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Gentlemen, choose your weapons! Pistols, rifles or water hoses: Dueling in the gold camps

Two men glower at each other across the 25 paces separating them. Each holds a Colt revolver in one hand and, at a signal, both open fire, advancing as they shoot. But when the sounds of the shots die away and the pistols are empty, both antagonists still stand, unharmed.

In sheer frustration, one man raises his revolver above his head and charges, finally bringing the other man down with a well-placed clout to the head.

Thus was honor vindicated in the mining camp of North Bloomfield one fine autumn day in 1866 between Frenchmen named Souchet and Picard.



Dueling wasn’t an unusual occurrence in the rough California mining camps. A general lack of legal process and large percentage of quick-tempered males made dueling a popular method of settling accounts.

A duel that saw much liquid spilled, but none of it red, occurred between two Nevada City citizens in 1861. Messrs. Tompkins and Curley became offended of one another for some reason and a challenge was made. Perhaps because it was a hot July day, the weapons chosen weren’t pistols but water hoses.



Two 25-foot sections of fire hose with quarter-inch nozzles were attached to separate hydrants, each hydrant being backed by 150 pounds of water pressure. The two men blasted each other about the street, first one contestant then another getting knocked down into the mud, mire and horse droppings. But neither gave quarter, and the duel ended only after one of the hoses burst.

In the town of Cherokee on Christmas Eve in 1874, two men at a Christmas ball argued over the affections of a young lady who was present. One man was remembered only as “the Cherokee blacksmith” and the other was called “Wall.”

Morning found both men with loaded pistols and 30 feet between them. The signal came and the blacksmith quickly fired before Wall had fully raised his pistol. Finding himself unharmed, Wall magnanimously fired his pistol into the air and advanced, his hand extended in friendship.

No harm was done and the two men swore lifelong devotion toward one another. What they didn’t know was the seconds had loaded the guns with blank charges.

Pistols were fully loaded in the duel fought between Jim Lundy and George Dibble in Nevada City over a mining claim dispute. Lundy was known as a dead shot, and Dibble’s friends tried to talk him out of going through with the duel.

The duel was fought on Nov. 1, 1851, with Colt pistols at 15 paces. The two men took their stations and Lundy fired before the word was given, hitting Dibble.

Dibble threw down his pistol, said “You fired too soon,” walked a short distance and fell to the ground and died. Lundy was tried twice for the crime but in neither case could a conviction be obtained.

A difference between a Nevada County man, R.B. Moyes, and J.B. Van Hagan of Nevada, led to the two using rifled muskets at 60 paces on June 20, 1860, near Grizzly Flat. They blazed away but without noticeable effect. A second try was made and again no one was hit. A “big talk” was then held, which resulted in a peaceful settlement.

In 1853, Billy Mason, an unsuccessful candidate for the state Assembly, blamed his defeat on H.C. Gardiner, who had worked against his election. Mason challenged Gardiner to meet at nine the next day.

The following morning, Gardiner borrowed a “Navy pistol,” probably a Colt .36-caliber revolver, and went looking for Mason.

Mason saw Gardiner first and fired on him from the cover of a narrow alley, hitting Gardiner in the calf of the leg. But Gardiner stood his ground in the open and both men blasted away until Mason received a wound in his leg quite similar to the one inflicted on Gardiner.

When the bloodletting stopped, it was discovered that besides the slight wounds each man took, a small pig running loose in the streets had been hit by a stray bullet. The next day, some wag was saying that a pig and two calves had been shot.

John Kelly and William Spear of Downieville had a falling out over a woman and selected Colt revolvers to settle the matter. Along with their seconds, a doctor, the disputed damsel and a good portion of the town, they retired to a spot about a mile from Downieville. On the command of “Fire!” both men were free to unload their revolvers at each other.

Both men missed on the first shot and then Kelly’s gun jammed while Spear continued to fire. In frustration, Kelly threw his malfunctioning revolver at Spear who, unnerved, took off running. The two men eventually made up – oh, and the revolvers had been loaded with blanks by the seconds.

Andy Fugate and Jack White were two of the lesser desperados in Truckee in the early days, making their living doing as little honest work as possible. To settle a grudge, the two met on Truckee’s Front Street the night of Sept. 5, 1873.

Pistols were drawn and Fugate shot down White. From the ground, White then fired into Fugate. Possessed with the rage and desperation of wild animals, both men continued to hold positions and fire away until they were snapping at each with empty pistols and both fell dead.

The coming of law and order, the enforcement of the codes against dueling and the influence of civilization all helped to bring an end to the gold camp practice of two men settling their differences over the sights of a brace of pistols.


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