|Date(s):||May 21, 1881|
|Tag(s):||Agriculture, Crime/Violence, Law|
|Course:||“Rise And Fall of the Slave South,” University of Virginia|
The shot sliced through the quiet, heavy bayou air at Willow ditch. The bullet from the double-barreled shot gun grazed Joseph Richburg's coat. Almost immediately, a second shot tore through his pants. Responding quickly, Richburg fired back at his adversary, Brewer, who had begun to flee. Then Richburg aimed his shot gun at Brewer's son, prepared to fire again. However, when Brewer's son dropped his gun and begged for mercy, Richburg allowed him to live. This confrontation in the form of a duel typifies the white Southern gentleman's way of dealing with a dispute. Moreover, Richburg's grace and mercy highlight a chivalrous, honorable deed that would have served to better his reputation. The culture of excessive masculinity in the South made duels a respected means of settling a conflict.
In the anonymously written Practical Lessons Under the Code Duello, published in 1874, there are valid instances when participation in duels is not only acceptable, but also necessary. The author goes on to state that if a man finds himself in some situation in which his authority or character is threatened, he must be...less than man if he were to submit in silence. The practice of dueling, the author believes, will never fade away, because it will be persisted in as long as a manly independence and a lofty personal pride in all that dignifies and ennobles the human character shall continue to exist. This bold statement clearly reveals the drive that pushed Richburg and Brewer to a duel. The code of honor that came with being a man was deeply branded within the mind of both Southerners.
Joseph Richburg and his neighbor Brewer had been friends in Madison Parish, Louisiana. They were both small planters and knew well the hardships of maintaining a self-sustaining farm. Both men would have relied on a barter system to attain goods and services. However, when Richburg owed Brewer some meat, The National Police Gazette cites that a dispute arose and that out of this tension grew a bad feeling which nothing but gore could satisfy. Richburg was unable to pay Brewer his debt, and so the men confronted one another in a duel. The two men met at Willow ditch, a lonely swamp between Pawpa Lake and Joe's bayou. Brewer brought his twenty-one year old son with him to the meeting, and Richburg brought his fifteen-year old son and his friend, Mr. Willis. Willis, acting as a mediator between the two men, persuaded the men to settle the matter with words and not bullets. Brewer's son, Willis, and Richburg converged to reach an agreement, but suddenly Brewer jumped out from behind a tree, shooting twice at Richburg. The scene described above then unfolded.
The detailed description The National Police Gazette afforded this event is quite significant. It shows that duels were still a completely acceptable and sometimes necessary way to settle disputes between two men even in 1881. Southern men held themselves to a strict code of honor that included an aggressive, masculine showcase of confrontation which often culminated in dueling. Duels were afforded much attention in this culture of extreme virility that is so dramatically detailed in the both The National Police Gazette and the Code Duello.