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Random Thoughts An Arkansas duel, part 1


December 13, 2019

If you are one of those folks who is constantly astonished by the actions of politicians in Washington, D.C., you are not alone! Many people, regardless of political beliefs, are often dismayed and amazed about the state of governmental affairs in the United States.

Well, fear not – things can always get worse! In some previous articles, we looked at several American political figures who resorted to duels to settle disputes.

Among the most famous political duelists in U.S. history are Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton (who fought each other) and Andrew Jackson.

A few others – including several members of Congress – also dueled their opponents. All used handguns as their weapon of choice to confront their rivals. All adhered to dueling’s formal set of rules.

Something worse than ceremonial dueling occurred in December 1837 between two politicians in our neighboring state of Arkansas. This ignominious event became known in local history as the “Wilson-Anthony Duel.”

Some commentators, however, have noted that it did not look like a duel at all. It can be more accurately described as a “knife fight!”

Each combatant was armed with a knife rather than a handgun. Moreover, the confrontation did not take place at a previously agreed upon outdoor location. This Arkansas “duel” took place indoors.

The indoors area where the struggle took place was the floor of the Arkansas House of Representatives while that venerated body was in session!

The victim of the conflict was Rep. Joseph J. Anthony. The man who killed him was John Wilson – who was not only also a fellow legislator but was, in fact, the Speaker of the House!

Speaker Wilson’s day job was being a bank president. Rep. Anthony, during debate over a bill, made a derogatory – but joking – comment about Wilson’s bank.

Wilson grabbed his always-handy Bowie knife and went after Anthony, who tried unsuccessfully to defend himself with a knife of his own. Rep. Anthony, unfortunately, died on the spot.

In part 2 of this story we will look at the aftermath of this senseless tragedy.


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