We’ve posted several versions of Stack O’Lee/ Stagger Lee here on the TweedBlog, so I’d like to give a little information on the true story behind one of American music’s more enduring songs. Lyons and Lee were real people and, according to news reports of the day, ‘Stag’ Lee really did shoot Lyons in an argument over a hat.
The St. Louis Globe Democrat, 1895
“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”
Lyons died the day after Christmas, 1895. Missouri has a searchable database of Coroner’s records. If you want to see the page for Lyons, visit Missouri Digital Heritage. You can even order a copy of the coroner’s report.
There’s more on the song and the legend here: Stagger Lee
The intersection of 11th and Morgan doesn’t really exist anymore. Morgan in that stretch has become Convention Plaza. Here’s a Google map of the crime scene:
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Mississippi John Hurt playing Stack O Lee Blues
The Down Home Boys singing Original Stack Oâ€™Lee Blues