Shootout At High Noon

Think back for a moment to when things in Western New York were more like those that Davie Crocket and Daniel Boone were used to. In the area around the Buffalo of the early 1800’s there was nothing but wilderness and a few taverns scattered along the woodland trails that led into town. These taverns were often the only place a stranger could get food and shelter from the elements.

One thing that has not changed much over the years is drinking and violence. In the last century people followed an unwritten "code of honor" when they had a conflict to resolve. These disputes were often settled on the "field of honor" which often took the form of a carefully choreographed shootout called a "duel." No matter what you called it, honor or not, violence is still violence. The following is a true story from Buffalo’s past that involves taverns and at least some honor.

A Duel at The Cold Spring Tavern; Main and Ferry Street.

No, its not a Clint Eastwood spaghetti Western, this was real life. In the frontier times of Buffalo everyone carried guns. They were a tool used for hunting and protection from wild animals. For those not interested in stalking their prey with guns in the woods there was The Cold Spring Tavern. After paying a small fee, customers could sit on the porch and blast game from rocking chairs in a game called "One O’ Cat" which was described like this:

... live targets were furnished by the tavern-keeper and the sportsmen were charged by the shot. The fowl was tied to a stake at a distance of twenty rods or so from the marksman, the usual procedure being to place the bird behind a stump or board, so that its head only could be seen. The object was to hit the fowl in the head. The rules, however, were optional with the tavern-keeper; at times the barrier was dispensed with, and the prices per shot varied with the distance. The nearer the marksman stood to the target, the higher the cost per shot. In the latter method drawing blood from any part of the fowl gained the bird for the marksman. It is said that at the old Cold Spring Tavern, the devotees of the sport became so adept that the landlord was obliged to increase all distances on the range.

 

Aside from games of One O’ Cat, people just got drunk at the bar inside. Army soldiers (when they weren’t fighting) could go to in to have a few drinks with their comrades in Arms. It is generally known that soldiers with out a purpose will tend to look for a fight. This story is about just such a situation. During the War of 1812, two off duty army soldiers fought it out "high-noon style" right out on Main Street in front of the tavern:

 

... The names of the army officers who are forgotten. It is said, however, that the challenger was an army surgeon, who was an expert duelist as well as somewhat of a bully. For some trifling offense he challenged an officer, who had little or no experience on the "Field of Honor," but it is apparent that he possessed plenty of courage. The challenge was accepted, of course, and the affair took place on the old Cold Spring farm lot, at a little run near the corner of Ferry and Jefferson Streets.

The challenged officer, as was his prerogative, chose that the two combatants should stand side by side, and each hold a corner of the same handkerchief with the left hand, and holding a pistol in the right, to fire at the word of command.

The surgeon being more experienced presented only the narrowest part of his body to his antagonist, while the latter stood squarely facing him. The word "Fire" rang out and both fell. The surgeon was mortally wounded as the ball had entered his left side and passed through his body; he died upon the field. His antagonist, however, had been hit in the chest, but the bullet passed through without touching a vital spot, he recovered and lived many years after.

 

It all happened here in Buffalo a long time ago. Just as real as the six o’clock TV news with one important difference; that was then this is now.

 

All material copyright 1996,1997 by Stephen R. Powell. All rights reserved.


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