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.
On this day in 1877, botanist and doctor Levi James Russell was whipped for being an infidel and free thinker. The Georgia native was born in 1831 and in 1868 moved to Harrisville, Texas, where he bought a farm and practiced medicine. Russell was for several years the chairman of the committee on medical botany of the Texas State Medical Association (now the Texas Medical Association), which published his report in the Transactions for 1886. He was an incorporator of the Little River Academy, devoted to the study of science; in 1875 he became a charter member and president of the Association of Freethinkers of Bell County. Because of his radical views he was expelled from the Masons and Knights of Pythias. On the night of October 6, 1877, Russell was assaulted for being an infidel. He continued his medical practice and his natural-science collection in Bell County until his death in 1908 at Temple.
On this day in 1892, Clyde Littlefield, athlete and track coach, was born in Oil City, Pennsylvania. His family moved to Spindletop, Texas, in 1904. He was an outstanding athlete at the University of Texas, to which he returned as a coach in 1920. Littlefield served as track coach for the next forty-one years. His teams won twenty-five Southwest Conference titles, and many of his athletes became NCAA champions, All-Americans, and Olympic contestants. He was cofounder in 1925 of the Texas Relays. He was on the coaching staff for the United States at the 1952 Olympic Games in Helsinki. Not only was he a track coach, but he served from 1927 to 1933 as UT's head football coach and won two Southwest Conference championships. He died in 1981.