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Civilized Duel

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

There was no sign on the way into Rock Island, Illinois, or into Davenport, Iowa, warning that civilized behavior would not be tolerated, so how were George Ralston and Charles Hegner to know the police would be after them? All they had done was to fight the first duel in Iowa.

Both George and Charles were more civilized than most young men. Charles was the son of a wealthy liquor dealer in Philadelphia, while George was a local, considered a bit foppish, but in demand among the social set.

One evening in the 1840s, in the middle of a fancy party at the Rock Island House, they discovered that Miss Sophia Fisher had inadvertently promised the same dance to both young men. When neither of them would back down, Charles challenged George to a duel. George accepted, choosing pistols at twenty paces.

The duel took place at sunrise along the Mississippi River a mile below Davenport, complete with seconds. Dr. Craig of Rock Island was selected as the doctor in attendance.

In the middle of the count to ten, George Ralston stopped to ask if the quarrel could be settled in some other way. "It was only a dance," he said. When Hegner refused, Ralston announced that he would not kill his friend, only wing him—which he did, in the arm. Hegner missed Ralston entirely.

The wound was superficial and soon dressed. Their honor satisfied, the duelists shook hands. Ralston offered to buy drinks at the LeClaire House.

On the way, they learned that the Davenport police were on their way arrest them, and they headed across the river to Rock Island. Here they were met by the Rock Island police, who arrested them for issuing a challenge on Illinois soil, and ordered them to leave the county or be arrested.

The civilized young men did not need to be told twice. Who would want to stay in such crude and primitive surroundings? As they left, George Ralston spoke for the two of them: "I'm for a more civilized country where a man's honor is considered something of value."

Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by Augustana College, Rock Island, Illinois.

Beginning 1995, historian and folklorist Dr. Roald Tweet spun his stories of the Mississippi Valley to a devoted audience on WVIK. Dr. Tweet published three books as well as numerous literary articles and recorded segments of "Rock Island Lines." His inspiration was that "kidney-shaped limestone island plunked down in the middle of the Mississippi River," a logical site for a storyteller like Dr. Tweet.