In the summer of 1777, a group met at the town of Clonmel in Ireland to establish rules by which gentlemen could settle their grievances. The result was the Code Duello, a set of twenty-six rules to govern dueling.
Six decades later, dueling by “The Code” had become something of a mania in the Texas Army. Officers challenged one another over accusations of lying, theft and cowardice.
There were duels fought over horses, women and cheating at cards. One captain even killed another over how cuts of beef would be distributed to their respective companies.
The most famous of these duels was between General Felix Huston, then the commanding general of the army, and General Albert Sidney Johnston, the man President Sam Houston had appointed to replace him.
General Felix Huston
Huston took Johnston’s appointment as an attempt to smear his reputation and so brought the challenge. They fired three volleys, Huston’s final shot passing through both of Johnston’s hips. Johnston recovered after several months and finally took command. He held no grudge against Huston, which was in keeping with “The Code”.
General Albert Sidney Johnston
Politicians were also caught up in the dueling fad and holding the highest office in the land did not exempt one from being challenged. Sam Houston was challenged by, and refused to fight, Edwin Moore (Commodore of the Texas Navy), Mirabeau B. Lamar, and even the previously mentioned Albert Sidney Johnston.
A notable challenge to Houston under “The Code” came in 1841 during his second term as president. He and Vice President David G. Burnet had been abusing one another in the newspapers.
Vice President Burnet
Burnet had called Houston a big drunk and a half-Indian.
Houston retaliated by labeling Burnet “King Wetumpka”, a Creek word that means rumbling waters, referring to Burnet’s tempestuous nature. Burnet demanded to know what the word meant. Houston said it meant “hog thief.”
That brought the challenge.
Burnet appointed Speaker of the House Branch T. Archer as his second and dispatched him serve Houston with a letter demanding satisfaction on the field of honor.
Houston refused it, saying, “I am compelled to believe that the people are equally disgusted with both of us.”