The Guy Pettis County Is Named After Had A Pretty Wild Story
Okay kids, you're gonna have to buckle up for this one. I admittedly haven't done a lot of history research about us too often. I did look up some stories about the guy our town was named after, though. SO the other day, I got to wondering about who or what Pettis County is named after. I did some basic Googling and... boy oh boy. This is a STORY. I guess i didn't take the right classes in High School? I totally missed this story. But, keep in mind I'm not the smartest person in the room, so I'll have to tell it to you my way.
Pettis County is named after a dude originally from Virginia named Spencer Darwin Pettis. Spencer got into politics at a very young age, and was very popular. He was elected to Missouri General Assembly at the age of 22, despite the fact that the minimum age to run was 24. So he technically broke the law so he could make laws. And he won big time, so people really liked him. He didn't serve the whole term though, because he was appointed to be the Missouri Secretary of State. Huge deal, right? Secretary of State at like, 24. What was I doing when I was 24? Nothing. I was like, working part time and having water cannon fights in Warrensburg. This dude clearly had ambition, smarts, and a lot of charm. And, he did some good, he voted to work on the Cumberland Road and voted to ask the President to work to dismantle slavery - a good thirty years earlier than it happened.
But, well, sherty nonsense got weird in this dude's life right quick. Spence started to roll with a friend named Thomas Hart Benton, who was a senator. He really resonated with this guy and totally backed all his ideas. Some of which included bank reform. You know people can get ugly about money. So Benton thought there should be some major reform at the Second Bank of the United States. Since your boy was on the campaign trail, he ended up criticizing the president of that bank, Nicolas Biddle.
Nick had a brother, Major Thomas Biddle, who was an paymaster in the Jefferson Barracks. Thom did NOT enjoy Spence's criticism one bit. They got to talking crap about each other in the newspaper! They would write letters to the editor questioning each other's manhood, nasty insults. At one point, Biddle called Pettis a "dish of skimmed milk".
Well things came to a head pretty quickly. Pettis got sick and was basically confined to his bed. So what did Biddle do? He went to his house and beat him with a rawhide whip.
Like you do. Totally normal. That's like, every other Sunday to me. I gotta wonder what Nick was thinking in all this. Was he like, "Alright go bro, get him!" or was he like, "Dude... can you just let this go, I'm a banker for crying out loud, you're embarrassing me..."
So of course, Pettis, Benton and the gang aren't having this. At first, they responded legally and had him arrested a few times. But of course at the court date for the peace disturbance, Pettis pulls out a gun and tries to shoot Biddle IN THE COURTROOM. He had to be restrained by his friends.
Again, like you do (Please note the sarcasm).
After the election (Pettis won again), Pettis decides it's time for a duel. Pettis needed to make up for his humiliation, after all. So the messenger was sent out, and Pettis says, "HEY. I'm calling you out, let's do this thing!". So since Biddle is the one who has been challenged, he sets the terms. He says, "Okay, we're gonna meet on Bloody Island, and we're gonna stand five feet apart and count to two because I can't see!".
Bloody Island is a total badass name for a place that isn't really an island, but more of a bit of land that sticks out in the river. I Googled it. It's a:
a point of high land that juts out into a large body of water; a headland.
Obviously some stuff had gone down there. I read an estimate was something like, over a hundred duels had gone down there by that time. HECK, Pettis' bro Benton, you remember him? He had two duels there himself years earlier! They didn't play back then. Got a problem? DUEL. Don't like the cut of someone's jib? DUEL. Discuss it like adults? Heck no, Blood Island is waiting For ME!
Some people think Biddle set those terms so that Pettis would refuse and have to back down. To force him to look cowardly? I don't know for sure, but five feet apart seems like... really close. Biddle HAD to know this wouldn't be good for him. Even if he gets his dude...the chances are really, REALLY high that the guy that's fifteen years younger than you with perfect eyesight will get you too.
In the movies, isn't it always like, fifteen paces? That sounds like fifteen feet to me, at least. Even if it was five paces, that's way short. Like even if the dude is near sighted, you're gonna get shot. That's just... yep, double checking that, that's nothing. That's less than they're asking you to social distance, so people were totally getting murked that day.
So they show up, and thousands of people are watching from both sides of the river. They count to two, and bam, the smoke clears, both dudes are down. As expected. Somehow they managed to apologize to each other as they were being carried off, but DANG. It really took you two looking each other in the eyes and shooting each other to apologize?! Well. The dude did call you a dish of skimmed milk and did beat you with a whip when you were too sick to move. So... maybe I get it a little.
But anyway, both dudes died, Pettis that day, Biddle a few days later. They were both buried honorably, and now the county we live in is named after a dude who didn't make it to thirty, going down at the hands of a near sighted dude with some sick burns.
Isn't history fascinating? Every time I dive into these things.... wow. Just craziness.