The Lower Mississippi River Water Trail


Rivergator Appendix VIII:

Additional Stories from Natchez Area

by Adam Elliott


The Sandbar Fight or The Wells-Maddox Duel


On the September 19th 1827, just 10 years after Mississippi was granted statehood, one of America’s mythic frontier figures was shaped.   Jim Bowie, and his legendary blade, were engaged in a melee just a few miles north of Natchez Mississippi in an area now known as Giles Island.


The event itself was centered around 2 individuals from the Alexandria LA area, Samuel L. Wells and Dr. Thomas H. Maddox.   Wells and Maddox, both prominent members of the Alexandria community, had a prior beef concerning honor disparaging comments made by Maddox towards Wells’ daughter.  As matters of honor went in that day, differences could only be settled in the gentlemanly sport of dueling.


As dueling had been outlawed in both Louisiana and Mississippi, the party agreed to meet on the first sandbar north of Natchez to settle their dispute, the thinking being that the sandbar was neither Mississippi nor Louisiana.   Preparations were made, seconds were called and witnesses gathered.  The respective parties left Alexandria to meet up in Natchez.


The Wells party consisted of his second, Jim Bowie, Major George McWhorter, General Samuel Cuny and several others.  Maddox was seconded by Judge R.A. Crane, with Major Norris Wright, Carey and Alfred Blanchard as witnesses.  Behind the scenes there were simmering tensions between General Cuny and Judge Crane as well as between Major Norris Wright and Jim Bowie for some past transgression left unsettled.


When the duel began Wells and Maddox squared off, fired shots ate each other, both missing.  A custom of the day required, a second pair of pistols were produced and fired.  Again, Wells and Maddox missing.  At this point in the duel, it was common to call the matter settled, have a drink and get on with things.  As Wells and Maddox made of to the tree line to have a drink, Bowie walked forward to greet them. 


About this time General Cuny decided that he and Judge Crane should attempt to resolve past differences with a pistol.  Crane, being a bit quicker than Cuny, fired his pistol, missing Cuny and striking Bowie in the thigh, knocking him to the ground.  Crane fired from a second pistol as Cuny fired at Crane.  Cranes’ shot stuck Cuny, leaving him dying in the sand, Cunys’ shot causing minor injuries to Crane.


It was at this point that Bowie picked himself up, charged Judge Crane, only to be smashed in the head by Crane with a pistol.  It was at this point that Major Wright entered the fray, shooting Bowie in the arm and then attempting to stab Bowie in the chest with his sword cane.  Wright’s sword stroke failed to pierce Bowie, becoming lodged in his sternum.  Bowie then grabbed Wright, shoving his knife into Wright’s belly, dispatching the Major.  Bowie was then rushed by the Blanchard brothers, both firing pistols, one shot striking Bowie in the arm.  Mr. Bowie then cleaved a sizable hunk out of Alfred Blanchard’s forearm.  As the Blanchard brothers turned to run, one of Mr. Bowies party fired and hit Carey Blanchard.  At this point the melee concluded.


Major Norris Wright and General Samuel Cuny lay dead.  Alfred and Carey Blanchard, Col. Crain and Jim Bowie all suffering wounds, with Bowies being the most grievous.  Jim Bowie survived 2 gunshots, 1 stab wound and a pistol blow to the face.   Crain helped carry Bowie away, with Bowie recorded as having thanked him, saying, Col. Crain, I do not think, under the circumstances, you ought to have shot me.


 Newspapers picked up the story locally and then spread to gain national interest.  Jim Bowie went on to defend himself with his knife several more times, only heightening his and his knifes reputation for being deadly, before dying at the Battle of the Alamo in 9 years later.