Down in the west Texas town of El Paso
Dallas Stoudenmire (1845 – 1882) was one of the most colorful and interesting of the gunfighter-lawmen of the old West, though he is far less known today than the likes of Bat Masterson and Wyatt Earp. He would make a great novel (I must write one some time) or Deadwoody TV series. El Paso, Texas in the 1870s and 80s was a wide-open town that is just asking to be ‘Westernized’ and Stoudenmire’s story has many of the ingredients of the classic Western. In fact I might call the series El Paso and take the audience through from Stoudenmire to John Selman and John Wesley Hardin. It would be compulsive viewing, I have no doubt, and must ask one of the Davids (Milch, Simon or Chase) or maybe Kurt Sutter about it one day.
Or I could just concentrate on Stoudenmire and call it Dallas, which might be a good name for a TV series.
Dallas Stoudenmire was born in Aberfoil, Alabama, one of nine children. At the start of the Civil War he enlisted in the Confederate army, three times, twice being discharged when it was discovered he was only fifteen, but eventually he was allowed to serve as a private in Company F, 45th Alabama Infantry. He was several times wounded. At war’s end he drifted west, working as a sheep farmer, wheelwright, proprietor, merchandiser and carpenter. He may have gone to Mexico for a while. Certainly he spoke good Spanish. He then joined the Texas Rangers.
Six foot four, with green eyes and brown hair, he was a snappy dresser and a ladies’ man but quickly also gained a reputation for being violent when drunk. He wore two guns, in the Texas style, and was said to be equally good with either, though he was predominantly left-handed.
He served as town marshal in Socorro, NMT in 1878. It was while he was there that his brother-in-law, Doc Cummings, convinced him to go to El Paso. Samuel M Cummings is an interesting fellow too. A big man, fond of his drink and prone to explosive anger, he had much in common with Dallas.
Despite his nickname, there is no evidence he ever practiced medicine. He was an hotelier and in El Paso he opened a restaurant, The Globe, which advertised “No dust, no noise, no flies”, which, if true, was quite an achievement. Doc had married Dallas’s sister in 1874 and they had a daughter. He was intensely loyal to his brother-in-law and enjoyed acting as his unofficial deputy when Dallas became marshal of El Paso.
In early 1881, when Stoudenmire arrived there, El Paso had grown from being a dusty adobe village into a thriving border town. Lawlessness increased rapidly and a succession of early town marshals, corrupt or incompetent, had done nothing to deal with that.
El Paso in 1881
The one point of continuity was the deputy who served them, Bill Johnson, an alcoholic. The town elders jumped at the chance of hiring an experienced marshal, good with his guns, and Stoudenmire was appointed. Within three days the street would echo to gunfire.
Leading lights in the town were the Manning brothers, George Felix (also known as ‘Doc’, but this time because he was a physician), Frank and James. Doc Manning was an educated man who played the violin but was still no shrinking violet. He had a temper and knew how to use a gun. Brother Frank had run ‘hell on wheels’ tent saloons as the railroad approached El Paso and when it arrived, he opened the Manning Saloon (on the site of the present day Paso Del Norte Hotel). James was also a saloon owner, and had aspirations as a politician, helping set up the El Paso Times and running (unsuccessfully) for mayor. They were all heavy drinkers, far from scrupulous and dangerous when crossed.
The Mannings palled up with George Campbell, the disgruntled former marshal who had been fired by the town council.
Doc Manning with George Campbell
Campbell was another heavy drinker and his resentment at his successor Stoudenmire gradually built into a visceral hatred. Another who hated Stoudenmire was the drunken deputy Johnson whom the new marshal fired, humiliating him on the street by turning him upside down to get the keys to the jail.
Mexicans and Texas Rangers
Into the mix we add Mexicans, angry at the presumed murder of two of their countrymen by an ex-Texas Ranger, Chris Peveler, and Frank Stephenson, a hog rustler. Seventy-five Mexicans, armed and ready for a fight, rode into El Paso on April 14, 1881. The Rangers were based at Ysleta, ten miles to the south-east. They were hated by the Mexicans but even among many Anglos they had a reputation in El Paso as drunken blowhards, and Marshal Stoudenmire, despite his former Ranger status, had no time for them at all. “They ran most ingloriously when called to the scratch,” he averred.
Add heat, dust, machismo, firearms everywhere and, especially, booze, and you have an explosive atmosphere.
An inquest was held into the slaying of the two Mexicans. Rancher John Hale, a Mannings ally, defended Peveler and Stephenson. The interpreter, Gus Krempkau, was thought by many Anglos in his translations to have favored the Mexican case. Tensions rose. The inquest was adjourned. Outside, a drunken Campbell snarled that “Any American that is a friend of a Mexican ought to be hanged.” When Krempkau said that he hoped Campbell didn’t mean him, Campbell retorted, “If the shoe fits, wear it.” Defender Hale, who had been drinking heavily, called to Campbell, “I got him, George!” and fired, hitting Krempkau under the heart and knocking him down.
Blood and gunsmoke in the street
Stoudenmire heard the shot and came running, pulling one of his guns from a pocket (he did not wear holsters). He saw Hale with a smoking pistol, aimed his long-barreled gun carefully at Hale, squeezed the trigger like a professional and, in a classic display of the accuracy of late nineteenth century handguns, shot a bystander. Hale took cover behind a pillar but was unlucky to peek out just as Stoudenmire was drawing another bead, and received a bullet right in the forehead.
Campbell was screaming “This is not my fight!” Krempkau, on the ground and with a mortal wound, fired at Campbell, hitting him in the foot and gun hand. Stoudenmire then shot him in the belly. So in less than half a minute, four men lay dead or dying in the dirt.
The town divided into pro- and anti-Stoudenmire camps. The Mannings kept ex-deputy Bill Johnson’s resentment fueled with free liquor. Three days after the street gunfight Stoudenmire and Doc Cummings were doing the rounds and at the intersection of El Paso and San Antonio, Johnson waited behind a pile of bricks (American wood and brick building was gradually replacing the old adobe) with a big shotgun and, obviously, a bottle of whiskey. As the brothers-in-law arrived, Campbell stood and fired but was too drunk to hit either. Stoudenmire and Cummings drew their pistols and shot him to pieces.
Others started shooting and someone hit Stoudenmire in the heel but the marshal charged them nevertheless and they scattered. Things quietened. But everyone knew another bout of violence was only a matter of time.
Doc goes down
Although Marshal Stoudenmire had an official deputy, ex-Ranger James Gillett (an interesting fellow himself, though we’ll tell his story another time), Doc Cummings was more and more his brother-in-law’s back-up. In February 1882 Doc was officially deputized to go with a Kansas sheriff into Mexico in pursuit of a rapist (though the result of their hunt is unknown). On his return, Doc found that both Stoudenmire and his chief deputy were down with influenza. On recovery, Dallas headed for Columbus, Texas, where he was to marry Miss Isabella Sherrington. With Gillett still abed, Doc was the law in El Paso.
Stoudenmire's deputy and successor James Gillett, ex-Texas Ranger
Doc appears to have decided to clear out the Mannings before Dallas returned. Already drunk as a skunk, Doc asked Jim Manning to drink with him but Manning refused on the grounds that he was a recovering alcoholic. Still, he agreed to “sip some cider”. Doc accused Jim and the other Mannings of getting others, like Hale and Johnson, to do their dirty work and get Dallas. When Jim denied it, Doc called him a liar and asked Jim if he was “fixed”. Jim removed his coat to show that he was unarmed and said that he “would do anything to settle this in a quiet way.” They went outside where Doc was distracted by a passer-by and Jim ducked back into the saloon, where he procured a pistol. As Cummings came back in, Jim said, “Alright, Doc, we’ll have this out” and the bar room was filled with acrid smoke and booming noise as both went for their guns. Two bullets hit Doc Cummings and he staggered out onto the sidewalk, falling into El Paso Street, where he died.
This account comes from the inquest. However, there are some curious discrepancies. Doc was said to have fired twice and indeed, there were two empty chambers in his pistol, but they were on opposite sides of the cylinder. Jim Manning admitted shooting Doc twice, yet only one round had been fired from his gun. Was Manning protecting a third gunman? At any rate, Manning was acquitted of murder and walked free. Now the town awaited the return of the marshal…
Newlyweds Mr. and Mrs. Stoudenmire returned to El Paso but married bliss had not softened the marshal. He had a habit of drunkenly re-enacting his part in the so-called Four Dead in Five Seconds Gunfight. The pro-Manning El Paso Lone Star editorialized that streets could be “deluged with blood at any moment”. Town elders tried to patch up a peace and on April 16 the El Paso Herald printed a “treaty” the warring participants had signed:
We the undersigned parties having this day settled all differences and unfriendly feelings existing between us, hereby agree that we will hereafter meet and pass each other on friendly terms, and that bygones shall be bygones.”
This peace accord did not, however, lessen the marshal’s drinking and general belligerency, and religious folk were especially displeased at his habit of using the church bell for target practice. The town council probably wanted Stoudenmire out but were afraid of him. When the El Paso Times suggested that he resign, Stoudenmire stormed into its offices and threatened to run the editor out of town. (Fascinating, by the way, that such a small town could support so many newspapers).
The lawman loses his badge
In May 1882 the council met to fire Stoudenmire, but their courage crumbled when the marshal appeared, twirling his revolvers, and they adjourned without any resolution.
But on May 29, sober for once, Marshal Stoudenmire realized he had lost the town and resigned. The city fathers heaved a sigh of relief and accepted the resignation, passing a resolution thanking the marshal for his “loyal and faithful service”. They named Gillett as his successor.
Deputy US Marshal
Really, Stoudenmire should then have left El Paso. But instead on July 13 he became a deputy US marshal with his base in the town.
For a few months all was quiet. But on September 17 a drunken Stoudenmire looked into the Manning Saloon as he was searching for a wanted man he thought might be there. Satisfied that the fugitive wasn’t present, Stoudenmire staggered off to a brothel. The next morning, hung over, Stoudenmire heard that the Mannings were armed and looking for him for having broken the treaty and come armed to their saloon.
Again, peace emissaries tried to patch things up. All parties declared that they wanted peace but if the other wanted to fight, they were up for it. But all agreed to meet later that day, September 18, at 5.30 pm and sign another treaty.
Death in the afternoon
Stoudenmire stepped into the Manning Saloon (perhaps a neutral location would have been better) and found Doc and Jim Manning there but no Frank. Jim stepped out to find Frank and that left just Doc and Dallas. Almost immediately hot words were exchanged and both men went for their guns. A brave bystander stepped between them but may have caused the death of one because Stoudenmire was thrown off balance and Doc’s bullet smashed into his left arm, severing an artery, and then ricocheted up into his chest. A second shot hit Stoudenmire again but lodged against some papers and a picture he carried in a pocket. Still, the impact was enough to knock the man through the saloon doors into the street.
Outside, Stoudenmire got out his other pistol and fired at Doc Manning as he came out of the saloon, hitting him in the arm and sending his gun flying. Doc rushed him, and they grappled together in the dirt. Now Jim came running back and drew an old triggerless sawed-off Colt. He thumbed the hammer and fired, but missed, shattering a barber’s pole. His second shot, however, hit Dallas just above the ear. It was over.
Both Doc and Jim Manning were acquitted at Ysleta in separate murder trials.
What happened to the Mannings?
In April 1883 Frank Manning (who had not been present at the death of Stoudenmire) replaced James Gillett as city marshal. He didn’t last long; he was dismissed for shaking down a storekeeper. He prospected in Arizona. In 1922 he was committed to a mental hospital and died in 1925. Doc Manning moved to Flagstaff and practiced medicine there despite his crippled arm. He died in 1925 too. Jim moved up to Washington State and died of cancer in 1915. Before he died, Stuart N Lake offered to write his biography but Jim declined and suggested that Lake contact Wyatt Earp instead. The result was Frontier Marshal, and fame for Earp. Jim died an unknown.
An elderly Doc Manning in Flagstaff
It was not the end of death in the saloons of El Paso, though, as any student of the life and death of John Selman and John Wesley Hardin will know.
What to read
The authority for Dallas Stoudenmire’s life (as for those of Hardin, Selman and Pat Garrett) is the El Paso historian Leon Metz. His Dallas Stoudenmire: El Paso Marshal (The Pemberton Press, 1969) is the definitive biography. Mr. Metz also included a chapter on Stoudenmire in his popular paperback The Shooters (Berkley, 1976) and like all his writing, it is properly researched as well as readable. I have used it as the main source for this post.
A good Western story, though, isn’t it?