Dallas Stoudenmire resigned under pressure as city marshal of El Paso on May 27, 1882 and promised to get help for his drinking problem.
After his recovery from four near-fatal Civil War wounds, the Alabaman emigrated to Texas and gave farming a half-hearted try. Deciding sod-busting was not for him, he rode with the Rangers for several months before moving onto the Panhandle. But wherever he went, gunplay was not far behind.
In April 1881, Stoudenmire followed Doc Cummings, his brother-in-law and best friend, to El Paso. Hearing the job of marshal was open, he immediately applied. Since his reputation more than satisfied their requirements, city fathers hired him on the spot.
Although he had only briefly worn a badge in his 35 years, Stoudenmire’s very presence was sure to make the respectable residents of Texas’ westernmost town feel a whole lot safer. With Bill Longley hanged and John Wesley Hardin behind bars, most folks rated the dead-eye from Dixie the fastest gun in the Lone Star State.
Stoudenmire went straight to the jail and demanded the keys from the acting marshal. Riled at being passed over for the permanent post, Bill Johnson refused until the stranger bounced him around the office. Staggering into the street, he vowed to get even.
To the uninformed, Marshal Stoudenmire looked to be unarmed when, in fact, he was a walking arsenal. A coat he wore year-round concealed two six-shooters in leather-lined hip pockets and a snub-nosed pistol tucked in his belt.
Stoudenmire was ready for trouble, and trouble was not long in coming. His first weekend in El Paso, he had to go for his guns not once but twice.
On Friday afternoon, a crowd of angry Mexicans crossed the Rio Grande from Juarez to retrieve the bodies of two murdered countrymen. An obliging constable, who offered assistance, was confronted by a pair of troublemakers, John Hale and George Campbell. Cursing the lawman for helping the foreigners, Hale shoved a gun in his ribs and pulled the trigger sending a slug through both lungs.
At that instant, Stoudenmire cut loose. He first shot went wild striking an innocent bystander, a Mexican that died the next day. Hale caught the second bullet squarely in the forehead, when he peeked around a pillar. The third finished off Campbell, already wounded twice by the dying constable.
By Sunday night, ex-marshal Johnson had mustered the courage to make good on his threat. He hid behind a pile of bricks and emptied a shotgun at Stoudenmire and his pal Cummings. Incredibly Johnson missed both men, who calmly gunned him down.
Following the back-to-back bloodlettings, hard-cases left town in droves. El Pasoans enjoyed months of law and order, a rare commodity in the frontier community, but just beneath the tranquil surface a volatile feud was brewing.
The Manning brothers held a grudge against the quick-draw marshal for killing Hale, longtime foreman of their family ranch. Stoudenmire, on the other hand, suspected the Mannings of encouraging his dead predecessor’s clumsy ambush.
Spoiled by his initial success, the marshal went into a tailspin that alienated his many admirers. Drinking himself into a sullen stupor most nights, Stoudenmire roamed the streets shooting at anything that moved. And, as if his binges were not bad enough, he openly cheated on his long suffering wife, a detestable habit condemned by the townspeople.
In February 1882, Stoudenmire’s sidekick Cummings was shot to death in a saloon owned by the Mannings. After weeks of worrying that a private war might erupt at any moment, a group of private citizens begged the antagonists to bury the hatchet. Stoudenmire and the Manning clan reluctantly signed a truce that only postponed the inevitable.
Meanwhile, Stoudenmire was forced to resign as marshal because of his drinking. He checked into a New Mexico sanitarium to dry out, but his hand shook so badly he could not write his name. A companion had to sign the register for him.
Not long after Stoudenmire returned to El Paso, the feud heated up again. Third parties arranged another peace talk, but a fight broke out before the meeting even started.
Beating the over-the-hill gunslinger to the draw, Doc Manning fired first and the slug ripped through Stoudenmire’s right arm and into his chest. Manning shot a second time, but papers in a shirt pocket deflected the bullet.
A dazed Stoudenmire pulled his snub-nosed pistol and wounded Doc in the arm. Manning grabbed him in a bear hug just as brother Jim arrived six-gun in hand. Two shots rang out, and Dallas Stoudenmire collapsed with a fatal wound to the back of the head.
In his murderous frenzy, Doc Manning did not realize his opponent was dead. Grabbing Stoudenmire’s own gun, he pistol-whipped the corpse until restrained by the new marshal. He stood there wishing Stoudenmire would come back to life so he could kill him all over again.
Read all about Spindletop, Mexia, Roarin’ Ranger and Bloody Borger in “Texas Boomtowns: A History of Blood and Oil.” Order autographed copies from the author for $28.80 at barteehaile.com or P.O. Box 130011, Spring, TX 77393.