George Alfred Townsend, aka “GATH”, was no pushover. As one of the most prominent journalists of the 2nd half of the 19th century he had a larger-than-life persona and reputation that was well earned. A Washington City institution in his day, if you came at GATH sideways he would slump you either with his pen or his fists. At the small museum at Gathland State Park there is a cigar tin that used GATH’s likeness. It reads the known adage, “The Pen is Mightier Than the Sword.”
For GATH his pen was mighty but, if the situation called for it, his fists could also be mighty. Just ask William Sawyer Walker of the Chicago Times.
Mr. Walker, of the Chicago “Times,” Looks for “GATH,” And Finds Him. – One Walker, the Washington Correspondent of the Chicago Times, who for some time past has been engaged in the business of libeling public men, private ladies, and his brother correspondents received a severe castigation this morning at the hands of Mr. George Alfred Townsend. The affair took place at one of the newspaper offices on 14th street, in which Mr. Townsend and Walker accidentally met, and was caused by a statement forwarded to the Chicago Times by Walker, to the effect that Townsend lives in a house given to him by the “Washington ring,” to purchase his commendation. Mr. Townsend, on encountering Walker this morning, charged him with writing the falsehood, at the same time saying that when he (Walker) came to Washington, he (Townsend) had befriended him, and that his kindness has been repaid by an infamous libel upon him. Walker, wincing under this onslaught, said he was “looking for him” (Townsend) yesterday, as he wanted to have a talk with him, and added that he received the information which he sent to the Times from his (Townsend’s) office. Mr. Townsend thereupon called him a liar, and seizing Walker’s umbrella followed it up with a number of vigorous blows. Walked grasped the umbrella and began to retreat, when Mr. Townsend struck him a number of times with his fist, fetching the claret, which flowed copiously. It would probably have gone hard with Walker had it not been for Mr. James Holland, of the Associated Press, who happened to be present and who, assuming the role of the peace maker, separated the combatants, thus saving further effusion of blood. Walker was severely punished and Townsend escaped untouched. Walker probably concludes that “Gath” is capable of vigorous hitting from the shoulder as well as with the pen.”
Marquis, Albert Nelson The Book of Chicagoans: A Biographical Dictionary of Leading Living Men of the City of Chicago, A.N. Marquis Company: Chicago, 1911, p. 696