Four Dead Men in Five Seconds

The archetypal Old West gunfight was largely the product of pulp fiction writers’ vivid imaginations. However, there were a few frontier shootings and a few frontier shootists that were legitimately larger than life.

The US/Mexican border in 1881 was a raucous place. Civilization was but a thin veneer across this otherwise lawless landscape. Theft, graft, and murder were commonplace, and frontier justice came from the barrel of a gun. On April 14th, a truly epic gunfight played out in El Paso, Texas.

The Art of the Gunslinger

Many of the most famous Old West characters were deeply flawed and tormented souls. Life in that place at that time was frequently both brutish and short.

The term gunslinger is a fairly modern contrivance. I’m told that men who lived by their guns were most commonly called shootists if anything. While most of the big names were either drunks, petty thieves, psychopaths, or some toxic combination, a precious few were actually truly good at it.

Modern Tier 1 operators like these Army CAG shooters are phenomenal gunfighters. However, these skills stem from literally countless iterations behind their weapons.

I’m no great shakes myself, but I have had the privilege of working alongside some of the finest shooters in the world. SEALs and CAG guys are legendarily competent. Speed shooter Jerry Miculek is a freak of nature. However, professional gunmen in the modern era typically do what they do because of countless hours of concentrated trigger time.

Jerry Miculek is a legendary speed shooter.

Some folks, however, like Jerry and an 1881-era Marshal named Dallas Stoudenmire, just have the gift.

The Setting

This whole sordid tale began when a group of American cattle rustlers stole thirty head of cows from Mexican vaqueros just South of the border.

In 1881 an American rancher named Johnny Hale arrived in El Paso with thirty stolen cows from northern Mexico. A pair of Mexican vaqueros named Juaregui and Sanchez gave chase into the Southern United States but never returned. In response, a mob of heavily-armed Mexican cowboys rode into town on April 14, with vengeance on their minds.

In South Texas in 1881 the men were hard and everybody was armed. Trouble was easy to find.

Constable Gus Krempkau spoke fluent Spanish and accompanied the men out to the Hale ranch. Enroute they discovered the cooling corpses of Sanchez and Juaregui. A pair of local cowboys purportedly named Peveler and Stevenson were overheard bragging about the murders and were arrested. The ranch owner Johnny Hale was presumed to have been complicit throughout.

Once the two killers were remanded into custody by all accounts the Mexican cowboys took the bodies of their two comrades and returned home peacefully.

There was an inquest wherein Constable Krempkau served as an interpreter for the aggrieved Mexicans. The two American cattle rustlers were subsequently remanded into custody for formal trial at a later date. Their thirst for justice slated, the Mexican posse returned home with the bodies of their deceased friends.

The Shootist

Dallas Stoudenmire is shown here in the center along with Deputy Marshals Neal Nuland and Walt Jones.

Dallas Stoudenmire had been sworn in as town Marshal a mere three days prior. He was the sixth El Paso town Marshal in eight months. A native of Alabama and one of nine children, Stoudenmire lied about his age and enlisted in the Confederate Army at age fifteen. Despite being more than six feet tall his commanders discovered his true age and discharged him.

Dallas Stoudenmire saw heavy combat with the 45th Alabama Infantry during the American Civil War.

Stoudenmire reenlisted twice more and ended the war an adult standing six foot four. He was a notoriously hard man who carried a pair of Union bullets in his body until the day he died.

By all accounts, Dallas Stoudenmire rendered superlative service during his time with the Texas Rangers.

Stoudenmire spent three years as a Texas Ranger. By 1881 he was an experienced lawman with a deadly reputation. Though he was known to be a gentleman around the ladies, he was an inveterate brute when drunk. He carried a pair of revolvers and was rumored to be comparably facile with either hand.

The Shootout

The toxic combination of alcohol and testosterone claimed many a life on the American Western frontier.

The day after the inquest, Constable Krempkau entered a local El Paso saloon to retrieve his rifle and pistol. Inside the rustler, Johnny Hale was unarmed, intoxicated, and despondent. An armed friend of Hale’s named George Campbell made a disparaging comment about Krempkau’s performance as an interpreter at the hearing the previous day.

Stoudenmire left the Globe restaurant at a trot, guns ablazing. His first casualty was an innocent Mexican.

Johnny Hale then snatched up one of Campbell’s two handguns and shot Krempkau. Marshal Stoudenmire was eating at the Globe restaurant across the street and rose to investigate. He came out shooting and killed an innocent Mexican bystander named Ochoa in short order.

We have a stylized mental image of the nature of Old West gunfights. The reality was a frenetic, bloody, pitiless, chaotic thing.

Johnny Hale took cover behind a thick adobe pillar. Stoudenmire spotted him peering around the edge and shot him in the face. Campbell, for his part, wanted nothing to do with these proceedings and shouted his innocence to Stoudenmire. Krempkau, now rapidly bleeding out, mistakenly thought Campbell had been the one to initially attack him and shot Campbell twice before losing consciousness. One round struck Campbell’s handgun and broke the man’s wrist. The other round passed through Campbell’s foot.

Dallas Stoudenmire was moving and shooting as he engaged targets of opportunity with his brace of .44 revolvers.

Campbell shrieked in pain and reached for his dropped gun with his uninjured left hand. Stoudenmire whirled reflexively, saw the man go for his gun, and shot Campbell through the belly. Now hit three times, Campbell shouted, “You big SOB! You’ve murdered me!” Both Campbell and Krempkau bled out within minutes. Witnesses attested that the entire exchange took some five seconds.

This is what El Paso looked like at the time of the shooting. Note the power lines.

Stoudenmire purportedly stood over the cooling corpses with his guns smoking. There were three Texas Rangers nearby. When queried later as to why they had not intervened they answered that they felt that Marshal Stoudenmire had things well in hand.

Stoudenmire’s Weapons

We presume that all Old West gunslingers carried Colt Peacemakers. In reality, there was a wide variety of guns used on the American frontier.

If Hollywood is to be believed then every cowboy packed an 1873 Colt Peacemaker on his belt and a lever-action Winchester on his saddle. In reality, there were scads of other popular firearms in circulation during these turbulent times. The shootist, Marshal Dallas Stoudenmire carried at least one Smith and Wesson Model 3.

The top-break Smith and Wesson Model 3 was a heavy but effective defensive handgun. The tip open design could be activated one-handed if needed.

The S&W Model 3 was a top-break, single-action, cartridge-firing revolver produced between 1870 and 1915. The Model 3 saw widespread military use around the globe. The Russian Tsarist Empire ordered thousands of the guns but reverse engineered the design for production in their domestic arsenals. These copies were generally of high quality yet sold markedly cheaper than the S&W originals. The resulting market saturation nearly put Smith and Wesson out of business.

Major, later LTC, George Schofield upgraded the design. Those are some truly epic whiskers.

These guns were eventually produced in a wide variety of calibers, but most of the early sort were chambered in either .44 S&W American or .44 Russian. An upgraded version of the Model 3 became known as the “Schofield” after Major George Schofield who revamped the gun for cavalry use.

The top-break design made the S&W Model 3 fast in action.

Though not so elegant as the Colt Peacemaker, the Model 3 benefitted from its top-break design. The single action trigger was smooth and accurate, but the rapidity of reloading was its strongest suit. With practice, the Model 3 could produce an impressive volume of sustained fire.

Teddy Roosevelt was a proponent of the S&W Model 3.

Jesse James and his killer Bob Ford, Teddy Roosevelt, Billy the Kid, Pat Garrett, John Wesley Hardin, Annie Oakley, and Virgil Earp used Model 3 revolvers.

The Wells Fargo Company repurposed large numbers of military surplus S&W Model 3 revolvers to defend their agents operating in the wilderness.

The Wells Fargo Company bought up hundreds of government-surplus Schofields, shortened their seven-inch barrels to five, and issued them widely to their road agents. LTC Schofield suffered badly from depression and shot himself to death with a Schofield revolver in 1882.

The Rest of the Story

Dallas Stoudenmire was an intimidating personality even without his guns.

Dallas Stoudenmire was terrifying up close, particularly when drunk. In his first week as El Paso town Marshal he killed six men, one of them accidentally. By the following February, he had killed another six in the performance of his official duties. His larger-than-life reputation made him an exceptionally effective frontier lawman. However, it also made him a great many enemies.

Bill Johnson wielded a side-by-side short-barreled 12 gauge during his ill-fated effort to kill the gunfighter, Dallas Stoudenmire.

Three days after his introductory El Paso bloodbath a friend of Johnny Hale’s convinced a local Deputy Marshal named Bill Johnson to assassinate Stoudenmire. Johnson got himself liquored up in anticipation and took up a double-barreled twelve bore. When the time came to do the deed, Johnson lost his balance in his drunken stupor and fell backward, discharging his shotgun into the air above Stoudenmire’s head. Stoudenmire responded reflexively, drew both his heavy pistols, and shot Johnson eight times, blowing off his testicles in the process. Johnson bled to death on the spot.

Word of Dallas Stoudenmire having castrated Bill Johnson with his Smith and Wesson .44 revolver cemented his reputation as a man with whom one should not trifle.

Shooting Bill Johnson’s balls off further enhanced the Stoudenmire legend, and he eventually found himself wearing a federal Marshal’s star. Throughout it all, a pair of brothers named James and Felix “Doc” Manning looked for an opportunity to exact revenge for friends who had fallen to Stoudenmire’s guns. This feud smoldered on until one fateful day in September of 1882.

Guys like these did not suffer insults lightly.

Stoudenmire and Doc met in a local saloon ostensibly to iron out their protracted differences. Doc’s brother James, believing peace had been achieved, had already departed. However, tensions heated up between Doc and Dallas until somebody drew a weapon.

Despite their heft and bulk, handguns of the Old West were not nearly so powerful as they are today.

Doc’s first round hit Stoudenmire in the arm. The second struck him in the chest. However, handgun cartridges were not as powerful then as now and this bullet was neutralized by a heavy stack of papers folded in his breast pocket. Regardless, the force of this shot did knock Stoudenmire backward through the door of the saloon.

This is the gun and badge used by Dallas Stoudenmire. The document is the original warrant for the arrest of Felix “Doc” Manning. These three items last sold at auction for $142,000, $44,000, and $3,025 respectively.

Stoudenmire then shot Doc Manning in the arm. Amidst all this chaos Doc’s brother James returned with his own weapon and fired twice. One round lodged in a nearby barber pole. His second caught Stoudenmire behind the left ear, killing him instantly.

Dallas Stoudenmire was buried as a Confederate soldier in Texas. He was 36 years old when he died.

Dallas Stoudenmire is buried in the Alleyton Cemetery in Colorado County, Texas. Both Manning brothers were tried for his murder, but they were popular figures thereabouts. A jury of their peers acquitted them both.

There was conflicting information concerning Dallas Stoudenmire’s guns. All the references I found said they were .44’s. One article claimed this stubby cut-down Colt was his second pistol, others asserted that he packed a pair of matching Smiths.
It took a hard man to thrive in the American Old West.

The following year their third brother Frank Manning was appointed town Marshal himself after the sitting lawman was killed investigating a disagreement at a local brothel. Frank was fired in short order for failing to arrest his criminal friends.

The top-break Smith and Wesson Model 3 could be broken open for reloading one-handed.

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About the author: Will Dabbs was born and raised in the Mississippi Delta, having been immersed in hunting and the outdoors since his earliest recollections. He holds a degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Mississippi and is the product of a traditional American nuclear family. Where most normal American kids get drunk to celebrate their 21st birthday, Will bought his first two machineguns. Will served eight years as an Army Aviator and accumulated more than 1,100 flight hours piloting CH47D, UH1H, OH58A/C, and AH1S helicopters. He is scuba qualified, has parachuted out of perfectly good airplanes at 3 o’clock in the morning, and has summited Mt. McKinley, Alaska–the highest point in North America–six times (at the controls of a helicopter, which is the only way sensible folk climb mountains). For reasons that seemed sagacious at the time he ultimately left the Army as a Major to pursue medical school. Dr. Dabbs has for the last dozen years owned the Urgent Care Clinic of Oxford, Mississippi. He also serves as the plant physician for the sprawling Winchester ammunition plant in that same delightful little Southern town. Will is a founding partner of Advanced Tactical Ordnance LLC, a licensed 07/02 firearms manufacturer and has written for the gun press for a quarter century. He writes solely to support a shooting habit that is as insensate as it is insatiable. Will has been married to his high school sweetheart for more than thirty years and has taught his Young Married Sunday School class for more than a decade. He and his wife currently have three adult children and a most thoroughly worthless farm dog named Dog.

{ 22 comments… add one }
  • Pantexan September 10, 2020, 12:10 pm

    He (Stoudenmire) came out shooting and killed an innocent Mexican bystander named Ochoa in short order.

    Early collateral damage by law enforcement. What? No protests!? No outrage!? No lawsuits!?

  • Nevinator September 8, 2020, 7:27 am

    Great story, an even better bio! Thanks.

  • Kent September 7, 2020, 10:28 pm

    Another great article Doc Dabbs! I love reading your work. You are my favorite gunwriter in Guns. You have a knack for spinning a yarn that is both entertaining as well as informative. Ignore the few complaints. These historical accounts are what you do so well. I believe the reader was correct that the R in 44R stands for rimmed, not Russian. And as for the power poles? Yeah, they probably are telegraph poles… And as for writing about current events instead? Other men will write volumes a hundred years from now on what is currently happening, if we still have a civilization left to read it.

  • Mikial September 7, 2020, 8:17 pm

    Great stuff. I wonder how the men who won the west would regard the people rioting in the cities today.

  • Jim September 7, 2020, 5:29 pm

    I would say they are power lines. I’m thinking telegraph line I believe would have been just one line. On top of the poles you seen numerous insulators.
    It was a great article I loved it and hope to read many more this informative, thanks.
    The other person who’s comments were so negative, well , God saved me so I better shut up now.

  • pete September 7, 2020, 3:49 pm

    JHC what is it with you folks? What’s with this fascination with killing and killers? Articles like this only feed those unstable people who, during these tough tense times, are thinking about civil unrest and carrying a gun because it’s ‘cool’ and they might get the chance to shoot somebody, or that dumb 17 year old who went out of his way to ‘protect’ windows in another city and state because he had deputized himself and got hold of a gun he should not have had. I’m a gun nut worse than most, but now is not the time to glorify gun fighting.

    • Willie-O September 8, 2020, 10:11 am

      Pete. Short for Peter. Slang for….oh never mind. As for your comment that “Articles like this only serve….” I call BULLSHIT !!! The articles that Dr. Dabbs writes are historical accounts of actual people, places and events – think history class that holds your attention. Furthermore he discusses firearms that most (including myself) have little, if any, knowledge of. As a self-proclaimed “gun nut”, maybe you need to do some self-reflecting so that you don’t go out and find yourself doing something you’ll regret. As I stated in response to another “hater” – history is ALWAYS worth the time. What’s up with all the negativity ? If I want that shit, I’ll just watch the Cable Opinion Network (CNN), so they can tell me what a horrible country we live in, how everything (good and bad) is the result of “systemic-racism” and slavery, all cops are evil, if we don’t all park our cars the world will end tomorrow – you know, the Dimocrap’s talking-points.

    • Big Al 45 September 15, 2020, 12:54 pm

      What is it with folks who think that movies and stories about killers actually cause others to kill???
      Fact is, MOST killers are what they are due to their mental state, NOT the influence of other killers.
      Yes, now and again some already mentally unstable person might do a ‘copy cat’, but they were already that way, so sooner or later they would go off their own ‘deep end’.
      If anyone thinks that NOT talking about these things will stop them, they are the biggest fool of them all.
      ‘Glorification’ only works on the weak willed and minded, the intelligent person knows this.
      And I would point out that most of this stuff is on the WWW, (and much, much worse) so any fool can look it up, you aren’t going to prevent a thing complaining about it.

    • Scott October 3, 2020, 4:35 pm

      It’s called “history” Pete. You should study it. You might learn something.

  • Charles R. Freeman September 7, 2020, 3:05 pm

    Very interesting! Thanks for the article and the pictures. Those not interested in history are doomed to the same mistakes, witness the events of today.

  • D. Scott September 7, 2020, 2:13 pm

    Excellent work giving us factual history with all of its ugly nuances. Thank you so much…these are my favorite articles.

  • Brent September 7, 2020, 12:23 pm

    Great Article, enjoyed it throughly.

  • Denis September 7, 2020, 12:06 pm

    Good article. Realistic. Captured the chaos of a fight, then and now.

  • M.Johnson September 7, 2020, 10:53 am

    Very much appreciate your telling of history in the un-pretty way it really happened.

  • HermCorps September 7, 2020, 10:26 am

    Absolutely LOVED this article! But I had to point out one (possible) mistake referring to the Russian manufactured Model 3 chambered in .44 (I could be wrong though). Model 3’s chambered in .44 with the “R” designation stood for “Rimmed”, not “Russian”. This referred to the thick rim at the base of the bullet casing.
    Please someone correct me if I’m wrong. But I could of swore Ive read about this being a common mistake when referring to bullet calibers produced in Russia that are followed with an “R” designation.
    So, assuming I’m correct, the S&W Model 3 in .44R, is in fact a Model 3 chambered for the .44 Rimmed cartridge.
    Whether I’m right or wrong though, this was an AWESOME, fun, & educational article! Thanks!

  • Slim September 7, 2020, 9:30 am

    With all the bs going on like looting and riots this is what’s being written down now for us to read?! How about something that actually matters, you know, like our lives?! Who cares about civil war and before bs?! Really, nobody since I’m the second to comment on this. I was hoping to see a video(you know since we have those three days!)with four dead and guys who got dropped by one and add one. Instead we got a lame history lesson that has nobody really famous in it and not even a drawing of the incident you are speaking of if you did since indigent bother even reading the post when I see hand drawn pictures and even worse a modern day moron that still wears a trench coat! FYI… When I see a trench coat these days I think Jacinto the seventies and eighties movies that has the perv that would pop out and open his coat showing his junk and then running off like a child since only a real child or disgusting perv would do such a thing and THINK it’s funny! Stick with modern day stuff as there is more than plenty to talk about!

    • Not Slim September 7, 2020, 1:57 pm

      Y’all gotta overlook Slim this morning. Her first husband was a history teacher and she has hated history ever since. We all thought Slim would quit crying about it when she remarried but it turns out her second husband only like decaf coffee and butt diddling.

      • Big Fat Cat September 7, 2020, 8:48 pm

        Right on NOT SLIM

    • Willie-O September 8, 2020, 1:09 am

      Really jack-ass ??? First and foremost, history is ALWAYS worth the time. Period. I found your comments to be obnoxious, rude and incredibly disrespectful to the writer. Not sure who “made” you read the piece, but maybe you should stick to a less taxing medium (like cable tv). Maybe one that only covers current events in a “headline only” format.

  • Steve September 7, 2020, 7:19 am

    I really enjoyed your article. It was very enjoyable and informative.

  • Whipcracker September 7, 2020, 4:58 am

    Aren’t those telegraph poles? I don’t think they had electric lines back then. That’s why we call them telephone poles to this day even though they are actually power lines now. Thanks

    • John Bibb September 7, 2020, 5:59 pm

      ***
      HI WC–good catch! Apparently the first DC electric power in El Paso was provided by the Brush Dynamo Lighting Company sometime after 1879. The modern AC power distribution system was installed by the Electric Railway (trolley car) Company in 1902. Those must have been early telegraph lines in the 1861 El Paso photo.
      ***
      John Wesley Hardin lived in El Paso and was shot and killed here in the late 1890’s. He is buried in Concordia Cemetery. Just to the West of it is a very good Mexican Restaurant that was built in the 1920’s. Great tacos and enchiladas, and lots of great draft beer also.
      ***
      John Bibb
      ***

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