The Shootout on Pine Street

A couple weeks ago, I posted a bit about the history surrounded Abilene, TX – the city where I live. As I started overturning research rocks, I ran across a gem that sparked excitemenet in my western-loving soul. A real-life shootout.

As with many railroad towns, the population boom outpaced the town’s ability to organize necessary law enforcement. By 1883, the town had officially incorporated and the leaders were desperate to get rid of their lawless reputation. They wanted to create a civilized reputation in order to draw settlers and businesses to the area. So they began passing ordinances. No gambling. No firing a weapon within city limits. They cracked down on disorderliness around the saloons. However, sometimes it takes more than a rule to make an impact on people’s behavior.

“On the evening of January 8, 1884, City Alderman Frank Collins and his brother, Walter, who was a Taylor County Deputy Sheriff, entered a saloon at the northeast corner of north first and pine streets (right side of picture above). The saloon proprietor, Zeno L. Hemphill, who had been convicted of assault in 1880 and was to be tried in April 1884 for killing a man the previous year, confronted Frank Collins about the newly-passed anti-gambling laws.  Angry words and punches were exchanged, and Hemphill drew a gun and shot Walter Collins, who had stepped between the two men. Gunfire then broke out between Frank Collins and Hemphill. When the dust settled, Walter Collins and Zeno Hemphill were dead, and Frank Collins died from his injuries after two months.” (Quoted from the Abilene Texas History blog.)

Saloon Shootout - Painting by Andy Thomas

As a result of this deadly shootout, the town leaders hired John Clinton as the city marshal and made it clear that enforcing the new ordinances would be top priority to prevent any similar incidents from occuring. Mr. Clinton must have done something right, for he served as marshal for 37 years. The citizens of Abilene continuously voted in favor of prohibition for thier town, county, and state. The state election in 2887 overturned their “dry” vote and it wasn’t until 1902 that Abilene successfully banned the sale of alcohol in their city. The saloons remained shut down for 75 years. Who knew the roots for this movement went all the way back to a rowdy saloon owner taking on a a lawman and city offical over the right to gamble in 1884?

One hundred twenty-seven years later, on January 8, 2011, a historical marker was erected at the corner of North First Street and Pine Street to commerate the shootout. It’s hard to believe today that a downtown area filled with museums and gift shops was once a place of lawless saloons and shootouts.

What do you think tamed the west? City ordinances and the lawmen who enforced them? An influx of “civilized” settlers and businessmen? Women with their emphasis on morality? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Written by Karen Witemeyer

Winner of the ACFW Carol Award, the HOLT Medallion, and two-time RITA finalist, CBA bestselling author, Karen Witemeyer, writes historical romance for Bethany House believing the world needs more happily ever afters ... and hunky cowboy heroes. She's an avid cross-stitcher, shower singer, and bakes a mean apple cobbler. She makes her home in Abilene, TX with her husband and three children.

Visit Karen Witemeyer's website


10 Comments on “The Shootout on Pine Street”

You can track this conversation through its atom feed.

  1. Kirsten Lynn says:

    Wonderful post, Karen. From my studies into the history of the West, I believe it was the influx of families into the West that finally “tamed” the frontier. As families settled, they demanded churches, schools, businesses and laws established.

    Also, another “civilizing” feature was communication and travel. With information being sent over telegraphs (and eventually phones) it reduced the places where outlaws could run as interstate communication between lawmen increased.

    That’s just my two cents. :o)

    –Kirsten

  2. Karen Witemeyer says:

    Great thoughts, Kirsten! I think you are correct on both counts. I’m sure there were dozens of things that contributed, but I agree that the influx of families had to be a key.

  3. Karen Kay says:

    Hi Karen!

    I agree with Kirsten to an extent — yes, families, but the West had had families before and hadn’t really tamed — I really believe that it was the railroads that eventually tamed the West. Outlaws — an interesting thing is that the laws (and there are many of them today and we’re getting many more) are often antipathetic to humanity — and in particular to the Law of God. Interesting times then — interesting today, also. :)

  4. Karen Witemeyer says:

    Hi, Kay! The railroads certainly the vehicle that brought the civilizing influences. People build towns wherever the railroad stopped, and with those towns came a greater need for government and law enforcement. The town wouldn’t survive unless it was safe enough to lure business owners and families. The railroad made a HUGE difference. My little town of Abilene wouldn’t have existed without it.

  5. Teresa Snyder says:

    Great story!

  6. Linda Broday says:

    Karen, this is so interesting. I wish I’d known it when I lived in Abilene some years ago. If I remember right one of the houses we lived in was on Pine Street. I just love the history of towns. I think the taming of the west was due to a lot of different things rather than just one. Law and order was a biggie as well as the women insisting on maintaining a certain morality. Thanks for an interesting blog.

  7. Tanya Hanson says:

    Hi Karen, so interesting and such a provocative question. Hands down, women tamed the West. They were the ones who brought in schools, churches and hospitals. And although I do not think prohibition was ever the answer (wine tasting is one of my hobbies) I think their focus on cutting down on alcohol use by men civilized things. Then again, I’ living 150 years later. What do I know LOL?

  8. Karen Witemeyer says:

    Teresa – Thanks for stopping by! So glad you enjoyed a bit of my local history.

    Linda – I’ve lived in Abilene for 23 years and I had never heard the story until a couple weeks ago. You just never know what treasures you are going to unearth until you start digging!

    Tanya – I agree that women played a huge role. In fact, I think the measure of how civilized a town was could be judged by how many “decent” women it contained. :-)

  9. Patricia B. says:

    I think it was probably a combination of them all. A big event like this shoot out would push people to pass legislation to Tighten things up and once a law is on the books, it is hard to get it removed. I look at some of the laws that are on the books today that make absolutely no sense and are 100 years old or so. There they sit and no one is trying to get rid of them. One never knows what they will find when they start digging into the history of an area or events bring something from the past to light.

  10. Karen Witemeyer says:

    Hi, Patricia! I’ve always been fascinated by those old, random laws that are still on the books. Some are hilarious. I wish there was a collection of them somewhere where we could go look at them. That would be fun.

    Thanks for coming by!

Leave a Reply

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>