The law of unintended consequences was working overtime when Louis pried open his mother’s cedar chest, stole a revolver belonging to one of his “stepfathers,” loaded it with blanks, and took it along with him on his nightly tour of the red-light district. It was the last day of 1912, and the city was in its customary New Year’s Eve hubbub. As Louis and his quartet strolled up Rampart Street, another boy from the neighborhood started “shooting” at them with a cap pistol. Louis promptly pulled his .38 out of his belt and fired back. All at once a policeman came up behind him and wrapped his arms around the boy. “Oh Mister, let me alone!” he cried. “Don’t take the pistol! I won’t do it no more!” He spent the night in a cell and went before a juvenile-court judge the next morning. What followed, unlike his birth eleven years before, was deemed worthy of coverage by the local papers: “Very few arrests of minors were made Tuesday, and the bookings in the Juvenile Court are not more than the average….The most serious case was that of Louis Armstrong, a twelve-year-old negro, who discharged a revolver at Rampart and Perdido Streets. Being an old offender he was sent to the negro Waif’s Home.” The old offender was hauled away in a horse-drawn wagon, scared and unsure. All unknowing, he had come to the turning point of his life.
The clip marks the very first time that Louis Armstrong’s name appeared in print anywhere. Alas, all I had in hand was a fuzzy photocopy that was too dim to reproduce in Pops. How I wish that I could have included it in my book! Rarely has so great a man made so inauspicious a debut.