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Dueling Pistol


Flintlock dueling pistol of the early 1800s like the infamous Burr pistol which was said to have killed 22 in duels


Sedalia--in a county named for a duelist

Sedalia is the county seat of Pettis County, named in 1833 to honor Missouri’s sole Representative to Congress in the late 1820s. Spencer Pettis was a hero for reasons hard to grasp today. In 1831 he wrangled in the newspapers with Major Thomas Biddle. The feud began with a legitimate difference of opinion on President Jackson’s banking politics, then took some peculiar turns. Biddle called the Virginia-born aristocrat “a dish of skimmed milk.” Pettis questioned the Major’s masculinity—in print. Major Biddle busted into Pettis’s hotel room and horsewhipped him nearly to death. At his trial Biddle promised to answer any satisfaction Pettis wanted. Pettis began to take shooting lessons.

On a hot August morning, a thousand people watched them row to Bloody Island in the Mississippi River at St. Louis. According to legend, Biddle brandished the same Flintlock pistol Aaron Burr used to kill Alexander Hamilton. Because Pettis had done the “calling out,” the nearsighted Biddle could demand fire at just five feet—a distance so short the gun barrels overlapped. People on shore heard just one shot when the pair slew each other. The next day, Judge Peck urged Spencer, “Mr. Pettis, you have proved yourself to be a great man; now die like a man.” 

Pettis replied, “Yes, Sir.” And died, still a bachelor at age 29. The 41 year old Biddle lived only a little longer. Both were greatly admired for choosing death over dishonor. Duels were not outlawed until after the Civil War when at last man’s appetite for blood had been temporarily sated.


Sedalia--made county seat by theft

In 1856 the Pettis county seat was Georgetown--until General George Rappeen Smith contrived its removal to his new town on his property a few miles away.


Buffalo Bill's Wild West

Sedalia--Civil War Site

Some 1500 of Reb General Jo Shelby's Iron Brigade sacked and looted the town on October 15, 1864.

The amazing General Jo Shelby was a cavalry leader so extraordinary folks said he could "ride between the Raindrops."


Sedalia--End of the Trail

Around 300 people lived in Sedalia before the Civil War. The Union pacific arrived in 1861. By 1865 the population blossomed to 1,000.

For three years Sedalia was the western terminus of the Western (Missouri) Pacific Railway. At the end of the Civil War, Easterners were hungry for good times and good beef. Chicago slaughterhouses clamored to cash in on that hunger and would pay as much as $40 for a good steer.

Cattle were worth three dollars apiece in Texas. Pay another dollar each to walk the beeves to Sedalia and the rancher might get fifteen dollars a head, perhaps even twenty. During the year after the Civil War ended, more than a quarter million longhorns jammed the dusty trail to end of track in Sedalia. Sedalia was the first true cowtown.



Steer Roper
Reading Discussion Questions

Sedalia--Cradle of Ragtime

Scott Joplin studied music at Sedalia's George R. Smith College, a school for African-Americans. Before he found a publisher who wanted ragtime, he already had a waltz and two marches in print. He was forced to share credit and copyright with "arranger" Charles Daniels on Original Rags. Newspaper advertisements even named Daniels as composer.

Joplin learned his lesson and hired a lawyer. Robert Higdon steered Scott to music store owner John Stark who launched a new publishing company on the basis of just one of Joplin's songs. His catchy Maple Leaf Rag made Joplin a star in the ragtime heavens. The Maple Leaf Rag remained the most celebrated of his works until a 1973 Paul Newman-Robert Redford movie The Sting made The Entertainer even more famous. The 1899 contract gave Joplin a one-penny royalty on each sheet music copy--a steady stream of income for three decades. Even though "Maple Leaf Rag" is far from easy to play, everyone seemed to want a copy--a half million sold by 1909.


Sheet Music

Sedalia--Civilized at last

By the end of the Nineteenth Century, Sedalia had all the modern trappings of a city--electricity, steam-heated buildings downtown, five newspapers, horsedrawn streetcars, a handsome park, telephones, and the manufacturing and repair works for two big railroads. Plans were being laid for a stately Greek Revival Library building--the first Carnegie Library in the state. Sedalia even bought land in an attempt to wrestle the state capitol away from Jefferson City. The plan failed, but the town had a nice parcel to offer as the Official State Fairgrounds--and that plan worked.

Crisscrossed by the Missouri Pacific and the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroads, not to mention branches of smaller railways, Sedalia offered a grand place for trade--and attracted the biggest road shows of the day. At the end of the 1898 season, Sedalia was as far east as Buffalo Bill's Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders of the world would travel. Buffalo Bill was mysteriously missing, but Annie Oakley and Johnny Baker headlined as the show played on Friday night, September 23, 1898. That very same autumn, Scott Joplin was supporting himself as a piano player at the Maple Leaf Club, a saloon over Blocher's feed Store on Main Street.

19th Century Ladies

Civilized?--Let's Not Be Too Hasty

Lest you belive train robbery ceased with the death of famed Missouri outlaw Jesse James, here's a report of a bona fide foiled attempt which took place at Muddy Creek just north of Georgetown, less than ten miles from Sedalia. News of the botched crime reached east as far as the New York Times.

November 30, 1898, Missouri Pacific #74 from St. Joseph by way of Kansas City and Lexington was stopped by three armed men. The bungled crime was an inside job. Authorities captured engineer James West and wounded one of his cohorts while a third man escaped. Fortunately, Supertintendent L.D. Hopkins got wind of the heist in time to remove the money and to send Frank Barnett with five other MoPac secret service men to guard the baggage car safe.