Starving Duel in Idaho June 22, 2014Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern , trackback
By the nineteenth century duels were falling out of fashion. The state typically prosecuted and even the girl (or very occasionally the boy) who were argued over resented the fact that blood was going to be spilt on their behalf. There came, then, an interesting rash of fighting duels without weapons: because there was some legal recourse for saying that the duel was not real, no blood had been spilt…. This is my personal favourite bloodless duel. It is weird, deadly serious with an underlying ghastliness and claustrophia and it dates to the summer of 1887. Never go to Idaho!
The combatants were Colonel Sleeford, ex-editor of the Barrieville Trumpet, (who is said to have resigned his post for the purpose of engaging in the combat), and John McArdle [aka M’Ardle], a noted teetotaller of the district.
If this sounds an unlikely couple then you will not be surprised to learn that the argument was ‘literary in its origins’: presumably over the real Shakespeare, or the rights and wrongs of adapting a haiku.
The duel itself took place in an unfurnished room: not sure why they didn’t choose two rooms as their co-presence was hardly necessry. There was a constant supply of water and no other form of nutrience. The winner was the first to leave the room alive: it goes without saying that neither could touch the other. The biggest sticking point in pre-duel negotiations was whether the Colonel would be allowed to smoke or not: eventually he was given three cigars a day handed through a window and he had to hand back the cigar ash, presumably so he couldn’t eat the incinerated tobacco. (‘Even the temperaance party, it is alleged, allow that Colonel Sleeford honourably fulfilled this part of the conditions.’) The smoke must have irritated teetotaller John McArdle half to death. In fact…
The result was that Dr Tanner’s record was successfully lowered by both parties, the Colonel feebly calling for the door to be opened after an imprisonment which had lasted 42 days six hours and 21 minutes.
‘Dr Tanner’ refers to Dr Henry Tanner who managed a forty day fast: though he hadn’t had an argument about Elizabethan scansion to keep him going.
The emaciated remains of Mr McArdle bore witness to the fact that no violence had been used – indeed, during the last seven days of the encounter the Colonel was too weak to break the conditions even if he had wished to do so. According to the latest reports, it is greatly feared the victor will follow his defeated enemy to the grave. All Barrieville rings with praise of his gallantry and hope for his recovery and the suspense is described as unprecedented.
One British newspaper suggested that several contemporary politicians could resolve their differences in the same way: ‘and [the duel] would be satisfactory whatever way it ended’. Quite. Spent some time trying to discover whether Sleeford – who I see as a hard-faced version of Colonel Saunders – up against the priggish McArdle survived. Then I even wondered whether the story was not invented: any help with this, please drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com I couldn’t even find Barrieville…
22 June 2014: Chris from Haunted Ohio Books writes in. My favourite duel is on thin ice. ‘Regarding the “Starving Duel,” there were a number of “hunger artists” vying for the longest fast record (George Stratton, Giovanni Succi, Dr Henry Tanner), but it’s pretty certain that this story contains no nutritional value whatsoever. The details of the cigar-smoking Colonel Sleeford vs teetotaller M’Ardle may be significant if this is a joke piece about some long-lost local controversy. You probably already checked the grave and census records with negative results. Here’s a list of historic Idaho newspapers. Several Trumpets, but no Barrieville here either. Idaho is actually a rather beautiful state, BTW.’ thanks Chris!
26 June 2014: I asked Chris in a subsequent email whether she thought that this was a fake and she replied in the affirmative. She sent in this article as a possible source from the Sacramento Daily Union 20 August 1866. The location was Ada County. Ada Co. was, as Chris points out, the home of the Idaho Trumpet newspaper, based in Boise. ‘Another affair of honor in Idaho. The Idaho Union of August 4 give the annexed notice of another dueling affair in Idaho. W. J.McConnell, ex Deputy United States Marshal, challenged H.C. Street, editor of the Idaho World, for the satisfaction due one gentlemen from another. The cause of the challenge was, we believe, some reflections made by the latter in the last number of the World against the character of the former. Street accepted the challenge, named derringers as the weapons and the distance sixty feet. [not very dangerous] Early on Thursday morning both parties repaired, with the usual number of friends, to the spot selected, on Moore’s creek, below the Warm Springs. The choice of position and word was won by the second of Street. Both parties were said to be collected and cool, and showed no fluttering or faintheartedness. At the word from the second the principals wheeled and fired. Neither party was hit. McConnell passed his pistol to his second for reloading and Street signified his willingness to accommodate him with another shot. The seconds, however, came to some understanding, and concluded that the honor of both gentlemen was fully sustained and satisfied.’ If the vague similarity of names and the fact one is an editor is striking it should also be remembered that editors often had duels (or at least were challenged): occupational hazard! Thanks Chris!