When talking about the age of the dueling in New Orleans, as we did in this space last week, one name invariably comes up: Jose “Pepe” Llulla, the Spanish patriot who is often described as the the most talented swordsman in town at the time.
But separating the facts from the myth about Llulla can be a challenge. All we really have to do are some oft-repeated stories, many of which carry a whiff of a great story about them.
But that’s for sure: just focusing on Llulla’s dueling career doesn’t give the full picture of the man.
“Few men have tried as many different things as he has with the same success,” Lafcadio Hearn wrote of Llulla. “He built slaughterhouses and speculated in cattle; he bought entire fleets of flat boats and sold the equipment for construction…; he bought land across the river and built cabins there.
Llulla also bought and operated a sawmill. He bought the rue Louisiana cemetery, now known as the Saint-Vincent-de-Paul cemetery.
According to his 1888 obituary in The Daily Picayune, Llulla later in life also purchased the island of Grand Terre, where he herded cattle. At the time of his death, he had recently purchased an orange grove at Cheniere Caminada, just west of Grand Isle.
But it was in 1844 that Llulla embarked on the only one of his secondary activities that arguably rivaled his dueling career in terms of pure colors.
It was then in Algiers, just in front of the rue du Canal, he initiated the city into authentic Spanish bullfights.
The townspeople had been introduced to animal blood sports before, and as miserable as such contests often are, they apparently loved them. The editors of the Daily Picayune have cracked their tongues at such events, although they published an 1840 ad for a “great animal fight” between three dogs, a bear, a bull and “l ‘invincible donkey’. (Insert the punchline here.)
Likewise, brutal exhibitions were organized as early as 1816 on the Place du Congo, wrote Hans Rasmussen of the LSU library in 2014 for The Journal of the Louisiana Historical Association.
Proud Spaniard, Llulla has decided to give a more “civilized” turn to things by staging real Spanish bullfights, with all the tradition and pageantry that this implies.
It wasn’t a bad idea. As Rasmussen pointed out, the 1850 census shows that some 1,400 Spaniards lived in Louisiana at the time, almost half of the total reported by the country.
Seen through the haze of too many hurricanes and / or hand grenades, the drab two-story building housing the daiquiri and pizzeria in…
The exact location of the “Arena of Algiers” in Llulla, as it was called, is not clear. Benjamin Moore Norman’s well-known 1845 map of New Orleans, as detailed as it is, does not include an obvious indication of the location of an arena.
However, it shows that the Algiers ferry landing was then located a few blocks upstream from its current location. Given that, and with newspaper advertisements for Llulla’s bullfights indicating that the ferry landing “was right in front of the Ring,” it can be assumed that his shows would have been staged near where Alix Street and Pelican Avenue end today at the river.
What the building would have looked like is also speculative. Most of the accounts of the events have focused on the action, not the surroundings.
An illustration published in Davy Crockett’s 1849 Almanac and purportedly depicting a bullfight in New Orleans shows what appears to be a quintessentially Spanish scene: a matador and picadors in traditional costume, engaging a bull in a large open structure. air with several levels for spectators.
“A big round place with big rows of benches, one above the other and with a ring in the middle,” is how Crockett described the arenas he saw.
We know that the writer O. Henry got his pen name here, but where did the famous scribe live?
This description is suspect, however, since the story it is included in ends with Crockett leaping from the stands in the middle of the ring, crowing like a rooster, then killing a bull with a single massive punch “bang in the middle o ‘his skull,’ then swinging the other two by the tail until they were dead.
Undeniably, it would have been something to see. But Llulla’s bullfights, despite his efforts at authenticity, were decidedly less convincing to the New Orleans public. His matadors were mostly strangers. His bulls were smaller domestic North American bulls, not the bestial Toro Bravo of traditional Spanish shows.
Thus, to please its audience, the bullfights in Llulla were usually accompanied by bulls or bears.
“After the bullfight”, read an 1844 advertisement for one of his competitions, “a fight will take place between a bear and dogs – all to end with a fight between a donkey and several dogs”.
Often there would be no formal bullfight at all, just bloody animal fights. Alongside an advertisement in The Daily Picayune for one of these matches, an advertisement for a ferry advertises river crossings every 10 minutes throughout the day, suggesting some popularity.
Admission for Llulla’s events in his arena was 30 cents for seats in the sun and 50 cents for those in the shade. Spectators who brought a dog to participate in the night’s events were admitted free.
In 1845, just a year after their start, ads ceased to be shown for the Llulla arena in Algiers.
The occasional animal fights would return to the city from time to time, but there would be nothing else with the same scale, ambition, or longevity of the Algiers de Llulla bullfights.
Source: The Times-Picayune archives; The Double Dealer, Vols. 1 and 2 ; Louisiana History: The Journal of the Louisiana Historical Association
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