The Shott Heard Across America


By James Pylant
Copyright © 2016—All rights reserved
Do not publish or post without written permission

“Nott was shot, and Shott was not.”

“A duel was lately fought in Texas by Alexander Shott and John S. Nott,” the news item began. “Nott was shot, and Shott was not. In this case it was better to be Shott than Nott.” It was a story our 19th century ancestors enjoyed reading—judging from the frequency it appeared in newspapers. The editor of the Detroit Free Press couldn’t resist prolonging the tongue-twister when reprinting the article in 1880:1

There was a rumor that Nott was not shot, and Shott avows that he shot Nott, which proves either that the shot Shott shot at Nott was not shot, or that Nott was shot notwithstanding. Circumstantial evidence is not always good. It may be made to appear on trial that the shot Shott shot shot Nott, or, as accidents with firearms are frequent, it may be possible that the shot Shott shot shot Shott himself, when the whole affair would resolve itself into its original elements, and Shott would be shot, and Nott would be not. We think, however, that the shot Shott shot shot not Shott, but Nott; anyway, it is hard to tell who was shot.

It’s also hard to tell if there was any basis in fact to this story, which spread across the U.S., with reprints in newspapers from Pennsylvania to Arizona. It had appeared in print by at least 1867, with publication in the Jersey Journal;2 yet, a Pennsylvania newspaper shifted the shooting scene to Memphis, Tennessee, four years later.3 Casting further doubt on the tongue-twisting tale, the editor of the Detroit Free Press commented that article (reprinted from Harper’s Weekly) was “an old time story of our youth.”

  1. “Nott Shott,” Detroit Free Press (Detroit, Michigan), 19 September 1880, p. 16.
  2. Jersey Journal (Jersey City, New Jersey), 30 May 1867, p. 4.
  3. ”Business Notices,” Sunbury American (Sunbury, Pennsylvania), 7 January 1871, p. 3.