Triggerfingeritis – The Old West Gunman

Unluckily, Dallas Stoudenmire did not last long to enjoy the glory of his deed. He was a marked man, merely from motives of revenge harbored by friends of the departed (dead or live), but as a man with a reputation so big as to hang up a rare prize in laurels for any with the strategy and hardihood to down him. It was therefore matter of no general surprise when, a few weeks after his resignation as City Marshal, he fell the victim of a private quarrel.

US Deputy Marshals 1892

These deputy marshals were sent from the federal court at Fort Smith, Arkansas to capture Ned Christie. Front row, l-r: Charles Copeland, Gideon S. “Cap” White. Back row, l-r: Bill Smith, Bill Ellis, Paden Tolbert, 1892. Click for prints, downloads and products.

A few years later, Hal Gosling was the U. S. Marshall for the Western District of Texas. Early in Gosling’s regime, Johnny Manning became one of his most efficient and trusted deputies. The pair were wide opposites: Gosling, a big, bluff, kindly, rollicking dare-devil afraid of nothing, but a sort that would rather chaff than fight; Manning a quiet, reserved, slender, handsome little man, not so very much bigger than a full-grown “45,” who actually sought no quarrels but would rather fight than eat. Each in his own way, the pair made themselves a holy terror to such of the desperadoes as ventured any liberties with Uncle Sam’s belongings.

One of their notable captures was a brace of road-agents who had appropriated the Concho stage road and about everything of value that traveled it. The two were tried in the Federal Court at Austin and sentenced to hard labor at Huntsville. Gosling and Manning started to escort them to their new field of activity.

Handcuffed but not otherwise shackled, the two prisoners were given a seat together near the middle of a day coach. By permission of the Marshal, the wife of one and the sister of the other sat immediately behind them — dear old Hal Gosling never could resist any appeal to his sympathies.

The seat directly across the aisle from the two prisoners was occupied by Gosling and Manning. With the car well filled with passengers and their men ironed, the Marshal and his Deputy were off their guard. When out of Austin barely an hour, the train at full speed, the two women slipped pistols into the hands of the two convicted bandits, unseen by the officers. But others saw the act, and a stir of alarm among those near by caused Gosling to whirl in his seat next the aisle, reaching for the pistol in his breast scabbard. But he was too late. Before he was half risen to his feet or his gun out, the prisoners fired and killed him.

Then ensued a terrible duel, begun at little more than arm’s length, between Manning and the two prisoners, who presently began backing toward the rear door. Quickly the car filled with smoke, and in it pandemonium reigned, women screaming, men cursing, all who had not dropped in a faint ducking beneath the car seats and trying their best to burrow in the floor. When at length the two prisoners reached the platform and sprang from the moving train, Johnny Manning, shot full of holes as a sieve, lay unconscious across Hal Gosling’s body; and the sister of one of the bandits hung limp across the back of the seat the prisoners had occupied, dead of a wild shot.

But Johnny had well avenged Hal’s death and his own injuries; one of the prisoners was found dead within a few yards of the track, and the other was captured, mortally wounded, a half-mile away.

After many uncertain weeks, when Manning’s system had successfully recovered from the overdose of lead administered by the departed, he quietly resumed his star and belt, and no one ever discovered that the incident had made him in the least gun-shy.

Colonel Albert Jennings Fountain

Colonel Albert Jennings Fountain

Whenever the history of the Territory of New Mexico comes to be written, the name of Colonel Albert J. Fountain deserves and should have first place in it. Throughout the formative epoch of her evolution from semi-savagery to civilization, an epoch spanning the years from 1866 to 1896, Colonel Fountain was far and away her most distinguished and most useful citizen.

As soldier, scholar, dramatist, lawyer, prosecutor, Indian fighter, and desperado-hunter, his was the most picturesque personality I have ever known. Gentle and kind-hearted as a woman, a lover of his books and his ease, he nevertheless was always as quick to take up arms and undergo any hazard and hardship in pursuit of murderous rustlers as he was in 1861 to join the California Column (First California Volunteers) on its march across the burning deserts of Arizona to meet and defeat Sibley at Val Verde. A face fuller of the humanities and charities of life than his would be hard to find; but, roused, the laughing eyes shone cold as a wintry sky. He despised wrong, and hated the criminal, and spent his whole life trying to right the one and suppress or exterminate the other. In this work, and of it, ultimately, he lost his life.

In the early eighties, while the New Mexican courts were well-nigh idle, crime was rampant, especially in Lincoln, Dona Ana, and Grant Counties. To the east of the Rio Grande the Lincoln County War was at its height, while to the west the John Kinney Gang took whatever they wanted at the muzzle of their guns; and they wanted about everything in sight. County peace officers were powerless.

At this stage Fountain was appointed by the Governor “Colonel of State Militia,” and given a free hand to pacify the country. As an organized military body, the militia existed only in name. And so Fountain left it. Serious and effective as was his work, no man loved a grand-stand play more than he. He liked to go it alone, to be the only thing in the spot light. Thus most of his work as a desperado-hunter was done single-handed.

On only one occasion that I can recall did he ever have with him on his raids more than one or two men, always Mexicans, temporarily deputized. That was when he met and cleaned out the Kinney gang over on the Miembres, and did it with half the number of the men he was after.

Among those who escaped was Kinney’s lieutenant. A few weeks later Colonel Fountain learned that this man was in hiding at Concordia, a placita two miles below El Paso. He was one of the most desperate Mexican outlaws the border has ever known, a man who had boasted he would never be taken alive, and that he would kill Fountain before he was himself taken dead, a human tiger, whom the bravest peace officer might be pardoned for wanting a great deal of help to take. Yet Fountain merely took his armory’s best and undertook it alone: and by mid-afternoon of the very next day after the information reached him he had his man safely manacled at the El Paso depot of the Santa Fe Railway.

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