Holiday Reading (Dueling Edition)

| Mon Dec. 27, 2010 2:34 PM EST

I've just finished Lee Sandlin's Wicked River, about the Mississippi River's heyday in the 19th century. It's well worth a read if you're into that sort of thing; Sandlin's a lively storyteller, although most of the stories need little more than a nudge to get going anyway. His narrative is rich with pirates, revivalists, hucksters, antebellum paranoia, alligators, and gratuitous violence**. Here's a representative sample:

Johnson records one fight that broke out over the question of whether a celebrated duel in South Carolina had been a sham: "When Mr. Charles Stewart stated that those gentlemen that fought actually fought with bullets, Mr Dahlgren said that they must have fought with paper bullets. Mr Stewart then said that if any man would say that they fought with paper bullets that he is a damned liar and a damned scoundrel and a damned coward." The two men began pummeling each other, Stewart with a walking stick and Dahlgren with an umbrella. They then pulled out pistols and began shooting at each other.

Then their friends joined in with Bowie knives. Sandlin floats the rather preposterous theory that alcohol may have been involved.

**Relevant Twain story: "Journalism in Tennessee," from 1871.

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