I just happened to click on Wikipedia this morning to find that their feature article is a tale from Alexandria’s somewhat less than genteel past.


The Sandbar Duel is famous for being the last public duel fought in the US. By this time most states had outlawed dueling. This duel involved the parties of Dr Thomas Harris Maddox — my Great-Great-Great-Grandfather, Alexander Fulton’s business partner, and town surgeon for Alexandria at the time, and Samuel Levi Wells — the Sheriff of Alexandria (and oddly enough also my Great-Great-Great-Grandfather as well as the Great-Great-Grandfather of author Rebbecca Wells of Ya Ya Sisterhood fame).

This was a rougher time for Alexandria just as many of the first plantations were being established and at the time our fair city was the sinful den of inequity across the river from the military establishment of Post Du Rapides (present-day Pineville); I suppose some things never change.

As was the case in many frontier towns (and Alexandria was the frontier (with Spain)), many residents earned their money and then spent it in the saloons. Maddox was no exception. He liked his whiskey and when he got enough of it he had no problem telling whomever would listen all the medical-related dirt of the city.

In a drunken rant one day Dr. Maddox let loose that the reason Sheriff Wells’ daughter had to retire to the country had nothing to do with illness and everything to do with being pregnant (and unmarried).

This led to a series of exchanges in town with pot shots being taken at each other (funny that our Sheriff and town doctor were probably involved in Alexandria’s first drive-by). Eventually realizing they could not continue the two agreed to a duel to settle the matter.

With dueling being illegal in both Louisiana and Mississippi, the two cooked up a plan to fight it out on a sandbar in the middle of the Mississippi river between Natchez and present-day Vidalia. They theorized that being in neither Louisiana nor Mississippi that the sandbar could prove a legal host for their very illegal activity.

Both sides recruited their buddies and formed dueling parties. The most famous member of the crew being Jim Bowie.

During the organized portion of the duel both Maddox and Wells fired a single shot and completely missed each other. Following the failed chivalric solution a drunken brawl ensued with both Maddox and Wells skirting off to the side and drinking more while their cohorts bloodied the sand.

The duel itself is famous for being the last public spectacle of its sort fought in the United States and also in being the first recorded use of a Bowie Knife.

9 thoughts

  1. Drew I knew something was good about you. You are also related to assistant Rapides Parish D.A. and Rapides Parish Police Jury attorney, Tom Wells, who is a good friend of mine and the brother of Rebbecca.

    1. Yeah Greg I don’t remember if I’ve ever met him. I probably have. I honestly was too young to remember most of all those relatives by the time my family stopped doing the whole massive Sunday dinners.

      It is funny reading Rebbecca’s books though as the characters seem eerily familiar. Also if you want a laugh watch the film adaptation of Ya Ya. There is a scene that takes place in front of a red brick liquor store called “Abracadabra”. Now I wonder what that was supposed to represent…

  2. And for those of you who want to find out more about the Wells and Bowie’s and all about the happening’s of the past in Central Louisiana visit my favories web site.

  3. Came upon your blog by accident. I was looking up the date of the
    Sandbar Duel and the internet was faster then digging through some papers. I found it interesting that your Great-Great-Great-Grandfather was Samuel Levi Wells III. My Great-Great-Great-Grandfather was James Madison Wells, his brother, and former Governor
    of Louisiana.

    1. Hi Bernie, My 3x great grandfather was Gov. James Madison Wells. We are related. It’s nice to have found you.
      Martha Hathorn

        1. Hi Bernie, I have only now just seen this message from you. James Madison Wells was my 3X great grandfather. I have lots of info and pictures on Ancestry.com and am constantly doing research and visiting cemeteries to compile information on our ancestors. Let me know if you would like to see my page on Ancestry.com.
          Martha Hathorn

  4. Maddox was my g,g grandfather> would like to learn more about family. My father was a bastard offspring of descendant of Dr. Maddox.

    1. Philip, what was the name of your father and the name of your mother? I may be able to help you find something.
      Martha Hathorn

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