Coughing Up a Bullet

Clifford Johnson, 27, was shot by E.M. Pigg on Sept. 12, 1913. Pigg thought Johnson was a burglar. Johnson was from Wister, Okla., and after a night of drinking in Fort Smith, he decided to walk to Van Buren. Johnson got lost and at about 2 a.m. went up to Pigg's home to ask for someone to call him a cab to take him to Van Buren so he could catch a train back to Wister.

Pigg said he had listened to noises of Johnson outside his home for about a half hour. When Johnson tried to open his back door, Pigg said he opened fire with his revolver. One bullet lodged in his neck.

For several days, Johnson recovered at Sparks Memorial Hospital, but the bullet was in such a place that the physicians couldn't safely operate on Johnson to remove it. In late September, Johnson took a train from Wister to testify against Pigg at trial. While on the train, Johnson was seized by a violent cough. After he finished coughing, Johnson felt something heavy in his handkerchief. One examining it, he found the bullet.

According to doctors, the bullet worked its way near the lining of Johnson throat from just below his right ear. An abcess formed on the outer lining of his throat which brought the bullet closer to the surface. Discharge from the abcess caused Johnson to cough up the bullet. The bullet had severed several nerves in his neck and cut a tonsil in two.

Pigg originally was charged with assault with intent to kill but the charge was reduced to aggravated assault. He was fined $50 but wasn't jailed.

Source: "Bullet In Neck of Man Is Expelled by Violent Cough," Fort Smith Times Record, Sept. 26, 1913, p. 1; "Oklahoman Is Badly Shot, Two Stories Told of Case," Fort Smith Times Record, Sept. 12, 1913, p. 1.