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Stagger Lee update: ‘Stag’ Lee’s house still stands

By Kenneth Rainey. Filed under: TweedBlog. Tags: ,

In the comments to yesterday’s post about the true story behind Stack O’Lee / Stagger Lee, Michael M. hipped me to a whole lot more information about the story, including some excellent posts on his blog.

One of the most interesting chestnuts is that the house Lee Sheldon, aka ‘Stag’ Lee, lived in is still standing. Here’s a street view, courtesy of Google maps:

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And William Lyons is buried in St. Peter’s cemetary in Normandy, Missouri. Here’s a link to the grave:

Check out Michael’s blog, Peripatetic Circumambulant, to dig deeper into what has become one of the most enduring ‘bad man’ songs in American music.


1895 St. Louis newspaper article: William Lyons shot by ‘Stag’ Lee

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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Related posts:
Mississippi John Hurt playing Stack O Lee Blues
The Down Home Boys singing Original Stack O’Lee Blues


The Down Home Boys singing Original Stack O’Lee Blues

By Kenneth Rainey. Filed under: Audio, TweedBlog. Tags: , , ,

…Of course, the word ‘Original’ in the title more or less ensures that it’s not the original, but what the heck. Originality notwithstanding, this is the rarest of the rare. There is only one known copy of this recording, and it’s in Joe Bussard’s collection.

This was recorded in Chicago in 1927, and issued on the revered Black Patti label. Black Patti was unusual among so-called ‘Race’ record labels of its era in that it was black owned.

The song is one of the most enduring ‘bad man’ ballads in American music, surviving well into the rock and roll era. The prominient III chord is a ragtime artifact.

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Courtesy of This track is included on the Old Hat compilation CD Down in the Basement, which every American should own.


Mississippi John Hurt playing Stack O Lee Blues

Mississippi John Hurt recorded this in New York City on December 28, 1928, for the OKeh record company. Like Hurt’s other 1928 recordings, it failed to make much of an impact commercially, and the Great Depression obliterated the record industry in short order. Hurt returned to Mississippi and worked as a sharecropper. Though he would occasionally perform at dances and other local events, he never recorded again until his ‘rediscovery’ as part of the 1960s folk revival.

Stack-O-Lee Blues is one of the most frequently recorded ‘bad man’ ballads. That said, I’ve never heard a finer performance. Hurt’s gentle vocal delivery belies the violence of the lyrics, and the wordless vocal in the middle section is a thing of rare, timeless beauty.

Stack O Lee Blues (MP3)
Courtesy of

Previous Mississippi John Hurt Posts:
Mississippi John Hurt playing Avalon Blues
Mississippi John Hurt plays Goodnight Irene
Mississippi John Hurt singing Spike Driver’s Blues