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An Everlasting Tall Duel by Jonathan F. Kelley


After all the vicissitudes, ups and downs of a soldier's life, especially in such a campaign as that in Mexico, there is a great deal of music mixed up with the misery, fun with the fuss and feathers, and incident enough to last a man the balance of a long lifetime.

While camped at Camargo, the officers and privates of the Ohio volunteer regiment were paid off one day, and, of course, all who could get leave, started to town, to have a time, and get clear of their hard earnings.

The Mexicans were some pleased, and greatly illuminated by the Americans, that and the succeeding day. Several of the officers invested a portion of their funds in mules and mustangs. Among the rest, Lieut. Dick Mason and Adjt. Wash. Armstrong set up their private teams. Now, it so fell out, that one of Armstrong's men stole Mason's mule, and being caught during the day with the stolen property on him, or he on it, the high-handed private, (who, barring his propensity to ride in preference to walking, was a very clever sort of fellow, and rather popular with the Adjutant,) nabbed him as a hawk would a pip-chicken.

“If I catch the fellow who stole my mule,” quoth Lieut. Dick, “I'll give him a lamming he won't forget soon!”

And, good as his word, when the man was taken, the Lieutenant had him whipped severely. This riled up Adjt. Wash., who, in good, round, unvarnished terms, volunteered to lick the Lieutenant—out of his leathers! From words they came to blows, very expeditiously, and somehow or other the Lieutenant came out second best—bad licked! This sort of a finale did not set well upon the stomach of the gallant Lieutenant; so he ups and writes a challenge to the Adjutant to meet in mortal combat; and readily finding a second, the challenge was signed, sealed, and delivered to Adjt. Armstrong, Company ——, Ohio volunteers. All these preliminaries were carried on in, or very near in, Camargo. The Adjutant readily accepted the invitation to step out and be shot at; and, having scared up his second, and having no heirs or assigns, goods, chattels, or other sublunary matters to adjust, no time was lost in making wills or leaving posthumous information. The duel went forward with alacrity, but all of a sudden it was discovered by the several interested parties that no arms were in the crowd. It would not very well do to go to camp and look for duelling weapons; so it was proposed to do the best that could be done under the circumstances, and buy such murderous tools as could be found at hand, and go into the merits of the case at once. At length the Adjutant and friend chanced upon a machine supposed to be a pistol, brought over to the Continent, most probably, by Cortez, in the year 1—sometime. It was a scrougin' thing to hold powder and lead, and went off once in three times with the intonation of a four-pounder.

“Hang the difference,” says the Adjutant; “it will do.”

“Must do,” the second replies; and so paying for the tool, and swallowing down a fresh invoice of ardiente, the fighting men start to muster up their opponents, whom they found armed and equipped, upon a footing equal to the other side, or pretty near it, the Lieutenant having a little heavier piece, with a bore into which a gill measure might be thrown.

“But—the difference!” cried seconds and principals.

“Let's fight, not talk,” says the Adjutant.

“That's my opinion, gentlemen, exactly,” the Lieutenant responds.

“Where shall we go?”


“Better get out into the chaparral,” say the cautious seconds; “don't want a crowd. Come on!” continue the seconds, very valorously; “let's fight!”

“Here's the ground!” cries one, as the parties reach a chaparral, a mile or so from town; “here is our ground!”

The principals stared around as if rather uncertain about that, for the bushes were so thick and high that precious little ground was visible.

“It ain't worth while, gentlemen, to toss up for positions, is it?” says the Adjutant's second.

“No,” cry both principals. “Measure off the ground, if you can find it; let us go to work.”

“That's the talk!” says the Adjutant's second.

“Measure off thirty paces,” the Lieutenant's second responds.

“No, ten!” cry the principals.

“Twenty paces or no fight!” insists the Adjutant's second. “Twenty paces; one, two, three——”

And the seconds trod off as best they could the distance, the pieces were loaded, the several bipeds took a drink all around from an ample jug of the R. G. they brought for the purpose, and then began the memorable duel. The principals were placed in their respective positions, to rake down each other; and from a safer point of the compass the seconds gave the word.

“Bang-g-g!” went the Adjutant's piece, knocking him down flat as a hoe-cake.

“F-f-f-izzy!” and the Lieutenant's piece hung fire.

The seconds flew to their men; a parley took place upon a “question” whether the Lieutenant had a right to prime and fire again, or not. The Adjutant being set upon his pins; declared himself ready and willing to let the Lieutenant blaze away! The point was finally settled by loading up the Adjutant's piece, and priming that of the Lieutenant, placing the men, and giving the word,

“One, two, three!”



The seconds ran, or hobbled forward, each to his man, both being down; but whether by concussion, recoil of their fusees, force of the liquor, or weakness of the knee-pans, was a hard fact to solve.

“Hurt, Wash.?”

“Not a bit!” cries the Adjutant, getting up.

“Hit, Dick?”

“No, sir!” shouts the Lieutenant; “good as new!”

“Set 'em up!”

“Take your places, gentlemen!” cry the seconds.

All ready. Wang! bang! go the pieces, and down ker-chug go both men again. The seconds rush forward, raise their men, all safe, load up again, take a drink, all right.

“Make ready, take aim, fire!”



Both down again, the Lieutenant's coat-tail slightly dislocated, and the Adjutant dangerously wounded in the leg of his breeches! Both parties getting very mad, very tired, and very anxious to try it on at ten paces. Seconds object, pieces loaded up again, principals arranged, and,

“One, two, three, fire!”



All down—load up again—take a drink—fire! and down they go again. It is very natural to suppose that all this firing attracted somebody's attention, and somebody came poking around to see what it was all about; and just then, as four or five Mexicans came peeping and peering through the chaparral, Dick and Wash. let drive—Bang-g! wang-g! and though it seemed impossible to hit one another, the slugs, ricochetting over and through the chaparral, knocked down two Mexicans, who yelled sanguinary murder, and the rest of their friends took to their heels. The seconds, not quite so “tight” as the principals, took warning in time to evacuate the field of honor, Lieut. Dick's second taking him one way, and Ajt. Wash.'s friend going another, just as a “Corporal's Guard” made their appearance to arrest the rioters. In spite of the poor Mexicans' protestations, or endeavors to make out a true case, they were taken up and carried to the Guard-House, for shooting one another, and raising a row in general. A night's repose brought the morning's reflection, when the previous day's performances were laughed at, if not forgotten. Wash, and Dick became good friends, of course, and cemented the bonds of fraternity in the bloody work of a day or two afterwards, in storming Monterey.


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