Stagger Lee

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1865, March 16. Lee Shelton is born.

1865. With $100, John B. Stetson rents a small room, buys tools and $10 worth of fur. The John B. Stetson Hat Company is born.

Late 1800s. A popular song of the south is "Bully of the Town." Ragtime emerges as a new musical style. St. Louis is the Ragtime hothouse.

Early 1890s. Madame Babe’s is a famous, classy St. Louis brothel. Madame Babe once refused to have Oscar Wilde in her house. Mama Lou, the house singer, is renown for belting out her version of “Bully of the Town.”

1894. On a train from Chicago to San Francisco, white sports writer, horse judge and amateur musician, Charles E. Trevathan, plays the song to amuse fellow passengers. Making no mention of St. Louis brothels, he claims to have learned the tune from Tennessee blacks. The passengers encourage him to put lyrics to it. He does.

1895, September 16. May Irwin, Trevathan’s girlfriend, sings his “The Bully Song” in the Broadway musical, “The Widow Jones.” Although it pre-dates Lee Shelton’s inclusion in the song and is arguably used in a non-pejorative sense, this is the only time a white person records the word “nigger” in the Stagger Lee bloodline.

Have you heard about that Bully that just come to town?
He’s down among the niggers, layin’ their bodies down.
I’m a-lookin’ for that bully and he must be found.

1895, 27 December. "Stag" Lee Shelton shoots William Lyons in the Bill Curtis Saloon, "the most extensive chance emporium in North St. Louis". There is a argument that culminated with Lyons snatching Shelton's Stetson hat. It is only 1 of 5 similar murders that day in St. Louis.

St. Louis Globe-Democrat


William Lyons, 25, a levee hand, was shot in the abdomen yesterday evening at 10 o'clock in the saloon of Bill Curtis, at Eleventh and Morgan Streets, by Lee Sheldon, a carriage driver.

Lyons and Sheldon were friends and were talking together. Both parties, it seems, had been drinking and were feeling in exuberant spirits. The discussion drifted to politics, and an argument was started, the conclusion of which was that Lyons snatched Sheldon's hat from his head. The latter indignantly demanded its return. Lyons refused, and Sheldon withdrew his revolver and shot Lyons in the abdomen. When his victim fell to the floor Sheldon took his hat from the hand of the wounded man and coolly walked away.

He was subsequently arrested and locked up at the Chestnut Street Station. Lyons was taken to the Dispensary, where his wounds were pronounced serious. Lee Sheldon is also known as 'Stag' Lee.

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