United States v. Robert Crittenden
The duel that was the basis for this indictment is still featured prominently in Arkansas histories. In 1827, Robert Crittenden was the Secretary of the Arkansas Territory (equivalent to today's Lieutenant Governor) and Henry Wharton Conway was the Territorial Delegate to Congress (the sole representative to Congress from the territory). In the spring of the year Crittenden and Conway began quarreling publicly over incriminating information Crittenden supplied to Conway's opponent for Delegate to Congress, Robert C. Oden. The charge was that Conway had "borrowed" and never paid back $600 from $7,000 he was entrusted to transport to Crittenden for the Quapaw Indians. Conway supporters published accusations against Crittenden, who sued the editor of the Arkansas Gazette for libel (those papers are also in this collection).
The disagreement culminated in a duel on October 29, 1827, on an island in the Mississippi River, opposite the mouth of the White river. Wharton Rector acted as the second of Mr. Conway, and Colonel Benjamin Desha was Mr. Crittenden's second. According to Hallum, who goes into some detail discussing the duel, there seemed to be a misunderstanding as to how the duel would proceed. Wharton Rector understood that Crittenden and Conway were to be back-to-back until after the word 'fire,' when they were to wheel half round to the right and fire. Desha, however, understood they were to stand with their right sides facing, and were not to move out of their tracks before firing (this was the way they eventually fought). Thus, Crittenden had the advantage of fighting in the way that he had been instructed and doubtless practiced. Hallum writes that Crittenden was relatively unskilled with a pistol as compared to Conway, who was a "fine shot." Crittenden's friends made him practice and he reluctantly agreed to do so, but "after firing three shots and each time missing a big tree, he threw the pistol on the ground, said he would not practice for the purpose of enabling himself to kill a man, and never shot again until the signal was given on the ground. . ." During the duel, Conway's pistol exploded an instant in before Crittenden's gun fired, and "the lint flew from the breast of Mr. Crittenden, the ball passing through the lappel of his coat without inflicting any injury." This, apparently, caused Colonel Desha to lean forward and ask, "'Mr. Crittenden, are you seriously hurt[?]' to which he replied in the negative, but said, 'I fear I have killed Mr. Conway,' who reeled and fell the next moment, pierced through the body." Conway died eleven days later, on November 9, 1827. (Hallum 49-50, 66). Consequently, the grand jury issued a presentment against both Crittenden and Benjamin Desha, his second (see U.S. v. Desha). The United States Prosecuting Attorney Pro Tem, Thomas Hubbard, indicted Crittenden for the death of Conway.Crittenden moved to quash the indictment on the grounds that the time of the challenge was stated to be "on or about the twentieth of October," and because the indictment did not conclude with the formulaic words "against the peace and dignity of the United States." The Superior Court quashed the indictment. In 1829, President Andrew Jackson failed to reappoint Crittenden. He ran unsuccessfully for office, and died before statehood in 1834, while arguing a case in Vicksburg. Shown here are the indictment and motion to quash. Duels were common between prominent Arkansans. In fact, in 1824, two of the three Superior Court judges dueled, and Judge Andrew Scott killed Judge Joseph Selden. Scott was never charged. For more on the background events leadingup to the duel, see Crittenden v. Woodruff.
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