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Tales of Stackalee


Tales of Stacklee on Track One
Track Two Concert by Lionel Young, Otis Taylor and The Root Doctor

A story appearing in the St. Louis Globe-Democrat in 1895 read:

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.[3]

Lyons eventually died of his injuries. Shelton was tried, convicted, and served prison time for this crime. This otherwise unmemorable crime is remembered in a song. In some older versions of the song, the name of the other party is given as "Billy Deslile" or "De Lion".

Stagger Lee as archetype
Immortalized in song, Stagger Lee has become an archetype, the embodiment of a tough black man—one who is sly, streetwise, cool, lawless, amoral, potentially violent, and who defies white authority.[4] Within thirty years of Shelton's death, Benjamin Botkin records stories of his having been born with a veil over his face (signifying one with the power to see spirits and destined for trouble), or of having sold his soul to the Devil (in exchange for the hat, said to be magic, over which he killed Billy Lyons).

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