. Both men were still standing, although Richardson had fired five shots from his gun and Loving's Remington No. 44 was empty. Deputy Sheriff Duffey threw Richardson down in a chair and took his gun, while Bassett disarmed Loving. Richardson then got up and started toward the billiard table, when he fell to the floor with a fatal gunshot in the chest, as well as a shot through the side and another through the right arm. Frank Loving, who had only a slight scratch on the hand, was immediately taken to jail. Two days later, the coroner's inquest ruled that the killing had been in self-defense and Loving was immediately released.

    On March 9, 1877, gamblers Jim Levy and Charlie Harrison argued over a game of cards in a saloon in Cheyenne, Wyoming.[39] They met in an alley following an argument about a card game. Harrison shot first, but missed. Levy aimed carefully and hit Harrison, who died a week later.[40]

    Not as well known today but famous in his time was the dapper, derby-wearing train robber Marion Hedgepeth, who despite his swell appearance, "was a deadly killer and one of the fastest guns in the Wild, Wild West". William Pinkerton, whose National Detective Agencyhad sought to capture Hedgepeth and his gang for years, noted that Hedgepeth once gunned down another outlaw who had already unholstered his pistol before Hedgepath had drawn his revolver.[41] The infamous assassin Tom Horn was also said to have participated in a duel with a second lieutenant from the Mexican Army, due to a dispute with a prostitute when he was twenty-six years old.[42]
     
  6. Ryan Elder
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    Ryan Elder Contributing Member

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    Okay thanks. I already read that article but it did not give specifics on the laws themselves. Perhaps it would be best to set my story before the west then, to when it was legal. Or I can have the father commit an illegal act and hope to get off, but would the father resort to such a thing if it was a felony, and the family would be worse off, possibly?
     
  7. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Even when Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr dueled, Burr was charged with murder afterward.
    Doens't matter that it was consentual. You can't consent to murder.
     
  8. X Equestris
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    X Equestris Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think that would work better. There are instances where people were charged after duels, like the Burr/ Hamilton duel, but it was still a somewhat acceptable practice. Look at Andrew Jackson, who fought a number of duels in his lifetime. I cannot recall him having been charged with anything, though my memory may not be correct.
     
  9. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Yeah, public acceptance was still there. I am pretty sure Burr was acquitted even though he clearly broke the law.
     
  10. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    As others said, dueling was illegal. The romance of two men killing each other over a dispute was on the decline even back during the days of Burr and Hamilton way back in the early 1800s. I'm assuming this is set in the latter half of the 1800s -- post-American Civil War? In that case, the notion of dueling was wholly illegal and not practiced widely and openly. Those who did agree to such a thing would have done so in a subtle, discreet way. As noted, the image of two gruff, dangerous-looking dudes squaring off in the center of town, glowering with a hand over a pistol as friends and sweethearts look on with fear and anticipation is a pure Hollywood creation.

    Since your character -- a fully grown man -- ended up wounding/killing a teenaged boy in an illegal duel because said boy was bullying his son, I'm surprised the town's not in a giant uproar about it; calling to lynch him good for gunning down a child. I'm surprised that boy's father isn't coming over to beat the shit out of this guy for this.

    Maybe it'd be better if you had the father's son arrange the duel with the bully and show the consequences from that.
     
    Last edited: Feb 15, 2016
  11. Ryan Elder
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    Ryan Elder Contributing Member

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    Well that's kind of what I was thinking. The father would get away with it. But in order for that to happen, he would have to be found not guilty cause it's a social acceptance. On the other, hand there would be an uproar.

    So I have to write it so that he legally gets away with it, cause society believes in dueling, but on the other hand, there logically should be an uproar. So I am not sure where the line should be drawn, from one to the other, if that makes sense.

    Plus even though the parents of the others would blame the father to a percentage how much of the blame would they place on their own children, since dueling as socially acceptable to a large degree? Would they think it was stupid and foolish, of their own children to accept a duel, and feel it was their own fault on some percentage for accepting it?
     
  12. Steerpike
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    There are plenty of ways he could get away with it. In addition to societal acceptance, such that a jury might acquit, there is also prosecutorial discretion. It may be that the person who decides whether charges are brought would decide not to do so in the case of a duel between people. The fact that one of them is a minor would seem to me to argue against that, but when you're writing fiction there are all kinds of ways you could make this work within the context of your story.
     
  13. LostThePlot
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    Sorry man but civil power across the world has pretty much universally hated and tried to stop dueling and for a number of actually quite interesting reasons. Dueling is actually quite dangerous to the law at large; which is understandable because it's literally an anarchistic act. It's making your own personal law based on personal strength of arms and that's something that the state (if one exists) really cannot be ok with. The existence of dueling means that people look to formalized murder to solve their disputes instead of to the state. While the state might not really give that much of a damn about it's peasants killings each other they really do care a lot about those peasants not acknowledging their civil authority because it's only one step away from them not paying there taxes and that's the kind of thing you really cannot let happen.

    There have only been a very very few times and places where any kind of government (and thus law) has made an exception to that and off the top of my head it's all been during feudal times. The feudal system is named so because the land owners have 'the right of feud'; to fight other land owners over land with some justification. That's where basically all of this comes from. Once upon a time (think 1000AD) the European aristocracy were legally allowed to wage war with no consequence; no-one was going to be accused of a murder as a result of a dispute. Very occasionally those men did fight duels rather than wage war, to the death because that was how a claim to land passed hands.

    When power became more centralized this all vanished and land couldn't change hands via private warfare but the aristocracy still had a lot of power and naturally still had various disputes. They couldn't wage war but were pretty angry and thus dueling was the go to option.

    During that time dueling was turned a blind eye to. County magistrates often believed they didn't have the power to arrest or charge the land owners, or at worst the land owners were the magistrates so duels were generally ignored. Typically they were fought over insults and love rather than proprietorial disputes, by young men full of *ahem* vim and vigor (in this case to read 'prideful idiots') but it was absolutely a known thing for the loser's family to demand chargers be brought and failing that to pursue 'justice' themselves. In time this all headed the way of amateur boxing rather than fighting to the death and the world was spectacularly better off for it.

    Thing is that while myths and legends abound about dueling because it makes a wonderful plot point it was never accepted anywhere in the Christian world. At all. During tribal times it certainly happened a bunch because there was no-one to stop it. The Vikings (and Celts and Picts and Goths) used to fight duels (that's what a viking berserker actually is; he's a kings champion who fights duels on his behalf, more like a master of arms) mostly to bully smallholders out of their lands because the Viking law was totally different. When the Danes became Christian not even they, perhaps the people we believe were most warlike ever, dueled anymore. And this is in 900AD.

    Ever since everything that's ever happened has been taking us further away. As people and even as society we still like the idea of violence in general, particularly in a worthy cause. It's one of our weaknesses as a species. Even today there's a part of us who wants to see bad people get their just desserts. We even like an anti-hero who might shoot first as long as he does so for heroic purposes. Our myths and stories almost always center on a single champion of good and dueling is how such a man can defeat whole armies; kill the single bad man who leads them in righteous combat. But there's been almost no time in human history where this happened. Wherever there has been civilization has come a near absolute prohibition on dueling. Civilization is almost by definition the abhorrence of taking human life; it puts the power of life and death in the hands of the state and the state alone. And that has problems of course, but embedded in that is the idea that human life has value and those who take it are criminals (or at least destroyed state property in some places).

    The short version is that dueling only ever lived in the very margins. Certainly very many duels were fought throughout human history, and there have been many places outside the law (think today's city gangs) where it is acceptable to kill to settle a petty squabble. But that's never been blessed by the law. The idea of confronting someone in manly combat to the death only lives in the imagination of good people who believe (perhaps rightly) that someone should at least have the right to come around or apologize or at least defend themselves.
     
  14. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Oh, do check this out. I can say, having researched the time period extensively over many many years, that the myths about the Old West are just as this article says. Myths. Check out the one about the guns.

    The settling of the west was a huge part of American history, and had massive impact on the land, the indigenous people and the settlers themselves, as well as shaping the attitudes that still drive many Americans today. There was good stuff and bad stuff, and lots and lots of everyday stuff that today's readers would find interesting. So why, when dealing with the west, do so many stories boil down to these myths?

    Aargh. The reality was so much more interesting.

    http://www.cracked.com/article_20372_5-ridiculous-myths-everyone-believes-about-wild-west_p2.html
     

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