Monkey Todd’s Outrageous 1877 Duel In The Covington Woods
Perhaps the strangest duel in Cincinnati history took place in the wee hours of Monday morning, 16 April 1877, in a remote woodland glade south of Covington. The combatants were a rich kid nicknamed Edward Goodson and a down-on-his-luck gambler nicknamed “Monkey Todd.”
Goodson, described as a young man from the Cincinnati suburbs, was heir to a “considerable estate.” Goodson was probably not his real name. Some news reports at the time said his name was Dodson. No Goodson or Dodson named Edward appears in any of the city directories from that time.
Monkey Todd was, however, a real person although stories about the duel don’t use his real name. His real name was Bacon Cooper Tait, but we shall call him by the name he was known by in Cincinnati. Monkey Todd was coming to the end of a legendary gambling spree. Between 1871, when he inherited more than $100,000 on his father’s death, and 1877, he had squandered almost every penny “fighting the tiger,” as they used to say, gambling at the faro tables.
While frittering away his fortune, Monkey had acquired a wife of renowned beauty. He met her in one of the city’s “gilt edge” brothels and spent a lot of his legacy maintaining her in the style to which she had become accustomed. Now that Daddy’s dollars were almost gone, her eye began to wander, and she found “Edward Goodson.”
Mr. Goodson escorted Mrs. Todd for an evening of revelry in Over-the-Rhine. Word got back to her husband and Monkey sent word that, his honor being besmirched, he demanded satisfaction. Goodson accepted the challenge and replied that the matter should be settled immediately. Goodson chose pistols as the weapon. The Cincinnati Gazette [17 April 1877] reported:
“Accordingly, at an early hour yesterday morning two hack loads of people, the principals, seconds, and two or three friends each, crossed the Suspension Bridge for the sacred soil of Kentucky. They passed through Covington, going to the flats between that city and Latonia Springs, and driving into the woods, came to a secluded spot, fit for the work of carnage they were bent upon.”
At some point, the seconds (hack driver Charley Feeney for Goodson and a man allegedly named John Smith for Monkey Todd) colluded to avoid bloodshed. They loaded the pistols only with powder and wadding, withholding the shot. Neither of the principals knew about this plot. Per the Gazette:
“After the usual preliminaries, the word fire was given. ‘Monkey’ fired first, being a little nervous, but Goodson, to show his magnanimity, fired his pistol into the air.”
Monkey Todd was not satisfied and demanded another shot. The two combatants fired again, causing no damage. Monkey, thoroughly frustrated, threw his pistol to the ground, where the barrel sank into the mud. On retrieving the pistols, Feeney and Smith determined that they couldn’t get the muck out of Monkey Todd’s firearm and were unable to load it. They loaded the other pistol, put both under a hat and had Goodson choose one. He got the plugged pistol and Monkey got the pistol loaded only with powder and wadding.
Despite the chicanery, Goodson later swore he heard Monkey Todd’s final shot whiz past his ear.
“The combatants then shook hands, got into the carriages, and came back to the city by the Fifth street ferry, for fear they might be arrested in the goodly city of Covington.”
Neither knew about the practical joke played on them by their seconds.
Monkey Todd’s fortunes declined even further after the fallacious duel. By the mid-1880s, he was scratching together a living as a “finder,” someone who patrolled the city to find lost items, turning them in if a reward was offered. He slept in the basement of Mike Coughlin’s saloon at the southeast corner of Fifth Street and Central Avenue.
“Monkey Todd” really did come from a wealthy family. His name, as noted, was really Bacon C. Tait, and he was the only son of Bacon Tait, one of Virginia’s wealthiest slave traders. His father never married but set up housekeeping in Salem, Massachusetts with Courtney Fountain, a free woman of color. Massachusetts censuses record the children of Bacon Tait and Courtney Fountain, including the son later known as “Monkey Todd,” as mulatto, or mixed blood. In Cincinnati, the mulatto Bacon C. Tait passed as the white Monkey Todd.
Shortly after his father’s death, Bacon C. Tait, aka Monkey Todd, applied for a passport. He is described as 5 feet, 6 inches tall and walking with a limp. He had brown hair and hazel eyes. His complexion, though described as “dark” did not elicit a remark that he was other than white.
Bacon C. Tait, died of tuberculosis on 15 February 1891 at Good Samaritan Hospital. The death certificate describes him as white. He is buried in St. Joseph New Cemetery in Price Hill.
As an aside, did you know that, in Kentucky, to this day, every attorney as well as all members of the state assembly, must swear that they have never fought a duel?
from Greg Hand's Cincinnati Curiosities, which has all sorts of interesting Cincinnati item.