Selden/Scott Duel

 Judge Match: On this day in 1824, a game of ‘whist’ in Arkansas Post gets heated. In a game of whist, Judge Joseph Selden contradicted a lady player’s account of the score and Judge Andrew Scott, who was also playing, demanded an apology from Selden on behalf of the lady. Selden refused and the resulting argument ended in the challenge and acceptance of a duel. 

In order to evade Arkansas Territory’s outlaw on dueling, the two Supreme Court judges crossed the Mississippi River and took up arms against each other. 


 Here’s what William Woodruff wrote about the event in the Arkansas Gazette, reprinted in “A Documentary History of Arkansas” by C. Fred Williams, S. Charles Bolton and Carl H. Moneyhon. 

Dueling was a popular means of settling disputes among the well-bred, higher-class population on the Arkansas frontier, and though it was considered part of the code of honor for a Southern gentleman, its popularity added to Arkansas’s reputation for violence that remained until well after the Civil War. An insult, real or imagined, likely would bring a challenge from the injured party. Duels traditionally took place at dawn to avoid interruptions, and the two parties usually met somewhere just outside the territory to get around the laws against dueling that were passed as early as the 1820s. Friends would accompany the combatants, acting as “seconds,” to see that things were carried out fairly. Seconds had to be of equal social rank as the men they served and were responsible for loading the pistols and counting paces but could not interfere in the duel. Each man usually brought along a surgeon as well. The two usually stood back to back with pistols drawn, took a set number of steps, turned, and fired. The duel ended only when one man was dead or wounded, or when one or both called a halt. Two exchanges were usually enough to prove the honor of both men, and many duels ended without injury due to the inaccuracy of the pistols used.

The smallest thing might bring on a challenge to a duel, like a hotly contested game of whist! Whist is a classic English trick-taking card game which was played widely in the 18th and 19th centuries. Learn how to play and see what the fuss was about. Dueling ended in the state due mainly to the disappearance of the elite class following the Civil War and to the passing of Arkansas’s frontier reputation. [Sources: Encyclopedia of Arkansas and Arkansas Gazette: The Early Years 1819-1866 by Margaret Ross.]