Monday, March 27, 2017

Midnight Duel at Neal's Landing in Jackson County, Florida

The Chattahoochee River at Neal's Landing.
The last known duel in Florida history took place at Neal's Landing in Jackson County on the night of March 7, 1878. 

No one was injured but newspapers of the time reported that "both men stood up bravely."

The landing is now the site of Neals Landing Park, a popular and pretty spot for fishing, picnicking, camping and other outdoor activities. In 1878, however, it was the center of a prosperous riverboat community. A hotel, stores and warehouses thrived along the low bluff, their success made possible by the paddlewheel steamboats that carried passengers and cargoes up and down the Chattahoochee River.

The incident at Neal's Landing was one of the last true duels ever to take place in the United States. 

These "affairs of honor" were fought according to the Code Duello, a set of rules that governed how such encounters should take place. The code offered a way for gentlemen to settle their disputes in personal combat and was intended to prevent arguments from growing into violent outbreaks or family feuds.

Neals Landing Park is just off State Road 2 in Jackson County.
The practice fell from favor in the years following the War Between the States (or Civil War) and was outlawed in most jurisdictions.

The Neal's Landing duel resulted from a dispute that grew between a young man of that community and a young man of Columbus, Georgia. The former had "written something unpleasant about the gentlemen of this city," reported the Columbus Daily Enquirer.

The newspaper did not identify either man but reported that the challenge was issued by the resident of Columbus. 

Each man chose a second to take his place should he fail to appear and the choice of weapons and location fell to the man from Neal's Landing:

...The seconds are well known in this city [i.e. Columbus], and once lived here. The challenged party named the time midnight, weapons shot guns, each barrel to be loaded with thirteen buck shot, distance twenty paces. - Columbus Daily Enquirer, March 12, 1878.

An interpretive kiosk placed by the Jackson County Tourist
Development Council and Jackson County Parks provides
more information on the history of Neal's Landing.
Proper dueling etiquette then required that the two men meet at the time and place appointed. Their seconds were to load and check the weapons. The participants would then stand back to back. Each would then step off the required distance to the count of an observer and upon reaching 10 paces each, turn and fire.

The two men lived up to the requirements of the Code Duello but the Neal's Landing duel ended with an unexpected twist. The two seconds were unwilling to see their friends shoot each other down so they took matters into their own hands:

...The seconds did a good work for the principals by mutually agreeing to load with nothing but powder, without the knowledge of the latter parties. We did not learn how many shots were exchanged, but no damage was done as no lead was used. Both men stood up bravely and the "affair of honor" was settled amicably. - Columbus Daily Enquirer, March 12, 1878.

The bloodless duel allowed each man to demonstrate his courage while the wise decision of the seconds to load the shotguns with blanks prevented a tragedy.

No trace remains of the once thriving little community at Neal's Landing. Visitors can learn more of the site's history from an interpretive kiosk placed there by Jackson County Parks and the Jackson County Tourist Development Council.

Neals Landing Park is located at 7001 FL-2, Bascom, Florida.

For a bit duel-related fun, enjoy this clip from The Andy Griffith Show:

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