By Justin McHugh, Chenoa Chavez, Isela Montoya, Adrian Estrada and Brenda Carrion
Old West buffs sometimes romanticize the era when gunfighters ruled, where might made right. Gunfighters turned lawmen are made into heroes even though today they might be serving life in prison or sweating it out on death row.
Such a man is Dallas Stoudenmire - soldier, Texas Ranger, El Paso Marshal. Was he a hero? A psychopath? Or merely human, a product of his own time?
Image caption: A dapper Dallas Stoudenmire shown here. As marshal, he bullied the town that hired him. Photo courtesy of the El Paso County Historical Society
In 1881, four major railroads met in El Paso, bringing with them gamblers, gunslingers and prostitutes. El Paso became a safe haven for all kinds of criminals. Refugees from both Mexico and the United States hid here since the closest sheriff's office was over 15 miles away, and Texas Rangers showed up only now and then. Fort Bliss had its hands full protecting settlers from Indians.
As Leon Metz puts it, El Paso didn't know what to do with the "hordes of vagabonds, gamblers, burglars, thieves, and particularly murderers." In July 1880, the town elected John B. Tays city marshal. Two months later, A. I. Stevens, his assistant, succeeded him. Stevens' deputy was Bill Johnson. When Stevens was relieved of his position because of "neglect and dereliction of duty," George Campbell was appointed city marshal on December 1, 1880.
Having been denied a salary, Campbell left Bill Johnson, the town drunk, in charge. Campbell's friends, the Manning brothers, who were alleged cattle rustlers and owners of saloons and a theater, attempted to reinstate Campbell as marshal by shooting up the town. Charges were brought and then dropped against Campbell, who was allowed to resign. Bill Johnson was marshal again.
But on April 11, 1881, a tough professional gunman became marshal: Dallas Stoudenmire, the sixth man in eight months to hold office. Although the town was convinced it had made a good choice in the 6-feet, 2-inch 36-year-old, it would rue the day he became the law.
Stoudenmire had a checkered background, having used his talents both for and against the law. Born in Aberfoil, Alabama, on December 11, 1845, he joined the Confederate Army at 15. He served five years and ended up in Colorado County, Texas, joining a unit of Texas Rangers charged with protecting settlers from renegade Indians. It is in Colorado County that Stoudenmire is recorded as having "killed a few men."
Moving to Alleyton, Texas, he worked as a carpenter, a wheelwright, sheep rancher, merchandiser and gunfighter. Involved in a brawl in 1877, Dallas wounded several people and was injured himself. Tied up and put under guard, Stoudenmire freed himself, reclaimed his guns and fled. In 1878, Stoudenmire and buddies killed three men in a vicious shootout over a herd of cattle. Next, Stoudenmire moved to northern New Mexico where he served as marshal for the town of Socorro.
When the notorious Stoudenmire took the job as El Paso marshal, he carried out the office's more mundane tasks such as keeping the streets in good repair, working city jail prisoners and enforcing ordinances. He collected fines and taxes and policed the several opium dens throughout the city. He also shot stray dogs whose owners neglected to pay a $2 yearly tax.
He kept the Board of Aldermen happy by killing off a good number of the local riffraff. His most notorious gunfight as marshal was quickly named the "Four dead in five seconds fight," occurring on April 14, 1881. Seven Americans jailed in Mexico for robbery broke out and attempted to cross the border. They were shot by Mexicans, who in turn were shot by friends of George Campbell and his buddy John Hale, both of whom had been drinking heavily.
An armed party from Juárez came across the border to claim the bodies of their men, and an argument broke out between the two sides. Constable Gus Krempkau had acted as an interpreter and sided with the Mexicans, angering ex-marshal Campbell. Hale, although unarmed, grabbed Campbell's gun and shot Krempkau.
Hearing the shots, Stoudenmire raced down the street and shot at Hale, missing him but killing an innocent bystander. Stoudenmire's second shot killed Hale, and then he shot George Campbell. Pleased with their "law and order" candidate, the city Board of Aldermen gave him a salary of $100 per month and a gold-tipped walking stick.
Three days after this gunfight, the Manning brothers, friends of Hale and Campbell, convinced the drunken Bill Johnson to assassinate Stoudenmire. Johnson also hated the new marshal since Stoudenmire had assaulted him on his first day of work. On April 17, Johnson tried to kill Stoudenmire with a shotgun but missed. Stoudenmire returned fire, shooting eight or nine times, blowing Johnson's testicles from his body.
The feud between Stoudenmire and his many enemies continued. On February 14, 1882, James Manning murdered Stoudenmire's close friend and brother-in-law Samuel "Doc" Cummings. When Manning was acquitted, the marshal became a drunken lout, "as irresponsible and dangerous as the town hoodlums," writes Leon Metz. City officials tried to control their marshal by passing a law making it illegal for officers of the law to drink publicly and making the behavior subject to a fine. But since Stoudenmire collected the fines, the resolution failed miserably.
The Marshal enjoyed making enemies. At odds with the Texas Rangers, he called them a bunch of cowards and liars. He even requested the Adjutant General to bar the Rangers from El Paso, without success.
Another nemesis, William Wallace Mills, brother to pioneer businessman Anson Mills, circulated a petition in August 1882 to fire Stoudenmire as marshal. Stoudenmire began a counter petition drive, causing Mills to declare that Stoudenmire was a federal marshal, making the city position vacant. Mills and Stoudenmire both ran for the position, with results deadlocked. El Paso mayor Magoffin broke the tie in favor of Stoudenmire, reinstating him.
The list of enemies grew, including El Paso Times editor George Washington Carrico, who alleged the city's crime rate varied inversely with the sobriety of its marshal. Stoudenmire infuriated good church-going El Pasoans, too, using the bell of St. Clement's Church for target practice while patrolling the streets. Meanwhile, the marshal spent unauthorized funds and argued with city officials about his record keeping.
Although the aldermen by this time wanted to get rid of Stoudenmire, they were afraid of the monster they had nurtured. On May 27, 1882, the day he was to be fired, Stoudenmire sauntered into the meeting room with his gun drawn, proclaiming, "I can straddle every God-damned alderman here." City fathers quickly adjourned the meeting.
After he sobered up, Marshal Stoudenmire resigned on his own on May 29, 1882. But Stoudenmire continued to drink and use his gun to settle arguments. In July, Stoudenmire began his duties as a U.S. deputy marshal in El Paso. His feud with the Manning brothers continued. The Mannings and Stoudenmire signed "peace treaties" and published them in the El Paso Herald.
Although things calmed down for a few months, Stoudenmire accused the Mannings of plotting to kill him, but he could prove nothing. He mocked them, daring them to brawl, while he cursed and insulted other residents in bursts of anger. The El Paso Lone Star wrote that "citizens stood on a volcano," and streets could be "deluged with blood at any moment."
On September 18, 1882, Stoudenmire and Doc, Frank and Jim Manning met in their saloon and signed another "peace treaty." Doc Manning and Stoudenmire began arguing about their first peace treaty and both men drew their guns. Doc's first bullet shattered Stoudenmire's left arm, causing him to drop his gun. The second bullet never broke the skin, becoming lodged in papers and pictures in Stoudenmire's shirt pocket, but the impact of the bullet knocked him through the bat winged doors and onto El Paso Street.
Stoudenmire, adept at shooting with either hand, pulled his right pistol and shot as Doc Manning came through the door, hitting his shooting arm. Hearing gunfire, Jim Manning raced out with a sawed off Colt and fired two shots, the first hitting a barber's pole. The second hit Stoudenmire behind his left ear, killing him instantly. Doc Manning proceeded to beat the dead man across the top of his head with his own gun.
Stoudenmire's wife shipped his body back to Columbus, Texas, for burial. The Masonic Lodge No. 130 paid for funeral expenses, including $11.55 for his burial suit and $4.50 for lumber for his coffin. Today, no stone marks his gravesite and all records of its location have been lost. The Mannings were tried for murder and acquitted. In April 1883, Frank Manning even became marshal himself for a few weeks.
Dallas Stoudenmire's penchant for drinking along with his superior aim, his hot temper and the loss of his own friends at the hands of the Manning brothers combined to make him one of the most dangerous and feared marshals in El Paso. The town continued to attract notorious gunmen to the border after Stoudenmire's short career as marshal. It would be several years before reform movements would attack both drinking and gun fighting and put trained lawmen into office.