The Dueling Oaks
"Meet me down at the Dueling Oaks promptly at 3pm, if you please sir, where you will pay for you effrontery and satisfaction shall be mine!"
Seems kinda silly to hear and for the modern man it evokes the melodrama of Shakespearean acting. Yet from the early to late 1800’s these very words may have been uttered in New Orleans by any number of men, from salesmen to senators. Weapons ranged from swords, pistols and bowie knives with even the shotgun making an appearance. Most ended with minor injuries to flesh or ego, sometimes the contestants walking off the field good friends once again. Occasionally deaths occurred. These duels could be private affairs or they could have attendance in the hundreds if the drama had played out in public before hand.
Dueling has a long history and the American frontier was fertile ground to continue the legacy and practices of men protecting their honor and name, a very real currency back then. Words carried weight and you best be prepared to defend those words or your own honor and word would be put into question. The Wild West had it’s gunslingers and the South had it’s sword and dueling pistols. New Orleans with it’s rich French population had centuries of fencing technique from Europe land at her docks. Salle’s were on every corner teaching all the popular styles and weapons and no gentleman of the day would be caught out without a large knife or a pistol or both. Maitre de Arms were respected members of the community, if they could keep their reputation.
Duels could occur anywhere from a side street to a park to just outside of town. One popular spot still talked about today were two Oaks in City Park New Orleans that saw many colorful duels. An article in the Times-Democrat, March 13, 1892, said,
"Blood has been shed under the old cathedral aisles of nature. Between 1834 and 1844 scarcely a day passed without duels being fought at the Oaks. Why, it would not be strange if the very violets blossomed red of this soaked grass! The lover for his mistress, the gentleman for his honor, the courtier for his King; what loyalty has not cried out in pistol shot and scratch of steel! Sometimes two or three hundred people hurried from the city to witness these human baitings. On the occasion of one duel the spectators could stand no more, drew their swords, and there was a general melee."
That’s a lot of duels, the last of which was fought in 1890. Dueling was actually outlawed in 1855 yet it was years before laws were enforced. Yet with a history that rich people still remember. One of the Oaks was destroyed in 1949 by hurricane, the other is said to have survived even hurricane Katrina. Whether the Oaks are there or have gone to dust as they eventually must, the spirits and yay, the spirit, will remain in the earth, seeped deep down nourishing future generations of Oaks.
Leave a Reply.