A Duel Prevented

Mark Twain

San Francisco Daily Morning Call/August 2, 1863

WHEREAS, Thomas Fitch, editor of the Union, having taken umbrage at an article headed “The Virginia Union—not the Federal,” written by Joseph T. Goodman, our chief editor, and published in these columns; and whereas said Fitch having challenged said Goodman to mortal combat, naming John Church as his “friend;” and whereas the said Goodman having accepted said challenge, and chosen Thos. Peasley to appoint the means of death—

Therefore, on Friday afternoon it was agreed between the two seconds that the battle should transpire at nine o’clock yesterday morning (which would have been late in the day for most duelists, but it was fearfully early for newspaper men to have to get up)—place, the foot of the canyon below the Gould & Curry mill; weapons, navy six-shooters; distance, fifteen paces; conditions, the first fire to be delivered at the word, the others to follow at the pleasure of the targets, as long as a chamber in their pistols remained loaded.

To say that we felt a little proud to think that in our official capacity we were about to rise above the recording of ordinary street broils and the monotonous transactions of the Police Court to delineate the ghastly details of a real duel, would be to use the mildest of language. Much as we deplored the state of things which was about to invest us with a new dignity, we could not help taking much comfort in the reflection that it was out of our power, and also antagonistic to the principles of our class, to prevent the state of things above mentioned. All conscientious scruples—all generous feelings must give way to our inexorable duty—which is to keep the public mind in a healthy state of excitement, and experience has taught us that blood alone can do this.

At midnight, in company with young Wilson, we took a room at the International, to the end that through the vigilance of the watchman we might not be suffered to sleep until past nine o’clock. The policy was good—our strategy was faultless. At six o’clock in the morning we were on the street, feeling as uncomfortable in the gray dawn as many another early bird that founded its faith upon the inevitable worm and beheld too late that that worm had failed to come to time, for the friends of the proposed deceased were interfering to stop the duel, and the officers of the law were seconding their efforts. But the two desperadoes finally gave these meddlers the slip, and drove off with their seconds to the dark and bloody ground. Whereupon young Wilson and ourself at once mounted a couple of Olin’s fast horses and followed in their wake at the rate of a mile a minute.

Since then we enjoy more real comfort in standing up than sitting down, being neither iron-clad nor even half-soled. But we lost our bloody item at last—for Marshal Perry arrived early with a detachment of constables, and also Deputy Sheriff Blodgett came with a lot of blasted Sheriffs, and the battleground lying and being in Storey County, these miserable, meddling whelps arrested the whole party and marched them back to town. And at the very 1 moment that we were suffering for a duel. The whole force went off down there and left the city at the mercy of thieves and incendiaries. Now, that is about all the strategy those fellows know.

We have only to add that Goodman and Fitch were obliged to give bonds in the sum of $5,000 each to keep the peace, and if anything were lacking to make this robbery of the reporters complete, that last circumstance furnished the necessary material. In interfering with our legitimate business, Mr. Perry and Mr. Blodgett probably think they are almighty smart, but we calculate to get even with them.