Bloody Island: A Place For St. Louisians To Settle Duels

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ST. LOUIS, MO (KPLR)— Murder has been considered a crime ever since the ten commandments were handed down at Mount Sinai. There was a time in St. Louis when it was, under certain circumstances, acceptable.

Bloody Island was really was an island and it really was bloody. "Often times disagreements arguments, insults were settled with a form of private justice as opposed to and kind of public justice. Dueling was a form of private justice." said Dr. Robert Archibald of the Missouri History Museum.

Men with grudges would head for Bloody Island to exact justice under rules decided in advance.

Despite often ending in homicide dueling wasn't outlawed until the 1850's. Some of the participants were high ranking officials like a famous Missouri senator.

"Thomas Hart Benton and Charles Lucas fought a duel in 1817 because Lucas had insinuated at the polls that Benton wasn't eligible to vote because he hadn't paid his property tax. A seemingly minor issue that shouldn't have led to bloodshed." said Dr. Robert Archibald.

The point of dueling was really not about killing the other man. Just getting the better of him by inflicting a wound. But, the reality was that before the advances in wound care made during the Civil War being hit by gunfire was almost always a death sentence.