April 14, 1881
Out in the west Texas town of El Paso, ex-City Marshal George Campbell is flat-out looking for trouble. “Any American that is a friend of Mexicans,” he booms, “ought to be hanged!”
Constable Gus Krempkau, who, as a matter of fact, has just finished assisting a group of Mexicans from across the border, turns red. “George,” he says as he slides his rifle into the scabbard aboard his riding mule, “I hope you don’t mean me.”
“If the shoe fits,” Campbell hoots, at the same time snapping his fingers in the air for emphasis, “then wear it.” Under the influence, Campbell turns to grab the reins of his own mule, tied to a tree. Another drunk bystander, Johnny Hale, steps forward and bellows, “Turn loose, Campbell, I’ve got him covered.” In the same instant Hale fires, the bullet hitting Constable Krempkau near the heart, tearing an exit through his lungs.
Across the street, the Globe Restaurant doors blow open and City Marshal Dallas Stoudenmire emerges with a pistol in each hand. Close behind is his brother-in-law, Doc Cummings, with a shotgun. Taking in the scene on the fly, Stoudenmire steps lively into the street and snaps off a quick shot at Hale, who ducks behind an adobe pillar. Unfortunately, the marshal’s shot misses Hale and hits a Mexican citizen who has just bought a sack of peanuts.
Johnny Hale pokes his head around the pillar and Stoudenmire’s second shot hits the rustler in the head; he collapses, dead.
Drawing his own pistol, Campbell is backing hastily into the center of the street, saying loudly, “Gentlemen, this is not my fight.”
A dying Gus Krempkau grits his teeth and begins to squeeze off shots at Campbell, the first smashing into the ex-marshal’s pistol, breaking his wrist. George lets out a yell, and drops to pick up his revolver. Another shot from Krempkau hits Campbell in the foot.
Defending his mortally wounded constable, Stoudenmire also fires at Campbell, hitting him in the stomach. Campbell drops his gun a second time and topples forward on his face.
As Stoudenmire advances on Campbell and rolls him over, Campbell sputters, “You big son-of-a-bitch, you murdered me!”
The fight is over.
Odds & Ends
In Campbell’s dying statement, given to the state’s attorney (a version was printed in the Mesilla Independent and is quoted here), he claimed Krempkau “hunted him up” and “called him out” for making “epithets of an opprobrious character” about helping the Mexicans. Campbell insisted he calmed Krempkau down and assured him he wasn’t upset with the constable but with the presence of the armed Mexicans in town. According to Campbell, Krempkau was satisfied with the explanation, but Johnny Hale had misunderstood the encounter, and shoved his revolver at Krempkau telling Campbell “to draw that he had him covered.” Campbell said, “It’s not my fight,” and seeing there would be an encounter, began to “move away.” Hale and Krempkau commenced shooting at each other, each receiving “death wounds,” but both kept on shooting. An errant shot from one of the combatants hit Campbell in the foot. As the marshal approached, Campbell tried to assure him this wasn’t his fight but Stoudenmire shot him anyway, breaking his right arm. At that point, Campbell tried to draw his revolver with his left hand and the marshal “shot him through.” Campbell lived until five o’clock the next morning when “death had set its seal upon him.”
• The armed Mexicans referred to, were in town to claim the bodies of two Mexican vaqueros who were ambushed and killed while trying to retrieve stolen cattle. Their bodies were found on Johnny Hale’s ranch, north of El Paso. At the inquest on El Paso Street where the altercation took place, the assembled “Americans” were quite upset with the show of force in their country. Constable Krempkau had merely escorted the Mexicans to get the bodies and was unfairly blamed for their presence.
• Less than 24 hours before the shooting, and only 40 miles away in Mesilla, the notorious Billy the Kid was convicted and sentenced to hang for the killing of Sheriff Brady of Lincoln County, New Mexico.