“Then Jesus said to him, ‘Put your sword back into its place; for all who take up the sword will perish by the sword.’”
Young people develop romantic notions, limited only by their imagination and circumstances. It is the primary reason why kids run away from home: they’re looking for some form of adventure, as they define it. In the 1850s, stories propagated by word of mouth or in the dime novels, of mountain men, frontiersmen, Indian fighters, lawmen, soldiers, explorers, and gutsy outlaws likely inspired some of the thousands of youngsters who ran away from home, but who can really say?
Dallas Stoudenmire may have been one of these imaginative youngsters. He was born on 11 December 1845 in Aberfoil, Alabama, one of nine children of Lewis and Elizabeth. Shortly after the beginning of the American Civil War, 15-year-old Dallas enlisted in the Confederate Army. He was already six-feet tall but height is not confused with maturity and Dallas’ officers suspected that he was underage. When his age was proved, the army discharged him and sent him home. But Dallas wanted to participate in the war (which really does speak to the level of his immaturity), so he enlisted two more times. He served as a private in the 17th Alabama Infantry, was discovered as underage and discharged, and again as Private in the 6th Alabama Cavalry. Eventually, he was allowed to remain with the 45th Alabama Infantry Regiment. By this time, Dallas had grown to stand well over 6’3″, taller than most men at the time. Before the war ended, Dallas had received several war wounds. He carried two Yankee bullets in his body for the balance of his life.
The Civil War was traumatic for almost everyone —long before anyone realized what the word even meant. Afterward, life was tough in both the north and south. Jobs were scarce. Freed slaves flooded the labor market, most unsuccessfully, and many of these poor souls were forced back into servitude as tenant farmers and sharecroppers. White ex-soldiers, north or south, were marginally better off. There simply were no jobs, no way to find a good woman and settle down —all because there was no way to provide for that good woman and, in time, a family. So ex-soldiers drifted, looking for opportunities. Some found their way to America’s largest cities and employment as store clerks. Others moved west to work on ranches, as cowhands on trail drives, or as cargo drivers/handlers. Some men became bankers, specializing in armed withdrawals. Some became lawmen.
We aren’t sure what Dallas did immediately after the war. Some historians suggest that he worked as a sheep farmer, a wheelwright, and a dry goods clerk. We do know that he was in Texas in 1867, and we believe he may have been a shootist responsible for several killings. Between 1867-68 and 1874, Dallas served as a second sergeant in J. R. Waller’s company of Texas Rangers.
Young Dallas Stoudenmire was a handsome fellow, a sharp dresser, and a gentleman when in contact with the ladies. But he also had a mean streak when intoxicated. He not only had a quick temper, he also had a very quick and very accurate gun hand. Contrary to Hollywood westerns, not many old west shootists carried two-gun pistol rigs, but Dallas was one that did and he was equally fast and deadly with either hand.
We aren’t sure what Dallas was doing between 1874-78. He may have been living in Mexico because in later years, he was quite fluent in the Mexican (not to be confused with Spanish) language. In 1878, Stoudenmire served as the town marshal in Socorro, New Mexico. While in New Mexico, his brother-in-law, Stanley “Doc” Cummings convinced him to apply for a job in El Paso, Texas as town marshal. In the late 1870s, El Paso was a seriously dangerous town. Rowdy gunmen do nothing to enhance commerce, so the town council started looking for a lawman who could “clean house” … a lawman with a tough reputation. Stoudenmire traveled to El Paso by stagecoach and was almost immediately hired. Dallas Stoudenmire was the beginning of the end of El Paso’s violent nature.
Stoudenmire began his new job on 11 April 1881. At the time he was hired, he was the sixth town marshal in eight months. At the time, deputy marshal Bill Johnson had the keys to the town jail. Johnson was a drunk and worthless as a law officer. Stoudenmire’s first assignment was retrieving the keys to the town jail from Johnson.
According to witnesses, Stoudenmire approached an intoxicated Johnson, identified himself, and then asked him for the keys to the jail. Johnson mumbled that he’d have to go home and figure out which keys were which. Stoudenmire informed Johnson that this was not acceptable. He then picked Johnson up from a chair, turned him upside down, and shook him until the keys fell out of his pocket. Once Johnson had sobered up, he realized how publicly humiliated he was by Stoudenmire’s treatment.
Three days later, Stoudenmire became involved in one of the more famous gunfights in Old West history. It was the “Four Dead in Five Seconds Gunfight.” News of the fight reached all the major newspapers in the United States and, in time, was no doubt incorporated into the so-called dime novels of the time.
This story actually began in Mexico. A wealthy Mexican rancher was missing thirty head of cattle, and two cow hands. He hired a dozen or so vaqueros to go to Texas to recover his herd and, if possible, discover the location of his stockmen, whose names Sanchez and Jauregui. The arrival of 75 armed vaqueros in El Paso caused quite a stir among El Paso citizens.
Arriving in El Paso, the vaqueros approached town constable Gus Krempkau. He was asked to lead these Mexican cowboys to a suspected location of the cattle, which Gus agreed to do. Thirteen miles northwest of El Paso, near the ranch of John Hale, Gus and the vaqueros discovered the remains of the two stockmen. Hale was known as a cattle rustler. The bodies of Sanchez and Jauregui were taken back to town and from every indication, these two murdered stockmen had been searching for the patron’s missing cattle, having tracked them up from Mexico. Two local rustlers by the names of Peveler and Stevenson were duly charged with the murder when witnesses came forward saying that they heard these two men bragging about killing two Mexican cowboys when they were discovered tracking the herd to Hale’s ranch.
The murder trial attracted a large crowd, including John Hale and his friend, former town marshal George Campbell. Among the outraged citizens of El Paso were Mexicans demanding justice, all of whom were heavily armed, and people who hated Mexicans for no other reason than they were Mexican, a few who hated Mexicans for legitimate reasons, and then a large number of folks who just enjoyed good entertainment.
Constable Gus, who was fluent in Mexican, was required to interpret for the judge at the inquest. After scheduling a date for trial, court adjourned. The vaqueros took the two dead stockmen back to Mexico, and the crowd dispersed.
Afterward, on 14 April 1881, an altercation erupted in a saloon between George Campbell and Constable Gus about comments Campbell made about Gus being a Mexican-lover. A heavily intoxicated but unarmed John Hale, who was also upset with Gus over his role in the investigation, pulled one of Campbell’s pistols and shot Constable Krempkau.
At this moment, Stoudenmire was eating his dinner at a restaurant across the street. Hearing the gunfire, he ran across the street with pistol in hand. He first killed an innocent Mexican bystander, then shot and killed Hale. When Campbell saw Hale drop to the ground, he made an effort to stop the fight, but Gus, believing that Campbell had shot him, fired twice at Campbell before losing consciousness. One of Krempkau’s bullets struck Campbell’s gun and broke Campbell’s wrist. The second bullet went into Campbell’s foot. Campbell screamed in pain, but he nevertheless managed to scoop his gun up from the floor of the saloon. With notice of Campbell’s actions, Stoudenmire whirled and fired, killing Campbell. It all happened within five seconds from the instant when Stoudenmire shot the innocent bystander.
Within those five seconds, Dallas Stoudenmire became an old west legend, but as one might expect, the gunfight had deadly consequences. What Dallas gained was an old west reputation as a fast-draw gunfighter. But the fact is that Dallas Stoudenmire had few friends in El Paso. Hale and Campbell, on the other hand, were very popular fellows. Eventually, Stoudenmire would stand alone in defense of his actions. In Texas, as well as at other places in the old west, shootings were often ruled as justified —but that meant very little when it came to vendettas.
James Manning and his brothers were good friends of Hale and Campbell. On 17 April, Manning convinced Deputy Marshal Bill Johnson that he ought to assassinate Stoudenmire. Johnson, owing to his previous humiliation, was easily convinced. That night, a heavily intoxicated Johnson squatted behind a large pillar of bricks with a double barrel shotgun and waited for Stoudenmire to make his rounds. When he heard the voices of Stoudenmire and Doc Cummings, he started to wobble, and he fell backward, accidentally firing both shotgun barrels into the air. Stoudenmire instantly drew his pistols and fired at the assailant eight (8) times. One or more of those bullets severed Johnson’s testicles; Johnson bled to death within a few minutes.
This incident began the feud between Stoudenmire and the Manning brothers. Within six days of accepting the job as town marshal, Dallas had killed four men. Between mid-April and the following February, Stoudenmire killed another six men in shootouts connected with lawful arrests. As a result, the town’s crime rate dropped significantly, and Dallas’ reputation as a gunfighter grew even more.
On 14 February, James Manning shot and killed Doc Cummings, allegedly while acting in self-defense after an argument. Manning testified that Cummings had pulled his pistol and verbally threatened to kill him. Just as this was happening, an uninvolved citizen passed by and Cummings whirled and demanded to know if this person was a friend of Manning. The pedestrian said that he didn’t know Manning. Cummings escorted the citizen a little way down the street, and Manning went back inside the saloon.
Realizing that Manning was no longer present, Cummings returned to the saloon and once more threatened Manning. By this time, Manning had had enough of Doc Cummings’ bullying. Manning left the saloon but soon returned armed with a brace of pistols. Manning growled, “We will settle this for now and forever.” In an instant, gunfire erupted from both sides. Struck by Manning’s bullets, Cummings staggered out into the street and fell dead.
James Manning went to trial but was acquitted on the basis of self-defense. The acquittal enraged Marshal Stoudenmire. Unfortunately for El Paso, Doc Cummings was the only fellow who could quiet Stoudenmire’s violent temper. Systematically, Stoudenmire confronted those responsible for Manning’s acquittal (the members of the jury), and this caused many to avoid coming into town or visiting saloons. Everyone knew that Stoudenmire was no one to fool around with.
Despite his effectiveness as a lawman, Dallas was an outsider. He was well-respected by the Texas Rangers and US Marshals, but the locals both feared and loathed him. Insofar as the citizens were concerned, Stoudenmire didn’t belong in El Paso. He had no family there, and he had no stake in the town’s overall success. He was just a mean-spirited and dangerous, hooligan wearing a badge.
On 27 May 1882, the town council fired Stoudenmire. An intoxicated Stoudenmire walked into the town council’s chambers and dared them to try to take his guns, or his badge. No one dared, of course, and everyone on the town council was constipation-free for months afterwards. When Stoudenmire sobered up, he quietly resigned his post and found work in the Globe Restaurant, which had previously belonged to Doc Cummings. Shortly afterward, US Marshal Herrington Lee Gosling hired Stoudenmire as a Deputy United States Marshal.
Notwithstanding his new position, the Manning feud was far from over. The brothers Manning included James, Frank, and “Doc.” They were careful never to confront Stoudenmire alone; they wisely feared his proficiency as a gunman and refused to push back whenever Stoudenmire called them out, which was at every opportunity.
On 18 September 1882, the Manning’s met with Stoudenmire to settle the matter —a peace treaty, of sorts, was agreed to. Upon conclusion of their deliberations, James Manning left the saloon. Dallas turned to Doc Manning and began moaning about “some people” telling lies about him. Manning told him that he had not kept his word about the peace, and Stoudenmire called Doc a liar. Doc Manning and Stoudenmire drew their pistols and fired. Doc received a wound in the arm, Stoudenmire was also hit in the arm and it propelled him to the ground. From the floor, Stoudenmire drew his second revolver and shot Doc again in the arm. At that moment, James returned to the saloon, noticed what was happening, and shot Stoudenmire in the head, killing him.
James and Doc Manning stood trial for murder, but they were acquitted by a jury of their friends. Stoudenmire’s legacy, while short lived, remains intact today. He was one of the west’s fastest and more accurate shootists, who also wore a badge, and who also died a violent death.
- Egloff, F. R. El Paso Lawman: G. W. Campbell. College Station: Texas Creative Publishing, 1982.
- Metz, L. C. Dallas Stoudenmire, El Paso Marshal. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1979
- Sonnichsen, C. L. Pass of the North: Four Centuries on the Rio Grande (2 Vols). El Paso: Texas Western Press, 1968
Another entertaining bio of an individual who showed that the Wild West was truly wild.
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Thanks for reading, Andy …
Be well …
Sure seems like many more people are killed by gunfire (per capita) these days than in those days.
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Well, of course there’s a strict gun law in Chicago, so …
a jury of their friends
I’m not sure that’s how it’s supposed to work.
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It works this way: everyone get’s acquitted after shooting an unarmed man. It’s called playing nice, Texas style.