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Gun Slinging Near Lake Merced

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Obelisks commemorating where Broderick and Terry stood [Photo: Vards Uzvards]

If you've ever done the loop around Lake Merced, you may have noticed the plaque commemorating the Terry-Broderick Duel near SF State. Tucked in the trees by some townhouses, the spot was once site to an important event in the country's anti-slavery movement.

On one side was Senator David C. Broderick of California, and on the other was ex-Chief Justice David S. Terry of the Supreme Court of California. In the early post-Gold Rush wild wild west days of California, the two politicians were friends and allies, but the issue of slavery split them as Broderick was an abolitionist and Terry was pro-slavery. When California became part of the United States in 1850, it had a vague antislavery constitution was open for lots of twisted interpretation.

Senator David Broderick (left) and ex-Chief Justice David Terry (right) [Photos: SAN FRANCISCO HISTORY CENTER, SAN FRANCISCO PUBLIC LIBRARY 1 and 2]

Terry lost a reelection campaign because of his views on pro-slavery and publicly blamed Broderick for the loss. The two verbally spared for a while, until Terry challenged Broderick to a (then illegal in San Francisco) duel. When the originally scheduled duel drew a large crowd and was shut down by city police, they secretly moved it to Lake Merced, which at the time was south of the city's boundaries. Broderick's gun misfired into the dirt during the 1-2-3 count, allowing Terry to fire directly at his chest. He died at a colleague's house in Fort Mason three days later.

Pistols used in the duel [Photo: SAN FRANCISCO HISTORY CENTER, SAN FRANCISCO PUBLIC LIBRARY]

Terry was later tried and acquitted in Marin County, but the duel became known nationwide, and Broderick was turned into a martyr for the anti-slavery movement. San Francisco erected a monument to Broderick in Laurel Hill Cemetery, and named a street in his honor. In 1932 the site of the duel was registered as California Historical Landmark number 19, and is commemorated with two obelisks placed where the duelers stood. The two Belgian .58 caliber pistols from the duel were sold at auction in San Francisco in 1998 for $34,500.

Plaque commemorating the duel site [Photo: SAN FRANCISCO HISTORY CENTER, SAN FRANCISCO PUBLIC LIBRARY]

UPDATE: The Western Neighborhoods Project has video of an awesome reenactment of the duel!

· The Broderick-Terry Duel [NPS]
· Senator David Colbreth Broderick 1820-1859 [Virtual Museum of San Francisco]
· Broderick – Terry Duel [Historical Marker Database]