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Reuben Ross shoots Ben McCulloch in duel

October
06
1839

On this day in 1839, Reuben Ross, standing in for Alonzo B. Sweitzer, seriously wounded Ben McCulloch in a duel. The encounter and its aftermath exemplify the persistence (and absurdity) of the Southern code duello tradition in the Republic of Texas and the ineffectiveness of the antidueling law passed by the Congress of the republic in 1836. The bad blood between McCulloch and Sweitzer began during their 1839 race for a seat in the Texas House of Representatives and intensified during their subsequent involvement in the pursuit of Indians who had raided Gonzales County. After a lengthy exchange of insults, Sweitzer's friend Ross delivered a formal challenge to McCulloch, who refused to accept on the grounds that Sweitzer was not a gentleman. Ross, however, was an acceptable substitute, and the two faced off with rifles at forty paces in a field two miles north of Gonzales. Ross, a trained duelist, shot McCulloch in the right arm, a wound that left him permanently crippled. With honor apparently satisfied, Ross sent his personal surgeon to tend to McCulloch and expressed his regret at having "to meet so brave a man in a private encounter." McCulloch was indicted for "setting at nought the quiet and good morals of this community" by "wickedly, willfully, and maliciously" accepting Ross's challenge, but the district attorney chose not to prosecute. The violence continued, however, as McCulloch's brother Henry shot and killed an obstreperous (and reportedly intoxicated) Ross a few months later, and the quarrelsome Sweitzer died in a pistol duel with Robert S. Neighbors in 1841. Ben McCulloch went on to serve as a Confederate general during the Civil War and was killed in the battle of Pea Ridge.

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