Triggerfingeritis – The Old West Gunman

For months orgy ran riot and the predatory band grew bolder and cruder in their methods. Killings were frequent. Few nights passed without more or less street hold-ups — usually more. Respectable citizens took the middle of the street, literally gun in hand, when forced to be out of nights. The Mayor and City Council were powerless. City marshals and deputies they hired in bunches, but all to no purpose. Each fresh lot of appointees were short-lived, literally or officially — mostly literally. Finally, a vigilance committee was formed, made up of good citizens not a few of whom were gun experts with their own bit of red record. But nothing came of it. The predatories openly flouted and defied them.

On one notable night when the committee were assembled in front of the old Grand Central Hotel, a mob of two hundred toughs lined up before the thirty-odd of the committee and dared them to open the ball; and it was a miracle the little Plaza was not then and there turned into a slaughter pen bloody as the Alamo. It really looked as if nothing short of martial law and a strong body of troops could pacify the town.

But, one night, into the chamber of the City Council stalked a man, the man of the hour, unheralded and unknown. He gave the name of Dallas Stoudenmire.

About all that was ever learned of him was that he hailed from Fort Davis. His type was that of a course, brutal, Germanic gladiator, devoid of strategy; a bluff, stubborn, give-and-take fighter, who drove bull-headed at whatever opposed him. But El Paso soon learned that he could handle his guns with as deadly dexterity as did his forebears their nets and tridents.

Dallas Stoudemire

Dallas Stoudemire

Asked his business with the Council, he said he had heard they had failed to find a marshal who could hold the town down, and allowed he’d like to try the job if the Council would make it worth his while. Questioned as to his views, he explained that he was there to make some good money for himself and save the city more; if they would pay him five hundred dollars a month for two months, they could discharge all their deputies and he would go it alone and agree to clear the town of toughs or draw no pay. The Mayor and Council were paralyzed in a double sense: by the wild audacity of this proposal, and by their memory of recent threats of the thug-leaders that they would massacre the Council to a man if any further attempts were made to circumscribe their activities. Some were openly for declining the offer, but in the end a majority gained heart of Stoudenmire’s own hardihood sufficiently to hire him.

The rest of the night Stoudenmire employed in quietly familiarizing himself with the personnel of the enemy. He lost no time. At daylight the next morning, several notices, manually written in a rude hand and each bearing the signature of the rude hand that wrote it, were found conspicuously posted between Oregon Street and the Plaza. The signature was “Dallas Stoudenmire, City Marshal.”

The notice was brief but pointed:

“Any of the hold-ups named below I find in town after three o’clock to-day, I’m going to kill on sight.”

Then followed seventy names. The list was carefully chosen: all “pikers” and “four-flushers” were omitted; none but the élite of the gun-twirling, black-jack swinging toughs was included. Hardly a single man was named in the list lacking a more or less gory record.

By the toughs Stoudenmire was taken as a jest, by respectable citizens as a lunatic. Heavy odds were offered that he would not last till noon, with few takers. And yet throughout the morning Stoudenmire quietly walked the streets, unaccompanied save by his two guns and his conspicuously displayed marshal’s star.

Nothing happened until about two o’clock, when two men sprang out from ambush behind the big cottonwood tree that then stood on the northeast corner of El Paso and San Antonio Streets, one armed with a shotgun and the other with a pistol, and started to “throw down” on Stoudenmire, who was approaching from the other side of the street. But before either got his artillery into action, the Marshal jerked his two pistols and killed both, then quietly continued his stroll, over their prostrate bodies, and past them, up the street. It was such an obviously workmanlike job that it threw a chill into the hardiest of the sixty-eight survivors, — so much of a chill that, though Stoudenmire paraded streets and threaded saloon and dance-hall throngs all the rest of the afternoon, seeking his prey, not a single man of them could he find; all stayed close in their dens.

But that the thug-leaders were not idle Stoudenmire was not long learning. In the last moments of twilight, just before the pall of night fell upon the town, the Marshal was standing on the east side of El Paso Street, midway between Oregon and San Antonio Streets, no cover within reach of him. Suddenly, without the slightest warning, a heavy fusillade opened on him from the opposite side of the street, a fusillade so heavy it would have decimated a company of infantry. At least a hundred men fired at him at the word, and it was a miracle he did not go down at the first volley. But he was not even scathed.

Drawing his pistols, Stoudenmire marched upon the enemy, slowly but steadily, advancing straight, it seemed, into the jaws of death, but firing with such wonderful rapidity and accuracy that seven of his foes were killed and two wounded in almost as many seconds, although all kept close as possible behind the shelter of the portal columns. And every second he was so engaged, at least a hundred guns, aimed by cruel trained eyes, that scarce ever before had missed whatever they sought to draw a bead on, were pouring out upon him a hell of lead that must have sounded to him like a flight of bees.

But stand his iron nerve and fatal snap-shooting the thugs could not. Before he was half way across the street, the hostile fire had ceased, and his would-be assassins were flying for the nearest and best cover they could find. Out of the town they slipped that night, singly and in squads, boarding freight trains north and east, stages west and south, stealing teams and saddle stock, some even hitting the trails afoot, in stark terror of the man. The next morning El Paso found herself evacuated of more than two hundred men who, while they had been for a time her most conspicuous citizens, were such as she was glad enough to spare. In twenty-four hours Dallas Stoudenmire had made his word good and fairly earned his wages; indeed he had accomplished single-handed what the most hopeful El Pasoites had despaired of seeing done with less authority and force than two or three troops of regular cavalry.

Then El Paso settled down to the humdrum but profitable task of laying the foundations for the great metropolis of the Farther Southwest. Since then, an occasional sporadic case of triggerfingeritis has developed in El Paso, usually in an acute form; but never once since the night Stoudenmire turned the El Paso Street Portals into a shambles has it threatened as an epidemic.

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