The Arkansas Post Story
NPS Logo

Chapter 15:

William O. Allen was a lawyer at Arkansas Post. Experienced in military affairs and an old acquaintance of Governor Miller, Allen was appointed brigadier general of the Arkansas militia. He commanded a position of respect within the community. Robert C. Oden, also a lawyer at the post, was a devoted friend of Allen's, that is until early March, 1820, when both men became embroiled in a bitter argument. Although the exact reason for the altercation is unknown, it was probably a political matter. Allen had only recently delivered a particularly stirring speech to the territorial legislature. Consequently, Allen challenged Oden to a duel.

At sunrise on March 10, 1820, the combatants met on an island in the Arkansas River. Allen brought George W. Scott and Elijah Morton as seconds. A crowd of onlookers watched with interest. Following the established code of duelling, both men stood back-to-back, pistols in hand. The crowd became silent. A duly appointed official began counting-down—10 definite, measured steps separated the men—they turned to face each other. Allen claimed the first shot. With deadly aim, he directed the pistol at Oden's heart. In a split-second, the hammer on Allen's weapon snapped forward sending a shower of sparks into the primed pan—the powder ignited in a puff of smoke—a deafening roar shattered the silence. The ball from Allen's pistol struck a button on Oden's coat. As he fell, almost convulsively, Oden squeezed the trigger. A wild shot from his weapon somehow found its mark, striking Allen in the forehead. Allen slumped to the ground, dead in an instant. Miraculously, Oden survived.

News of the duel spread like wild-fire through the village of Arkansas Post. Everyone mourned the loss of Allen and prayed for Oden's recovery. Woodruff denounced the affair and in the next issue of the Arkansas Gazette described duelling as "a practice . . . which has been universally condemned by every philanthropic mind." [1]

As a result of the Allen-Oden affair, the territorial legislature outlawed the practice of duelling. Duelling in Arkansas, however, only increased and became a recurring theme in territorial politics. To escape legal repercussions, combatants merely met on a neutral island or river bank beyond the pale of justice. To Arkansas Post, the Allen-Oden duel led to one beneficial conclusion. On March 31, 1820, Allen's sister traveled to Arkansas Post to settle her brother's estate. Her transportation, the steamboat Comet, became the first such vessel to reach Arkansas Post and, consequently, opened the Arkansas River for steam navigation.

<<< Previous <<< Contents>>> Next >>>

Last Updated: 13-Feb-2006