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5 Silly Reasons People Decided to Duel

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For thousands of years, men and women have risked their lives fighting duels for lofty reasons like honor, integrity, and justice. These are not those duels.

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1. He Wanted to Wear Imported Suits

Henry Clay vs. Humphrey Marshall

There was a time when it wasn’t that unusual for politicians to duel their rivals. Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr famously dueled after years of important political disagreements about the direction of the newly independent America. But some politicians didn’t need anything nearly that serious before they started shooting at the opposition.

In 1809, Henry Clay was Speaker of Kentucky’s House of Representatives. With relations between the United States and Great Britain at their worst since the Revolution, Clay put forward a seemingly unimportant bill, but one meant to thumb the House’s nose at England. The bill stated that all members of the House must wear suits made of homespun cloth, rather than that imported from the British Isles.

It seems innocent enough, but two members of the Kentucky House of Representatives, including Humphrey Marshall, refused to vote yes on the bill. While this may have been partially to antagonize the Speaker (he and Clay were not friends), Marshall was also a wealthy and “aristocratic” lawyer, who apparently felt so strongly about wearing his expensive suits made from imported cloth that angry words were exchanged between the two on the floor of the chamber. That night, Clay challenged Marshall to a duel.

A few days later the men faced each other on the banks of a creek and fired three shots each. Both men were injured in the duel but survived.

2. He Wore Your Watch in Public

James "Wild Bill" Hickok vs. Davis Tutt

In 1865, Wild Bill Hickok shot and killed Davis Tutt in the first ever “quick-draw” duel. While the Wild West and gunslingers evoke manly imagery, this gunfight was over the wearing of an accessory.

Despite having fought on different sides during the Civil War, Hickok and Tutt were good friends. They traveled together, drank together, and played poker together. While no one is sure when or why their friendship went sour, it may have started when Tutt began a relationship with an old flame of Hickok’s, who, in retaliation, started courting Tutt’s sister.

The straw that finally broke the camel’s back occurred during a card game. Tutt was the better gambler and Hickok owed him some money. Tutt took Hickok’s pocket watch as collateral for the loan since Hickok had failed to reimburse him. Hickok agreed, with the caveat that Tutt would not wear the watch in public. When Tutt started bragging about his new accessory around town the next day, it was on.

Tutt made sure to stand where Hickok would see him when he entered the town square. He flashed the pocket watch and when Hickok told him he better take it off, the two started for each other. When they were about 100 yards apart they fired simultaneously. Tutt fell down dead, Hickok escaped uninjured.

The duel was such a sensation that it was covered a year later in Harper’s Magazine.

3. He Claimed He Had More Birds Than You

William Byron vs. William Chaworth

In 1765, Lord William Byron, great uncle of that more famous Lord Byron, and his friend and neighbor William Chaworth dueled with swords in a private restaurant.

The two were cousins, neighbors and very good friends. They had been enjoying an expensive dinner with some important people when the subject turned to how best to hang birds after they were shot. This led to an argument and Chaworth eventually claimed his estate had more game birds than Byron’s. Both had been drinking and once the dinner was over they pulled their swords and asked a waiter to show them to an empty room. After hearing some commotion the waiter returned, finding Chaworth gravely injured.

When his cousin died of his wounds, Byron was tried for murder before the House of Lords. He was convicted of manslaughter but got off with a small fine. The duel earned him the nicknames "the Wicked Lord" and "the Devil Byron."

4. She Called You Old

Almeria Braddock vs. Mrs. Elphinstone

While duels between women were not as common, they were not unheard of. In 1792, Lady Almeria Braddock and a Mrs. Elphinstone fought what came to be known as “the petticoat duel.”

Mrs. Elphinstone made a social call to Lady Almeria’s house and while there paid her ladyship a very backhanded compliment, saying:

“You have been a very beautiful woman. You have a good… face even now but you must acknowledge that the lilies and roses are somewhat faded. Forty years ago, I am told, a young fellow could hardly gaze upon you with impunity.”

When Braddock insisted she was not even 30 years old, Mrs. Elphinstone retorted by saying her age was officially recorded as sixty-one. Enraged by this (probably accurate) accusation, the Lady challenged Elphinstone to a duel.

The two met in Hyde Park. They first shot with pistols at ten paces, but when no bullet hit its mark, ignoring the pleas of their friends to stop, they continued dueling with swords. Elphinstone eventually took a small injury to the arm and the ladies curtsied to each other and considered their honor restored.

5. He Called You 'Puppy'

Charles Lucas vs. Thomas Benton

In 1817, Charles Lucas and Thomas Hart Benton found themselves defending different sides of a court case. While plenty of lawyers have been on opposite sides of the courtroom without killing each other, Lucas and Hart held a grudge.

When they ran into each other at the voting booths a year later, Lucas questioned Benton’s eligibility to vote, implying he was too poor to own any property. Benton, a hot-headed man who had once injured Andrew Jackson in a tavern brawl, responded with the best insult he had. That night, Lucas challenged Benton to a duel, writing “I am informed you applied to me on the day of the election the epithet of 'Puppy.' If so I shall expect that satisfaction which is due from one gentleman to another for such an indignity.”

They fought not one but two duels over this “puppy” insult. Both escaped the first uninjured, but when rumors started that the duel had been unfair, they met again. That time the person whose job it was to shout “fire” messed up and Benton shot Lucas in the chest before he was able to draw his gun. Despite murdering his rival, Benton went on to become a US Senator.

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10 Memorable Neil deGrasse Tyson Quotes
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Neil deGrasse Tyson is America's preeminent badass astrophysicist. He's a passionate advocate for science, NASA, and education. He's also well-known for a little incident involving Pluto. And the man holds nearly 20 honorary doctorates (in addition to his real one). In honor of his 59th birthday, here are 10 of our favorite Neil deGrasse Tyson quotes.

1. ON SCIENCE

"The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it."
—From Real Time with Bill Maher.

2. ON NASA FUNDING

"As a fraction of your tax dollar today, what is the total cost of all spaceborne telescopes, planetary probes, the rovers on Mars, the International Space Station, the space shuttle, telescopes yet to orbit, and missions yet to fly?' Answer: one-half of one percent of each tax dollar. Half a penny. I’d prefer it were more: perhaps two cents on the dollar. Even during the storied Apollo era, peak NASA spending amounted to little more than four cents on the tax dollar." 
—From Space Chronicles

3. ON GOD AND HURRICANES

"Once upon a time, people identified the god Neptune as the source of storms at sea. Today we call these storms hurricanes ... The only people who still call hurricanes acts of God are the people who write insurance forms."
—From Death by Black Hole

4. ON THE BENEFITS OF TECHNOLOGY INVENTED FOR USE IN SPACE

"Countless women are alive today because of ideas stimulated by a design flaw in the Hubble Space Telescope." (Editor's note: technology used to repair the Hubble Space Telescope's optical problems led to improved technology for breast cancer detection.)
—From Space Chronicles

5. ON THE DEMOTION OF PLUTO FROM PLANET STATUS 

PBS

"I knew Pluto was popular among elementary schoolkids, but I had no idea they would mobilize into a 'Save Pluto' campaign. I now have a drawer full of hate letters from hundreds of elementary schoolchildren (with supportive cover letters from their science teachers) pleading with me to reverse my stance on Pluto. The file includes a photograph of the entire third grade of a school posing on their front steps and holding up a banner proclaiming, 'Dr. Tyson—Pluto is a Planet!'"
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit

6. ON JAMES CAMERON'S TITANIC

"In [Titanic], the stars above the ship bear no correspondence to any constellations in a real sky. Worse yet, while the heroine bobs ... we are treated to her view of this Hollywood sky—one where the stars on the right half of the scene trace the mirror image of the stars in the left half. How lazy can you get?"
—From Death by Black Hole

7. ON DEATH BY ASTEROID

"On Friday the 13th, April 2029, an asteroid large enough to fill the Rose Bowl as though it were an egg cup will fly so close to Earth that it will dip below the altitude of our communication satellites. We did not name this asteroid Bambi. Instead, we named it Apophis, after the Egyptian god of darkness and death."
—From Space Chronicles

8. ON THE MOTIVATIONS BEHIND AMERICA'S MOONSHOT

"[L]et us not fool ourselves into thinking we went to the Moon because we are pioneers, or discoverers, or adventurers. We went to the Moon because it was the militaristically expedient thing to do."
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit

9. ON INTELLIGENT LIFE (OR THE LACK THEREOF)

Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/n/neildegras615117.html
Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/n/neildegras615117.html

"Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life."

10. PRACTICAL ADVICE IN THE EVENT OF ALIEN CONTACT 

A still from Steven Spielberg's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Universal Studios
"[I]f an alien lands on your front lawn and extends an appendage as a gesture of greeting, before you get friendly, toss it an eightball. If the appendage explodes, then the alien was probably made of antimatter. If not, then you can proceed to take it to your leader."
—From Death by Black Hole
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40 Fun Facts About Sesame Street
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Now in its 47th season, Sesame Street is one of television's most iconic programs—and it's not just for kids. We're big fans of the Street, and to prove it, here are some of our favorite Sesame facts from previous stories and our Amazing Fact Generator.

Sesame Workshop

1. Oscar the Grouch used to be orange. Jim Henson decided to make him green before season two.

2. How did Oscar explain the color change? He said he went on vacation to the very damp Swamp Mushy Muddy and turned green overnight.

3. During a 2004 episode, Cookie Monster said that before he started eating cookies, his name was Sid.

4. In 1980, C-3PO and R2-D2 visited Sesame Street. They played games, sang songs, and R2-D2 fell in love with a fire hydrant.

5. Mr. Snuffleupagus has a first name—Aloysius

6. Ralph Nader stopped by in 1988 and sang "a consumer advocate is a person in your neighborhood."

7. Caroll Spinney said he based Oscar's voice on a cab driver from the Bronx who brought him to the audition.

8. In 1970, Ernie reached #16 on the Billboard Hot 100 with the timeless hit "Rubber Duckie."

9. One of Count von Count's lady friends is Countess von Backwards, who's also obsessed with counting but likes to do it backwards.

10. Sesame Street made its Afghanistan debut in 2011 with Baghch-e-Simsim (Sesame Garden). Big Bird, Grover and Elmo are involved.

11. According to Muppet Wiki, Oscar the Grouch and Count von Count were minimized on Baghch-e-Simsim "due to cultural taboos against trash and vampirism."

12. Before Giancarlo Esposito was Breaking Bad's super intense Gus Fring, he played Big Bird's camp counselor Mickey in 1982.

13. Thankfully, those episodes are available on YouTube.

14. How big is Big Bird? 8'2". (Pictured with First Lady Pat Nixon.)

15. In 2002, the South African version (Takalani Sesame) added an HIV-positive Muppet named Kami.

16. Six Republicans on the House Commerce Committee wrote a letter to PBS president Pat Mitchell warning that Kami was not appropriate for American children, and reminded Mitchell that their committee controlled PBS' funding.

17. Sesame Street's resident game show host Guy Smiley was using a pseudonym. His real name was Bernie Liederkrantz.

18. Bert and Ernie have been getting questioned about their sexuality for years. Ernie himself, as performed by Steve Whitmere, has weighed in: “All that stuff about me and Bert? It’s not true. We’re both very happy, but we’re not gay,”

19. A few years later, Bert (as performed by Eric Jacobson) answered the same question by saying, “No, no. In fact, sometimes we are not even friends; he can be a pain in the neck.”

20. In the first season, both Superman and Batman appeared in short cartoons produced by Filmation. In one clip, Batman told Bert and Ernie to stop arguing and take turns choosing what’s on TV.

21. In another segment, Superman battled a giant chimp.

22. Telly was originally "Television Monster," a TV-obsessed Muppet whose eyes whirled around as he watched.

23. According to Sesame Workshop, Elmo is the only non-human to testify before Congress.

24. He lobbied for more funding for music education, so that "when Elmo goes to school, there will be the instruments to play."

25. In the early 1990s, soon after Jim Henson’s passing, a rumor circulated that Ernie would be killed off in order to teach children about death, as they'd done with Mr. Hooper.

26. According to Snopes, the rumor may have spread thanks to New Hampshire college student, Michael Tabor, who convinced his graduating class to wear “Save Ernie” beanies and sign a petition to persuade Sesame Workshop to let Ernie live.

27. By the time Tabor was corrected, the newspapers had already picked up the story.

28. Sesame Street’s Executive Producer Carol-Lynn Parente joined Sesame Workshop as a production assistant and has worked her way to the top.

29. Originally, Count von Count was more sinister. He could hypnotize and stun people.

30. According to Sesame Workshop, all Sesame Street's main Muppets have four fingers except Cookie Monster, who has five.

31. The episode with Mr. Hooper's funeral aired on Thanksgiving Day in 1983. That date was chosen because families were more likely to be together at that time, in case kids had questions or needed emotional support.

32. Mr. Hooper’s first name was Harold.

33. Big Bird sang "Bein' Green" at Jim Henson's memorial service.

34. As Chris Higgins put it, the performance was "devastating."

35. Oscar's Israeli counterpart is Moishe Oofnik, whose last name means “grouch” in Hebrew.

36. Nigeria's version of Cookie Monster eats yams. His catchphrase: "ME WANT YAM!"

37. Sesame's Roosevelt Franklin ran a school, where he spoke in scat and taught about Africa. Some parents hated him, so in 1975 he got the boot, only to inspire Gob Bluth’s racist puppet Franklin on Arrested Development 28 years later.

38. Our good friend and contributor Eddie Deezen was the voice of Donnie Dodo in the 1985 classic Follow That Bird.

39. Cookie Monster evolved from The Wheel-Stealer—a snack-pilfering puppet Jim Henson created to promote Wheels, Crowns and Flutes in the 1960s.

40. This puppet later was seen eating a computer in an IBM training film and on The Ed Sullivan Show.

Thanks to Stacy Conradt, Joe Hennes, Drew Toal, and Chris Higgins for their previous Sesame coverage!

An earlier version of this article appeared in 2012.

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