The other day, I found myself humming Lloyd Price’s “Stagger Lee,” the song about a gambling dispute in a bar that led to the shooting of “Billy” by “Stagger Lee.” That led me to think of a couple other tunes involving a fight, often involving a weapon and almost always resulting in casualties.
I sat down at the computer to make sure that that I was recalling the lyrics accurately. It was then that I learned that the song “Stagger Lee” is based on an actual event in St. Louis in 1895, when Lee Sheldon (known locally as “Stag Lee”) fatally shot his friend William Lyons (“Billy”) following a political argument. A quoted portion of the text of the original newspaper report is here. I was struck by the contrast between the poetry of the song and the cold, factual reporting in the 1895 St. Louis Globe Democrat.
I wondered how newspaper reports of the other “fight songs” I remembered would look.
Man Slashed in Bar Room Brawl
Details recently emerged about a fight that took place in a bar on Chicago’s South Side resulting in serious injuries. According to eyewitnesses, a well-dressed gambler, named LeRoy Brown was playing craps at a local gaming and drinking establishment when he became involved in an altercation with the jealous husband of another patron named “Doris,” who prior to the fight had been seated at the bar. The jealous husband, who remains unnamed, claimed that he had become enraged when he saw Mr. Brown staring at Doris. A fight broke out almost immediately between the two men.
Mr. Brown suffered multiple slash wounds and some apparent dismemberment. Authorities are not certain that both men were armed, although Mr. Brown is generally known to carry a razor in his shoe. Sources close to the investigation speculate that the unidentified man may have disarmed Mr. Brown during the fight and used the weapon against him.
In the hospital recovering from his wounds, Mr. Brown conceded that the unfortunate event taught him a valuable lesson. He stated, “I ain’t gonna be messin’ with some jealous guy’s wife anymore.” The unidentified husband remains at large.
Former Showgirl Recalls Lost Love
New York. Looking out of place in an old, low cut dress and wearing faded feathers in her hair, Lola, a former showgirl at the Copacabana Night Club, now a disco, recalled the night thirty years ago that changed her life.
“I was a top showgirl in this place once, you know.” As she stared into the swirling disco ball, she remarked, “Oh yeah, they used to have great shows here. You’d never know it by looking at this crowd.” She paused to order another drink, which must have been her fifth or sixth. “It was great, I tell you. I worked six nights a week from 8 till 4. And then there was Tony — my dearest Tony. He was a bartender here. Right across the floor there. I’d dance and he’d keep the bar popping. We fell in love. Who could ask for more?”
“So, one night this guy Rico walks in the place. He really thought he was something, wearing that big diamond and all. So, the maitre d escorts him to his chair; he sits down and watches me dance. At the end of my act, he calls me over to his table. Well, the guy was not very nice. I’m used to jerks coming on to me, but he just went too far. Next thing I know, I see Tony sailing across the bar at Rico, and the two of them went at each other like wildcats. I saw blood on the floor, and that is when I heard the gunshot. No one could tell who was shot.”
When asked what happened to Tony, Lola simply replied, “I lost him.” She refused to elaborate further, stating simply, “I’m thirty years older now, and I’d rather not discuss it.”
Violent Disturbance at Local Tavern
The usual evening revelry in a local corner tavern on Honky Tonk Street was interrupted when violence broke out between two patrons, both of whom were armed. Police reports indicate that at some point in the evening, a cigar-smoking man wearing a tailor-made suit, a Stetson hat, cowboy boots and several diamond rings, emerged from a Cadillac (presumably a limousine), and boisterously entered the tavern. The man, identified himself as “Big Boy Pete” and warned the customers not to trifle with him, or he would “cut them down.”
With this, the music stopped and the only voice that was heard was that of a Mr. Brown (a/k/a “Bad Man Brown”), another patron. Mr. Brown reportedly smiled and warned Pete that if he were to take three more steps, Mr. Brown would “do him in.” Pete responded with his own warning, which included advising Mr. Brown that he was armed with a loaded 45-caliber pistol.
Undeterred by Pete’s warning, Mr. Brown pulled a knife and attacked Pete. A savage fight ensued, which ended only when Mr. Brown reportedly cut the cigar from Pete’s mouth and knocked him to the ground. Witnesses reported that Pete grabbed his Stetson hat and ran from the tavern. No arrests were made.
Patrons of the tavern often refer to this incident when warning others who come to the tavern not to “mess with” Mr. Brown.
Posse Locates and Kills Murder Suspect
El Paso. An unidentified man, believed to have been a resident of El Paso, was fatally wounded by one or more members of a posse as he returned to El Paso from having previously fled to New Mexico following his involvement in a fatal gun fight with a young Texas cowboy. Witnesses who recognized the dead man reported that he had become infatuated with a young Mexican woman named “Feleena,” and that he spent virtually every evening at a nightspot called “Rosa’s Cantina,” where he would longingly watch Feleena dance. The alleged murder took place when the El Paso resident became angry at seeing the Texas cowboy drinking with Feleena. The El Paso resident challenged the cowboy, who immediately drew his gun, but not before the El Paso resident fired the fatal shot.
Following the incident at Rosa’s, the El Paso resident fled on horseback in the direction of New Mexico. The evidence suggests that his decision to return to El Paso and Rosa’s Cantina was driven by his continuing infatuation with Feleena, who reportedly ran to him as he lay dying from the wounds inflicted by the posse.
The songs and artists are, of course: