Friday, June 24, 2011

Washington Ryer (1821-1892) Respected Doctor; Famous Duelist

Plot 9, Lots 23-30

Born in New York in 1821, Ryer studied medicine and joined General Winfield Scott’s Mexican campaign as an assistant surgeon. He became medical director of three army hospitals in Jalapa, and after the defeat of Mexico, he brought the sick and wounded to New Orleans. Impressed with the opportunities to be found in California, he returned there after his army service and opened a medical practice in Stockton. This lucrative practice allowed him to invest in real estate and retire in 1861 at the age of 40.

In 1856 the California Assembly commissioned the respected Dr. Ryer to investigate the operations of the Stockton State Hospital for the Insane. Ryer later testified that the hospital administration, headed by a Dr. Langdon, was incompetent. Dr. Langdon was heard to say, "He [Ryer] is going to stick his nose into other people’s business once too often." One dark evening shortly thereafter, Ryer was accosted on the street and beaten with fists and pistol butts by Doctors Langdon and Hunter. Ryer warned the two that he was going to arm himself and hunt down Langdon. The news that one doctor was hunting for the other raced through the pioneer town. One of Ryer’s friends, versed in the Deep
South dueling culture, suggested they duel to settle the matter—even though the "bloody code" of dueling had been outlawed in California.

Ryer dutifully followed the required steps of written challenge, choice of seconds, and weapons (Langdon provided "hair trigger" dueling pistols), and the date for the duel was set. On a foggy morning, the two met by the San Joaquin River bank. Before the duel could commence, the sheriff appeared and put a stop to the proceedings. A few days later, two skiffs filled with "duck hunters" slipped over to the beach of Rough and Ready Island on a clear afternoon. At the first signal, Ryer’s hair trigger fired into the ground. Then Langdon’s gun cracked and the bullet whistled past Ryer’s ear. A second set of bullets did the same. "Once more," said Ryer. "Three shots for a blow—that’s the code, isn’t it?" Ryer’s third bullet struck Langdon in the leg, shattering his knee before

Langdon could squeeze off his own shot. Dr. Langdon died a cripple in 1880.

In 1860, Dr. Ryer married Mary Fletcher of Boston, and they had one child—Fletcher F. Ryer. Washington Ryer lived until 1892, a noted physician and pillar of the community.

Ryer Island in the Sacramento River delta is named in his honor.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi, just wanted to express my gratitude for the contributions to this site. I find myself drawn to Mountain View Cemetery whenever I am in the area to find peace within and remind myself that life is fleeting. So many pioneers are laid to rest here and it's very intriguing to learn about the people behind the local cities and street names of the Bay Area. One day soon I will plan to attend one of the docent led tours. Thank you again!