|In the 1830's, more duels were fought in New Orleans than in any other city in the world. Men had to be very careful about what they said and where they said it. Besmirching the honor of a gentleman or his lady could easily result in a demand to avenge the insult. But, it wasn't only the honor of a person that might need defending. As demonstrated in the story below, insulting the honor of the mighty Mississippi River was going too far for one New Orleanian. And he demanded satisfaction -- by sword, at sunrise, under the dueling oaks.
The text below is from "Dueling in Old New Orleans" by Stuart Landry.
I found this little book in a used book shop in the French Quarter.
The first several pages are missing, so I don't know the year
it was published, but my guess is the 1920's. Nancy
| There appeared in New Orleans, about 1845, a French academician known as the Chevalier Tomasi. Tomasi published a communication on the hydraulics of the Mississippi River. In it he proposed either damming up the river, making it deeper or restricting it within certain boundaries. The style of the article was dogmatic and dictatorial. He wrote that the Academy of Sciences in Paris was omnipotent in physics and that Americans were an ignorant tribe expelled from Europe for stupidity or other crimes --they didn't know anything about science.
One day, as Tomasi was descanting to a group upon the perfection of his system for river control, a Creole ventured to remark that the Mississippi was a very headstrong stream, and that possibly a basis of calculation assumed for the smaller rivers of Europe would not be found applicable to so mighty a river as the Mississippi. At this, Tomasi made a gesture of contempt, and added with a sneer, "How little you Americans know of the world! There are rivers in Europe so large that the Mississippi is a mere rill." To this the enraged Creole replied, "Sir, I will never allow the Mississippi to be insulted or disparaged in my presence by an arrogant pretender to knowledge." This he accompanied with the flirt of a glove in the face of the Chevalier. A challenge was the consequence and Professor Tomasi was wounded, as was supposed, mortally.
However, a day or two afterwards, the Chevalier appeared in the streets wearing what the surgeons called a T bandage about his face and jaw. When asked about it, he remarked, "C'est rien; une egratignure seulement" (it is nothing, only a scratch), and stripped the bandage away to show that the sword of his antagonist had duly vindicated the majesty of the mighty Mississippi by passing entirely across the mouth of the defamer, from one cheek to the other.
"But," said the Chevalier as he replaced his bandage, "I would have killed my adversary if it were not for the miserable character of your American steel. Had my sword been a genuine French colichemarde, he would have been properly punished for having outraged the sensibilities of a French gentleman."
He then began a lecture on the carbonization of iron, which couldn't be effected properly except with wood from a certain forest in France. The discourse, delivered with great pain, was accepted silently by his audience, who probably felt that he had already been sufficiently punished for his arrogance.
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